Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 25 May 2015 22:49:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Development Threatens Antigua’s Protected Guiana Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:11:17 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140683 Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GUIANA ISLAND, Antigua, May 18 2015 (IPS)

In June 2014, Gaston Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls with a pledge to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.

In their first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Browne’s Cabinet approved a number of private investment projects valued in excess of three billion dollars."We want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but what... are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs?" -- Tahambay Smith

The largest is the Yida Investment Group, Guiana Island Project which will see the development of the largest free trade zone in the country, an off-shore financial centre, a five-star luxury resort, internationally branded villa communities, a casino and gaming complex, a multi-purpose conference centre, a 27-hole golf course, a marina and landing facilities, commercial, retail, sports and other auxillary facilities.

Headquartered in western Beijing, Yida International Investment Group was founded in 2011.

But Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island to start the proposed development has raised the ire of local environmentalists who have launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Browne not to allow the Chinese developers to break laws and to conserve the Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith told IPS.

“Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something?” he said.

“First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic,” he added.

Guiana Island, located off the northeast coast of Antigua between the Parham Peninsula and Crump Island, is the fourth largest island of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a refuge for the Fallow Deer, Antigua’s national animal.

Smith said building a marina in the area would also result in the destruction of reefs and removal of sea grass beds, adding that a few jobs and some investment dollars do no equate to the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” Smith said.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected.”

Ruth Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, agrees with Smith.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected,” she told IPS.

“How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?”

Eli Fuller is the President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS), the group spearheading the petition which outlines that Guiana Island falls within an area protected by the nation’s Fisheries Act and also falls within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), which was designated a Marine Protected Area in 2005.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” Fuller told IPS.

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood,” Fuller said.

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” he added.

But Prime Minister Browne said those who have raised concerns about the mangroves have taken a fundamentalist position.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country,” Browne said.

He added that, “some fauna may have to be destroyed” as government proceeds with various developments.

“My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment,” Browne added.

Fuller maintains that Prime Minister Browne was the man to petition in large numbers so that he could see that it wasn’t a “fundamentalist” minority that was very concerned with this particular development.

“He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas,” he said.

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws.

“We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” Fuller said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Poor Land Use Worsens Climate Change in St. Vincenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:08:01 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140638 The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, May 14 2015 (IPS)

For 32 years, Joel Poyer, a forest technician, has been tending to the forest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

His job allows him a unique view of what is taking place in the interior of this volcanic east Caribbean nation, where the landscape mostly alternates between deep gorges and high mountains."Sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.” -- Joel Poyer

Poyer, a 54-year-old social and political activist and trade unionist, is hoping that during the 18 months before he retires, he can get the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to focus on how human activities on the nation’s beaches and in its forests are exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

“Right now, it’s like a cancer eating [us] from the inside,” he tells IPS of the actions of persons, many of them illegal marijuana growers, who clear large swaths of land for farming – then abandon them after a few years and start the cycle again.

Over the past few years, extreme weather events have shown the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines how activities happening out of sight in the forest can have a devastating impact on coastal and other residential areas.

Three extreme weather events since 2010 have left total losses and damages of 222 million dollars, about 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas left 24 million dollars in damage, including damage to 1,200 homes that sent scores of persons into emergency shelters.

The hurricane also devastated many farms, including the destruction of 98 per cent almost all of the nation’s banana and plantain trees, cash crops for many families.

In April 2011, heavy rains resulted in landslides and caused rivers to overflow their banks and damage some 60 houses in Georgetown on St. Vincent’s northeastern coast.

In addition to the fact that the extreme weather event occurred during the traditional dry season and left 32 million dollars worth of damage, Vincentians were surprised by the number of logs that the raging waters deposited into the town.

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

On Dec. 24, 2013, unseasonal heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, resulting in 122 million dollars in damage and loss.

Again, residents were surprised by the number of logs that floodwaters had deposited into towns and villages and the ways in which these logs became battering rams, damaging or destroying houses and public infrastructure.

Not many of the trees, however, were freshly uprooted. They were either dry whole tree trunks or neatly cut logs.

“We have to pay attention to what is happening in the forest,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the media after the extreme weather event of December 2013.

“If we are seeing these logs in the lower end, you can imagine the damage in the upper end,” he said, adding that the Christmas Eve floods had damaged about 10 per cent of the nation’s forest.

“And if those logs are not cleared, and if we don’t deal properly with the river defences in the upper areas of the river, we have a time bomb, a ticking time bomb, because when the rains come again heavily, they will simply wash down what is in the pipeline, so to speak, in addition to new material that is to come,” Gonsalves said.

Almost one and a half years after the Christmas disaster, Gonsalves tells IPS a lot of clearing has been taking place in the forest.

“And I’ll tell you, the job which is required to be done is immense,” he says, adding that there is also a challenge of persons dumping garbage into rivers and streams, although the government collects garbage in every community across the country.

The scope of deforestation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is extensive. In some instances, persons clear up to 10 acres of forest for marijuana cultivation at elevations of over 3,000 feet above sea level, Poyer tells IPS.

“Some of them may cultivate using a method that is compatible, whereby they may leave trees in strategic areas to help to hold the soil together and attract rain. Other will just clear everything, as much as five to ten acres at one time for marijuana,” he explains.

But farmers growing legal produce, such as vegetables and root crops, also use practices that make the soils more susceptible to erosion at a time when the nation is witnessing longer, drier periods and shorter spells of more intense rainfall.

Many farmers use the slash and burn method, which purges the land of many of its nutrients and causes the soil to become loose. Farmers will then turn to fertilisers, which increases production costs.

“When they realise that it is costing them more for input, they will abandon those lands. In abandoning these lands, these lands being left bare, you have erosion taking place. You may have gully erosion, landslides,” Poyer tells IPS.

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says that sometime access to these lands is so difficult that reforestation is very costly.

“Sometimes we will have to put in check dams to try to reduce the erosion and allow it to come under vegetation naturally and hope and pray that in two years when it begins to come under vegetation that someone doesn’t do the very same thing that had happened two years prior,” he explains.

As climate change continues to affect the Caribbean, countries of the eastern Caribbean are seeing longer dry spells and more droughts, as is the case currently, which has led to a shortage of drinking water in some countries.

Emergency management officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have warned that the rainy season is expected to begin in July, at least four weeks later than is usually the case. Similar warnings have been issued across the region.

This makes conditions rife for bush fires in a country where the entire coastline is a fire zone because of the type of vegetation.

The nation’s fire chief, Superintendent of Police Isaiah Browne, tells IPS that this year fire-fighters have responded to 32 bush fires, compared to 91 in all of 2014.

In May alone, they have responded to 20 bush fires – many of them caused by persons clearing land for agriculture.

Poyer tells IPS that in addition to the type of vegetation along the coast, a lot of trees in those areas have been removed to make way for housing and other developments.

“And that also has an impact on the aquatic life,” he says. “That is why sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.”

Poyer’s comments echo a warning by Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, who says that as the temperature of the Caribbean Sea rises, species of fish found in the region, important proteins sources, may move further northward.

The effects of bush fires, combined with the severe weather resulting from climate change, have had catastrophic results in St. Vincent.

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Among the 12 persons who died in the Christmas 2013 floods and landslides were five members of a household in Rose Bank, in north-western St. Vincent, who died when a landslide slammed into their home.

“The three specific areas in Rose Bank where landslides occurred in in the 2013 floods were three of the areas where fires were always being lit,” Community activist Kennard King tells IPS, adding that there were no farms on those hillsides.

