Inter Press Service » Natural Resources http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Unregulated Promotion of Mining in Malawi Brings Hazards and Hardshipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/unregulated-promotion-of-mining-in-malawi-brings-hazards-and-hardships/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:01:37 +0000 Birgit Schwarz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147104 Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

By Birgit Schwarz
LILONGWE, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Nagomba E. is no longer young; her hip is giving her trouble and her back is stooped from years of bending over her corn and rice fields. Yet every morning, at the crack of dawn, the wiry 74-year-old sets out on a strenuous half-hour walk to fetch water from a nearby river so that her ailing husband can take a bath. Despite her limp, Nagomba moves fast and with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

It would be easier for her to fetch her water from a borehole that is closer to her house. But the water is often “bad” she says, “you cannot even use it for bathing.” Besides, she adds, “if you oversleep, you are there till noon,” waiting for a turn at the pump.

Before coal was discovered in Mwabulambo, a remote rural community of Karonga District in northern Malawi, water was never something Nagomba and her neighbours would have to worry about or even line up for.

“I used to have two taps right at my house,” Nagomba says, “with running water in the kitchen and bathroom.” But then heavy trucks moved in — which turned out to belong to a mining company. The company, with government’s approval, claimed her land, forced her to relocate to the edge of the coal field further south, and tore down her house. With it went the taps and water pipes.

That was almost nine years ago. Since then, the coal mine, which Nagomba and her neighbours hoped would bring progress and development, has mainly caused regression, hazards, and hardship.

Over the past decade, Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, has promoted private investment in mining and resource extraction as a way to grow and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. Karonga, where Nagomba lives, is the country’s test case for industrial mining.

Malawi’s first uranium mine and two of the country’s biggest coal mines are located here, on the western shores of Lake Malawi. The government said the mines would provide jobs and improve people’s livelihoods. Schools were promised, and clinics as well as boreholes to restore access to drinking water. Hardly any of these promises ever materialized.

Weak enforcement of existing laws and policies combined with lack of transparency and community involvement in decision making have left local communities unprotected and in the dark about their rights and about the risks mining activities might pose to their daily lives, Human Rights Watch says in a new report, “They Destroyed Everything.” Mining companies meanwhile are allowed to monitor themselves and are almost never held to account if they cause devastation.

When strangers knocked on her door during the 2008 rainy season and told her that she would have to move to make room for a coal mine, Nagomba was taken by surprise.

Nagomba, who supported three grandchildren and her sick husband with the income from farming a small but fertile plot of land, eventually accepted the inevitable, thinking that she would get “a lot of money.” She never asked how much, however. As it turned out, the compensation was not even enough to rebuild her house. The family had to sell two cows to put a roof over their heads again. She received no money for the land itself. It was “customary land” that her family had farmed for generations, but for which they held no individual title.

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Over the years, Nagomba’s story repeated itself again and again in the mining areas of Karonga. In Mwabulambo alone, more than 30 households were relocated from their customary land between 2008 and 2015, when the mining company suspended operations. At times, the bulldozers moved in so fast that people had neither time to rebury their loved ones interred on the community’s land, nor to finish reconstructing their homes. One family spent weeks sleeping under a tree before they could move into their rebuilt house.

The mine is owned and operated by Eland Coal Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Isle of Man-based Heavy Mineral Limited, which in turn is owned by Independent Oil & Resources PLC – a company based in Cyprus. Although it has not been operational for more than a year, it continues to affect the area, its water resources, and Nagomba’s source of income, her crops.

“We used to grow corn, cassava and rice,” she recalls. “Now we are complaining of hunger.” The fields she was given lie on the edge of the mine. Every time it rains, blackish, potentially acidic, mine water runs into her fields, withering her crop and diminishing her yield. “We cannot afford to buy food. We need to farm,” she says. “But they have destroyed the land where we were producing fruit, and left us behind with nothing.”

Since the mine’s closure, the community has tried to get the company to clean up, restore their broken pipes, ensure that mine water no longer seeps into their borehole and onto their fields, and close the deep pits that were left behind. In 2015, the villagers went to the District Commissioner’s Office to air their grievances. Getting no help there, they marched to the gates of the company. “We told them ‘you are really wronging us,’” Nagomba recalls. “We don’t have water. We don’t have food. But we are still waiting for an answer.”

To this day, residents fear that the borehole and river water is putting their health at risk. Cows and even children have fallen into ill-secured, water-filled pits the company left behind. And villagers say the pits themselves have become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitos.

“If they had built a health center, they could at least have saved some lives from malaria,” says Rojaina, another community member who was forced to relocate. As the promised clinic was never built and the nearest hospital is miles away in town, “people die on the way,” she says.

Few are aware of the dangers the water in the pits itself poses. The government had the water tested last year. These tests confirmed that the water is acidic, the deputy director for water quality at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water told Human Rights Watch, which means that it is neither safe for consumption nor bathing. But the results have never been made public. Children regularly swim in the pits behind Nagomba’s house. And no signs warn of the dangers these pools pose to human health.

Now that Nagomba no longer has piped water, she depends on the river a lot, particularly during dry season, when borehole and well run dry, walking there up to four times a day to fetch water for bathing, drinking and cooking. She worries about the safety of the river water, too, but at least she can treat it with chemicals the government provided after a cholera outbreak at the beginning of the year.

The river Nagomba depends on flows into Lake Malawi, a fragile ecosystem and a key source of livelihood for over 1.5 million people. More than 10 extraction projects are located on the lake’s shores and tributaries, which are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not all are active yet. But the risks these mining activities pose to the lake’s ecosystem and to the bordering communities’ health and livelihoods are enormous without proper government oversight.

So far, Malawi’s law has failed to protect the needs and rights of mining communities like Nagomba’s and her neighbours’ from the adverse effect mining has had on their lives. It has also failed to protect their environment and water resources. A new mining bill being drafted could help change this, strengthening governmental control over mining projects and the communities’ right to know.

Malawi’s government has taken some steps in the right direction, and acknowledged the need to enforce a rehabilitation plan the owners of the defunct Mwabulambo mine had promised to carry out. So far the company has done nothing.

“I never had problems,” says Nagomba, recalling a time where there was enough to eat and safe water to drink. “The mining company brought me problems.” After nine years of suffering and hunger without protection from the government or the mining company, she has little hope that things will change for the better in her lifetime. “Time is already up,” she says in a voice that sounds as if she is reciting poetry. “We are just waiting to go to our graves now.”

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146972 Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA/CHALLHUAHUACHO , Sep 17 2016 (IPS)

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS


Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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Communities See Tourism Gold in Derelict Bougainville Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 10:32:39 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146821 Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PANGUNA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

The Panguna copper mine, located in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has been derelict for 27 years since an armed campaign by local landowners forced its shutdown and triggered a decade-long civil war in the late 1980s.

The former Rio Tinto majority-owned extractive venture hit world headlines when the Nasioi became the world’s first indigenous people to compel a major multinational to abandon one of its most valuable investments during a bid to defend their land against environmental destruction."That is what we were fighting for: environment, land and culture." -- Lynette Ona

Today, local leaders and entrepreneurs, including former combatants, see the site playing a key role in sustainable development, but not as a functioning mine.

