Inter Press Service » Environment http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:36:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 U.S. Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:26:56 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133733 An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy. The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.

The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the U.S. government. Onondaga representatives are calling on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights arm of the pan-regional Organisation of American States (OAS), to intervene.“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS, but I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.” -- Onondaga leader Sid Hill

In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a case against New York State, stating the state government had repeatedly violated treaties signed with the Onondaga, resulting in lost land and severe environmental pollution. Yet advocates for the trips say antiquated legal precedents with racist roots have allowed the courts to consistently dismiss the Onondaga’s case.

They are now looking to the IACHR for justice.

“New York State broke the law and now the U.S. government has failed to protect our lands, which they promised to us in treaties,” Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Onondaga people, told IPS.

Hill and others from the Onondaga Nation gathered outside the White House, located near the IACHR’s Washington headquarters, on Tuesday. Hill brought an heirloom belt commissioned for the Onondaga Nation by George Washington, the first U.S. president, to ratify the Treaty of Canandaigua, affirming land rights for the Onondaga and other tribes.

In their petition to the IACHR, the Onondaga quote sections from the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. Signed by George Washington, this law assured the Onondaga that their lands would be safe, and if threatened, that the federal courts would protect their rights.

Yet since then, tribal advocates say, their 2.5 million acres of land has shrunk to just 6,900 acres. And rather than helping the Onondaga, the courts have ignored their case.

“We filed the original case in 2005,” Joe Heath, the attorney for the Onondaga Nation, told IPS.

“We did not sue, did not demand any return for original land. It was more aimed at protecting sacred sites and environmental issues … Our case was dismissed in 2010, so we appealed to the Second Circuit.”

The Second Circuit, and finally the Supreme Court, dismissed the case.

Landmark law

Since 2005, the U.S. courts have designed a new set of rules, called “equitable defence”. This now arms New York with a two-part defence in the Onondaga case. First, officials are able to argue that too much time has passed since the 1794 treaty was signed to when the case was filed, in 2005.

Second, equitable defence also states that the court is able to determine on its own whether the Onondaga people have been disturbed on their land.

“The legal ground on which [the Onondaga] claims rest has undergone profound change since the Nation initiated its action,” the District Court concluded. “The law today forecloses this Court from permitting these claims to proceed.”

The Onondaga Nation and other Native American nations are now fighting to change Native American land laws.

Current legal precedents go back to the 1400s, when Pope Alexander VI issued a papal decree that gave European monarchs sovereignty over “lands occupied by non-Christian ‘barbarous nations’”. In a case in 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court applied this principle to uphold the possession of indigenous lands in favour of colonial or post-colonial governments.

The Supreme Court again revived this doctrine as recent as 2005, when another New York tribe, the Oneida Nation, refused to pay taxes to the United States, citing its status as a sovereign nation.

“Under the Doctrine of Discovery … fee title to the land occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005 decision.

This doctrine still underpins Indian land law and the dismissal of the Onondaga Nation’s case.

“This is the Plessy v. Ferguson of Indian law,” Heath told IPS, referring to a notorious landmark judicial decision that, for a time, upheld racial segregation in the United States.

Most polluted lake

Heath and others say the goal in “correcting” the U.S. legal system would be to provide the Onondaga Nation and other tribes more say in environmental decisions. Front and centre in this argument is the travesty they say has been visited on Onondaga Lake.

“Onondaga Lake, a sacred lake, has been turned into the most polluted lake in the country,” Heath says. “Allied Corp. dumped mercury in the lake every day from 1946 to 1970.”

In 1999, Allied Corp., a major chemicals company, purchased Honeywell, a company popularly associated with thermostats, and adopted its name, to try and shed its association with pollution. However, this merger has made it more difficult for the Onondaga Nation to get the company to clean up the lake.

“Before the Europeans got here, we had a very healthy lifestyle,” Heath said.

“All the water was clean and drinkable … With the loss of land, pollution of water, and loss of access to water, health has been impacted negatively.”

Another problem is salt mining.

“Only one body of water flows through the territory, Onondaga Creek, and this creek is now severely polluted as a result of salt mining upstream,” Heath says. “The salt mining was done over a century, and so recklessly that it severely damaged the hydrogeology in the valley.”

Heath says elder members of the Onondaga community can remember clear waters that supported trout fishing.

“Now you can’t see two inches into the water, it looks like yesterday’s coffee,” he says.

The Onondaga Nation is now waiting to see whether IACHR will hear the case.