“It did affect the soil because as the bush was being burnt out, the soil did get loose, so that when the flood came, those areas were the areas that had the landslide,” says King, who is president of the Rose Bank Development Association.

As temperatures soar and rainfall decreases, the actions of Vincentians along the banks of streams and rivers are resulting in less fresh water in the nation’s waterways.

“The drying out of streams in the dry season is also a result of what is taking place in the hills, in the middle basin and along the stream banks,” Poyer tells IPS.

“Once you remove the vegetation, then you open it up to the sun and the elements that will draw out a lot of the water, causing it to vaporise and some of the rivers become seasonal,” he explains.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to spend millions of dollars to protect coastal areas and relocate persons affected by rising sea, as was the case in Layou, a town on the south-western coast, where boardwalk knows stands where house once stood for generations.

Stina Herberg, principal of Richmond Vale Academy in north-western St. Vincent has seen the impact of climate change on the land- and seascape since she arrived in St. Vincent in 2007.

“Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. … The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign,” she tells IPS.

Richmond Vale Academy runs a Climate Compliance Conference, where new students join for up to six months and take part in a 10-year project to help the people in St. Vincent adapt to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

“We had trough system on the 24th December 2013, and that a took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. … We have been observing this, starting to plant tree, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through,” she says.

The academy recently joined with the Police Cooperative Credit Union to plant 100 trees at Richmond Beach, which has been severely impacted by climate change.

“They will prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes we can do something,” Herberg tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Texans Propose to Adopt Threatened African Rhinoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:55:05 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140619 Rhinos in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa. Credit: cc by 4.0

Rhinos in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa. Credit: cc by 4.0

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Thefts, murders and mutilation of Africa’s wildlife, from white rhinos to elephants with their prized horns and tusks, are at an all-time high, say conservationists who are keeping track of the poaching of species by fortune-seeking hunters.

To save the animals from further decimation, the U.S.-based Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) proposes moving about 1,000 of South Africa’s white rhinos to a comparable climate in the U.S.

Allan Warren of the EWA says the need is urgent as rhinos are being poached to near extinction in southern Africa, and there appears to be no effort to stop it.

“The rhino horn is worth about 90,000 U.S. dollars per kilogramme, and each horn weighs about four kilos so it is more valuable than gold,” Warren said.

Under EWA’s scheme, rhinos would relocate to individual ranches in Texas, with South African ranchers granted partial ownership of the rhinos’ offspring. “It is not about hunting, it’s about preserving, saving the species from certain annihilation in South Africa,” Warren said. “Most of the rhinos to be moved are these baby rhinos whose mothers are slaughtered by poachers who slice off their horns.”

According to an “Elephant Summit” in 2013 held in Gaborone, Botswana, run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the majority of animal tusks wind up in Asia. The U.S., Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands are also cited to a lesser degree on the summit’s map.

In March of this year, world leaders met again in Kasane, Botswana to review progress since the 2014 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade. According to this group, illegal sales of ivory are now a 19 billion dollar business, 1000 park rangers have been killed by poachers in the last decade, and a rhino is killed every 11 hours.

With Botswana having a tough policing policy that has sharply reduced poaching, South Africa earlier this year approved the transfer of about 100 rhinos to that country. In addition to providing more space, Botswana also has a harsh “shoot to kill” policy against the hunters. It’s controversial, but some wildlife conservationists believe it’s the only way to stem poaching.

A different solution was proposed by Rhinos Without Borders which, in partnership with Great Plains Conservation, as well as various government ministries and safari groups, hopes to move up to 100 rhinos (both black and white) from existing high density populations in South Africa, and release them into the wild in various parts of Botswana.

Meanwhile, the plan to move rhinos to Texas faces several challenges: it needs approval from the US Department of Agriculture, it must find enough ranchers in Texas who want to take the rhinos; and it must raise the funds to move the creatures, at an estimated cost of at least 50,000 dollars per rhinoceros.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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NGOs Urge Post-2015 Declaration Include Water, Sanitation as Basic Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 15:22:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140611 Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Virtually every major international conference concludes with a “programme of action” (PoA) – described in U.N. jargon as “an outcome document” – preceded by a political declaration where 193 member states religiously pledge to honour their commitments.

But over 620 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a hefty coalition of mostly international water activists, are complaining that a proposed political declaration for the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda is set to marginalise water and sanitation.“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world." -- Meera Karunananthan

The development agenda, along with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is expected to be adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders Sep. 25-27 in New York.

Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project, told IPS that with more than 600 NGOs worldwide urging member states to revise the proposed political declaration, it is clear that water remains a very critical issue for billions of people around the world.

“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world,” she said.

The NGO coalition includes WaterAid, Food and Water Watch, Council of Canadians, Global Water Institute, Earth Law Alliance, Indigenous Rights Centre, Right 2 Water, Church World Service, Mining Working Group, End Water Poverty and Blue Planet Project.

Lucy Prioli of WaterAid told IPS with over 2.5 billion people living without basic sanitation and hundreds of millions more without access to water, it is critical that the human right to both water and sanitation is “placed front and centre in the post-2015 Declaration.”

“The international community will never achieve its ambition of ending world hunger unless it also tackles under-nutrition, which is caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation,” she said.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly recognised water and sanitation as a basic human right back in 2010.

Yet, 40 percent of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation and a quarter of the population lacks access to clean drinking water.

In a 2012 joint report, U.S. intelligence agencies portrayed a grim scenario for the foreseeable future: ethnic conflicts, regional tensions, political instability and even mass killings.

During the next 10 years, however, “many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increased regional tensions,” stated a National Intelligence Estimate.

Karunanthan said the U.N.s proposed post-2015 economic agenda, which includes a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), must not be blind to these predicted conflicts.

It must instead be proactive and safeguard water for the environment and the essential needs of people by explicitly recognising the human right to water and sanitation, she said.

“If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past which led to the staggering failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to meet its targets regarding sanitation, then it is important for the SDGs to be firmly rooted in a human rights -based framework,” she added.

The coalition says it wants to ensure the needs of people and the environment are prioritised in any water resource management strategy promoted within the SDGs.

“The post-2015 development agenda presents an important opportunity to fulfill the commitments made by member states in 2010,” the NGOs say.

The NGO demand builds on the consistent and urgent advocacy done by civil society throughout the post-2015 process regarding the importance of inclusion of the human right to water and sanitation (HRTWS).

The Declaration will be a document of political aspirations overarching the post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs.

A draft of the document is anticipated to be released by the end of this month.

U.N. Member States have stressed the need for an agenda that is “just, equitable, transformative, and people-centered”.

Global water justice groups argue that inclusion of the HRTWS in the post-2015 Declaration is vital to realising this goal.

The proposed SDGs include 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, sustainable management of water and sanitation, and protecting oceans and forests.

The 17 proposed goals, which are currently being fine-tuned, are:

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all; Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels and Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya’s Most Prized Asset: Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 18:56:24 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140554 David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NGANGARITHI, Kenya, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Vegetables grown in the lush soil of this quiet agricultural community in central Kenya’s fertile wetlands not only feed the farmers who tend the crops, but also make their way into the marketplaces of Nairobi, the country’s capital, some 150 km south.

Spinach, carrots, kale, cabbages, tomatoes, maize, legumes and tubers are plentiful here in the village of Ngangarithi, a landscape awash in green, intersected by clean, clear streams that local children play in.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children. I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.” -- Paul Njogu, a resident of the farming village of Ngangarithi in central Kenya
Ngangarithi, home to just over 25,000 people, is part of Nyeri County located in the Central Highlands, nestled between the eastern foothills of the Abadare mountain range and the western hillsides of Mount Kenya.

