Inter Press Service » Advancing Deserts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Q&A: “Protect Your Biodiversity”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-protect-your-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:24:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139884 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN, Antigua, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Richard Huber is chief of the Sustainable Communities, Hazard Risk, and Climate Change Section of the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Its objective? Foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.

On a recent visit to Antigua, IPS correspondent Desmond Brown sat down with Huber to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What is a sustainable country?

A: A sustainable country is a country that is significantly trying to limit its CO2 emissions. For example, Costa Rica is trying to become the first zero emissions country, and they are doing that by having a majority of their power from renewable sources, most notably hydroelectric but also wind and solar and biofuels.

So a sustainable country in the element of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be a country that is planting lots of trees to sequester carbon, looking after its coral reefs and its mangrove ecosystems, its critical ecosystems through a national parks and protected areas progamme and being very, very energy efficient with a view towards, let’s say by 2020, being a country that has zero carbon emissions.

Q: How can small island states in the Caribbean be sustainable environmentally?

A: The first thing you would want to do is to have a very strong national parks and protected areas programme, as we are working on right now through the Northeast Management Marine Area as well as Cades Bay in the south, two very large parks which would encompass almost 40 percent of the marine environment.

In fact, there is a Caribbean Challenge Initiative throughout many Caribbean countries that began through the prime minister of Grenada where many, many Caribbean countries are committing to having 20 percent of their marine areas well managed from a protection and conservation point of view by the year 2020.

So protect your biodiversity. It’s a very good defence against hurricanes and other storm surges that occur. Those countries that in fact looked after their mangrove ecosystems, their freshwater herbaceous swamps, their marshes in general, were countries that had much less impact from the tsunami in the South Pacific. So protect your ecosystems.

Second of all, be highly energy efficient. Try to encourage driving hybrid cars, fuel efficient cars and have a very good sustainable transport programme. Public transportation actually is a great poverty alleviation equaliser, helping the poor get to work in comfort and quickly. So be energy efficient, protect your biodiversity would be the two key things towards being a sustainable country.

Q: What examples of environmental sustainability have you observed during your visit to Antigua?

A: I’ve been travelling around with Ruth Spencer, who is the consultant who’s working on having up to 10 solar power photovoltaic electricity programmes in community centres, in churches and other outreach facilities. We went to the Precision Project the other day which not only has 19 kilowatts of photovoltaic, which I think is more electricity than they need, and they are further adding back to the grid. So that is less than zero carbon because they are actually producing more electricity than they use.

There is [also] tremendous opportunity for Antigua to grow all its crops [using hydroponics]. The problem with, for example, the tourism industry is that they depend on supply being there when they need it so that is the kind of thing that hydroponics and some of these new technologies in more efficient agriculture and sustainable agriculture could give. The idea would be to make Antigua and Barbuda food sufficient by the year 2020.

Q: Could you give me examples of OAS projects in the Caribbean on this topic?

A: This is the second phase of the sustainable communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project. So the first one we had 14 projects and this one we have 10 projects. So let me give you a couple of examples in the Caribbean. In Dominican Republic we are supporting hydroelectric power, mini hydro plants and also training and outreach on showing the people who live along river basins that they could have a mini hydro powering the community.

Another project which is very interesting is the Grenada project whereby 90 percent of the poultry in Grenada was imported. The reason it’s imported is because the cost of feed is so expensive. So there was a project where the local sanitary landfill gave the project land and the person is going by the fish market and picking up all the fish waste which was thrown into the bay earlier but he is now picking that up and taking it to the sanitary landfill where he has a plant where he cooks the fish waste and other waste and turns it into poultry feed.

So now instead of being 90 percent of the poultry being imported it’s now down to 70 percent and not only that, his energy source is used engine oil.

Q: What advice would you give to Caribbean countries on the subject of renewable energy and energy efficiency?

A: The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be an enabling environment created on order to introduce renewables, in this case mostly solar and wind. Right around this site here in Jabberwock Beach there are four historic windmills which are now in ruins, but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of wind that blew here traditionally and still blows and so these ridges along here and along the beach would be excellent sites for having wind power.

Also lots of land for example around the airport, a tremendous amount of sun and land which has high security where you could begin to have solar panels. We’re beginning to have solar panel projects in the United States which are 150 megawatts which I think is more than all of Antigua and Barbuda uses.

So these larger plants particularly in areas which have security already established, like around the airport you can introduce larger scale photovoltaic projects that would feed into the grid and over time you begin to phase out the diesel generation system that supplies 100 percent or almost 99 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s power today.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

You can watch the full interview below:

Q&A from IPS News on Vimeo.

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Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:34:01 +0000 Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139827 With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman
PARIS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

We are lucky to live in a country that has long since abandoned the image of the damsel in distress. Even Disney princesses now save themselves and send unsuitable “saviours” packing. But despite the great strides being made in gender equality, we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers.

We are failing them by using incomplete and inadequate data to describe their situation, and neglecting to empower them to improve it. As a consequence, we are all losing out on the wealth of knowledge this demographic can bring to boosting food supplies in a changing climate, which is a major concern for everyone on this planet.The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Whilst it is true that women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts, we need to debunk a few myths that have long been cited as fact, that are a bad basis for policy decision-making.

New research, drawing on work done by IFPRI and others, presented in Paris this week by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will start this process – here are four fast facts that can serve food for thought.

  1. Rural women have more access to land than we think

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

Therefore a better question to ask, and a new set of data now being collected is, how much control does the woman have over how land is used and the resultant income? How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making? There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that women play a significant role in agricultural production. This role needs to be recognised so that women receive better access to agricultural resources, inputs and services

  1. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth can leave people at risk.

Are more women falling into this trap because they don’t have control over important resources and can’t make advantageous choices when they farm? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

Yet in East Africa, research has shown women were more likely than, or just as likely as men to adopt climate-smart practices. Why is this? Because women do not have a single, unified interest. Decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, whether they are made by women or men. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

  1. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

A key to successful innovation is understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product.

In Nicaragua, women have been found to have completely different concerns from men when it comes to adapting to climate change, as they manage household food production, rather than growing cash crops like male farmers. Hearing these concerns and responding to them will result in more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition.

We hope that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women and learning about their perspectives. By getting a clearer picture of their situation, we can equip them with what they need to farm successfully under climate change, not just for themselves, and their families, but to benefit us all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Sustainable Development Goals Could Be a Game-Changer for Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:55:44 +0000 Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139788 Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Suppose money was being deposited and withdrawn from your bank account, but you didn’t know how much. And suppose you knew you had bills coming due, but you didn’t know when or what amount would be required to cover them.

Worse, what if you discovered that money was being siphoned from your retirement account to cover the shortfall in your checking account? How confident would you feel about your financial stability?While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises.

This situation plays out every day when it comes to freshwater. We don’t know how much water we are withdrawing and consuming. In many places, we don’t even know how much groundwater and surface water we have.

But we do know this unequivocally: People, ecosystems, food, energy and cities can’t exist without water. Already, water resources are being strained to the breaking point – in Sao Paulo, northern China, the western United States, northwestern India and many other places. And the world’s water needs are rising inexorably.

Yet this World Water Day, we also find ourselves at a watershed moment. There is a powerful opportunity that may help countries move toward better water management: the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walking the Talk through Targets, Measurement

The SDGs will replace the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, and set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. For the first time ever, the goals could offer new transparency and accountability in how the world uses its water resources. Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs has specific targets related to sustainable and efficient water use, water and sanitation, water quality and protection of critical natural infrastructure.

Beyond a dedicated goal on water, the issue is also mainstreamed across the 17 goals – in goal 3 on health, goal 11 on cities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.  These targets will focus political attention, resources and stakeholders on water management more than ever before.

This fall, the international community will finalise the SDGs and the metrics to measure and track water use at a country level. These targets could help hold countries accountable for better water management. Importantly, the SDGs would apply to both developed and developing countries, forcing all countries to “walk the talk.”

Where companies lead, others follow

Many companies already understand that the world is on an unsustainable path. They’re experiencing it in their bottom lines, and investors are asking tough questions. The 2015 World Economic Forum listed “water supply crises” as the top global risks affecting businesses.