This normally takes several years, however. And even if the court hears the case, it has no formal enforcement mechanisms, but can only make recommendations to the United States.

“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS,” Onondaga leader Hill said. “But I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.”

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Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agriculture-needs-new-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:32:27 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133705 IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed KANAYO F. NWANZE, president of IFAD

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Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

The Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015 is fast approaching, but according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), poverty still afflicts one in seven people — and one in eight still goes to bed hungry.

Together with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), IFAD unveiled the results of their joint work Apr. 3 to develop five targets to be incorporated in the post-2015 development agenda."We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base." -- Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD

These targets include access to adequate food all year round for all people; ending malnutrition in all its forms with special attention to stunting; making all food production systems more productive, sustainable, resilient and efficient; securing access for all small food producers, especially women, to inputs, knowledge and resources to increase their productivity; and more efficient post-production food systems that reduce the global rate of food loss and waste by 50 percent.

IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, on the role of rural poverty and food security in shaping the current debate on the definition of a new development agenda.

Q: Do you think it is time to rethink the strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

A: It’s not only that I think, I know it. And that is why we have Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are being fashioned. The SDGs are an idea that was born in the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The crafting of a new global development agenda is a unique opportunity to refocus policy, investments and partnerships on inclusive and sustainable rural transformation.

The intent is to produce a new, more inclusive and more sustainable set of global development objectives that have application to all countries. These goals – once agreed by governments – would take effect after the current MDGs expire in 2015.

And measurement will be crucial if we are to achieve what we set out. This is why we are talking about universality but in a local context. The SDGs will be for all countries, developing and developed alike. But their application will need to respond to the reality on the ground, which will vary from country to country.

Q: How do the five targets revealed this month fit in this discussion on the post-2015 development goals?

A: The proposed targets and indicators are intended to provide governments with an informed tool that they use when discussing the precise nature and make-up of the SDGs related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition.

These are five critical issues for a universal, transformative agenda that is ambitious but also realistic and adaptable to different country and regional contexts. The targets can fit under a possible dedicated goal but also under other goals. So, it is for governments to decide whether or not they wish to include these targets in the SDGs.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Q: Why does agriculture represent such a critical aspect within the post-2015 development agenda?

A: We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base, which means more people to feed with less water and farmland. And climate change threatens to alter the whole geography of agriculture and food systems on a global scale.

It is clear that we need a new revolution in agriculture, to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Target areas should address universal and context-specific challenges, but context-adapted approaches and agendas are the building blocks for any effort to feed the world.

Q: Why is the focus on rural areas so important in order to overcome inequality?

A: The world is becoming increasingly urban, yet cities are still fed by the people working the land in rural areas. And it is in those rural areas where 76 percent of the world’s poor live.

At IFAD we see that the gap between rich and poor is primarily a gap between urban and rural. Those who migrate to urban areas, oftentimes do so in the belief that life will be better in the urban cities.

However they get caught up in the bulging slums of cities, they lose their social cohesion which is provided by rural communities and they go into slums, they become nothing but breeding ground for social turmoil and desperation. One only has to look at what is happening today in what was described as the ‘Arab spring’.

Q: But beyond the issue of exclusion and turmoil, why is key to addressing rural poverty?

A: Because the rural space is basically where the food is produced: in the developing world 80 percent in some cases 90 percent of all food that is consumed domestically is produced in rural areas.

Food agriculture does not grow in cities, it grows in rural areas, and the livelihoods of the majority of the rural population provide not only food, it provides employment, it provides economic empowerment,[…] and social cohesion.

Essentially, if we do not invest in rural areas through agricultural development we are dismantling the foundations for national security, not just only food security. And that translates into not just national security but also global security and global peace.

Q: What risks are we facing in terms of global security, if we don’t face and take concrete action to ensure food security?

A: We just need to go back to what happened in 2007 and 2008: the global food price crisis, as it is said, and how circumstances culminated in what happened in 40 countries around the world where there were food riots.

Those riots were the results of inaction that occurred in some 25-30 years due to these investments in agriculture and the imbalances in trade, across countries and across continents. Forty countries experienced serious problems with food riots, and they brought down two governments, one in Haiti and another one in Madagascar. […] We’ve seen it, [and] it continues to repeat itself.

Q: What role are developed countries expected to play in the achievement of these five targets?

A: All countries will have an essential role to play in achieving the SDGs – whatever they end up looking like. Countries have agreed that this is a “universal” agenda and developed countries’ commitment will have to extend beyond ODA [Official Development Assistance] alone.