“Our future is very, very dangerous if we reopen the Panguna mine. Because thousands of people died, we are not going to reopen the mine. We must find a new way to build the economy,” Philip Takaung, vice president of the Panguna-based Mekamui Tribal Government, told IPS.

He and many local villagers envisage tourists visiting the enigmatic valley in the heart of the Crown Prince Ranges to stay in eco-lodges and learn of its extraordinary history.

“It is not just the mine site; families could build places to serve traditional local food for visitors. We have to build a special place where visitors can experience our local food and culture,” villager Christine Nobako added. Others spoke of the appeal of the surrounding rainforest-covered peaks to trekkers and bird watchers.

An estimated 20,000 people in Bougainville, or 10 percent of the population, lost their lives during the conflict, known as the ‘Crisis.’ Opposition by local communities to the mine, apparent from the exploration phase in the 1960s, intensified after operations began in 1972 by Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, when they claimed mine tailings were destroying agricultural land and polluting nearby rivers used as sources of freshwater and fish. Hostilities quickly spread in 1989 after the company refused to meet landowners’ demands for compensation and a civil war raged until a ceasefire in 1998.

In the shell of a former mine building, IPS spoke with Takaung and Lynette Ona, local landowner and niece of Francis Ona, the late Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader. A short distance away, the vast six-kilometre-long mine pit is a silent reminder of state-corporate ambition gone wrong.

According to Ona, the remarkable story of how a group of villagers thwarted the power and zeal of a global mining company is a significant chapter in the history of the environmental movement “because that is what we were fighting for; environment, land and culture.” And, as such, she says, makes Panguna a place of considerable world interest.

Zhon Bosco Miriona, managing director of Bougainville Experience Tours, a local tourism company based in the nearby town of Arawa, which caters to about 50-100 international tourists per year, agrees.

“Panguna is one of the historical sites in Bougainville. People go up to Panguna to see for themselves the damage done and want to know more about why the Bougainville Crisis erupted,” he said.

In a recent survey of Panguna communities by Australian non-government organisation, Jubilee Australia, tourism was identified as the second most popular economic alternative to mining after horticulture and animal farming. Although realising the industry’s full potential requires challenges for local entrepreneurs, such as access to finance and skills development, being addressed.

Objection here to the return of mining is related not only to the deep scars of the violent conflict, but also the role it is believed to have had in increasing inequality. For example, of a population of about 150,000 in the 1980s, only 1,300 were employed in the mine’s workforce, while the vast majority of its profits, which peaked at 1.7 billion kina (US$527 million), were claimed by Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government.

Today, post-war reconstruction and human development progress in Bougainville is very slow, while the population has doubled to around 300,000. One third of children are not in school, less than 1 percent of the population have access to electricity and the maternal mortality rate could be as high as 690 per 100,000 live births, estimates the United Nations Development Program.

People want an economy which supports equitable prosperity and long term peace and local experts see unlimited possibilities for tourism on these tropical islands which lie just south of the equator and boast outstanding natural beauty

“In terms of doing eco-tourism, Bougainville has the rawness. There are the forests, the lakes, the sea, the rivers and wetlands,” Lawrence Belleh, Director of Bougainville’s Tourism Office in the capital, Buka, told IPS.

Bougainville was also the site of battles during World War II and many relics from the presence of Australian, New Zealand, American and Japanese forces can be seen along the Numa Numa Trail, a challenging 60-kilometre trek from Bougainville Island’s east to west coasts.

“There are a lot of things that are not told about Bougainville, the historical events which happened during World War II and also the stories which the ex-combatants [during the Crisis] have, which they can tell…..we have a story to tell, we can share with you if you are coming over,” Belleh enthused.

Improving local infrastructure, such as transport and accommodation, and dispelling misperceptions of post-conflict Bougainville are priorities for the tourism office in a bid to increase visitor confidence.

“Many people would perceive Bougainville as an unsafe place to come and visit, but that was some years back. In fact, Bougainville is one of the safest places [for tourists] in Papua New Guinea. The people are very friendly, they will greet you, take you to their homes and show you around,” Belleh said.

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Big Oil and Activists Unite to Protect Endangered Whaleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 15:37:00 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146790 Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

A rare case of intensive and decade-long collaboration between Big Oil, scientists and environmental activists has been hailed as a success story in protecting an endangered species of whale from extinction.

In the early 2000s, the western grey whale was thought to number about 115 off the island of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East where they would spend the ice-free summer months feeding before their winter migration. Sakhalin Energy, then majority-owned by Shell, announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations in those waters, kicking off a fierce campaign by NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others.We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it.” -- Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International

Protests failed to halt Sakhalin Energy but the NGOs crucially succeeded in persuading international banks to place tough conditions on their loans to the company. This included working with an independent group of scientists for the duration of the loans and projects to mitigate the impact on the whales.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature – the world’s largest environmental association of governments and NGOs – convened and administered what became known as the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) made up of 13 independent scientists. That was in 2004. Ten years later and the grey whale population was estimated to have grown to 175.

This week, the IUCN, holding its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, hailed the panel as a “fantastic example” of conservation and how business and environmentalists can work together. NGOs involved in the project agree.

“As an NGO it has been a journey. We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it,” Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International, told a news conference.

What could have become a catastrophe has been a success, she said, calling on other financial institutions to follow this model in imposing conditions when lending to projects that impact bio-diversity.

Stewart Maginnis, IUCN global director of the Nature-based Solutions Group that oversaw the panel, noted that 90 percent of the panel’s 539 recommendations to Sakhalin Energy had been implemented, superseded or were no longer applicable. Crucial proposals that were accepted included changing the route of a proposed pipeline and adopting recommendations for seismic surveys. However it also took another fierce campaign by NGOs in 2011 to persuade Sakhalin Energy not to start building a third platform.

During the panel’s work, monitoring of one female whale, named Varvara by the scientists, found she had migrated in November 2011 from Sakhalin Island across the Pacific to Alaska and all the way south to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula – a journey of 10,880 km, the longest recorded one-way migration of any mammal.

Maginnis stressed that the critical element in the panel’s success was its freedom and independence to draw up conclusions that were transparent – a process that involved NGO observers attending its plenary meetings with the company.

Deric Quaile, manager of Environmentally Sensitive Areas in Shell, now a minority shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, called the process “fantastic” and an important part of Shell’s “journey” to improve its environmental performance.

“This panel has brought the right balance of knowledge, credibility and authority to advise in an environmentally challenging and sensitive area,” he said. “It shows business and conservation can work together.”

He said the panel experience since 2004 had helped bring about a “shift” in Shell’s approach to environmental issues. “There was a lot of mistrust and disbelief and it took a lot of time in Shell for engineers to realise that it was very useful and made good business sense. Good environmental management is a good business proposition.”

He acknowledged it had been a slow process for the company, but argued that Shell had made strides.

“Responsible environmental management is engrained in the DNA of our corporate culture,” he said.

Such a claim, however, has been hotly challenged.

Shell came under huge pressure from environmental groups before it announced last year it would abandon its Arctic oil operations, having sunk some 7 billion dollars in exploratory drilling. Its public statement blamed a tough regulatory environment by the U.S. but analysts said it was clear other factors were at play, including widespread public opposition and falling oil prices.

And last November, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accused Shell of making “blatantly false” claims to have cleaned up heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta at four oil spill sites.

“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” Amnesty International said.