In the early 20th century, this region was the site of territorial clashes between the British imperial army and native Kikuyu warriors. Today, the colonial threat has been replaced by a different challenge: real estate developers.

Ramadhan Njoroge, a resident of Ngangarithi village, told IPS that his community’s worst fears came to life this past January, when several smallholder families “awoke to find markers demarcating land that we had neither sold nor had intentions to sell.”

The markers, in the form of concrete blocks, had been erected at intervals around communal farmland.

They were so sturdy that able-bodied young men in the village had to use machetes and hoes to dig them out, Njoroge explained.

It later transpired that a powerful real estate developer in Nyeri County had placed these markers on the perimeters of the land it intended to convert into commercial buildings.

The bold move suggested that the issue was not up for debate – but the villagers refused to budge. Instead, they took to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceived to be a grab of their ancestral land.

“We cannot have people coming here and driving us off our land,” another resident named Paul Njogu told IPS. “We will show others that they too can refuse to be shoved aside by powerful forces.”

“I was given this land by my grandmother some 20 years ago,” he added. “This is my ancestral home and it is also my source of livelihood – by growing crops, we are protecting our heritage, ensuring food security, and creating jobs.”

But Kenya’s real estate market, which has witnessed a massive boom in the last seven years, has proven that it is above such sentiments.

Those in the business are currently on a spree of identifying and acquiring whatever lands possible, by whatever means possible. It is a lucrative industry, with many winners.

The biggest losers, however, are people like Njoroge and Njogu, humble farmers who comprise the bulk of this country of 44 million people – according to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Land: the most lucrative asset class

Last September, Kenya climbed the development ladder to join the ranks of lower-middle income countries, after a rebasing of its National Accounts, including its gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI).

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The World Bank praised the country for conducting the exercise, adding in a press release last year, “The size of the economy is 25 percent larger than previously thought, and Kenya is now the fifth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Sudan.”

According to the Bank, “Economic growth during 2013 was revised upwards from 4.7 percent to 5.7 percent [and] gross domestic product (GDP) per capita changed overnight, literally, from 994 dollars to 1,256 dollars.”

The reassessment, conducted by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that the real estate sector accounted for a considerable portion of increased national earnings, following closely on the heels of the agricultural sector (contributing 25.4 percent to the national economy) and the manufacturing sector (contributing 11.3 percent).

David Owiro, programme officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank, told IPS, “Kenya’s land and property market is growing exponentially.”

His analysis finds echo in a report by HassConsult and Stanlib Investments released in January this year, which found that the scramble for land in this East African nation is due to the fact that land has delivered the highest return of all asset classes in the last seven years, up 98 percent since 2007.

Land prices in the last four years have risen at twice the rate of cattle and four times the rate of property, while oil and gold prices have fallen over the same period, researches added.

Advertised land prices have risen 535 percent, from an average of 330,000 dollars per acre in 2007 to about 1.8 million dollars per acre today. Thus, equating land to gold in this country of 582,650 sq km is no exaggeration.

According to Owiro of the IEA, a growing demand for commercial enterprises and high-density housing in the capital and its surrounding suburban and rural areas is largely responsible for the price rise.

Government statistics indicate that though the resident population of Nairobi is two million, it swells during the workday to three million, as workers from neighbouring areas flood the capital.

This commuter workforce is a major driver of demand for additional housing, according to Njogu.

As a result, two distinct groups who see their fortunes and futures tied to the land seem destined to butt heads in ugly ways: real estate developers and small-scale farmers.

What is sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics cited by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

For Njogu, the land rush also represents a threat to an ancient way of life.

He recounted how his grandmother would go out to work on these very farmlands, decades ago: “Even with her back bent, her head almost touching her knees, she did all this for us,” he explained.

“When she became too old to farm, she divided her land and gave it to us. What if she had sold it to outsiders? What would be the source of our livelihood? We would have nowhere to call home,” he added.

Already the impacts of real estate development are becoming plain: the difference between Ngangarithi village and the village directly opposite, separated only a by a road, has the villagers on edge.

“On our side you will see it is all green: spinach, kale, carrots, everything grows here,” Njogu said. “But the land overlooking ours is now a town.”

Various other villagers echoed these sentiments, articulating a vision of sustainability that the government does not seem to share. Some told IPS that the developers had attempted to cordon off a stream that the village relied on for fresh water, and that children played in every single day, “interacting with nature in its purest form,” as one farmer described.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children,” Njogu clarified. “I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.”

Villagers’ determination to resist developers has caught the attention of experts closer to the policy-making nucleus in Nairobi, many of whom are adding their voices to a growing debate on the meaning of sustainability.

Wilfred Subbo, an expert on sustainable development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IPS that a strong GDP is not synonymous with sustainability.

“But a community being able to meet its needs of today, without compromising the ability of its children to meet their own needs tomorrow, [that] is sustainable development,” he asserted.

According to Subbo, when a community understands that they can “resist and set the development agenda, they are already in the ‘future’ – because they have shown us that there is an alternative way of doing business.”

“Land is a finite resource,” Subbo concluded. “We cannot turn all of it into skyscrapers.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Caribbean Looks to Paris Climate Summit for Its Very Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 20:50:22 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140534 French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders on Saturday further advanced their policy position on climate change ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties, also known as COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year.

The position of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), 14 independent countries, was put forward by the group’s chairman, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, during a meeting here with French President François Hollande.“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat." -- Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie

“The evidence of the impact of climate change within our region is very evident. Grenada saw a 300 percent loss of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a result of one storm,” Christie told IPS

“We see across CARICOM, an average of two to five percent loss of growth due to hurricanes and tropical process which occur annually.

“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat to our land mass. Indeed, that is the story across the region. And as I have said from place to place, if the sea level rises some five feet in the Bahamas, 80 percent of the Bahamas as we know it will disappear. The stark reality of that means, we are here to talk about survival,” Christie added.

The Caribbean Community comprises the Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the member states of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Saturday’s summit gathered more than 40 heads of state, governments and Caribbean organisations to discuss the impact of climate change on the nations of the region.

The president of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy, said the summit goal is to give a voice to Caribbean nations on climate change through a joint statement, to be called “The Martinique Appeal”, to be heard at COP 21.

“Caribbean Climate 2015 is a push,” said Letchimy, “to vigorously encourage the international community to reach an agreement at COP21 to keep global warming below 2 degrees C. This is a crucial goal for Caribbean island nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and which only contribute 0.3 percent of global greenhouse emissions.”

Letchimy said Martinique is addressing the climate issue by aggressively implementing the Climate, Air and Energy Master Plan developed in cooperation with the French government.

In order to promote a more circular economy that consumes less non-renewable resources, the Regional Council of Martinique has also decided to go beyond the Master Plan with a programme called “Martinique – Sustainable Island.” The goal is to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy mix by 2030.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said climate change is having a huge impact on the environment of his country, which in turn impacts on agriculture and the country’s eco-system.

“As you know we promote heavily ecotourism, and if action is not taken by the international community to halt greenhouse gas emissions we’re going to have a serious challenge,” Skerrit told IPS.

“We’re a coastal country and as the years go by you are seeing an erosion of the coastal landscape. You have a lot of degradation taking place. That has resulted in us spending tremendous sums of money to mitigate against that.