At IFAD we [are] seeing that development is moving beyond aid to achieve self-sustaining, private sector-led inclusive growth and development. For example, in Africa, generated revenue shot up from 141 billion dollars in 2002 to 520 billion dollars in 2011. This is truly a universal challenge, but it also requires local and country-level ownership and international collaboration at all levels.

 

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Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his […]

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Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells EurasiaNet.org. The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks EurasiaNet.org not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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IPCC Climate Report Calls for “Major Institutional Change” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 23:41:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133668 Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions. The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental […]

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Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions.

The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-overseen body. The new update warns that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed” two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, an internationally agreed upon threshold."The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels." -- Oscar Reyes

The full report, which focuses on mitigation, is to be made public on Tuesday. But a widely watched summary for policymakers was released Sunday in Berlin, the site of a week of reportedly hectic negotiations between government representatives.

“We expect the full report to say that it is still possible to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, but that we’re not currently on a path to doing so,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“Others have found that we’re not on that pathway even if countries were to deliver on past pledges, and some countries aren’t on track to do so. A key message is that we need substantially more effort on mitigation, and that this is a critical decade for action.”

The previous IPCC report, released last month, assessed the impacts of climate change, which it said were already being felt in nearly every country around the world. The new one looks at what to do about it.

“This is a strong call for international action, particularly around the notion that this is a problem of the global commons,” Levin says.

“Every individual country needs to participate in the solution to climate change, yet this is complicated by the fact that countries have very different capabilities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. We can now expect lots of conversation about the extent to which greater cooperation and collective action is perceived to be fair.”

Substantial investments

The full report, the work of 235 authors, represents the current scientific consensus around climate change and the potential response. Yet the policymakers’ summary is seen as a far more political document, mediating between the scientific findings and the varying constraints and motivations felt by national governments on the issue.

The latest report is likely to be particularly polarising. The three updates, constituting the IPCC’s fifth assessment, will be merged into a unified report in October, which in turn will form the basis for negotiations next year to agree on a new global response to climate change, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

While previous IPCC updates focused on the science behind climate change and its potential impacts, mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm.

In order to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, the new report, examining some 1,200 potential scenarios, finds that global emissions will need to be brought down by anywhere from 40 to 70 percent within the next 35 years. Thereafter, they will need to be further reduced to near zero by the end of the century.

“Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the working group that put out the new report, said Sunday. “All of these require substantial investments.”

The report does not put a specific number on those investments. It does, however, note that they would have a relatively minor impact on overall economic growth, with “ambitious mitigation” efforts reducing consumption growth by just 0.06 percent.

Yet they caution that “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”

The IPCC estimates that investment in conventional fossil fuel technologies for the electricity sector – the most polluting – will likely decline by around 20 percent over the next two decades. At the same time, funding for “low cost” power supply – including renewables but also nuclear, natural gas and “carbon capture” technologies – will increase by 100 percent.

“The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels. Yet the way the IPCC addresses this is problematic, and is a reflection of existing power dynamics,” Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank here, told IPS.

“While it’s positive that they point out that renewables are achievable at scale, they also talk about gas as a potential transition fuel. Yet many models say that doing so actually discourages investment in renewables. There are also problems with the tremendous costs of many of the technological fixes they’re putting forward.”

Equity and income

The policymakers’ summary is a consensus document, meaning that all 195 member countries have signed off on its findings. Yet it appears that last week’s negotiations in Berlin were arduous, particularly as countries position themselves ahead of the final UNFCCC negotiations next year.

Debate over how the financial onus for mitigation and adaptation costs will be parcelled out has played out in particular between middle-income and rich countries. While the latter are primarily responsible for the high greenhouse gas emissions of the past, today this is no longer the case.

Even as previous IPCC reports have categorised countries as simply “developing” or “developed” (similar to the UNFCCC approach), some rich countries have wanted to more fully differentiate the middle-income countries and their responsibility for current emissions. Apparently in response, the new IPCC report now characterises country economies on a four-part scale.

Yet some influential developing countries have pushed back on this. In a formal note of “substantial reservation” seen by IPS, the Saudi Arabian delegation warns that using “income-based country groupings” is overly vague, given that countries can shift between groups “regardless of their actual per capita emissions”.

Nine other countries, including Egypt, India, Malaysia, Qatar, Venezuela and others, reportedly signed on to the Saudi note of dissent.