Industry leaders are taking steps to reduce their risk exposure and making investments to lessen watershed-level stress, devoting resources to urban water efficiency, aquifer recharge and reforestation and other strategies. For example, Heineken committed this year to create source water protection plans for all of its production units located in water-stressed areas, while MillerCoors has a five-part water stewardship strategy in place.

The private sector and civil society will be useful allies in raising awareness in countries facing particularly high competition for water resources. Hopefully this, combined with the SDGs, will motivate governments to take positive action to reduce water stress – from more rational water pricing, to regulating groundwater withdrawal rates to incentivizing efficient irrigation and reducing water intensity in energy extraction and production.

It starts with good data

This first-of-its-kind SDG system will depend on strong metrics and data. A first step will be establishing a baseline to track sustainable water use against the target.

This challenge will require the best efforts of experts on global water data systems. These discussions are already underway across the world’s professional water communities.

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool is a good place to start. The open-source platform provides the most up-to-date, globally consistent water supply and demand data publicly available today. Many companies, investors, governments and others are already using the Aqueduct tool Forthcoming water stress projection maps will also provide scenarios for future demand and supply for 2020, 2030 and 2040, helping the private sector and government create forward-looking water management policies.

An unprecedented opportunity

We can move from a picture of frightening scarcity, uncertainty and competition to one of abundance. Strategies to reduce water stress and use water more efficiently have been successfully applied by countries on virtually every continent. Awareness drives action, and transparency drives accountability.

The international consensus embedded in the new SDGs could be a game-changer. While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises. And done well, they will foster growth, reduce poverty and build resilient ecosystems – delivering a more sustainable future.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139762 A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Key to Preventing Disasters Lies in Understanding Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:56:30 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139742 Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded on Wednesday after a long drawn-out round of final negotiations, with representatives of 187 U.N. member states finally agreeing on what is being described as a far-reaching new framework for the next 15 years: 2015-2030.

But whether the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) heralds the dawn of a new era – fulfilling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expectation on the opening day of the conference on Mar. 14 that “sustainability starts in Sendai” – remains to be seen."I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society." -- Margareta Wahlström

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has emphasised that the new framework “opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health”.

But she warned on Wednesday that implementation of the new framework “will require strong commitment and political leadership and will be vital to the achievement of future agreements on sustainable development goals [in September] and climate later this year [in December in Paris]”.

The new framework outlines seven global targets and four priorities.

The global targets to be achieved over the next 15 years are: “a substantial reduction in global disaster mortality; a substantial reduction in numbers of affected people; a reduction in economic losses in relation to global GDP; substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities; an increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020; enhanced international cooperation; and increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.”

The four priorities for action are focussed on a better understanding of risk, strengthened disaster risk governance and more investment. A final priority calls for more effective disaster preparedness and embedding the ‘build back better’ principle into recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview with UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström on Mar. 16 during which she explained the nitty-gritty of DRR. (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York.):

IPS: Do you think this conference would come out with solutions to reduce disaster risk?

Margareta Wahlström (MW): The conference and the collective experience has got all the solutions. That’s not really our problem. Our problem is to make a convincing argument for applying the knowledge we already have. It has to do with individuals, with society, with business, et cetera. Not to make it an oversimplified agenda, because it’s quite complex.

If you really want to reduce risks sustainably, you have to look at many different sectors, and not individually, but they have to work together. I can see myself, I can hear, there has been a lot of progress over this 10 years.

One of the critical thresholds to cross is moving from the disaster to the risk understanding. I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society.

That’s what this conference is about. As much as it is about negotiating a document, now laying the ground for work in the coming decades, it is also about people learning very rapidly from each other, allowing themselves to be inspired.

IPS: An important issue is resilience. The poor and vulnerable have always shown resilience. But what we need to strengthen their resilience is money (finance for development) and technology. Do you see these two things happening as a result of this conference?

MW: Not only because of the conference. If anything, the conference will up the priorities, increase the understanding of the necessary integration of planning. In any case, historical experience shows the most critical foundation stone for resilience is social development and economic development. People need to be healthy, well educated, have choices, have jobs. With that follows, of course, in a way, new risks, as we know. Lifestyle risks.

I think the technology is there. The issue of technology is more its availability, that can be an issue of money but it can also an issue of capacity on how to use technology. Which, for many countries and individuals, is really an issue. We need to look at ourselves. The evolution of technology is faster than people’s ability to use it.

Financial resources to acquire it can definitely be a limitation, but an even bigger limitation in many cases is capacity. If you think of money in terms of government’s own investments, which is the most critical one, I think we will see that increasing, as the understanding of what it is you do when you build for resilience, that means risk sensitive infrastructure, risk sensitive agriculture, water management systems. It’s not a standalone issue.

I think we will see an increase in investment. Investment for individuals, for the social side of resilience, in particular the focus on the most poor people, will require a more clear cut decision of policy direction, which can very probably be helped by the agreement later in this year hopefully on the post-2015 universal development agenda. That will, at best, help to put the focus on what needs to be done to continue the very strong focus on poverty reduction.

IPS: Do you think the issue of ODA (official development assistance) has any relevance these days?

MW: In terms of its size and scale, probably not, compared to foreign direct investments, private sector growth. But of course it’s got an enormous important symbolic value, and political value, as a concrete expression of solidarity.

Nevertheless to be very, very fair, still there are a number of countries that depend a lot on ODA, 30-40 percent of their GDP is still based on ODA in one form or the other. Which is probably not that healthy in terms of their policy choices at the end of the day, but that is the current economic reality. Really the need for economic development, the type of investments that stimulate countries’ own economic growth, people’s growth, need to remain a very critical priority.

That’s why I think you see, both in the SDGs discussion and this discussion, such a strong emphasis on the national resource base as the foundation, including for international cooperation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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Middle Income Nations Home to Half the World’s Hungryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:28:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139734 In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nearly half of the world’s hungry, amounting to about 363 million people, live in some of the rising middle income countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) calls on these developing nations, described as “rising economic powerhouses,” to reshape their food systems to focus on nutrition and health, close the gender gap in agriculture, and improve rural infrastructure to ensure food security for all.“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the quality of caregiving, among others.” -- Shenggen Fan

“It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI.

The report traces the link between sanitation and nutrition, with findings in Bangladesh that show “dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children.”

The research also found that “Bangladeshi children living in places where open defecation had been reduced were taller than children in neighboring West Bengal, India, where open defecation is still common, even at the same levels of economic wealth.”

“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the qual­ity of caregiving, among others,” Fan said.

The study also finds strong evidence that food insecurity was a contributing factor to instability in the Middle East.

Additionally, it draws attention to the pressing need to regulate food production to prevent food-borne diseases, help small family farmers move up by increasing their incomes or move out to non-farm employment, improve social protection for the rural poor, and support the role of small-scale fishers in satisfying the global demand for fish.

Asked specifically about the impact of Middle East conflicts on food security, Clemens Breisinger, a senior research fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance division at IFPRI, told IPS food insecurity is quite obviously often a consequence of political instability and conflict.

As such, he said, the number of food insecure people has risen in many Arab countries since 2011, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (three countries ravaged by political turmoil).

“But new research shows that food insecurity can also fuel conflicts, particularly in countries that are net food importing countries and thus vulnerable to global food price shocks,” Breisinger said.

He pointed out Arab countries import about 50 percent of their food and were thus hard hit by the global food price spikes in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Imed Drine, a senior economist at the Islamic Development Bank, says the slump in oil prices continues to upend the global economy and experts believe this is likely to last for several years.

Oil prices dropped by about 50 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the first month of 2015, the second largest annual decline ever where the falling oil prices have helped to push food prices down, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Of the regions affected by these declining oil prices, said Drine in a blog post, the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is affected the most.

That is due to the fact that the majority of its countries depend on oil revenues for growth and because it is the most food imports-dependent region where food dependency ratios exceed 50 percent on average.

Drine says the strong relationship between oil and food prices may be explained by a key fact: “Our modern global food system is highly oil-dependent.”

Oil is the key fuel for production and for transporting food from field to market, and fuel costs, he said, make up as much as 50 to 60 per cent of total shipping costs.

In addition, energy related costs such as fertilisers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel account for close to 50 percent of the production costs for crops such as corn and wheat in some developed countries.