A similar panel to WGWAP and also administered by IUCN is working in the Niger Delta advising on oil spill clean-up operations, involving Shell.

Maginnis said the model of WGWAP was “effective and replicable for conflict resolution, to reconcile economic development and conservation.”

However, Elliott of WWF-International warned that in the case of Sakhalin the western grey whale population remained small and that “success is very fragile”.

“There is a situation jeopardising this success,” she said, accusing U.S. oil giant Exxon of putting the western grey whale at risk with its plans to build a pier in one of the Sakhalin island lagoons where the whales feed.

“The panel expressed extensive concerns over this development but they fell on deaf ears,” she said. Experts say the pier is not necessary and an alternative exists.

NGO observers found that Exxon was disregarding its own guidelines, for example by operating boats at speed at night with the danger of hitting whales, Elliott said. She called on Exxon to drop its objections and join the panel.

Exxon did not respond to a request for comment by IPS.

WWF, in an earlier report, quoted Exxon as saying its subsidiary’s plans met Russian environmental requirements, had been approved by the authorities and had all the necessary permits. Operations would start, Exxon said.

IPS asked Maginnis if there was a danger that such panels administered by IUCN could be seen as giving the green light for energy companies to operate in areas where environmentalists would argue that no drilling at all should take place.

Maginnis replied that the IUCN would not endorse such a scientific panel for extractive operations in World Heritage Sites, which he described as “No Go” areas for development. But, in other areas, if governments gave licences and banks gave loans, then the IUCN urged pragmatism.

“There are some clear cases where we would say ‘no’. But we must be pragmatic. Without the (western grey whale) panel, there would have been a continuous decline in population numbers,” he said.

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At the Nexus of Water and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/at-the-nexus-of-water-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-nexus-of-water-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/at-the-nexus-of-water-and-climate-change/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 00:01:05 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146764 In less than 15 years, a 40 percent global shortfall in water supply versus demand is expected if we carry on with business as usual. Credit: Bigstock

In less than 15 years, a 40 percent global shortfall in water supply versus demand is expected if we carry on with business as usual. Credit: Bigstock

By Justus Wanzala
STOCKHOLM, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

With the clock counting down towards the November climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco, where parties to the climate treaty agreed in Paris will negotiate implementation, it’s clear that managing water resources will be a key aspect of any effective deal.

Here at World Water Week, which concluded on Friday, Susanne Skyllerstedt, programme officer for Water, Climate Change and Development at the Global Water Partnership (GWP), says her organisation is working with Sub-Saharan African governments to incorporate adaptation strategies into the partnership’s climate change programme.

“For us, resolutions of COP21 are part and parcel of what we are implementing and those of COP22 (in Marrakech) will be embedded in our long-term agenda of ensuring water security in Africa and rest of the developing world in a bid to attain water-related sustainable development goals,” she told IPS.

GWP is a Stockholm-based organisation that has been involved in fostering integrated water resource management around the world for the last 20 years. GPS has four regional offices in Africa covering Southern, Eastern, Central and West Africa.

As an inter-governmental entity, GWP works with organisations involved in water resources management. These range from national government’s institutions, United Nations agencies to funding bodies. Other stakeholders include professional associations, research institutions, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector. GWP has a water and climate change programme to support governments on water security and climate change resilience.

Already, said Skyllerstedt, GWP has a programme that was started in Africa through the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) together with the African Union Commission and other development partners. The programme has been a key platform for supporting African governments.

These include support on national climate change adaptation programmes more so in the sphere of policy formulation. For Sub-Saharan Africa countries noted for vulnerability to impacts of global climate change, the programme is key in supporting climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

Through monitoring and evaluation programmes conducted in the recent past, GWP has learned vital lessons and is cognisant of areas that need more resources to achieve the desired goals. Already, she said, GWP is running a three-year programme on climate change aimed at achieving sustainable development goals linked to water, energy and food through climate resilience.

She said they are implementing initiatives aimed at enabling countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to acquire highly relevant technologies on sustainable water management. “We have demo programmes on new technologies being implemented by our partners in Africa but they need to be scaled up to have a major impact,” she said.

GWP is also addressing the challenge of water pollution, to ensure availability of cleaner water for human consumption and other uses. It is collaborating with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote water security and hygiene. “The aim is to incorporate water, sanitation and hygiene component in climate resilience,” Skyllerstedt explained.

GWP is also developing tools for better planning on water, sanitation and hygiene to help communities during calamities such as floods.

“We have an urban planning project focusing on urban water systems and infrastructure we work with national government and other partners on issues planning putting into consideration matters of access to water and sanitation facilities as well as water related calamities.

At the same time GWP collaborates with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) on drought and flood monitoring.

“We work with experts and stakeholders to ensure national plans take into account climate change-related hazards,” Skyllerstedt said. “Many African countries face challenges in fighting impacts of extreme weather such as floods and droughts, and here is where the adaption programme is relevant.”

For the next three years GWP intends to widen its support to encompass not only national climate change adaptation programmes but also Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that countries published prior to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

“National Adaptation Programmes (NAPs) and NDCs should be merged to avoid duplications,” she observed.

The biggest challenge to implementation of GWP programmes by its partners in Africa and elsewhere remains access to financial resources.

“During the COP21 in Paris last year, there were lots of pledges on financing initiatives for enhancing water security and its access by the poor. Unfortunately, our partners are not able to access the money due technical bottlenecks,” she said.

The situation has compelled GWP to embark on enhancing the capacity of their partners in Africa in the spheres of  project design as well as making of investment plans and strategies.

Skyllerstedt spoke to IPS during the World Water Week held in Stockholm, Sweden from 28 Aug. 28 to Sep. 2 and organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

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Dire Warnings But Also Hope as IUCN Environmental Congress Openshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 10:26:21 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146754 Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 2 2016 (IPS)

A congress billed as the world’s largest ever to focus on the environment has opened to warnings that our planet is at a “tipping point” but also with expressions of hope that governments, civil society and big business are learning to work together.

The 10-day IUCN World Conservation Congress hosted by the United States in Hawaii has brought together 9,500 participants from 192 countries and communities, IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen told reporters.“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation." -- Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“Ambitions for this conference are very high…It is the largest environmental gathering ever,” she said after the Sep. 1 opening ceremony.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948 by British biologist Julian Huxley, and brings together its members – including governments, NGOs, scientists and the business community – in a congress every four years where motions and resolutions are put to a vote. Although they might not carry the weight of international law, the findings of the IUCN have gone on to form the basis of legislation in member states and international bodies.

Focused on the theme of “Planet at a crossroads”, speakers at the opening ceremony held in a Honolulu sports arena reminded participants that the main goal was to come up with concrete proposals and measures to help implement the two historic international agreements forged last year – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng, a senior Chinese politician and former senior UN official, set the tone of collaboration by praising U.S. President Barack Obama for establishing the world’s largest nature sanctuary – more than half a million square miles – in the waters and islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. “President Obama has set a high bar,” Zhang said. This congress, he added, was not just about “avoiding tragedy” but working together.

His comments followed remarks made by Obama at a meeting of Pacific leaders in Honolulu on Wednesday night, raising expectations that China and the US may soon announce they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement. China opens a meeting of the G20 industrialised nations on Friday.