“Clearly, small countries like Dominica, and indeed the entire OECS do not have the kind of resources required to mitigate against climate change. We are the least contributors but we are the most affected,” Skerrit explained.

He said that out of this summit, Caribbean countries are hoping for a partnership with France to drum up support for the concerns of small island states like those in the OECS.

For the director general of the OECS, Dr. Didicus Jules, the impacts of climate change can be seen everywhere across the region, ranging from the rapid onslaught events like floods in St. Lucia, to the severity of hurricanes and erosion of beaches.

“It’s beginning to pose a huge threat as we saw in the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The last event there, the damage was equivalent of about more than 20 percent of their GDP,” he told IPS.

“So just a simple event can set us back so drastically and that is why the member states are so concerned because these events have all kinds of downstream impacts on the economy, not just the damage and loss caused by the events themselves.”

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The trough on Dec. 24, 2013 brought torrential rains, death and destruction not only to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but to St. Lucia and Dominica as well.

In the last three years, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been forced to spend more than 600 million dollars to rebuild its battered infrastructure. Landslides in April 2011, followed by the December 2013 floods left 13 people dead.

Jules said today’s meeting is unprecedented because France will be the chair of the COP meeting in Paris and it is perhaps the largest international event that the French president himself will personally chair.

COP21 will seek a new international agreement on the climate with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C. France and the European Union will play key roles in securing a consensus by the United Nations in these critical climate negotiations.

“He (President Hollande) wants this to be a success and use the opportunity to champion the voices of small island states given the French Republic’s presence in the OECS we felt that it was really a useful forum for having the voice of the Caribbean in this wider sense heard,” Jules said.

“That’s one of the reasons that we are now pressing hard with the French authorities to champion the cause of small island states so that the larger countries, those who are the biggest causes of the impacts on the environment take heed to what the scientists are saying.”

The CARICOM chairman said a satisfactory and binding agreement in Paris must include five essential elements.

These are, clarity on ambitious targets for developed countries, including a long-term goal for significant emission reductions; clarity on the adaptation measures and resources required to facilitate and enhance the sustainable development plans and programmes in small developing countries and thereby significantly reduce the level of poverty in these countries; and clarity on measures and mechanisms to address the development challenges associated with climate change, sea level rise and loss and damage for small island and low-lying coastal developing states.

Christie said it must also include clarity on how the financial and technological support both for mitigation and adaptation will be generated and disbursed to small developing countries.

“Further, it must be recognised that the existing widespread practice of using Gross Domestic Product per capita as the primary basis for access to resources simply does not address the reality of the vulnerability of our countries,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Renewable Energy – How to Make It More Bird-Friendlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-renewable-energy-how-to-make-it-more-bird-friendly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-renewable-energy-how-to-make-it-more-bird-friendly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-renewable-energy-how-to-make-it-more-bird-friendly/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 11:16:25 +0000 Jacques Trouvilliez and Patricia Zurita http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140525 Installation of bird flight diverters by helicopter on a high voltage power line in Germany. Credit: © RWE Netzservice

Installation of bird flight diverters by helicopter on a high voltage power line in Germany. Credit: © RWE Netzservice

By Jacques Trouvilliez and Patricia Zurita
BONN, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is one of the greatest risks to human societies, but also to biodiversity, often creating a “snowball effect” exacerbating existing pressures such as habitat fragmentation.

Consequently, the conservation community, including inter-governmental treaties such as AEWA and NGOs such as BirdLife International, is strongly advocating genuine attempts to address its causes and mitigate its effects. We can square this particular circle: producing renewable energy to help combat climate change without inadvertently hammering another nail in the coffin of our endangered wildlife.

Alongside cutting energy demand and increasing energy efficiency, developing renewable sources of energy is essential in order to reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned and the emission of greenhouse gases. There is little doubt that the development and deployment of renewable energies are vital if we are to end our dependency on traditional fuels.

However, appropriate planning, assessment and monitoring of renewable infrastructure are necessary in order to prevent adverse effects to wildlife.  All the innovative technologies being developed – wind turbines, solar panels, tidal, wave and hydropower – can have distinct drawbacks as far as wild animals – and particularly migratory birds – are concerned, if not sited correctly.

One thing that conventional and renewable energies often have in common is the need to transfer power from the point of production to the consumers.  Natural habitat is sacrificed so that power lines can be constructed.

The pylons and cables form a barrier to migration – and large birds are most vulnerable – perching on the structures, their long wing span can often lead to short circuits; this is fatal to the electrocuted bird but also inconvenient for the customer whose electricity supply is interrupted. The birds that most commonly fall victim are from long-lived, slow-breeding species that cannot sustain these losses.

Power lines are not the only hazard – wind turbines take a toll too.  The Spanish Ornithological Society says that more than 18,000 wind turbines in Spain are causing significant mortality of raptors and bats, including threatened species.

It would be foolish for conservationists to oppose all forms of renewable energy just as it would be foolish to welcome any proposal to build a windfarm, barrage or solar plant unquestioningly.  What needs to be done is to find the right balance.

The Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), under which AEWA was concluded, adopted a resolution calling for appropriate Strategic Environment Assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments procedures to be put in place, which would mean applying rigorous planning guidance.

It would involve following a simple sequence: first, developments should be avoided in the most sensitive locations, e.g. bottlenecks on birds’ migration routes.  Everywhere else, mitigation measures should be taken and a last resort compensatory actions should be considered.

And some mitigation measures bring large gains at little cost– shutting off wind farms when migrating birds are passing has proven to have reduced the mortality rate of the Griffon Vulture by 50 percent in Spain – while lost electricity production was less than 1.0 percent.

The design and placement of the pylons are also very important – in forested landscapes for example, it is best if the structures do not protrude above the canopy.  Monitoring in France over the past 20 years has shown that attaching spirals to power lines at regular intervals to make them more visible can lead to a reduction in the fatalities as a result of collisions.

The next few decades will see a massive increase in demand for power in developing countries in Africa – and this will be matched by expansion of both renewable generation capacity and grid connections.  The danger is that if the design and location are not right, further devastating losses to the continent’s birdlife will be inevitable.

We need to increase our knowledge and to share it once it has been acquired.  This will entail close cooperation between conservationists on the one hand and the power companies on the other.

CMS and AEWA have produced the first version of a set of guidelines on the appropriate deployment of renewable energy technology and the BirdLife International network can provide the expertise on the ground to ensure that we can square this particular circle: producing renewable energy to help combat climate change without inadvertently hammering another nail in the coffin of our endangered wildlife.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Bursting of Europe’s Biofuels Bubblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 08:01:47 +0000 Robbie Blake http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140505 Palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Palm plantations are being used for the production of biofuel under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel, often displacing local communities and eradicating forests. Photo credit: Clare McVeigh/Down To Earth

Palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Palm plantations are being used for the production of biofuel under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel, often displacing local communities and eradicating forests. Photo credit: Clare McVeigh/Down To Earth

By Robbie Blake
BRUSSELS, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Last week, the European Union reached a momentous decision to finally agree a reform to its disastrous biofuels legislation, signalling Europe’s U-turn on the burning of crops for biofuels.

In so doing, the European body has recognised what NGOs and scientists have long been warning – that using food and agricultural crops for transport fuel causes major side effects, including food price hikes and volatility, hunger, forest destruction, expanded land consumption, and climate change.“Using food and agricultural crops for transport fuel causes major side effects, including food price hikes and volatility, hunger, forest destruction, expanded land consumption, and climate change”

Six years of political wrangling has ultimately boiled down to a few percentage points. The European Union decided to limit biofuels from food crops like maize, rapeseed, soy and palm oil to 7 percent of transport energy in 2020 (compared with an expected 8.6 percent business as usual).