“As a result, declining oil prices will have a direct influence on production costs,” he added.

Furthermore, grain prices have become increasingly linked to the movement of oil markets since more corn is being diverted to biofuel production.

Generally, as demand for these alternative fuels decreases, crop prices are forced down, making food more affordable, Drine added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sendai Conference to Move From Managing Disasters to Risk Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 19:32:50 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139644 Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

As the world inched towards a crucial United Nations Conference in Sendai, Japan, Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), assured that there was “general agreement” on the need to “move from managing disasters to managing disaster risk”. 

The rationale behind that understanding, she said, is: “If the world is successful in tackling the underlying drivers of risk such as poverty, climate change, the decline of protective eco-systems, uncontrolled urbanisation and land use the result will be a much more resilient planet. The framework will help to reducing existing levels of risk and avoid the creation of new risk.”The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014.

Echoing the UNISDR head’s sentiments, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) President Saber Hossain Chowdhury pleaded for “a good start” in Sendai as the international community moves towards “the year for sustainable development”.

The U.N. General Assembly will in September endorse a wide-ranging set of Sustainable Goals (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Develo0ment Goals (MDGs) aimed, among others, at halving poverty.

Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, is hosting the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) from Mar. 14 to 18, which is being joined by government leaders and civil society representatives from around the world.

According to the UNISDR, at least 700,000 people have been killed and 1.7 billion affected by disasters worldwide since the last such conference in Kobe, Japan, in 2005. The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014. The first conference on disaster risk reduction was hosted by Yokohama in Japan in 1994.

Chowdhury said, sustainable development was not possible with the levels of disaster losses increasing. Welcoming the focus on local capacity at the Sendai Conference, he said at a session of parliamentarians on Mar. 13: “Local government is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians have an important role, including helping to increase the allocation of resources to the local level.”

He lauded the long-standing partnership between parliamentarians and UNISDR, citing how the two had co-developed practical tools that were being used by legislators to strengthen disaster resilience at the local and national levels.

Observers noted in this context the voluntary commitment of the government of Nepal to a local disaster reduction management plan.

The WCDRR website reported: “Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development will support the 130 municipalities in the country to prepare the Local Disaster Risks Management Plan. We will do so in cooperation with all stakeholders involved in disaster risks reduction in Nepal that include NGOs. This plan will guide the activities on disaster risks reduction at local level.”

Pakistan announced a commitment to “build the capacity of 20 master trainers on disability inclusive DRR (disaster risk reduction); influence 100 humanitarian projects through grassroots level technical training; and training of 150 key humanitarian actors on disability inclusive DRR.”

Ahead of the opening of the Conference, government representatives discussed on Mar. 13 the text of the post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction to be adopted on Mar. 18, the closing day of the conference.

According to the draft text, the Sendai conference would declare it as “urgent and critical to anticipate, plan for and act on risk scenarios over at least the next 50 years to protect more effectively human beings and their assets, and ecosystems”.

The text of the post-2015 Framework calls for “a broader and a more people-centred preventive approach to disaster risk”, stressing the importance of “enhanced work to address exposure and vulnerability and ensure accountability for risk creation” at all levels.

The text expected to be adapted says: “Given their differential capacities, developing countries require enhanced global partnership for development, adequate provision and mobilization of all means of implementation and continued international support to reduce disaster risk.”

The draft notes that enhanced North-South cooperation complemented by South-South cooperation and triangular cooperation has proved to be “key to reduce disaster risk”, that “there is a need to strengthen them further”.

It adds: “Partnerships will play an important role by harnessing the full potential of engagement between governments at all levels, businesses, civil society and a wide range of other stakeholders, and are effective instruments for mobilizing human and financial resources, expertise, technology and knowledge and can be powerful drivers for change, innovation and welfare.”

Addressing the oft-controversial issues of financing and technology transfer, the draft says: “Developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries, and Africa require predictable, adequate, sustainable and coordinated international assistance, through bilateral and multilateral channels, for the development and strengthening of their capacities, including through financial and technical assistance, and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms.”

It also pleads for enhanced access to, and transfer of, environmentally sound technology, science and innovation as well as knowledge and information sharing through existing mechanisms, such as bilateral, regional and multilateral collaborative arrangements, including the United Nations and other relevant bodies.

Further: States and regional and international organisations, including the United Nations and international financial institutions, are called upon to integrate disaster risk reduction considerations into their sustainable development policy, planning and programming at all levels.

States and regional and international organisations are urged to foster greater strategic coordination among the United Nations, other international organisations, including international financial institutions, regional bodies, donor agencies and nongovernmental organisations engaged in disaster risk reduction.

The draft text also calls for adequate voluntary financial contributions to be provided to the United Nations Trust Fund for Disaster Reduction, in an effort to ensure adequate support for the follow-up activities to this framework.

“The current usage and feasibility for the expansion of this Fund should be reviewed, inter alia, to assist disaster-prone developing countries to set up national strategies for disaster risk reduction,” adds the draft scheduled to be adopted by the Sendai conference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Feeding a Warmer, Riskier Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:57:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139638

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Artificial meat. Indoor aquaculture. Vertical farms. Irrigation drones. Once the realm of science fiction, these things are now fact. Food production is going high tech – at least, in some places.

But the vast majority of the world’s farmers still face that old and fundamental fact: their crops, their very livelihoods, depend on how Mother Nature treats them. Over 80 percent of world agriculture today remains dependent on the rains, just as it did 10,000 years ago.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

At the Second International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome last November, Pope Francis said: “God forgives always; men, sometimes; the Earth, never. Mother Nature can be rough – and she’s getting rougher as our planet’s climate changes.”

When drought, floods, tsunamis or severe weather hit, the consequences for people’s food security and economic well-being can be profound. Beyond the disaster-provoked hunger crises that make newspapers headlines, the development trajectories of entire nations and regions can be seriously altered by extreme events.

Remember: In many developing countries farming remains a critical economic activity. The livelihoods of 2.5 billion family farmers depend on agriculture, and the sector accounts for as much 30 percent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Mozambique, among others.Losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

It is not only drought, floods, and storms the pose a threat to agriculture, by the way. Diseases and pests like Small Ruminants Plague (PPR), or desert locusts or wheat rusts do as well. Nor is harsh weather the only threat: wars, economic crises – the work of humans – frequently wreak havoc on agricultural communities and infrastructure.

Conflicts, natural hazards have always threatened food security. However today we are witnessing their aggravation. Economic losses due to natural disasters have tripled over the last decade – and continue to rise.

Initial results from a new FAO study show that losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

Small scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who generate more than half of global agricultural production, are particularly at risk. (By the way, these very same people make up 75 percent of the world’s poor, hungry and food insecure population.)

So how can we ensure food security in a world with ever more people, exposed to ever more intense and frequent hazards?

Agriculture itself can provide solutions. It is a main driver for land use changes and can therefore be instrumental in increasing vulnerabilities to natural hazards. At the same time, a more sustainable approach to food production would help us protect the environment and build the resilience of our communities in the face of disasters.

Over the past decade, good progress has been made in fleshing out the concept of disaster risk reduction and its vital contribution to inclusive and sustainable development. Yet more must be done to harness the potential of agriculture in reducing disaster-related risks and to factor agriculture, food security and nutrition into strategies for bolstering up the resilience of societies.

Next week, world leaders and the international development community will gather in Sendai, Japan, to chart a pathway for a broad-reaching and holistic global approach to disaster risk reduction.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will be taking the message to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Mar. 14-18) that risk-sensitive development in the agriculture-food-nutrition sector is an essential building block for enhancing overall global resilience to disasters.

Our vision for ensuring that agriculture both benefits from and contributes to disaster risk reduction rests on four mutually reinforcing pillars that are applicable at the local, national, regional and global levels.

First, we must manage risk. This includes developing legal and regulatory frameworks for risk reduction and crisis management and building capacities at all levels to implement them. Risk factors need to be systematically factored into agriculture, fisheries and forestry planning, from step one.

Second, we have to watch to safeguard, establishing better information-gathering and early warning systems to identify threats. Then we must be proactive and act before disaster hits. In the past, the global community received early warning of impeding crisis, but did not react. The 2011 famine in Somalia is a recent and sobering example.