Bolivia wrote a separate dissent that likewise disputes income-based classification. But it also decries the IPCC’s lack of focus on “non-market-based approaches to address international cooperation in climate change through the provision of finance and transfer of technology from developed to developing countries.”

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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Turtles Change Migration Routes Due to Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:46:20 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133660 The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle has few sanctuaries left in the world, and this is one of them. But in 2012 only 53 nests were counted on the beaches of this national park in Costa Rica. And there is an enemy that conservation efforts can’t fight: the beaches themselves are shrinking. For centuries, the […]

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Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK, Costa Rica , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle has few sanctuaries left in the world, and this is one of them. But in 2012 only 53 nests were counted on the beaches of this national park in Costa Rica. And there is an enemy that conservation efforts can’t fight: the beaches themselves are shrinking.

For centuries, the over eight km of beaches in Cahuita have provided a nesting ground for four species of sea turtle: the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), and the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

But the erosion of the sand and the rising sea level have reduced the size of their breeding grounds and the number of turtles who come to lay their eggs in this national park in the southeast Costa Rican province of Limón after migrating across the Caribbean sea.

“Many turtles now go to the beaches outside the park, in places we have no control over, which makes them more vulnerable,” the park administrator Mario Cerdas told IPS.

In the three years he has run the park, Cerdas has seen a drop in the numbers of turtles coming to nest.

The Cahuita National Park covers 1,100 hectares of land on a swampy peninsula and 23,000 hectares of ocean, including the country’s most important coral reef.

It was created in 1970 as a national monument, and in 1978 was declared a park to protect the fragile ecosystems.

The turtles’ change of destination, to beaches outside the park, is not the only concern. In sea turtles, gender is determined by the temperature of the sand on the nesting beaches, with cool beaches producing more males and warm beaches more females.

As a result of climate change, heat is increasing in Central America, which means that more females than males are born.

“This could be acceptable for the population up to a certain point, but if the gender ratio gap becomes too big, there could be problems,” said Borja Heredia, a scientist with the secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

And this is just one of hundreds of cases where climate change is affecting migratory species.

Drought in Africa is hindering the journey that millions of birds undertake every year across the Sahara desert; polar bears are finding it more and more difficult to find food; and global warming has modified the migratory routes of the monarch butterfly.

Scientists and government officials from around the world met Apr. 9-11 in Guácimo, Limón to study these effects and find solutions.

The workshop was organised by a CMS working group on climate change, made up of experts from more than 20 countries.

“What we are looking at is how to tackle climate change and the impact on migrant species, and that can be whales, it can be turtles, it can be birds, it can be invertebrates,” Colin Galbraith, head of the working group, and the CMS Conference of Parties appointed councillor for climate change, told IPS.

The team is to deliver a report in early May to the 120 states parties to the Convention. In June, the CMS’s scientific committee will evaluate it. After that, the next step would be to receive the approval of the Conference of the Parties in November in Quito, Ecuador.

Because climate change is expected to bring different changes to different regions, protecting species that migrate through the various regions presents an unprecedented challenge.

Manmade national borders do not mean anything to animals, which is why the CMS aims to create an international system of conservation areas to protect them on their migratory routes.

Galbraith told IPS that the report will focus on three main areas.

“Pulling information together and putting it into a plan to develop information and data sharing; how can we adapt to climate change but then also how can we help different countries build capacity; and how can we communicate this to the wider world,” said the head of the working group.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the fragility of the world’s ecosystems to global warming, in the second volume of its 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change, which focuses on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

In coastal zones, the rising sea level is endangering habitats like coral reefs, wetlands and nesting beaches.

In Cahuita, for example, up to one-quarter of the beaches have been lost in 15 years, according to Cerdas. During the last high tide event, the water reached the park ranger’s wooden house, which is located 100 metres from the high tide line.

“Migratory animals face many of the same challenges that humans do: having to choose when to travel, what route to take, where to eat and rest, and how long to stay before returning home,” CMS Executive Secretary Bradnee Chambers wrote in a column published by IPS.

“Unfortunately, these choices that are seemingly so trivial for humans are life-or-death decisions for migratory animals,” he added.

The report by the working group that met last week in Costa Rica will also be taken into consideration by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, in an effort to generate multidisciplinary knowledge.

“The different environment-related conventions have to start to look each other in the eye and work together more, cooperating with resources and research,” said Max Andrade, head of the public policy unit in the under-secretariat on climate change in Ecuador’s environment ministry.