If that doesn’t sound much (and it should have gone further, given that it still means increasing consumption beyond today’s levels), it is worth knowing that this prevents emissions of an estimated 320 million tonnes of CO2 – equal to the total carbon emissions of a country like Poland in 2012.

The European Union has moreover committed to end policies and subsidies supporting crop-based biofuels after 2020.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) first heard that policies to incentivise biofuels might be causing serious problems a decade ago. Back then, biofuels were hyped as a silver bullet – backed by big agricultural industry interests and as an easy ‘drop-in’ alternative to fossil fuels.

But FoE partners in Indonesia, Paraguay, Brazil and elsewhere began reporting a pattern of massive new plantation developments for sugar cane, oil palm and soy, under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel. These began to displace local communities and eradicate forests – and continue to do so today.

Meanwhile, studies began to show that many biofuels were helping to drive – not prevent – climate change. Extensive scientific research now shows that, on balance, diverting crops to fuel our transport often does more to contribute to climate change than to combat it, due to the deforestation that goes hand-in-hand with large-scale expansion of agricultural land for biofuels.

The results were also disastrous for food. In 2011, a global report on food price volatility by organisations including the OECD, the World Bank, FAO, and the IMF recommended that “governments remove provisions of current national policies that subsidize (or mandate) biofuels production or consumption.”

By turning its back on these biofuels, Europe sends a strong signal to global markets that the biofuels bubble has burst.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Many countries, rightly or wrongly, see the European Union as a global leader on policies to tackle climate change, and are likely to follow this example in their own biofuels policies. The European Union is also the world’s biggest producer and importer of biodiesel, so this decision will be noticed on world biofuels and commodity markets.

Biofuels-producing countries should take note. Indonesia recently announced plans for new subsidies to expand biofuels plantations in Indonesian forests – which now seems like a serious misstep.

E.U. governments will now have to implement this reform, and they must set the course for phasing out the misguided blending of food crops into Europeans’ fuel tanks altogether. They should next take stock and ensure that other forms of bioenergy (for example, burning wood for electricity) do not cause unintended harm for citizens, the environment and the climate.

And to truly and effectively reduce carbon emissions from transport, they must urgently adopt readily available options like reducing fuel demand in cars, making trains and public transport better and cheaper, speeding up the electrification of our transport systems, and incentives to get people cycling and walking.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Blue Amazon, Brazil’s New Natural Resources Frontierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 06:49:52 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140417 An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 2 2015 (IPS)

The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil.

The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both biodiversity and energy resources, is similar in extension to the country’s rainforest – nearly half the size of the national territory.

And 95 percent of the exports of Latin America’s giant leave from that coast, according to official figures.

Brazil’s continental shelf holds 90 and 77 percent of the country’s proven oil and gas reserves, respectively. But the big challenge is to protect the wealth of the Blue Amazon along 8,500 km of shoreline.

“We haven’t fully grasped just how immense that territory is,” Eurico de Lima Figueiredo, the director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Fluminense Federal University, told Tierramérica. “To give you an idea, the Blue Amazon is comparable in size to India.”

“But we aren’t prepared to take care of it; it isn’t yet considered a political and economic priority for the country,” the political scientist said.

Figueiredo, who presided over the Brazilian Association of Defence Studies (ABED) from 2008 to 2010, said the Blue Amazon is a term referring to the territories covered by new treaties on international maritime law.

Brazil is one of the 10 countries in the world with the largest continental shelves, in an ocean like the Atlantic which conceals untold natural wealth that offers enormous economic, scientific and technological potential.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprises an area which extends to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast.

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Brazil’s EEZ was originally 3.5 million sq km. But it later claimed another 963,000 sq km, which according to different national institutions – including scientific bodies – represents the natural extension of the continental shelf.

The U.N. Convention’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), made up of 148 countries, has so far sided with Brazil, adding 771,000 sq km to its EEZ. The decision on the rest is still pending.

Brazil’s demand, at least with respect to the expansion of the continental shelf granted so far, meets the requisites of the U.N. Convention and grants the country the power to exploit the resources in the expanded area and gives it the responsibility of managing it.

The recognition of Brazil’s claim, although only partial, has annoyed some neighbour countries, because of the huge economic benefits offered by the additional continental shelf it was granted.

Figueiredo said the challenge now is to monitor and protect the continental shelf. “We don’t have full sovereignty with regard to the maritime territory. Brazilian society is unaware of the important need to protect the Blue Amazon. There are enormous shortcomings, with respect to our needs.”

In 2005 a plan was approved to upgrade the navy with an estimated investment of 30 billion dollars until 2025. Defending a country is a complex task, said Figueiredo, because it involves a number of dimensions: military, economic, technical and scientific.

But scientific research in Brazil’s marine territory is currently far outpaced, he said, by the exploitation of resources such as the oil located 250 km off the coast and 7,000 metres below the ocean surface, beneath a thick layer of salt, sand and rocks.

Development of the so-called presalt reserves, discovered a decade ago, would make Brazil one of the 10 countries with the largest oil reserves in the world. And they already provide 27 percent of the more than three million barrels a day of oil and gas equivalent produced by this country.

“That region belongs to Brazil, the country has assumed commitments with the U.N. to monitor and study the living and non-living resources like oil, gas and minerals. If we don’t preserve it, we’ll lose this great treasure,” oceanographer David Zee, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, Brazil is far from living up to the commitments assumed with the international community. “We have duties – we have to meet the U.N.’s scientific research requirements. We have to take greater care of our marine resources,” he said.

Apart from the oil and gas wealth, a large part of the EEZ borders the Mata Atlántica ecosystem, which extends along 17 of Brazil’s 26 states, 14 of which are along the coast.

The environmental organisation SOS Mata Atlántica explains that coastal and marine areas represent the ecological transition between land and marine ecosystems like mangroves, dunes, cliffs, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and beaches. The biological wealth of these ecosystems turns marine areas into enormous natural nurseries.

And the convergence of cold water from the South with warm water from the Northeast contributes to biological diversity and provides shelter for numerous species of flora and fauna.

But only 1.5 percent of Brazil’s maritime territory is under any form of legal protection, Mata Atlantica reports.

Thus, ensuring national sovereignty over jurisdictional waters is still an enormous political and military challenge. In March, some 15,000 naval troops and 250 Navy boats and aircraft took part in Operation Blue Amazon, the biggest of its kind carried out so far in Brazilian waters.

“This was an opportunity to train and guarantee the security of navigation, crack down on drug trafficking, and patrol the sea. The mission involved the entire territorial extension of Brazil,” Lieutenant Commander Thales da Silva Barroso Alves, commander of one of the three offshore patrol vessels that Brazil has to monitor the Blue Amazon, told IPS.

These vessels control the extensive coast in “areas of great economic interest, exploitation and accidents. Illegal fishing is also a recurrent issue,” he said.

The officer argued that the extraction of marine resources should be carried out in a “conscious, sustainable fashion,” with the aim of preserving biodiversity.

Figueiredo, the political scientist, concurs. “Our ability to defend the Blue Amazon depends on our capacity to develop technical-scientific means of protecting biodiversity in such an extensive area,” he said.