Third, we need to reduce the underlying risk factors that make farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters vulnerable. This can be achieved by focusing on – and investing in – more sustainable models of food production and the use of improved agricultural technologies and practices which raise yields and boost resilience against shocks while protecting the natural resource base.

There is a rich tool kit of options already available, such as conservation agriculture and agroforestry, strengthening producer organisations, or establishing field schools to disseminate best practices, to name just a few.

Finally, maintaining a state of readiness to allow for rapid responses to the needs of the food production sector if disaster does hit is also key. Despite massive damage, agricultural livelihoods in the Philippines were rapidly restored after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan thanks to appropriate national-level preparedness and timely international community support.

Sendai – and July’s development financing conference in Addis Ababa and the Paris 2014 climate summit – give us a chance to hard-wire resilience into the post-2015 development agenda. Agriculture – and the many, diverse communities that make it up – can and should be the bedrock on which increased resilience for millions of people is built.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Brazil – from the Droughts of the Northeast to São Paulo’s Thirsthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 18:43:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139582 A puddle is all that is left in one of the reservoirs of the Cantareira System, which normally supplies nearly half of the São Paulo metropolitan region. Courtesy of Ninja/ContaDagua.org

A puddle is all that is left in one of the reservoirs of the Cantareira System, which normally supplies nearly half of the São Paulo metropolitan region. Courtesy of Ninja/ContaDagua.org

By Mario Osava
SÃO PAULO , Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

Six million people in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, may at some point find themselves without water. The February rains did not ward off the risk and could even aggravate it by postponing rationing measures which hydrologists have been demanding for the last six months.

The threat is especially frightening for millions of people who have flocked here from Brazil’s poorest region, the semi-arid Northeast, many of whom fled the droughts that are so frequent there.

The Nordestinos did not imagine that they would face a scarcity of water in this land of abundance, where most of them have prospered. The most famous of them, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, became a trade union leader and eventually president of the country from 2003 to 2011.

“Our water tank holds 4,500 litres, which lasts us two days,” Luciano de Almeida, the owner of the restaurant Nación Nordestina, which serves 8,000 customers a month, told Tierramérica. “I’m looking for a place to put another tank so I’ll have 10,000 litres, negotiating with neighbours, since my roof might not support the weight.”

Many people in this city of 22 million people share his concern about storing more water, especially in the Zona Norte or northern zone of Greater São Paulo, which will be the first area affected by rationing if the state government decides to take measures aimed at guaranteeing water supplies year-round.

The Zona Norte is supplied by the Cantareira system of interconnecting reservoirs which, on the verge of collapse, is still providing water for six million people. It supplied nine million people up to mid-2014, when one-third of the demand was transferred to the other eight systems that provide water in the city.“Life in the Northeast has gotten easier. With the government’s social benefits, people aren’t suffering the same deprivations as before, even during the current drought, one of the worst in history.” -- Luciano de Almeida

It is precisely the Zona Norte that is home to many of the Nordestino migrants and their descendants, as reflected by the numerous restaurants that offer typical food from the Northeast, such as carne-de-sol (heavily salted beef cured in the sun), cassava flour and different kinds of beans.

Almeida, 40, was born in São Paulo. But his father came from the Northeast, the first of 14 siblings to leave the northeastern state of Pernambuco in search of a better life in the big city. He came in 1960, two years after one of the worst droughts ever to hit the region.

He found a job in a steel mill, where “he earned so much money that a year later he went back home for vacation.” His brothers and sisters started to follow in his footsteps, said Almeida, who discovered his vocation when he spent eight years working in the restaurant of one of his uncles, before opening his own.

“Life in the Northeast has gotten easier. With the government’s social benefits, people aren’t suffering the same deprivations as before, even during the current drought, one of the worst in history,” said Almeida, who frequently visits his father’s homeland, where his wife, with whom he has a seven-year-old daughter, also hails from.

And the rural population, the hardest-hit by drought, has learned to live with the semi-arid climate in the Northeast, collecting rainwater in tanks, for drinking, household use and irrigation of their small-scale crops. This social technology has now been adapted by the Movimento Cisterna Já, a São Paulo organisation, to help people weather the water crisis here.

A rural settlement in the northeast Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where water tanks have been installed to collect and store rainwater and make it fit for drinking. Initiatives like this one have modified the local population’s relationship with the recurrent drought in the semi-arid region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the northeast Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where water tanks have been installed to collect and store rainwater and make it fit for drinking. Initiatives like this one have modified the local population’s relationship with the recurrent drought in the semi-arid region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“One of my 20 employees decided to go back to the Northeast; he plans to use his savings to buy a truck and sell water there,” said Almeida. This reverse migration is driven by the improved living conditions in that region, Brazil’s most impoverished and driest area.

Paulo Santos, the 38-year-old manager of the restaurant Feijão de Corda in the Zona Norte, also plans to return to his home city, Vitoria da Conquista in the northeast state of Bahía, which he left 20 years ago “to try my hand at better work than farming.”

“I’m tired, life in São Paulo is too stressful. The drought makes things worse, but there will be a solution to that one way or another. Vitoria da Conquista has grown a lot, now it has everything, and living standards there are better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Water, a network of 46 social and environmental organisations from the state of São Paulo, is lobbying the state government and mobilising society with the aim of “building water security” in the city.

The February rains, which were heavier than average, helped the Cantareira system’s reservoirs recover some of their capacity. But the situation is still “extremely serious,” Marussia Whately, the head of the Alliance, told Tierramérica.

“This requires an all-out effort, especially to relieve the suffering of the poor outlying neighbourhoods, which do not have water tanks and can’t store up water for the hours or days without supply,” said Delcio Rodrigues, an activist with the group and the vice president of the Vitae Civilis Institute, which focuses on climate change.

But, he complained, the state government and its water company, Sabesp, prefer “to generate confusion” by reporting that on Feb. 23 the water level in the Cantareira system reached 10.5 percent, double the late January level – while failing to clarify that they were referring to the “dead” or inactive storage water in the Cantareira system below the intake point, the water that cannot be drained from a reservoir by gravity and can only be pumped out.

The company has been using this storage water since July 2014.

Using the intake point as the reference, the level is minus 18.5 percent – far below the 12.3 percent of April 2014.

The water crisis is the result of two years of drought in southeast Brazil. Exceptional rainfall would be needed in the rest of March in order to store up water for the six-month dry season. But because that is unlikely, experts in hydrology are calling for immediate rationing to avoid a total collapse.

Sabesp has imposed undeclared rationing by reducing the water pressure in the pipes, which leads to an interruption in supply in many areas during certain parts of the day. The company also fines those who increase consumption and offers discounts to those who reduce it.

But the Alliance for Water is calling for emergency measures such as public campaigns, transparent crisis management and heavy fines against waste. It also proposes 10 medium-term actions, such as more participative management, reduction of water loss, reforestation of drainage basins, and improved sewage treatment.

In its attempt to avoid the political costs of rationing, the state government decided to use water from the Billings reservoir to meet demand. According to Rodrigues, this is “appalling” because that water is heavily polluted, with mercury, for example, which poses a serious health risk.

But because of the crisis, reforestation has been stepped up in the water basins. That is necessary for the Cantareira system, where only 20 percent of the original vegetation still survives, Whately said. Forests improve water production and retention and curb erosion, but it is a long-term solution, and cannot resolve the current emergency, she added.

This article was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Eco-efficient Crop and Livestock Production for Nicaraguan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:25:47 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139523 A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

By Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza
MANAGUA, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For Roberto Pineda, a smallholder farmer in the Somotillo municipality of Nicaragua, his traditional practice after each harvest was to cut down and burn all crop residues on his land, a practice known as “slash-and-burn” agriculture.

A widespread practice on these sub-humid hillsides of Central America, it was nonetheless causing many negative environmental implications, including poor soil quality, erosion, nutrient leaching, and the loss of ecosystem diversity. Slash-and-burn allows farmers to use land for only one to three years before the plots become too degraded and must be abandoned.The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

“We used to work in our traditional way, pruning everything down to the ground, and if there was anything left we would burn it,” he said. “The land would be destroyed and things weren’t getting better.”