Ecuador will seek to put a spotlight on global warming, as host to the next Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP11), Andrade said.

The decision to create the working group on climate change was reached at the last meeting, held in Norway three years ago.

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Whales Find Good Company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whales-find-good-company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 06:51:40 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133634 Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S. […]

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Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S.

A picture of a whale appears on the poster, together with the name of the website where those interested can find more information.“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers."

The groups decided to focus on Boston because the launch of the campaign mid-March coincided with the opening of the North American Seafood Expo at the Boston Convention Centre.  Supporters picketed the stall of HB Grandi, one of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, asking onlookers to stop trading with the company because of its links with whaling.

The expo is the largest seafood trade event in North America.

At the start of the protest, fish consumers were requested to ask their local food retailers and restaurants to verify that their seafood products did not come from a source linked to Icelandic whaling.

“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers, and asking for their help,” says Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the organisations behind the Whales Need Us campaign.

On Mar. 18, the last day of the three-day expo, Canadian-U.S. seafood company High Liner Foods (HLF) announced it would discontinue trading with HB Grandi because of its whaling connections. It had been trading with the Icelandic company since October 2013.

Since the end of the expo, U.S. companies Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have severed ties with Rhode Island-based Legacy Seafoods, another company that imports substantial quantities of fish from HB Grandi.

HLF say they do not have any existing contracts outstanding with HB Grandi, and are committed not to enter into any new contracts with them until they have fully divested their involvement and interest in whaling.

“Even though HLF’s policy is strict on not doing business with suppliers directly involved in whaling, it has nothing to do with individuals or shareholders of HB Grandi. We have no control over the ownership of privately or publicly owned companies in HLF’s supplier base,” Elvar Einarsson from High Liner’s procurement division tells IPS.

At the end of 2011, High Liner bought Icelandic Group’s U.S. and Asian operations. Icelandic Group also agreed to a seven-year licensing agreement with HLF for the use of the Icelandic Seafood brand in North American countries until 2018.

“For HLF the marketing and sales of seafood from Iceland under the brand Icelandic Seafood is an important part of our business. There will be no change on HLF’s procurement from its other Icelandic suppliers and hopefully HB Grandi’s circumstances will change so they will be able to become one of HLF’s suppliers again,” says Einarsson.

Last September, Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur increased his family’s shares in HB Grandi from 10.2 percent to 14.9 percent. On the HB Grandi website, Loftsson is listed as chairman of the board.

At the time, there was obviously some concern over the repercussions that this could have. The fishing website Undercurrent reported “an Icelandic industry player” as saying: “Hvalur is Iceland’s only whaling company, and it’s increasingly a controversial activity. It’s obviously a risk to a company selling wild fish that their ownership is closely connected to whaling.”

Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson, CEO for HB Grandi, has stated publicly that he will not speak to the press on the company’s trade with High Liner Foods. In a short press release issued by his company, he is quoted as saying: “We agree with the government’s policy on sensible utilisation of natural resources and have nothing to do with what operations individual shareholders choose to practise or not practise.”

But Millward emphasises that they are not trying to attack Icelandic fisheries as such. “The campaign is in no way meant as an attack on Iceland’s economy and is geared only at those companies linked to the Hvalur whaling company,” she says.

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued diplomatic sanctions on Iceland as part of the Pelly Amendment. The Whales Need Us coalition has once again made use of this.

“The campaign has also urged the public to contact President Obama, and ask that he take targeted action against Icelandic companies connected to whaling by invoking the Pelly Amendment, a tool promulgated by the U.S. Congress as a means of compelling compliance with international conservation treaties,” Millward told IPS.

To an extent, this policy worked. Obama has said that he would invoke the Pelly Amendment and instigate a number of measures aimed at Iceland. But once again, these measures appear to be diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, although they are more extensive than before.

Coincidentally, Icelandic Social Democratic MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir has just put forward a parliamentary proposal that calls for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

“The investigation will take into account both minke whales and fin whales,” she told IPS. “Are we prepared to sacrifice more for less, when there is growing opposition to whaling and Iceland is catching more whales than are deemed sustainable by the IWC [International Whaling Commission]?”

The IWC says that the annual sustainable catch for fin whales in the North Atlantic is 46, whereas Iceland has set a quota of 154.

Meanwhile, Loftsson and other Hvalur employees are becoming increasingly sensitive to outside criticism and have now removed the company phone numbers from ja.is, the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers.