This story 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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Watch What Happens When Tribal Women Manage India’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:46:51 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140401 Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her." -- Kama Pradhan, a tribal woman from the Gunduribadi village
Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India’s policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country’s bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country’s forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state’s heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

“We who stayed back had to sell our family’s brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre,” recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation’: each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours’ verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation’

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot’ project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

“When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests,” Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back,” she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities’ hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state’s 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

“But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze,” Nayak recounts.

“Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades,” she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

“When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women,” Nayak tells IPS.

“Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences,” she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

“Corporations’ officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use,” recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women’s protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use’, primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha’s women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha’s forests.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Campaign Against Glyphosate Steps Up in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140377 Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, the campaign has intensified in Latin America to ban the herbicide, which is employed on a massive scale on transgenic crops.

In a Mar. 20 publication, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that the world’s most widely used herbicide is probably carcinogenic to humans, a conclusion that was based on numerous studies.

Social organisations and scientific researchers in Latin America argue that thanks to the report by the WHO’s cancer research arm, governments no longer have an excuse not to intervene, after years of research on the damage caused by glyphosate to health and the environment at a regional and global level.“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air. And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer. “ -- Joao Pedro Stédile

“We believe the precautionary principle should be applied, and that we should stop accumulating studies and take decisions that could come too late,” said Javier Souza, coordinator of the Latin American Pesticide Action Network (RAP-AL).

The precautionary principle states that even if a cause-effect relationship has not been fully established scientifically, precautionary measures should be taken if the product or activity may pose a threat to health or the environment.

“We advocate a ban on glyphosate which should take effect in the short term with restrictions on purchasing, spraying and packaging,” Souza, who is also the head of the Centre for Studies on Appropriate Technologies in Argentina (CETAAR), told IPS.

Carlos Vicente, a leader of the international NGO GRAIN, told IPS that the herbicide first reached Latin America in the mid-1970s and that its use by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto spread massively in the Southern Cone countries.

“Its widespread use mainly involves transgenic crops, genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, such as RR (Roundup Ready) soy, introduced in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and other countries,” said Vicente, a representative of GRAIN, which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity.

There are 50 million hectares of transgenic soy in the region, and 600 million litres a year of the herbicide are used annually, he said.

According to Souza, there are 83 million hectares of transgenic crops in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay alone.

The WHO report “is very important because it shows that despite the pressure from Monsanto, independent science at the service of the common good rather than corporate interests is possible,” Vicente said.

Monsanto sells glyphosate under the trade name Roundup. But it is also sold as Cosmoflux, Baundap, Glyphogan, Panzer, Potenza and Rango. And among small farmers in some countries, it is popularly referred to as “randal”.

It is used not only on transgenic crops but also on vegetables, tobacco, fruit trees and plantation forests of pine or eucalyptus, as well as in urban gardens and flowerbeds and along railways.

But in traditional agriculture it is used after the seeds germinate and before they are planted, while in transgenic crops it is used during planting, when it acts in a non-selective fashion, thus destroying a variety of plants and grass, according to RAP-AL.

 

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“This rain – literally – of glyphosate has a direct impact on ecosystems, communities, the soil and water – and these impacts cannot be hidden any longer,” Vicente said.

“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air,” said Joao Pedro Stédile, leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). “And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer,” he told IPS.

Rafael Lajmanovich, an expert on ecotoxicology at Argentina’s Universidad Nacional del Litoral, has heavily researched glyphosate.

“Although the studies do not refer to human health or carcinogenesis, they have demonstrated in animals (amphibian embryos) that glyphosate is ‘teratogenic’ – in other words it causes malformations during the development of these vertebrates,” Lajmanovich, who is a member of the government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS.

“In addition, we found that it has effects on the activity of very important enzyme systems (cholinesterases), which means it has a certain degree of neurotoxicity,” he added.

Epidemiological studies have found effects of glyphosate spraying in communities.

“The main effects that scientists and rural doctors have linked to the spraying are specifically respiratory diseases, allergies, miscarriages, an increase in children born with malformations, and a higher incidence of tumors,” said Lajmanovich.

Vicente, meanwhile, noted that applied research carried out in several Latin American countries point in the same direction as the WHO study. In Argentina, for example, studies in the provinces of Rosario and Córdoba “clearly demonstrate the rise in cases of cancer, which in some instances are three or four times the national average.”

In Colombia, agronomist Elsa Nivia, director of the Pesticide Action Network in that country, found that in the first two months of 2001 local authorities reported 4,289 people suffering from skin and gastric disorders, and 178,377 animals – including horses, cattle, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish – killed as a result of exposure to the pesticide.

Cases of intoxication have also been reported in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to RAP-AL.

Souza complained that in Latin America, glyphosate is sold without restrictions by animal feed and agrochemical suppliers, hardware stores and other businesses, often “in smaller quantities, in soft drink bottles.”

Stédile, who is also a member of the international small farmers movement Vía Campesina, hopes this region and Europe will ban its use in agriculture, as Mexico, Russia and the Netherlands have done.

As an alternative, he proposed “agroecological production that combines scientific know-how with the age-old knowledge of peasant farmers, to develop crops without the use of poisons, suited to each ecosystem.” That methodology has increased “the productivity of the soil and labour, better than practices that use poisons,” he said.

It is not, said Vicente, a question of replacing glyphosate with new weed killers, several of which are even more toxic, “but of switching to a model of agroecological smallholder agriculture aimed at achieving food sovereignty for our people.”

Stédile said governments in South America continue to support transgenic agriculture despite the evidence of damage to health and the environment, because they believe “agribusiness can help the economy by increasing exports of commodities, contributing to achieving a positive trade balance.”

“This exports illusion keeps governments from taking a stance against a veritable genocide,” he said.

Vicente called for concrete government measures that reflect the results of research carried out in this region, now that the WHO has issued conclusions backing it up.

In a statement, Monsanto criticised the IARC report as “junk science”, saying “this result was reached by selective ‘cherry picking’ of data and is a clear example of agenda-driven bias.” They demanded a rectification.

In response, the researchers pointed out that they stated that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen”.

Monsanto said “This conclusion is inconsistent with the decades of ongoing comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world that have concluded that all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.”

Lajmanovich argued that the position taken by a company “cannot prevail over that of an international institution of renowned prestige, the WHO, which is the guiding body in world health.”

He also noted that Monsanto considered WHO reports reliable “when they indicated that glyphosate was innocuous.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Stakes Out “Red Lines” for Paris Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 17:20:34 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140370 A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

When the international climate change talks ended in Peru last December, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a political and economic union comprising small, developing, climate-vulnerable islands and low-lying nations, left with “the bare minimum necessary to continue the process to address climate change”.

“The Lima Accord did decide that the Parties would continue to work on the elements in the Annex to develop a negotiating text for the new Climate Change Agreement. We wanted a stronger statement that these were the elements to be used to draft the negotiating text,” Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre told IPS."We are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads [of state] to speak with one unified position on climate change." -- Minister James Fletcher

“We did not get the specific mention that Loss and Damage would be included in the new agreement, but there is also no mention that it would not be included. On Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), we got an agreement that all parties would submit their contributions for the new agreement during 2015.

“However, we lost all the specifics that would inform parties on what should be submitted. We lost the review process for the INDCs and only those parties who wished to respond to questions for clarification would do so,” Fuller said.

The Lima talks forms part of the homestretch leg of negotiations ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), slated for Paris in December.

The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

At the meeting in Paris, parties are expected to sign a legally binding accord intended to keep human-induced global temperature rise within levels that science says will avert catastrophic climate change.