But about three years ago, Pineda and a group of farmers became involved in an agroforestry programme overseen by a group of partners including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as well as Nicaraguan, American, Austrian and Colombian institutions.

The programme works with farmers to enhance the eco-efficiency of their rural landscapes, helping them to introduce stress-adapted crop and forage options and improve crop and livestock productivity and profitability. This helps smallholders not only to improve local ecosystems but also to adapt to extreme climate conditions and safeguard soil fertility and food production over the long term.

“Now we have seen a change,” Pineda said. “We used to yield 10 quintals per manzana, and now we produce between 30 and 40 quintals per manzana. We have improved our natural resources, and trees have grown. Before, we had no trees and there was no rain.”

How it works

The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

Farmers are encouraged to plant a scattering of trees in their croplands, thereby stabilising the hillsides and minimising soil erosion. The trees also capture carbon dioxide, help fix nitrogen in the soil and draw up essential crop nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium from deeper soil layers.

The trees are pruned regularly, and the cuttings are laid around the crops as nutritious mulch, providing them nutrients and retaining moisture to protect them against periods of drought while reducing nutrient leaching. The remaining required nutrients are supplied by eco-efficient use of chemical fertilizers.

The overall result is a more productive, resilient farming system that can withstand the increasingly variable climate conditions of Central America, ranging from extended periods of drought to intense rain, and thus improve income and food security for the rural families.

This is especially important as climate conditions are becoming more unpredictable as a result of climate change. For instance, over a three-year period, the yields of key staple crops such as maize, beans and sorghum increased; farmers obtained secondary incomes from selling surplus wood; and in most plots soil loss was converted into net soil accumulation of 40 tonnes per hectare, as a result of the new methods introduced.

What next?

The project started implementing its activities with a sample size of 16 farm households in north Nicaragua. As these trials proved successful, the system was disseminated to around 300 farmers in the area through Farmer Field Schools and guided visits.

Programs like this are good examples of a new holistic approach to agricultural research put forth by Humidtropics, which looks at the system as a whole – from farm, landscape, province, agro-ecological zone, region – in order to understand how these components interact with each other, and better manage the synergies, trade-offs and overall integrity of the ecosystem within which the farming takes place.

The farmer and her community are central in this research approach, including exploring the specific roles and opportunities for women, men and youth and focusing improving their resilience.

Ultimately, this programme has the potential to reach 10,000 smallholder farmers to help them boost their productivity through the sustainable intensification of their limited resources. Furthermore, its methods can be disseminated through community radio stations and local television networks to reach over 200,000 farm households in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Water and the World We Wanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:42:58 +0000 Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139353 Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford
HAMILTON, Canada, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

We have entered a watershed year, a moment critical for humanity.

As we reflect on the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals, we look toward the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to redress imbalances perpetuated through unsustainable economic growth and to help achieve key universally-shared ambitions, including stable political systems, greater wealth and better health for all.Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

More than any other resource, freshwater underpins sustainable development. Not only is it necessary for life and human well-being, it’s a key element of all human industry.

And a U.N. report launched Feb. 24, “Water in the World We Want,” outlines what must be done within the world’s water system.

Effective management and universal provisioning of drinking water and sanitation coupled with good hygiene are the most critical elements of sustainability and development, preventing disease and death and facilitating education and economic productivity.

While 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water since 2000, it is estimated that just as many do not have access to potable quality water, let alone 24-7 service in their homes, schools and health facilities. Furthermore, 2.5 billion people without adequate access and 1 billion with no toilet at all.

If we don’t regain momentum in water sector improvements, population growth, economic instability, Earth system impacts and climate disruption may make it impossible to ever achieve a meaningful level of sustainability.

If this occurs we could face stalling or even reversal of development, meaning more people, not fewer, in poverty, and greater sub-national insecurity over water issues with the potential to create tension and conflict and destabilize countries.

Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

Moreover, changes in atmospheric composition and consequent changes in our climate have altered the envelope of certainty within which we have historically anticipated weather, producing deeper and more persistent droughts and more damaging floods. These changing water circumstances will cascade through the environment, every sector of every economy, and social and political systems around the world.

So what in the world do we do?

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, every country must commit funding, institutional resources and tools to the cause — including major realignment of national economic priorities where needed.

New mechanisms are required for transferring and sharing not only money but knowledge, data, technology and “soft” solutions proven in different contexts. Engagement of the private sector is critical in this transfer of technologies and know-how.

National governments must prioritize water, wastewater, and sanitation management, supported by a dedicated and independent arm’s length water agency.

The balance between environment, human security, and economic viability need to be articulated in a manner which holds all nations accountable for helping one another achieve the highest global standard for sustainable development, does not tolerate compromise, yet provides flexibility on the mechanisms by which to achieve those outcomes.

If we want to live in a sustainable world we have to provide clean and reliable sources of water to the billions of people who do not enjoy this basic right today and provide sanitation services to the more than two and a half billion people on Earth who lack even basic toilets.

Agriculture and energy sectors must be held accountable for water use and other system efficiencies while maintaining or increasing productivity. Companies that rely on, or have an interest in, water have a key role to play in financing and implementing sound water, sanitation and wastewater management strategies. Such companies must step up to the plate or risk significant losses. This is no longer simply corporate social responsibility but sound economic investment.

To ensure financial resources for implementation, new and emerging opportunities must be explored in parallel with more efficient expenditures, taking maximum advantage of economies of both scope and scale and accounting for trickle through benefits to many other sectors.

Additional funds can be freed up through phased redirection of the 1.9 trillion dollars currently granted as subsidies to petroleum, coal and gas industries. Corruption, a criminal act in its own right, siphons up to 30 percent of water sector investments which could be viewed as a crime against humanity within the context of sustainable development.

We can still have the sustainable future we want. But only if the world finds renewed determination and resumes the pace needed to reach our water-related development goals.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Keeping Food Security on the Table at U.N. Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 22:32:29 +0000 Denise M. Fontanilla and Chris Wright http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139186 The UN climate talks open in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 8. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata

The UN climate talks open in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 8. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata

By Denise M. Fontanilla and Chris Wright
GENEVA, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Food security has become a key issue of the U.N. climate negotiations this week in Geneva as a number of countries and observers raised concerns that recent advances in Lima are in jeopardy.

While food security is a core objective of the U.N. climate convention, it has traditionally been discussed in relation to adaptation.“If we succeed in having food security within mitigation, we can say that one of the biggest concerns of Southern countries will have been taken into account." -- Ali Abdou Bonguéré, a negotiator for Niger

“Ask any African country what’s adaptation about – they’re going to say agriculture,” said Teresa Anderson of the international charity ActionAid. She added that 90 percent of countries who developed national adaptation plans identified agriculture as the key element.

Food security is referenced throughout the latest draft of the new climate agreement, which was released Feb. 12. One proposal for adaptation recognises the need “to build resilience of the most vulnerable linked to pockets of poverty, livelihoods and food security in developing countries.”

This language has recently been strengthened during negotiations in Lima. These discussions were seen as a minor victory for many developing nations seeking to include specific provisions for food security.

“Since Lima we have worked hard for food security to be taken into account. Food security was finally included into the adaptation section and we are currently working hard to have it also included in the mitigation negotiations as well,” said Ali Abdou Bonguéré, a negotiator for Niger.

However, this week a number of non-governmental organisations and negotiators alike have raised concerns that food security may be coming under threat.

As Teresa Anderson of ActionAid explained, there have been recent changes to the language being used within mitigation discussions that may have a long term impact on food security, especially in developing and marginalised nations.

Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance. Credit: RTCC

Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance. Credit: RTCC

These concerns began when “a few countries proposed submissions on a long term mitigation goal of ‘net zero’ emissions”. This was seen as a largely positive move, as negotiations developed a broader perspective and a number of countries proposed possible long-term pledges to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 2050 to ‘net’ or ‘near’ zero.

However, while the terms “near zero emissions” and “net zero emissions” may sound similar, some NGOs here believe they can have the exact opposite meaning. According to Anderson, while a goal of near zero emissions would be essential to addressing climate change, a long term “net zero” goal would mean that developed countries in particular could continue their emissions business as usual , while using alternative approaches to suck carbon out of the air instead of implementing real change.