With the IUCN venue being Hawaii – renowned for its rich biodiversity but also as the world’s “extinction capital” for the large numbers of its eradicated or dying species – there was also emphasis, reinforced by performances of traditional songs and dance, on the importance of the age-old practices and wisdom of indigenous peoples.

Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau was given rock star acclaim at the congress for his pioneering environmental policies proving that small nations can make a difference. Remengesau in turn praised Obama who on Thursday was meeting scientists at Midway Atoll in his newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary. Former president George W. Bush first set up the reserve 10 years ago but Obama quadrupled its size by executive order last week, although the US military will continue to hold exercises in the waters.

“This cements his legacy as an ocean leader,” Remengesau said and challenged the U.S. to follow the example of Palau in the western Pacific by turning 80 percent of its maritime economic exclusion zone into protected waters. Noting that despite the vast size of Papahanaumokuakea only 2 percent of the world’s waters are designated as marine sanctuaries, Remengesau said Palau would put forward a motion to the IUCN congress that this figure be raised to 30 percent.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, noted the warnings that mankind is destroying its only home but went on to dwell on the progress being made. Brazil, he said, had dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation while Costa Rica had doubled its tree cover.

He singled out French oil company Total for abandoning oil exploration plans in the Arctic and also praised Kellogg, Unilever and Nestle for “leading the politicians” on environmental policies. China, he added, was rapidly moving to “green” financing while Germany, on some days, was producing all its energy from renewables.

As for Obama and his marine reserve, Solheim simply said, “How much we will miss this president when he leaves office.”

Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, suggested that the Papahanaumokuakea example could be followed by similar initiatives for the territories of indigenous people’s on the U.S. mainland.

“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she added, noting research showing that a “football field” of natural areas disappears every two minutes in the U.S.

She and other speakers also stressed the need for the congress to come up with further measures to tackle what Jewell called the “scourge” of wildlife trafficking. “The U.S. is part of the problem and must be part of the solution,” she said.

Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz appealed to scientists working in IUCN’s special commissions to help tackle the devastation by a mysterious fungus of Hawaii’s most established canopy tree, the ‘ohi’a. More than 34,000 acres are affected, earning the disease the name “rapid ‘ohi’a death”. Experts in Hawaii were facing “the fight of their professional lives”, he said, adding, “Every community has its own battles.”

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sep. 5.

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Obama Stresses Climate Change Urgency Ahead of IUCN Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:41:33 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146737 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed the urgency of tackling climate change in a speech to Pacific leaders in his home state of Hawaii.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., is immune from a changing climate,” he told the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday evening.Debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries seek to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

Obama said the sea was already “swallowing villages” in Alaska and glaciers were melting at an unprecedented pace.

Highlighting his administration’s efforts to combat climate change in its energy policies, the president added: “There is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”

The unusual threat posed to Hawaii this week by two approaching hurricanes underscored the president’s message as the island state also prepared to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress from Sep. 1 to 10. Over 8,300 delegates are expected to attend from more than 180 countries, including heads of state and government, U.N. agencies, NGOs and business leaders.

“Today, the U.S. is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time,” Obama said on Wednesday night.

His repeated warnings on climate change were ignored by the national media, however, with the networks firmly fixed on the race to elect his successor, focusing on statements made on immigration by Republican candidate Donald Trump in Mexico. Storm warnings just made the weather report.

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – said Obama was not expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony in Honolulu.

Instead he was scheduled to visit Midway Atoll, making his first trip to the world’s largest marine sanctuary which he massively expanded by executive order last week. He then heads to China for G20 talks.

Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to more than 582,000 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The sanctuary was first established by former president George W. Bush, and IUCN organisers had hoped that their choice of Hawaii to host the World Conservation Congress, held every four years, would prompt Obama in his home state to seek to outdo his predecessor.

Their gamble paid off but the choice of remote Honolulu for the Congress has not been without controversy, with IUCN members expressing dismay at the message contained in the carbon footprint left by thousands of delegates jetting into the city over vast distances.

A small group of protesters also demanded that the U.S. remove its military bases from Hawaii.

The IUCN calls the Congress “the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum” which has the aim of defining the global path for nature conservation for years to come.

“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted by IUCN as saying.

“We’re all in this together. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take action. There’s no time to lose, so let’s make it count in Hawaii,” commented former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Held under the theme of ‘Planet at the crossroads’, the Congress sets out to emphasise that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game. “Credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while supporting and enhancing our planet’s natural assets,” according to the IUCN, which is made up of 1,300 member organisations.

It says key issues to be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sept 5.

Two European delegates, who asked not to be named, said debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries sought to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:11:20 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146547 Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Aug 15 2016 (IPS)

Bags of wheat speed down multiple conveyor belts to be heaved onto trucks lined up during the middle of a blisteringly hot afternoon beside the busy docks of Djibouti Port.

Once loaded, the trucks set off westward toward Ethiopia carrying food aid to help with its worst drought for decades.“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo.” -- Aboubaker Omar, Chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority

With crop failures ranging from 50 to 90 percent in parts of the country, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, was forced to seek international tenders and drastically increase wheat purchases to tackle food shortages effecting at least 10 million people.

This resulted in extra ships coming to the already busy port city of Djibouti, and despite the hive of activity and efforts of multitudes of workers, the ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough. The result: a bottleneck with ships stuck out in the bay unable to berth to unload.

“We received ships carrying aid cargo and carrying fertilizer at the same time, and deciding which to give priority to was a challenge,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA). “If you give priority to food aid, which is understandable, then you are going to face a problem with the next crop if you don’t get fertilizer to farmers on time.”

Since mid-June until this month, Ethiopian farmers have been planting crops for the main cropping season that begins in September. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with the Ethiopian government to help farmers sow their fields and prevent drought-hit areas of the country from falling deeper into hunger and food insecurity.

Spring rains that arrived earlier this year, coupled with ongoing summer rains, should increase the chances of more successful harvests, but that doesn’t reduce the need for food aid now—and into the future, at least for the short term.

“The production cycle is long,” says FAO’s Ethiopia country representative Amadou Allahoury. “The current seeds planted in June and July will only produce in September and October, so therefore the food shortage remains high despite the rain.”

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

As of the middle of July, 12 ships remained at anchorage outside Djibouti Port waiting to unload about 476,750 metric tonnes of wheat—down from 16 ships similarly loaded at the end of June—according to information on the port’s website. At the same time, four ships had managed to dock carrying about 83,000 metric tonnes of wheat, barley and sorghum.

“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo,” Aboubaker says.

It’s estimated that 1,500 trucks a day leave Djibouti for Ethiopia and that there will be 8,000 a day by 2020 as Ethiopia tries to address the shortage.

But so many additional trucks—an inefficient and environmentally damaging means of transport—might not be needed, Aboubaker says, if customs procedures could be sped up on the Ethiopian side so it doesn’t take current trucks 10 days to complete a 48-hour journey from Djibouti to Addis Ababa to make deliveries.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” Aboubaker says. “We are building and making efficient roads and railways: we are building bridges but there is what you call invisible barriers—this documentation. The Ethiopian government relies too much on customs revenue and so doesn’t want to risk interfering with procedures.”

Ethiopians are not famed for their alacrity when it comes to paperwork and related bureaucratic processes. Drought relief operations have been delayed by regular government assessments of who the neediest are, according to some aid agencies working in Ethiopia.