CARICOM negotiators are trying to avoid a repeat of Lima and are identifying the “red line” issues that are “sacrosanct” for their populations as they prepare for the Paris summit.

In preparation for the Paris talks, lead negotiators from CARICOM met here on Apr. 21, first, to prepare for an engagement of CARICOM heads with French President François Hollande in Martinique on May 9.

“President Hollande, I guess, is intending to meet with CARICOM heads to get from them what are the main concerns of Caribbean small island developing states and to see how he can develop some momentum, some consensus leading to Paris,” James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, tells IPS.

The Castries meeting brought together CARICOM lead negotiators and technical experts on climate change, Fletcher says, adding, “Our meeting was a meeting of technical experts to really refine what are our main positions, what are the issues that are sacrosanct for us, what are the red line issues, that, as far as we are concerned, any new agreement on climate change must address.”

Serge Letchimy, president of the Regional Council of Martinique, tells IPS that the regional summit in Martinique “is dedicated to preparation and mobilisation toward” COP 21 and will bring together states and territories of the Caribbean.

The regional summit aims to list the initiatives of the Caribbean region “which must be integrated in a ‘schedule of solutions’ adapted to the specificities of these territories,” explains Maïté Cabrera, a media relations official involved in the organisation of the Martinique meeting.

“It also aims to contribute to the writing of an ambitious and binding global agreement which must be adopted during COP21,” Cabrera tells IPS.

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Castries meeting of CARICOM climate change negotiators was also a stocktaking gathering at which officials examined the status of their proposals ahead of COP 21.

“Our negotiators have been involved in negotiations; the first round of negotiations was in Geneva this year. There are still negotiations to take place on a range of issues — adaptation, climate finance, loss and damage, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and a range of issues,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“This really allows us to take stock of how the negotiations are going and what are the main issues and where we should be identifying with the negotiations,” he says.

A third element of the Castries gathering had to do with preparing for a meeting of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and CARICOM leaders at the CARICOM Head of Government meeting in Barbados in July.

“So, again, we are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads to speak with one position, one unified position on climate change in that meeting with the Secretary General, which, again, deals with climate change and climate finance.”

Fletcher is optimistic that the Caribbean will make progress on its positions on climate change ahead of and ultimately at COP 21, saying that the region has been “very united in its position on climate change”.

“If there is one thing I can say from the time I have been involved in this process is that Caribbean heads, Caribbean countries have all been united on our issues, there is no disagreement amount us,” says Fletcher, who has attended several COPs, including in Warsaw in 2013 and Lima in 2014.

However, he also identified areas in which the region can do more to shore up its negotiating ahead of Paris.

“I think what needs to happen a little more is coordination and this is what today’s meeting is about, ensuring that that coordination is there,” he tells IPS, adding that coordination worked well at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa last year.

Fletcher tells IPS that at the Samoa conference “there was a very strong Caribbean presence and a very good coordinated presence to ensure that we were able to speak with the same voice and we attended all the meeting in numbers and that is what we are aiming for in Paris this year”.

He pointed out that the outcome of the Paris summit will have a direct impact on the residents of the Caribbean.

“We have been saying for a long time now that climate change represents an existential threat for small island developing states like the Caribbean, that we have to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and that anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause catastrophic sea level rise, will cause warming of our oceans, will cause acidification of our oceans, which will impact our fisheries, impact our tourism sector, will cause reduction in water availability and that has impacts for agriculture, for ordinary lives, for availability and accessibility of potable water,” he tells IPS.

“Anything above 1.5 degrees will result in an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events like storms and hurricanes. So, we have a very real stake in what comes out of Paris, and we cannot allow the Paris agreement to be one that we know will cause us to have a climate that is warming at a rate that is catastrophic for us, small island countries like ours, and low-lying countries like Guyana,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Grenada Braces for Impacts of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:12:14 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140334 Grenadian fishermen prepare to head out to sea. They say they have been catching less fish and their livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenadian fishermen prepare to head out to sea. They say they have been catching less fish and their livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PALMISTE, Grenada, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Henry Prince has lived in this fishing village for more than six decades. Prince, 67, who depends on the sea for his livelihood, said he has been catching fewer and fewer fish, and the decrease is taking a financial toll on him and other fisher folk throughout the island nation of Grenada.

I heard about the climate change but never paid too much attention towards it,” Prince told IPS, adding that “we don’t catch jacks as before.”

Jacks, a small fish widely used by the fishermen as bait, are also fried and eaten by poor families for whom they are an inexpensive source of protein.

Over the last few years, fisher folk have not been catching the jacks, which are usually found in abundance around the month of November. Due to the scarcity of jacks, fishermen have been forced to import sardines from the United States to use as bait.

Grenada’s Agriculture, Land, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Roland Bhola believes the dwindling numbers of fish in the country’s waters are a direct result of climate change.

“Our fishermen are reporting less and less catches in areas where there was once a thriving trade,” Bhola said.

“We have been able to associate that with the issues of climate change … the destruction of our coral reefs and other ecosystems like mangroves,” he said.

“The catch is one day good, one day bad as far as I am looking at it,” Ralph Crewney, another fisherman, told IPS.

“For the last few months we hardly catch anything. Last June, it was just at the last moment that we made big catches.”

Grenadian fishermen Henry Prince (right) and Ralph Crewney see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, despite the risks posed by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenadian fishermen Henry Prince (right) and Ralph Crewney see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, despite the risks posed by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Crewney, 68, has been living on the seashore for close to 20 years. He noted that in recent times the sea is getting a lot closer to his small shack. But he has no immediate plans to move.

“I feel comfortable here because I like to be away from the noise,” he explained.

Other families in the area are now thinking about relocating to communities in hilly areas but are reluctant to move too far from their source of livelihood.

Fishing families in the Caribbean see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, with an alarming 70 percent of Caribbean populations living in coastal settlements.While storms and beach erosion have long shaped the geography of coastal environments, rising sea levels and surge from more intense storms are expected to dramatically transform shorelines in coming decades, bringing enormous economic and social costs.

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

Experts say that while storms and beach erosion have long shaped the geography of coastal environments, rising sea levels and surge from more intense storms are expected to dramatically transform shorelines in coming decades, bringing enormous economic and social costs.

Scientists and computer models estimate that global sea levels could rise by at least one metre (nearly 3.3 feet) by 2100, as warmer water expands and ice sheets melt in Greenland and Antarctica.

Global sea levels have risen an average of three centimetres (1.18 inches) a decade since 1993, according to many climate scientists, although the effect can be amplified in different areas by topography and other factors.

On Apr. 16, delegates attending a one-day National Stakeholder’s Consultation here urged the authorities to re-establish the National Climate Change Council as the island moves to strengthen measures to deal with the impact of climate change.

They said while Grenada had made progress on dealing with climate change and the environment, it still has some way to go to become climate resilient and to develop the capacity to implement climate resilience actions.

The one-day consultation was jointly organised by the World Bank and the Grenada government.

A government statement issued after the consultation said that the re-establishment of the Council will help “drive the climate change agenda of integrating climate change at the national planning level, the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation” as well as monitoring and reporting.

Grenada's Environment Minister Roland Bhola says the small developing country has very high vulnerability to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Environment Minister Roland Bhola says the small developing country has very high vulnerability to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Climate Investment Fund (CIF) Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) recently approved a 10.39-million-dollar grant funding for a Caribbean pilot programme for climate resilience.

Grenada along with St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica and Haiti stand to directly benefit from this grant.

A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the devastation wreaked on Grenada by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 “is a powerful illustration of the reality of small-island vulnerability.”