Of the “net-zero” emissions approaches currently on the table, most are land-based, and would involve the scaling up of biofuels, biochar or BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). “All of these approaches would use massive amounts of land, and this could create significant competition for food production,” she adds.

“In Africa we need land to grow our crops. You cannot be solving another problem by creating another problem,” said Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance.

“We call for zero emissions, actually reducing emissions. Net zero means continuing pollution in some countries while stocking carbon dioxide in other countries, which will not be helpful to the communities in Africa,” he added.

This then could have a multiplying effect on food security, as “land use” was this week also introduced into the negotiations on mitigation.

“As land use is now being proposed in mitigation text, there are fears from many NGOs and countries I have talked to that an overemphasis on mitigation relating to agriculture and land will become the priority over adaptation…countries will have to sequester carbon to meet their mitigation goals,” Teresa said.

Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agricultural ministry. Credit: Lou Del Bello via SciDev.net

Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agricultural ministry. Credit: Lou Del Bello via SciDev.net

This, she fears, means that developed countries could supplement their mitigation goals with plans on purchasing land used for agriculture and turning it into biofuels or biochar. As Teresa added, if this was in fact to occur, it could affect poor and subsistence farmers, especially in developing countries.

“What we have learned from the biofuel land grab, it is always the hungriest, the poorest, the most marginalised who suffer the most. In the end, they get pushed off their land and thrown into poverty as they can’t afford the price of food.”

However, a number of negotiators, including some from developing countries, have argued that these concerns are exaggerated, and assumes these negotiations are occurring in bad faith.

“I don’t think that’s the way [the European Union] would see it like that because there’s actually a lot of measures you can take within the agriculture sector that have benefits for food security, adaptation and mitigation,” according to Irish delegate Gemma O’Reilly.

This is in the context of a week of negotiations that many feel was among the most successful and collegial in the recent history of the U.N. climate negotiations. As such, O’Reilly still believes we can achieve a win-win situation in the long term.

“There are measures you want to take that’s win-win-win and that’s what you can encourage. And land-grabbing – I don’t think so,” she added.

While Geneva may have closed (the talks ran Feb. 8-13), negotiations on mitigation remain open as we move closer to a Paris deal at the end of the year. It is therefore the hope among many developing nations that the inclusion of specific safeguards within mitigation could help protect against a future climate-fuelled land grab.

“If we succeed in having food security within mitigation, we can say that one of the biggest concerns of Southern countries will have been taken into account,” Bonguéré said.

This was reiterated by Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agriculture ministry.

“Adaptation is our priority. If there are mitigation co-benefits, okay, even better, why not? And there are co-benefits for food security. Food security is adaptation, but there are adaptation strategies with mitigation potential,“ she said.

Saying that, climate justice groups this week reminded negotiators that the greatest threat to food security remains the lack of efforts to dramatically reduce carbon emissions before 2020.

Instead of delaying what may become an inevitable climate crisis for farmers and fisherfolk in the future, they call on countries to “take up the call of local communities to transform our energy systems today”.

This approach, partnered with a rapid phase-in of renewable energies and agro-ecological farming practices, could possibly achieve the co-benefits Dr. Ilaga hopes will support food security and prevent further climate change.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warming, Wildfires and Worrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warming-wildfires-and-worries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:22:24 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139127 A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

World leaders from government, finance, business, science and civil society are attempting to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change at the upcoming 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference being convened in Paris in December.

If achieved, which appears uncertain at present, the agreement aimed at addressing global warming would begin to take effect some time in the future. In the meantime, local communities are being forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as the increasing incidence of wildfires.The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia.

As a result of the world’s warming the frequency and duration of large wildfires and the area burned have been increasing. Longer fire seasons, warmer temperatures, which are conducive to widespread insect infestations killing more trees, and drier conditions, including more droughts, are contributing to more severe wildfire risks and growing worries for local communities.

Worldwide it is estimated that somewhere between 75 million and 820 million hectares of land burn each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “climate variability is often the dominant factor affecting large wildfires” despite widespread management practices aimed at reducing flammable materials in forests.

Various climate models are forecasting higher temperatures and longer droughts, which in turn are expected to increase wildfire frequency. While more rainfall in some areas might reduce fire frequency, it may also foster more forest vegetation that provides more fuel for wildfires. Lightning strikes, often an ignition source for wildfires, are also expected to increase with global warming.

The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia. The costs of wildfires in terms of risks to human life and property damage are enormous and are expected to increase substantially in the coming years.

Wildfires also have serious environmental and health consequences. In addition to threats to humans and wildlife, wildfires contribute to local air pollution, which exacerbate lung diseases, and cause breathing problems even in healthy individuals.

Most wealthy industrialised nations have developed mechanisms and organisations and allocated human and financial resources to combat wildfires and mitigate their devastating consequences. Less developed countries, in contrast, often lack the resources and governmental organisations to tackle wildfires and handle their effects.

As might be expected, people’s vulnerability to global warming varies greatly by region, wealth and access to alternatives. Some less developed nations, in particular small island nations and low-lying territories, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These nations are seeking mitigation monies from the wealthy, industrialised countries to help them adapt to the impending catastrophes from climate change.

Based on the available statistical evidence, the overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that climate change is due to greenhouse-gas emissions. Some powerful voices, however, are in denial, disputing the causes of global warming often because of self-interest, resistance to change and fear of governmental and outside interventions and regulations.

Local communities, however, do not have the luxury of debating the causes and consequences of climate change. Communities are forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as increasing wildfires, rising sea levels, droughts, etc.

With a possible global agreement on climate change now being debated and negotiated by major world powers, one small community in the Bahamas decided that they needed to do something about the increased threat of large wildfires to life and property due to global warming.

On a plot of land leased from the Bahamian government, the community of Bahama Palm Shores consisting of some 100 households located in the Abacos Island financed and built their own firehouse.

The homeowners -men and women and young and old- donated their time, labour and limited financial resources to build their local firehouse. They were also able to collect 12,000 dollars in donations to purchase a used 1985 fire truck from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

In addition to an occasional bingo night, the community has organised a 30-mile Bike-a-Thon on Valentine’s Weekend of about three dozen riders to raise funds to maintain the firehouse and fire truck as well as support volunteer fire services.

Many communities recognise the need to organise and work together to ensure that local climate change adaptation measures are effective. Non-governmental organisations, especially environmental groups, are also encouraging and supporting citizens at various levels to due their part to reduce the impact of climate change.

However, the only long-term solution to global warming is a legally binding and international agreement on climate among all nations of the world, which is the overall objective of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December.

As witnessed at the recent U.N. Summit on Climate Change held in New York City, heads of state and government officials often announce impressive actions and ambitious goals intended to avert the worst consequences of global warming as well as address the vocal concerns of activist environmental groups. When it comes to adopting coordinated action at the global level for nearly 200 countries, things become enormously more complex and difficult.

Some observers consider the chances of achieving an international, binding climate agreement by the year’s end to be slim. They see powerful factors, including the industrial complexes reliance on fossil fuels, economic and business interests, and short-term, parochial nation-state interests, undermining the chances for an agreement.

In addition, even if an international climate convention were to be reached, they contend that it would be almost impossible to enforce.

Others, however, believe that a global climate convention is not only possible, but that it may lead to payoffs that will have meaningful impacts on confronting climate change. Not only will an international agreement buttress the abilities of individual nations to address climate change, it will also send a clear message to businesses and guide investments toward low carbon emission outcomes.

While communities around the world wait hopefully for the outcome of the U.N. Climate Change Conference to kick in, they have little choice but to do the best they can to deal with the consequences of global warming, including more bike-a-thons, bingo games and other fund raising events.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Touts 2015 as Milestone Year for World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:25:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139103 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, in a sustained political hype, is touting 2015 as a likely breakthrough year for several key issues on its agenda – primarily development financing, climate change, sustainable development, disaster risk-reduction and nuclear non-proliferation.

At the same time, the world body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year while also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Conference on Women which strengthened gender empowerment worldwide."Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century." -- James Paul

In a report titled ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’ released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 2015 is “the time for global action.”

The upcoming events include the Third World Conference on Disaster-Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March; the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty in April-May in New York; and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa in July.