And even once ships have berthed, there still remains the challenge of unloading them, a process that can take up to 40 days, according to aid agencies assisting with Ethiopia’s drought.

“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” port official Dawit Gebre-ab says of workers toiling away in temperatures around 38 degrees Celsius that with humidity of 52 percent feel more like 43 degrees. “But the ports have to continue.”

The port’s 24-hour system of three eight-hour shifts mitigates some of the travails for those working outside, beyond the salvation of air conditioning—though not entirely.

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“We feel pain everywhere, for sure,” Agaby says during the hottest afternoon shift, a fluorescent vest tied around his forehead as a sweat rag, standing out of the sun between those trucks being filled with bags of wheat from conveyor belts. “It is a struggle.”

To help get food aid away to where it is needed and relieve pressure on the port, a new 756 km railway running between Djibouti and Ethiopia was brought into service early in November 2015—it still isn’t actually commissioned—with a daily train that can carry about 2,000 tonnes, Aboubaker says. Capacity will increase further once the railway is fully commissioned this September and becomes electrified, allowing five trains to run carrying about 3,500 tonnes each.

Djibouti also has three new ports scheduled to open in the second half of the year—allowing more ships to dock—while the one at Tadjoura will have another railway line going westward to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. This, Aboubaker explains, should connect with the railway line currently under construction in Ethiopia running south to north to connect the cities of Awash and Mekele, further improving transport and distribution options in Ethiopia.

“Once the trains are running in September we hope to clear the backlog of vessels within three months,” Aboubaker says.

The jam at the port has highlighted for Ethiopia—not that it needs reminding—its dependency on Djibouti. Already about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s trade goes through Djibouti. In 2005 this amounted to two million tonnes and now stands at 11 million tonnes. During the next three years it is set to increase to 15 million tonnes.

Hence Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its options, strengthening bilateral relations with Somaliland through various Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU) during the past couple of years.

The most recent of these stipulated about 30 percent of Ethiopia’s imports shifting to Berbera Port, which this May saw Dubai-based DP World awarded the concession to manage and expand the underused and underdeveloped port for 30 years, a project valued at about $442 million and which could transform Berbera into another major Horn of Africa trade hub.

But such is Ethiopia’s growth—both in terms of economy and population; its current population of around 100 million is set to reach 130 million by 2025, according to the United Nations—that some say it’s going to need all the ports it can get.

“Ethiopia’s rate of development means Djibouti can’t satisfy demand, and even if Berbera is used, Ethiopia will also need [ports in] Mogadishu and Kismayo in the long run, and Port Sudan,” says Ali Toubeh, a Djiboutian entrepreneur whose container company is based in Djibouti’s free trade zone.

Meanwhile as night descends on Djibouti City, arc lights dotted across the port are turned on, continuing to blaze away as offloading continues and throughout the night loaded Ethiopian trucks set out into the hot darkness.

“El Niño will impact families for a long period as a number of them lost productive assets or jobs,” Amadou says. “They will need time and assistance to recover.”

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Adaptation to Climate Change: Need for a Human Rights Approachhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 20:57:26 +0000 Arif Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146537 By Arif Chowdhury
Aug 12 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The memories of Cyclone Sidr and Aila are fresh in the mind of Razia Begum, a victim of climate change, of Dacope Upazila, Khulna. The standing field crops and houses of her community were destroyed, and they suffered the loss of cattle as well as people who perished in these natural disasters. She says mournfully that Saturkhali, Kamarkhola, Koilashganj and Baniashanta are the most vulnerable unions where access to necessary human rights is disrupted. Furthermore, salinity, flood, river erosion, heavy rain, cyclone, water logging and seasonal variations etc. are the most devastating impacts of climate change in those areas.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Seasonal, temporary, permanent migration is increasing in these areas due to climate change, while illegal trafficking is also a noticeable concern. Locals believe that the reasons behind their misery is the decreasing rate of natural resources at the Sundarbans, high rate of salinity (more than 80 percent soil has some form of salinity) and increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. More men than women migrate to other places from these areas, and thus women, fall victim to vulnerable, hazardous situation. Although, some adaptation and implementation authorities such as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Shushilon, Heed Bangladesh, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) etc. are working for the betterment of the local people in Dacope, lack of good governance, existence of salinity, non-sustainable embankment, lack of killas, poor communication systems, lack of economic assistance, etc. are seen as obstacles for sustainable adaptation.

A human rights approach to migration and adaptation is related to the core points of governance issues in the context of increased climatic factors. Bangladesh is one the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and every year a large number of people are displaced from their place of origin due to the impacts of climate change. According to the United Nations, “A human rights approach to migration places the migrant at the centre of migration policies and management, and pays particular attention to the situation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups of migrants. Such an approach will also ensure that migrants are included in relevant national action plans and strategies, such as plans on the provision of public housing or national strategies to combat racism and xenophobia”.

Representatives of over 190 countries gathered in Paris for COP 21, to discuss on several issues related to climate change and environment. While touching on the effects of climate change, participants also focused on the practical importance of ensuring human rights. As John Knox stated: “Every State in the climate negotiations belongs to at least one human rights treaty, and they must ensure that all of their actions comply with their human rights obligations. That includes their actions relating to climate change”.

An increase of 2 degree Celsius temperature will not only impact the environment but also affect human rights of developing countries. Thus, the Climate Vulnerable Forum countries at COP 21 suggested following a target of 1.5 degrees rise in temperature, as it could human rights.

The government of Bangladesh needs to address proper approach in governance, so that the human rights of marginalised people can be protected with proper adaptation. To cope with the effects of climate change at place of origin or destination, adaptation can be addressed as one of the major mechanisms. It is mandatory to specify concerns and scopes of legal practices in Bangladesh, and to address local people’s climate change concern, adaptation challenges and safe migration. The government has to cover important issues to ensure safe migration and adaptation. These include: protection of property and possessions left behind by internally displaced persons; right to know the fate of missing relatives; access to psychological and social services; issuing displaced people with all the necessary documents (e.g. passports, personal identification documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, irrespective of gender etc.) to enjoy legal rights and protection against discrimination in the destination areas, as well as offer protection to those who have returned to their place of origin or have resettled in another part of the country.

Moreover, the government’s approach needs to empower national authorities to take every measure to minimise displacement from these settlements, to ensure medical care and attention for wounded and sick internally displaced persons, according to their requirements. Again, several issues should be managed by national authorities in case of displacement during emergencies, and adequate measures should be taken to fully inform those who have been displaced regarding the reasons for their displacement while also making them fully aware of the process of displacement. It is also important to involve the affected people, particularly women, in the planning and management of their relocation, and afford them the right to an effective remedy, including making review of such decisions by appropriate judicial authorities available and providing the means through which internally displaced people can voluntarily return to their place of origin in safety and with dignity.

The effective governance system encounters major challenges as it encompasses multiple policy areas, such as development approach, community, livelihood, climate change, and environment. At present, there are no legal guidelines for protecting land and other immovable property rights of climate refugees. The necessity of legal practices is certainly the most important to promote the rights of the displaced people.