The hurricane killed 28 people, caused damage twice the nation’s gross domestic product, damaged 90 percent of the housing stock and hotel rooms and shrank an economy that had been growing nearly six percent a year.

Grenada and its tourism-dependent Caribbean neighbours are thought to be among the globe’s most vulnerable countries.

Scientists say the island has a high risk of being adversely impacted by climate change in several areas. These include coastal flooding due to natural disasters and storm surges. They also point to marine ecosystems being affected by increased ocean temperature, and increased freshwater run-off resulting in coral reef destruction and food chain interruption which affect fishing and tourism industries.

Over the last 25 years, the fragile Grenadian islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique have also been bombarded by storms, hurricanes, higher tides and sea surges.

This resulted in severe loss of mangrove vegetation along the coastline, beach erosion, damage to soil and serious threat to the local tourism industries which depend heavily on the pristine condition of the beaches and health of the marine life.

Meanwhile, as countries prepare to adopt a new international climate change agreement at the Paris climate conference in December, Bhola said Grenada is looking forward to the implementation with great anticipation.

“My country, Grenada, a small developing country, has very high vulnerability to climate change. A successful agreement for us therefore has to reduce the risks that we face from climate change and has to assist us in coping with the impacts on our country, our people and our livelihoods,” Bhola said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Planned Mega-Port in Brazil Threatens Rich Ecological Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:00:05 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140301 The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast’s long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the “unprecedented” environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the “Belo Monte of Bahia” – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex “shows a lack of respect for the region’s natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable,” activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”.

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

The project’s environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, “is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch,” Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, “the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population.” It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company’s total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil’s environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

“The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe,” Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin’s own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country’s third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine’s productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

“The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities,” Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

“The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company,” he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

“We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects,” said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Riches in World’s Oceans Estimated at Staggering 24 Trillion Dollarshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:35:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140283 Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies, according to a new report released Thursday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will." -- Marco Lambertini of WWF

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.

“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”

If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study,

Titled Reviving the Ocean Economy, the report was produced by WWF in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

After nine years of intense negotiations, a U.N. Working Group, comprising all 193 member states, agreed last January to convene an inter-governmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and genetic resources in what is now considered mostly lawless high seas.

Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative who co-chaired the Working Group, told IPS the oceans are the next frontier for exploitation by large corporations, especially those seeking to develop lucrative pharmaceuticals from living and non-living organisms which exist in large quantities in the high seas.

“The technically advanced countries, which are already deploying research vessels in the oceans and some of which are currently developing products, including valuable pharmaceuticals, based on biological material extracted from the high seas, were resistant to the idea of regulating the exploitation of such material and sharing the benefits,” he said.

According to the United Nations, the high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country. 

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

The proposed international treaty, described as a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, is expected to address “the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.”

According to the WWF report, more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output.

Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.

The report also warns that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years.

At the same time, growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.

The study specifically singles out climate change as a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.

At the current rate of global warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050.

More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the ocean to repair.

Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, with 90 per cent of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited, according to the study.

The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96 per cent from unfished levels, according to the WWF report.

“It is not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature,” the report says, while proposing an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.

Among the most time-critical solutions presented in the report are embedding ocean recovery throughout the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking global action on climate change and making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas.

“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development,” said Lambertini.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Damhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140183 Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Nepal: A Trailblazer in Biodiversity Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 04:01:35 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140118 Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent’s 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river’s edge.

“A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.” -- Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
“The sight of humans drives them away,” explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government’s wildlife conservation efforts here.

“We need to return now,” he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country’s once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal’s efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal’s example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone’ areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal’s 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, “A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.”

 

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal’s latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country’s declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees’ and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups’.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 “involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland”, according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world’s flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the “top”, experts say.

“There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level,” Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

“Conservation is a long process and Nepal’s efforts have shown that good planning works […],” Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Belize, Climate Change Drives Coastal Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 18:05:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140100 Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

A five-year project launched here in Belize City in March seeks to cement a shift in view of climate change and its impact on Belize’s national development.

The Belize Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Project (MCCAP) has dual goals: putting in place structures to ensure continued protection for marine protected areas, and ensuring that those who benefit from use and enjoyment of those areas are educated on the dangers of climate change and given means of sustaining their lifestyles without further damage to precious natural resources.“Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue." -- Enos Esikuri of the World Bank

Approximately 203,000 Belizeans live in coastal communities – both urban centres such as Belize City and the towns of Corozal and Dangriga, as well as destinations for fishing and tourism such as the villages of Sarteneja, Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia.

For these persons, and for Belize, “Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue,” said World Bank representative and senior environmental specialist Enos Esikuri, who noted that keeping the focus on the environment on this issue would result in “losing the audience” – those who make their living directly from the sea through fishing and tourism.

According to Esikuri, there has been a change in Belize’s economy from a purely agriculture base to a service-based economy with tourism as a primary focus – but the marine resources in Belize’s seas and rivers are integral to the success of that model.

Belize also has to pay attention to the intensification of weather systems and how the reef protects Belize’s fragile coast and communities, he said.

Of Belize’s three billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP), fishing accounts for 15 percent; 4,500 licensed fishermen and about 18,000 Belizeans are directly dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods.

However, tourism accounts for almost 25 percent of GDP and a significantly greater population living in coastal communities earn their livelihoods from this industry, Esikuri explained.

The Barrier Reef and its fish are a very important resource for this industry, he said, so protecting it safeguards more livelihoods.

The local Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development has received 5.53 million dollars from the World Bank’s Adaptation Fund, with the government contributing a further 1.78 million dollars for the programme, which seeks to implement priority ecosystem-based marine conservation and climate adaptation measures to strengthen the climate resilience of the Belize Barrier Reef system.

The MCCAP project will invest 560,000 U.S. dollars to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, and educate people about the value of marine conservation, and how climate change will affect their lives.

The project will explore and develop strategies to help coastal communities become more resilient to climate change, and will encourage community exchange visits to help the people learn how they can adapt to climate change.

Project Coordinator Sandra Grant says that of the three components to the project – upgrades to existing protected areas in Corozal, at Turneffe Atoll and in South Water Caye off Placencia, developing community-based business ventures in aquaculture, agriculture and tourism and raising awareness on the impact of climate change and developing and exploring climate resilient strategies – it is the second one that she expects will have the most impact.

“We are going to look at the marine protected areas, but at the same time we are going to start the livelihood activities, because sometimes if you don’t show people the alternatives, then they will not buy in to what you are trying to do. So although it is three different components we decided to put them together simultaneously,” Grant said.

The selected protected areas were identified as priority by the project because of their contribution to the environment.

She added that fishermen and other stakeholders will be able to take advantage of new strategies for economic benefit such as seaweed planting, sea cucumber harvesting and diversification of business into value-added products.

Part of the project will help finance community-based projects to create small-scale seaweed farms to take advantage of the global demand for seaweed for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even in ice cream.

A cooperative in Placencia has already pioneered growing and drying seaweed for export. The bottom-feeding sea cucumber could become a cash cow as a prized delicacy and medicinal property in Asia and China.

Belize already exports about 400,000 pounds per year and prices range from 4-8 Belizean dollars per pound though the dried product fetches as much as 150 U.S. dollars per pound internationally. Again, one cooperative already has investments in this area.

Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and South Water Caye Marine Reserve will install various features to assist in protection of their native marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral nurseries for the latter two.

Each of the components has its own budget and will be pursued simultaneously with each other.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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