Speaking to reporters last week, the secretary-general singled out three priorities “I have been repeating all the time.”

“We have to do the utmost efforts to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (ending 2015). Then the Member States are working very hard to shape the post-2015 development agenda by September.”

The United Nations will host a special summit of world leaders, Sep. 25 to 27, and “we expect that most of the world leaders will be here and discuss and adopt and declare as their vision to the world, aiming by 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

And in December this year, he said, “we must have a universal, meaningful climate change agreement” in talks scheduled to take place in Paris.

At each of these “milestones,” he pointed out, “we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reduce inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompany the climate challenge.”

As for the 70th anniversary, he said, it will be “an important moment for serious reflection on our achievements and setbacks”.

But Jim Paul, who monitored the United Nations for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS he was sceptical of the political hype surrounding the upcoming conferences.

“The United Nations has been trumpeting the global meetings of 2015 as watershed events, but real world expectations are lagging behind the rhetoric of the secretary-general and his team,” he said.

Paul said there are several issues to bear in mind: while the U.N.’s summits address some of the world’s most pressing issues, powerful member states like the United States usually seek to weaken the events and prevent strong outcomes.

This trend was already visible in the 1990s, the golden decade of U.N. summits, when Washington began to insist that summits were too “expensive” and reached too far, said Paul, a onetime lecturer and assistant professor of political science at Empire State College in the State University of New York system.

“That policy reached its most extreme form in the run-up to the summit of 2005, when the U.S. insisted on a massive, last-minute re-working of the agreed text, but it can be found in many other cases before and since,” he said.

Paul pointed out that powerful states, the U.S. first and foremost, do not like to be limited by U.N.-based decisions.

Second, there is the problem of the lack of binding outcomes to these global events.

He said grand aspirations are often expressed in the outcome documents, and the word “binding” is sometimes used, but all participants know that the outcome will remain aspirational – not tough, compelling policy to be adhered to.

This gives rise to cynicism among the diplomats and especially among the public, urged by governments to blame “the U.N.” for its supposedly feckless behaviour (whilst they themselves are often at fault), he declared.

At a press conference last month, the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, said 70 years after the founding of the United Nations “we have a truly historic opportunity to agree on an inspiring agenda that can energize the international community, governments everywhere and the citizens of the world.”

“We must be ready to seize this challenge,” he added.

Speaking on the specifics of SDGs, Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Penang-based Third World Network, told IPS while the incorporation of the SDGs is an important part of the post-2015 development agenda, “We need to put the economic agenda as a priority for the Development Summit.”

She said financial instabilities “continue to loom before us, while increasingly anti-people and anti-development trade rules are being pushed by major developed countries in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The notoriety of transnational investors suing national governments for hundreds of millions of dollars under bilateral investment agreements has triggered protests in many countries, with some developing country governments reviewing and even terminating those grossly unfair treaties. “

She said the Addis Ababa conference is crucial for addressing several fundamental financial and economic issues – without structural reforms that respect national policy space and ensure stability, sustainable development will remain elusive.

Paul told IPS there are various alternative policy venues, such as the World Bank, the G-8, the G-20, the IMF, and so on.

The United Nations must confront the challenge of great powers who take decisions in venues they prefer and according to their own priorities and timetables.

Washington is certainly not the only U.N. member state to act this way, but as the biggest and richest, it has the strongest inclination to act according to its own perceived interests and not in a broadly consultative process, he said.

“Finally, we should remember the difficult policy context of 2015 – the deep crisis of climate change that requires decisions that go very far and necessarily upset the comfortable assumptions of the existing global order,” Paul noted.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 percent is so radical a goal that no one even wants to think about it, much less create policy around it, said Paul.

And creating a fair, stable and just global economic order under the Sustainable Development Goals appears also nearly impossible in a global economy that is stumbling seriously and creating ever-greater inequality. Will the world’s oligarchs concede power and revenues? he asked.

Does all this mean that the U.N.’s aspirational summit meetings in 2015 are useless or downright negative? Not necessarily.

“To know that we cannot expect a miracle is perhaps a valuable adjustment of our unreasonable expectations and a way to think more realistically about what can and cannot be accomplished,” Paul said.

“Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: People Power, the Solution to Climate Inactionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 11:15:55 +0000 Rob McCreath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139086 If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

By Rob McCreath
BRISBANE, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

Nothing is more important to farmers like me than the weather. It affects the growth and quality of our crops and livestock, and has a major impact on global food supply.

The world’s weather is being messed up by global warming, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

Every national science organisation in the developed world agrees that global warming is real and caused by human activities. That’s good enough for me.

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century – rendering large parts of it uninhabitable, including many currently densely populated areas, which will be under water due to melting glaciers and ice caps.

The impacts on farming in Australia (and everywhere else) of such a rise in temperature would be very severe indeed.

To avoid such a bleak future, we simply must stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If our politicians had any common sense, they would change quickly to renewable energy, but sadly they are captives of the fossil fuel industry that funds their re-election campaigns.

Just look at the Nationals, who in spite of claiming to represent farmers, this month declared donations of 30,000 dollars from oil & gas company Santos, 25,000 from coal miner Peabody, and 50,000 dollars from prominent climate change denier and coal & oil company director Ian Plimer.

So, for the sake of future generations, we have to make this change happen ourselves, and the best way to do this is to disrupt the business model of companies trying to make money from fossil fuels by pulling the financial rug out from underneath them.

It’s called divestment, which is simply the opposite of investment. Here’s how it works. If you’ve got shares in fossil fuel companies, then sell them and invest in something that won’t wreck the planet.

If your super fund invests in fossil fuels, then transfer your money to a fund that doesn’t. If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum, and the more people that take part, the better it works. Share prices (just like wheat and cattle prices) are set by supply and demand, so as more people sell, the price falls.

When a company’s share price falls far enough, it finds it more difficult to borrow money, with which to fund its next coal mine. Take oil and gas company Santos, for example. Due mainly to the recent plunge in oil prices, in the past six months its share price has dropped by almost 50 percent.

As a result, the company has announced plans to cut back on expenditure and reduce its operations.

On the flip side, the more money that flows into companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green technology, the faster they will grow and the sooner we can put a lid on runaway climate change.

A brave new world awaits. Let’s divest together and change the future!

Global Divestment Day will be taking place on Feb. 13-14. Hundreds of events spanning six continents will be taking place. Join an event near you. For more information visit: gofossilfree.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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A New “Republic” to Save Chile’s Glaciershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-republic-to-save-chiles-glaciers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-republic-to-save-chiles-glaciers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-republic-to-save-chiles-glaciers/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 16:51:39 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139004 A display of what the harvest of fruit and vegetables would be like without the water from the glaciers, in the Jan. 23, 2015 Fair Without Glaciers organised by Greenpeace in Santiago’s Plaza de la Constitución. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A display of what the harvest of fruit and vegetables would be like without the water from the glaciers, in the Jan. 23, 2015 Fair Without Glaciers organised by Greenpeace in Santiago’s Plaza de la Constitución. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Feb 4 2015 (IPS)

Chile’s more than 3,000 glaciers are one of the largest reserves of freshwater in South America. But they are under constant threat by the mining industry and major infrastructure projects, environmentalists and experts warn.

The lack of legislation to protect them allowed the global environmental watchdog Greenpeace to create the Glacier Republic in March 2014 – a virtual country created on 23,000 sq km of glaciers in the Chilean Andes, which already has over 165,000 citizens and 40 embassies spread around the world.

“The Glacier Republic emerged in response to a need, because the glaciers in this country aren’t protected,” the executive director of Greenpeace Chile, Matías Asún, told Tierramérica.

A glacier is a huge mass of ice and snow that forms where snow in the wintertime gathers faster than it melts in the summer and flows slowly over an area of land. Most of the world’s freshwater — 69 percent — is locked away in glaciers and ice caps.

“These are strategic reserves of water that contribute in a significant manner during periods of drought and are found not only in the high mountains but also in the south of the country,” Asún explained.

“Many glaciers have been buried and conserve important reserves of water,” he added. “These supply water to the river basins, and not only the most basic human activities but also agriculture and the economy of the country depend on the basins.”