The writer works as Research Associate for the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), Bangladesh University of Engineering &Technology (BUET). Email: arifchowdhury065@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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War on Climate Terror (II): Fleeing Disasters, Escaping Drought, Migratinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/#comments Thu, 11 Aug 2016 16:13:57 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146520 Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 11 2016 (IPS)

“No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes.”

Hardly a short, simply-worded statement could so sharply describe the ignored human drama of millions of victims of man-made wars, violence, poverty and disasters like the one spelled out by the authoritative voice of Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, the former rector of United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation headquartered in Japan.

But while widespread violence and climate catastrophes are common to all continents and countries, there is an overwhelming consensus among experts, scientific community and international specialised organisations that Africa is the most impacted region by them.

Only second to Asia, both extension and population wise, Africa is on the one hand home to nearly half of some 40 on-going armed conflicts. On the other, this continent made of 54 states and 1,2 billion inhabitants, is the most hit region by all sorts of consequences of growing climate change—to which by the way it is the least originator.

Key Facts

The cause-effect relationship between climate and massive population movement is already an indisputable fact. See what world specialised organisations say:

1. – Droughts combined with population growth, a lack of sustainable land and water management, natural disasters, political conflicts and tensions and other factors have resulted in massive population movements across Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports.

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Displacement in Africa is the result of a multitude of causes including struggles for political power, communal violence, disputes over land, floods, storms and other such natural hazards, it adds. More than half of the world’s fragile states are in sub-Saharan Africa, and some of these states have the largest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015.”

In short, “the relationship between displacement and the environment is well established in Africa. People leave places with slow-onset environmental degradation, such as drought and desertification and continue to flee rapid on-set environmental emergencies such as tropical storms and flash floods,” says Saidou Hamani, Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflict sub-programme, UNEP Regional Office for Africa.

2. – According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, there were 27.8 million new displacements in 127 countries during 2015, roughly the equivalent of the populations of New York City, London, Paris and Cairo combined; of the total, 8.6 million were associated with conflicts and violence in 28 countries, while 19.2 million were associated with disasters in 113 countries.

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

The growing intensity of meteorological disasters due to climate change, coupled with the effects of environmental degradation is likely to continue being a factor behind human displacement.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) predicts there will be 200 million environmentally-displaced people by the year 2050 with major effects on countries of origin, transit countries, as well as receiving countries.

Individuals and communities displaced by disasters and climate change and those displaced by conflicts often experience similar trauma and deprivation. They may have protection needs and vulnerabilities comparable to those whose displacement is provoked by armed violence or human rights abuses. “Climate change is expected to further exacerbate the stress that fragile states are already facing.”“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015” - UNEP

In Africa, environmental degradation and food insecurity are related to floods and other factors such as diminishing pasture for cattle as well as water, firewood and other natural resource scarcities, says IOM. Such factors contribute to displacement, resulting in increasing competition for scarce resources, which also contributes to armed conflict, particularly between pastoralists and sedentary communities.

This is especially pronounced in the Sahel (Lake Chad Basin), Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, all of which have large pastoralist populations who migrate according to seasonal patterns and climatic variations.

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

3. – “Changes in the regional climate are impacting issues linked to the availability of natural resources essential to livelihoods in the region, as well as food insecurity. Along with important social, economic and political factors, this can lead to migration, conflict or a combination of the two,” according to Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel.

4. – It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) reports.

“The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world.”

“Climate change and the environment have a big impact on the lives of millions of forcibly uprooted people around the world.”

Many of them rely on the environment for survival, particularly during emergencies – for food, shelter, energy, fire and warmth, medicine, agriculture, income-generation activities and more, adds UNHCR.

“Unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of the displaced and host communities. Additionally, competition over scarce natural resources, such as firewood, water and grazing land, can lead to friction.”

5. – Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx. 718m),according to the International Disaster Database.

In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period.

6. – Disasters and climate change are a growing concern. Since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre www.internal-displacement.org report. (IDMC 2015).

7. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s science advisory board, projects an increase in the number of displaced over the course of this century. The majority of the people of concern to UNHCR are concentrated in the most vulnerable areas around the world.

Climate change will force people into increasing poverty and displacement, exacerbating the factors that lead to conflict, rendering both the humanitarian needs and responses in such situations even more complex.

Now two key related events are scheduled to take place in the coming days: Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, August 15-19, and the World Humanitarian Day, August 19.

Will this growing, unstoppable human drama deserve the attention of world politicians or at least of the mainstream

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War on Climate Terror (I): Deserts Bury Two Thirds of African Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:21:35 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146481 "No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

"No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the African continent is already desert or dry-lands. But while this vast extension of the second largest continent on Earth after Asia is “vital” for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

This shocking diagnosis illustrating the current situation of this continent of over 30 million km², home to 1,2 billion human beings living in 54 countries, comes from the top world body dealing with desertification.

In fact, in its report “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa”, the Bonn-based UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) explains that the continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” it says.

On this, another UN agency has once more warned, “With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018.”

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 July alerted against what it called “race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support.” As little as just 109 million dollars are urgently required for the provision of seeds and other agricultural inputs and services.

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

FAO reports that its prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

“Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region.”

Desperate Situation

Africa’s near, medium-term future looks any thing but bright–by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Also by 2020, in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.“The continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel” -- UNCCD

The situation is so dire that the African Union (AU) along with the UNCCD and other partners, have organised the Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

The conference, which is expected to bring together around 700 participants, on August 15-19 will focus on ways to halt and continue to prevent the rapid advance of the desert in the continent. Specifically, participants will concentrate their attention on mitigating the impacts of droughts and the development of national drought policies.

This event comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Niño.

Namibia appears as one of the most appropriate venues for such an event for several reasons, one of them being the fact that it was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries.

While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem,” says the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 per cent of the Namibian population.

“Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.” In 2015 drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 per cent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370,316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia, UNDP reports.

Here, the three top UN agencies dealing with food—FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), informed in their joint World Report on The State of Food Insecurity 2015, that 42.7 per cent of Namibian population was undernourished.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, humanitarian and development bodies estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 South African Development Community member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, reminded “Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth.”

This desperate situation pushed FAO to talk about a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support. “Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region.”

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO on 28 July said.

Worst Drought in 35 Years

Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as prices of maize and other staple foods have risen, it added.

“The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.”

On this, David Phiri, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, warned, “The high levels of unemployment and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 per cent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

Moreover, widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks, especially that more challenges are still to come.

“El Niño’s counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making them more vulnerable to disease.”

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Education: An Elusive Dream for Cameroon’s Indigenous Peopleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 13:56:22 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146475 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/feed/ 0 African Farmers Can Feed the World, If Only…http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:29:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146449 Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

Can African farmers feed the world?. Apparently the answer is “yes.” Bold as it may sound, this statement is based on specific facts: Africa is home to 60-65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10 per cent of renewable freshwater resources, and it has registered a 160 per cent increase in agricultural output over the past 30 years.

This data was provided in July this year by the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development), which is the technical body of the African Union (AU), and it reminds that the global population continues to soar, to approach around 10 billion by 2050.

“We’ll need to boost agricultural production by at least 70 per cent,” the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consequently alerted.

NEPAD goes further and states that, given Africa’s share of the global population is forecast to rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, there’s a mounting appreciation that farmers on the second-largest continent –after Asia– will have to play a key role if this boom is to be managed successfully.

“We can and would be happy to feed the world,” said Raajeev Bopiah, general manager of the East Usambara Tea company, which produces over 4 million kilograms of tea a year on its 5,000 acres of land in Tanzania, NEPAD tells. “We just need the knowledge and the funding.”

Roadblocks

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world's children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging - and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world’s children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging – and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

There are a number of hurdles to boosting the fortunes of Africa’s farmers, says the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency), which is the AU implementing body that facilitates and coordinates the development of the continent-wide programmes and projects, mobilises resources and engages world’s institutions, regional economic communities and member states.

“One of the biggest obstacles is the messy system of tariffs and inflexible border policies that govern relations between many of the continent’s 55 states. Only 13 countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to all Africans, according to this year’s Africa Visa Openness Report.

Businesses in landlocked nations in particular complain that shifting their produce across frontiers to ports is such a fraught exercise that they often incur huge losses in the process, the technical bit of the African Union reminds.

“Transportation in Africa is so hard. It’s expensive and sometimes risky,” NEPAD quoted Ahmad Ibrahim of African Alligator, a mostly Ugandan firm that started off hauling carpets and elevators before moving into the sesame and peanut trade. Ibrahim says border waits “can be long, and goods perish.”

Regional economic bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have enjoyed some success in harmonising customs forms and improving at least a few cross-border transport links, but many say they don’t go far enough, says NEPAD in its report titled “African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” .

“Within their own states too, governments have exhibited a tendency to inadvertently stymie trade. Tanzania’s inconsistent tax regime, for example, has bounced farmers from one tax bracket to another. Those charged with balancing the books say it’s hard to plan far in advance for fear of finding oneself on the hook for unexpectedly high bills.”"African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” - NEPAD

“There’s no guarantee that it will remain constant for a long time, and that hurts. You can’t plan long-term when new taxes are imposed without taking into consideration what is affordable and what isn’t,” NEPAD quoted Raajeev.

Shoddy infrastructure also haunts large swathes of the continent. The transport network in northern Tanzania is so poor that Bopiah’s tea-producing company is severely limited in the weight of goods it can haul on the 70km journey to the port at Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

“You can’t transport more than four tons in a truck on mud roads-as opposed to the 20 tons I could do on proper roads. It’s costing me five times more!” Bopiah said.

In the most egregious recent example of the pitfalls of overwhelmed harbour facilities, at least 10 ships carrying 450,000 tons of emergency wheat for drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia earlier this year were kept waiting out at sea for weeks because the port at Djibouti couldn’t cope with the volume of incoming cargo, NEPAD reports.

And FAO adds that a shortage of silos and an erratic power supply also forces many food producers to turn to expensive diesel-fuelled generators in order to fire their water pumps and greenhouses. Some 30 per cent of all food produced across the world is lost to spoilage or waste.

A lack of adequate storage means “the continent loses food worth 4 billion dollars annually as post-harvest loss,” says Richard Munang, a senior official at the UN’s Environment Program. “Inefficiencies along Africa’s agro-value chains are the basis of food problems.”

By upgrading and expanding facilities, while also boosting low electricity output, Africa could fast become food self-sufficient, just to start with.

Beyond infrastructure issues, corruption continues to undermine the hard work of small landholders and large agribusinesses alike. For companies that must haul their wares long distances or navigate bribe-happy transport hubs, it all cuts deep into their bottom line.

Farmers also face limited funding opportunities. Most countries on the continent lack agricultural banks and commercial banks tend to see agriculture as an overly risky bet. “They think the gestation period is just too long,” Bopiah said.

“For example, if you want to plant a certain crop, it could take five years for it to start paying itself back.”

Deprived of access to proper loans, many farmers are unable to buy some of the tools or chemicals that might enable them to boost their yields. In a continent where wheat yields can be as low as 1-1.5 tons per hectare (in comparison to 3 or 4 tons elsewhere), these limitations are intensely problematic.

As far as leading African agronomists are concerned, Africa is playing a desperate game of catch-up, according to the technical body of the African Union.

“We don’t have the time [that] developing countries had in the 60s. Today in Africa, not only do you have to produce better, but in a globalised world, you have to sell better too,” said Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at the Washington D.C-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), NEPAD reported.

“With a quarter of people in Sub-Saharan Africa currently going hungry, the stakes are desperately high, and states will have to deploy the full arsenal of modern tools if they’re to feed not only themselves but booming populations elsewhere.”

Now there is an additional huge hurdle challenging the capacity and willingness of African farmers to feed the world: a monster called climate change.

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The Devil in Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-devil-in-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-devil-in-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-devil-in-development/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 05:54:16 +0000 Sushmita Preetha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146405 By Sushmita S. Preetha
Aug 5 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The word “development” – eliciting as it does grandiloquent notions of progress – has become, at least in Bangladesh, something of a red herring. It is used as a catch-all phrase to justify just about anything — from eviction of slum-dwellers to make way for high-rise housing projects to forceful grabbing of ancestral lands to build eco-parks and tourism spots, from rampant deforestation of our woodlands to unapologetic pollution of our rivers, from undemocratic and top-down imposition of anti-people projects to suppression of dissent through violence both sponsored or otherwise. It matters little that such so-called development only exacerbates the extreme vulnerabilities of people already on the margins, destroys scarce natural resources and intensifies the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots; that it does precisely the opposite of what “development”—real, pro-people development—ought to do. If one protests these actions as unjust, undemocratic or inequitable, one can be easily dismissed as being “anti-development”, and by extension, “unpatriotic”, making it ever more difficult to have any sort of constructive conversation about Bangladesh’s development priorities (or the lack thereof).

devil_And, thus, in the name of “development”, we are now witnessing an unprecedented attack on one of our most valuable natural resources, the Sundarbans. (I say unprecedented not because other regimes have not tried to sell off our natural resources to multinational corporations at a fraction of the real cost to the country, but because no prior case has involved as ecologically sensitive an area as the Sundarbans.)If development was the real goal of the construction of the Rampal power plant, if people were the focus of this intervention, why would the government displace thousands of people from their homesteads without so much as following the proper rehabilitation procedures? Why would they jeopardise, in one broad stroke, an entire ecosystem of the world’s largest mangrove forest, and the source of livelihood of around 40 lakh people? Why would they discount the grave ecological danger of the construction of this coal power plant, when national and international environmental experts, including Unesco and Ramsar (“Protecting the Sundarbans is our national duty”, TDS, March 22, 2016), have made it abundantly clear that this would be nothing less than a suicidal move for Bangladesh? Why would they risk our national heritage without even conducting a fair, independent and scientific Environmental Impact Assessment (for a more comprehensive criticism of the current EIA, please refer to “Sundarbans under Threat,” TDS July 25, 2016)?

What gives a government the power to be so reckless when they are not the owners, but rather the guardians, on behalf of the people, of Bangladesh’s natural resources?