Chile, a mining country whose main source of wealth is copper, has 82 percent of South America’s glaciers, according to Greenpeace. However, most of them have visibly retreated due to the impact of climate change and large-scale mining activities.

Addressing the Chilean legislature in 2014, glaciologist Alexander Brenning, from the University of Waterloo, Ontario said the magnitude of interventions on glaciers in Chile was unparalleled in the world, and urged that the cumulative effects be assessed.

“The experts are emphatic: Chile has one of the worst records in the world in terms of destruction of glaciers,” Asún said. “This is the sad situation that forced us to found the Glacier Republic.”

“Because the glaciers were in no man’s land, we used that legal vacuum to found the Glacier Republic. We took possession of the entire surface area of glaciers in Chile and declared ourselves an independent republic,” he added.

The Glacier Republic, created as an awareness-raising campaign, was founded on the basis of the Convention on Rights and Duties of States, better known as the Montevideo Convention after the city where it was signed in 1933. The first article of the convention establishes four requisites for declaring the creation of a state: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

The aim of the Glacier Republic is to push for what the citizens describe as a “five-star” law on glaciers, which would guarantee the total protection of Chile’s glaciers.

The El Morado glacier in the Andes mountains in central Chile. Credit: Orlando Ruz/IPS

The El Morado glacier in the Andes mountains in central Chile. Credit: Orlando Ruz/IPS

The activists want protection of the glaciers as a national asset for public use to be introduced in the constitution.

They also argue that the law should establish that “the glaciers represent strategic reserves of water in a solid state,” and that it should include a legal definition of glaciers and descriptions of the different kinds of glaciers and their ecosystems, and specify what kinds of activities are permitted and prohibited in each ecosystem.

In addition, the idea is to establish in the law a grace period and specific timeframe for activities currently carried out in protected or potentially protected areas to adapt to the new law.

In May 2014, lawmakers from the self-described “glacier caucus”, which includes the former student leader and current Communist legislator Camila Vallejo, introduced a draft law in Congress to create a legal framework to protect the country’s glaciers.

The current legislation allows activities like mining or the construction of infrastructure to affect a glacier, if the impact is spelled out in the environmental impact assessment and compensated for in some way.

In August, Congress agreed to try to move towards passage of a new law. But the draft law, which has drawn criticism from different sides, has not yet been approved.

Chilean glaciologist Cedomir Marangunic, who works with different technologies to save and create new glaciers, told Tierramérica that he believes certain well-regulated activities, such as tourism or development projects, can be allowed in the areas of the glaciers, unless prohibiting all human activity is indispensable for the survival of a specific glacier.

But he said glaciers, especially the ones located on privately owned territory, should be in the public domain by law.

Marangunic, a geologist at the University of Chile with a PhD in glaciology from Ohio State University in the U.S., said that although “some mining” hurts glaciers, “the pollution caused by large cities like Santiago or the smoke from the burning of grasslands and forests” also damage them.

But for the Diaguita Community of Huasco Valley in the arid northern region of Atacama, where the Canadian company Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama gold and silver mine is located, there is no room for doubt.

“Glaciers are the reservoirs of water that we have had for thousands of years. And today, in times of drought, it is the glaciers that keep us alive and supplied with water,” the indigenous community’s spokesman, Sebastián Cruz, told Tierramérica.

Huasco Valley, in the Atacama desert, the driest in the world, runs across the Andes mountains to the sea and is fed by water from the glaciers, added the representative of the Diaguita native community, who live in that vulnerable ecosystem.

Far from living up to the commitment expressed in the environmental impact study, the Pascua Lama gold mine has destroyed “nearly 99 percent of the Esperanza glacier and the Toro 1 and 2 glaciers,” Cruz said.

The Diaguita community argues that a new law on glaciers must guarantee protection for certain conservation areas and must ban any extractive or mining activities in the glaciers and the surrounding landscape.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet promised to protect the glaciers, in a May 2014 speech to the nation. But since then she has not referred publicly to the issue. A group of legislators from the governing Nueva Mayoría have backed the draft law.

The citizens of the Glacier Republic promise they won’t back down until a strong law on glaciers is passed.

“For the time being, the glaciers belong to the Glacier Republic, and we will be in a dispute with the Chilean state until we see a determined commitment to a real law,” Asún said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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OPINION: The Future of Wetlands, the Future of Waterbirds – an Intercontinental Connectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:16:53 +0000 Jacques Trouvilliez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138953 Lesser Flamingos in flight, Credit: ©Mark Anderson

Lesser Flamingos in flight, Credit: ©Mark Anderson

By Jacques Trouvilliez
BONN, Jan 31 2015 (IPS)

The first global treaty dealing with biodiversity was the Ramsar Convention – predating the Rio processes by 20 years.

Ramsar aims to conserve wetlands, the usefulness of which has been undervalued – even the eminent French naturalist of the 18th century, the Comte de Buffon, advocated their destruction – and which have suffered large losses in recent decades.Wetlands are vital for birds – and especially waterbirds – but it is also the case that the birds are vital to the wetlands, playing a major role in maintaining nature’s balance.

Far from being wastelands, wetlands provide invaluable services, replenishing aquifers that supply drinking water and filtering out harmful pollutants. By maintaining a healthy environment, wetlands help ensure human well-being.

While the Ramsar Convention has had to deal with a broader spectrum of wetland issues over the years, it should be remembered that its full title includes “especially as waterfowl habitat”, and in AEWA, Ramsar has a strong ally with a clear focus on waterbird conservation in the African-Eurasian Flyway.

The areas designated as Ramsar Sites form an important part of the network of breeding, feeding and stopover grounds that are indispensable to the survival of the 255 bird populations of listed under AEWA.

Ramsar Sites are vital “hubs” in the network of habitats that constitute the African-Eurasian flyway along which millions of birds migrate in the course of the annual cycle. They include habitats as diverse as the Wadden Sea in Europe and the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania, both also designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and important staging posts for birds migrating between Arctic breeding grounds and wintering sites deep in Africa.

Despite being often far apart geographically and different morphologically, these sites are inextricably linked by the birds that frequent them.

The definition of “wetland” extends to fish ponds, rice paddies, saltpans and some shallow marine waters, so Ramsar has sites of significance to other species covered by the Convention of Migratory Species, under which AEWA was concluded.

Examples are the Franciscana dolphin (the only dolphin species to inhabit wetlands) found in the estuary of the River Plate and along the coast of South America; and the European eel – a recent addition to the CMS listings – which spends most of its life in rivers but spawns and then dies in the Sargasso Sea.

But it is waterbirds that have the strongest links to wetlands and the future of many species is in doubt as a result of the continuing reduction in area of these most productive of habitats. Of great concern is the fate of the mudflats of the Yellow Sea which are under increasing pressure from human developments because tied to them is the fate of a number of threatened shorebirds.

Lake Natron in the United Republic of Tanzania is the only regular breeding site of over two million Lesser flamingoes. Applications have been made to exploit the area’s deposits of soda ash leading to fears that irrevocable damage would be done to the site resulting in the species’ extinction.

The habitats of Andean flamingoes – the Puna and Andean Flamingoes – are facing similar problems as illegal mining activities have eroded the nesting sites and contaminated the water, exacerbating other threats such as egg collection.

Fragile wetland ecosystems also fall victim to man-made accidents – the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the Sandoz chemical works fire in Basel, Switzerland in 1986 being just two examples of countless incidents, both leading to the death of thousands of birds and fish.

Wetlands are vital for birds – and especially waterbirds – but it is also the case that the birds are vital to the wetlands, playing a major role in maintaining nature’s balance.

Government representatives will gather in Paris later this year in the latest effort to seek agreement on the steps necessary to arrest the causes of climate change. Wildlife is already feeling the effects and one of the best ways to ensure that animals can adapt is to ensure that there are enough robust sites providing the habitat and food sources at the right time and in the right place.

The theme chosen by the Ramsar Convention for this year’s campaign is Wetlands for Our Future and there is a particular emphasis being placed on the role of young people. While wetlands are of course vital for humans, they are no less important for the survival of wildlife and to a great extent also depend on the birds that live in them.

It is the role of AEWA to provide a forum where the countries of Europe, West Asia and Africa can work together to maintain the network of sites making up the African-Eurasian flyway.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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