For those who consider “environment” to be a “soft” issue that has no place in the more “grave” and “grown-up” discussions on development, let’s talk economics. Let’s talk about the fact that three French banks and two Norwegian pension funds pulled out their investment last year from the Rampal power plant because the “failure to comply with minimum social and environmental standards and the corresponding financial risks made the project a clear ‘no-go’ for financial institutions.” Let’s talk about the economic reality that Bangladesh will be financially responsible for 85 percent of the project, even though Bangladesh and India are supposed to be 50:50 partners. Let’s talk about fact that, as per a comprehensive report by the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment, the plant will actually lead to higher electricity rates in Bangladesh. Published in June 2016, the report says: “The revenue requirements of the Rampal plant would require tariff levels that are 32 percent higher than the current average cost of electricity production in Bangladesh and will therefore increase electricity rates in Bangladesh. Without subsidies, the plant’s generation costs are 62 percent higher than the current average cost of electricity production in Bangladesh.” The true cost of the plant, it adds, is being hidden by three subsidies worth more than US $3 billion.

rampal_power_plant_0_

That the Indian government would want to pursue this case, at only a fraction of the cost and risk associated with Bangladesh, is obvious enough. IEEFA suspects “that the project is being promoted as a means to sell Indian coal to Bangladesh and as a way to skirt Indian policy against building a coal plant so near the Sundarbans, a protected forest and World Heritage Site.” But we are at a complete loss to understand what possible economic benefit there could be to Bangladesh pursuing a project that has been deemed financially unviable by major international financial and research institutes. We respectfully ask the government to explain to its people the cost-benefit analysis on the basis of which it is so eagerly risking the world’s largest mangrove forest, home of the Bengal Tigers, and a forest that saves us from natural disasters by providing a barrier to storms.

While we understand the need to generate power, and applaud the government for its crucial role inmitigating Bangladesh’s energy crisis, we cannot comprehend why the government is remaining oblivious to what has now become a slogan for the anti-Rampal movement: “There are many alternatives to generating electricity, but no alternative to the Sundarbans”. The National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources, Port and Power (NCBD), which consists of engineers, energy experts, activists and environmentalists, have proposed alternative strategies for generating electricity without jeopardising the environment and people’s lives and livelihoods. Rather than engage with such groups and explore sustainable solutions for a greener Bangladesh, the government has thus far not only chosen to ignore their repeated pleas to relocate the plant, but actually responded to oppositionto the Rampal project with barricades, batons, tear shells and arbitrary arrests.

Are we to deduce, from its reaction to the mass demonstration on July 28, 2016, that violence is the only language the state understands best, or at any rate, the only language it is willing to deploy to suppress its critics? The space for democratic expression has shrunk so much so that it seems naïve to decry the violation of our constitutional rights. The arbitrary arrests of unarmed protestors, and indiscriminate beating and use of tear gas, resulting in injuries to at least 50 demonstrators, is just another “day-in-the-life-of” example in a woefully long list of attempts to suppress people’s voices against harmful development projects through force, rather than productive dialogue.

It angers me, frustrates me, but mostly, scares me that the government feels that it has the power to do anything it wants – no matter the facts, no matter the consequences – and that it considers itself above and beyond all accountability to the people. As we remain distracted with our daily lives, horrific news of terror attacks and new fads on the internet, the government acts and plans in the shadows of neoliberalism, knowing fully well that the masses, at the end of the day, are too apathetic to take to the streets to demand a greener, more sustainable future, to claim from the government what is their right.

We must, for our sake, prove the ‘power’ wrong. We must shake off our cocoon of complicity, and ask ourselves why we cannot fight to protect our environment, the livelihood of lakhs of people and the Tigers of the Sundarbans with the same passion as we take to the streets to celebrate the Tigers’ win in a cricket match; why we remain unmoved to act, content to play the part of a fool chasing after a Pokemon as the cries of the dolphins and deer of the Sundarbans fall on our deaf ears (there are headphones to block off the reality, after all). We must act, and we must act NOW, if we are to have any chance of preserving the Bangladesh that we recognise and love. The only power we need, after all, is power to the people to decide its development priorities.

The writer is a rights activist and freelance journalist.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 22:55:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146396 As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

She lives in Tsarampioke village in Berenty, Amboasary district in the Anosy region, which is one of the three most affected regions, the other two being Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.FAO estimates that a quarter of the population - five million people - live in high risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

“Most farms are dry, but ours has remained green and alive because we dug boreholes which are providing us with water to irrigate,” she told IPS.

Timely interventions have changed her story from that of despair to expectation as she continues harvesting a variety of crops that she is currently growing at her father’s farms.

Some of her sweet potatoes are already on the market.

Rakotomalala was approached by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as one of the most vulnerable people in highly affected districts in the South where at least 80 percent of the villagers are farmers. They were then taken through training and encouraged to diversify their crops since most farmers here tend to favour maize.

“We are 16 in my group, all of us relatives because we all jointly own the land. It is a big land, more than two acres,” she told IPS.

Although their form of irrigation is not sophisticated and involves drip irrigation using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works – and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are flourishing.

“We were focusing on the challenges that have made it difficult for the farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and through simple but effective strategies, the farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” says Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius.

Experts such as Philippison Lee, an agronomist monitor working in Androy and Anosy regions, told IPS that the South faces three main challenges – “drought, insecurity as livestock raids grow increasingly common, and locusts.”

FAO estimates that a quarter of the population – five million people – live in high-risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the numerous ways plants can be cultivated, genetically altered, and utilized even in the face of drastic and devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the end goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying their crops, planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and looking for alternative livelihoods such as fishing.

“Madagascar is an island but Malagasy people do not have a fish-eating culture. We are working with other humanitarian agencies who are training villagers on fishing methods as well as supplying them with fishing equipment,” Talla told IPS.

“Madagascar is facing great calamity and in order to boost the agricultural sector, farming must be approached as a broader development agenda,” he added.

He said that the national budgetary allocation – which is less than five percent, way below the recommended 15 percent – needs to be reviewed. The South of Madagascar isalso  characterized by poor infrastructure and market accessibility remains a problem.

According to Talla, the inability of framers to adapt to the changing weather patterns is more of a development issue “because there is a lack of a national vision to drive the agriculture agenda in the South.”

Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies the farmers bargaining power and they are unable to access credit or subsidies inputs. This has largely been left to humanitarian agencies and it is not sustainable.”

Though FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives and there are pockets of them in various districts in the South including Rakotomalala and her relatives, he says that distance remains an issue.

“You would have to cover so many kilometers before you can encounter a village. Most of the population is scattered across the vast lands and when you find a group, it is often relatives,” he says.

Lee noted that farmers across Africa have grown through cooperatives and this is an issue that needs to be embraced by Malagasy farmers.

Talla says that some strides are being made in the right direction since FAO is working with the government to draft the County Programming Framework which is a five-year programme from 2014 to 2019.

The framework focuses on three components, which are to intensify, diversify and to make the agricultural sector more resilient.

“Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential in the South is being exploited so the target is to diversify by bringing in more crops because most people in the North eat rice and those in the South eat maize,” Talla explained.

The framework will also push for good governance of natural resources through practical laws and policies since most of the existing ones have been overtaken by events.

Talla says that the third and overriding component is resilience, which focuses on building the capacity of communities – not just to climate change but other natural hazards such as the cyclone season common in the South.

“FAO is currently working with the government in formulating a resilience strategy but we are also reaching out to other stakeholders,” he says.

Since irrigation-fed agriculture is almost non-existent and maize requires a lot of water to grow, various stakeholders continue to call for the building of wells to meet the water deficit, although others have dismissed the exercise as expensive and unfeasible.

“We require 25,000 dollars to build one well and chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in every two wells are not useful,” says Lee.

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