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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U.S. Urged to Push World Bank on Human Rights Safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:25:27 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133578 Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance. The World Bank has been a pioneer […]

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Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance.

The World Bank has been a pioneer in working to ensure that its assistance does not lead to or exacerbate certain forms of discrimination or environmental degradation.“No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.” -- Rep. James P. McGovern

Yet the Washington-based institution has long been criticised for refusing to institutionalise a specific focus on human rights, and is currently involved in a major review of these policies.

“I recognise that constructing sustainable relationships between development priorities and human rights can be a challenging endeavour for the World Bank, but it is a crucial endeavour to undertake,” James P. McGovern, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Wednesday at a hearing he chaired on the subject.

“Human rights due diligence and assessments would ensure that each project is properly vetted and that possible violations of human rights are acknowledged beforehand and can be prevented. This not only protects the integrity of individuals but also ensures the sustainability of a project, which means more people will benefit from the World Bank’s investment long term.”

The World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are currently meeting in Washington for a semi-annual summit.

McGovern warned that important bank policies on rights, the environment and indigenous peoples are often treated as “little more than one box that needed to be checked” by project managers. Further, he said, “No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.”

The World Bank has long been barred by its membership from engaging in overtly political issues. Yet many say rights issues need not be considered political, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation.

Kim “responded very well” to the Uganda issue, Barney Frank, a former member of Congress, told the hearing Wednesday. But he warned that “it’s not good when things are done ad hoc.”

“Some of the countries can complain they weren’t warned,” Frank said.

“That’s why it’s important to have a framework in place, so any country contemplating brutal actions in the future will be on notice … I think it’s reasonable to say, ‘If we’re going to punish you, we should let you know in advance what the rules are.’”

Review opportunity

A two-year review of the bank’s safeguard policies is currently underway, and could be finished by the end of the year. Proponents of these reforms say the review offers an important opportunity for leverage, particularly by the United States.

“It’s really incumbent on the United States and the U.S. Congress, as large shareholders with strong influence, to take a very progressive and aggressive role on promoting human rights standards at the bank,” Arvind Ganesan, director for business and human rights at Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog group, told IPS.

“This is critically important because, increasingly, governments such as that of China have influence over the bank, and they’ve been very clear they don’t want human rights standards incorporated into the bank.”

Ganesan, who also testified Wednesday, says the bank needs to incorporate human rights-focused due diligence into its vetting of potential project funding, and to show that its projects are mitigating human rights concerns.

On questioning from lawmakers, Ganesan noted that several European countries on the World Bank’s board have offered strong support for such changes. But he warned that other governments have been “hostile” to the idea.

Certain parts of the bank’s staff are sympathetic to the idea of greater human rights focus in the institution’s lending, Ganesan says. But he cautions that “the staff in general needs to be far more motivated to include human rights.”

A bank spokesperson told IPS the safeguards review is “making good progress”, with a public update due Saturday.

“We are ramping up our standards to ensure the delivery of a strengthened policy framework which is more efficient and comprehensive; a system that will enable the Bank to assert its position as a force for good in sustainable development; a new policy framework that is clear to implement and to hold us accountable for,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“[W]e are looking at how most appropriately to address the adverse impacts of discrimination and exclusion … along with how to cover vulnerable/disadvantaged issues such as sexual orientation.”

Lessons learned

Lawmakers on Wednesday also heard testimony about three past World Bank-supported projects: agricultural development initiatives in Uzbekistan, despite widespread findings of child and forced labour in that country’s important cotton industry; an oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon that saw bank funds diverted by a corrupt and oppressive government in N’Djamena; and a series of palm oil plantations in Honduras that have led to the takeover of indigenous lands.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, worth some seven billion dollars “was meant to be transformational. Yet even an internal bank evaluation found the project had not contributed to poverty reduction but rather enriched the government of Chad – meaning more and more corruption and human rights violations,” Delphine Djiraibe, an attorney with the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, told the hearing.

“We hope the U.S. Congress will put pressure on the World Bank Group to learn from the fiasco of this project and not keep repeating the same mistakes that lead to serious human rights violations and environmental degradation.”

On Thursday, over 180 global civil society groups accused the World Bank of directly facilitating a spate of large-scale land acquisitions through its annual publication of business-friendliness metrics known as the Doing Business index, as well as a new initiative called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. While such rankings measure how a country’s regulations impact on industry, critics say the widely watched indicators push governments to prioritise industry over poor and marginalised communities.

“The [Doing Business] framework is creating competition between nations to cut down economic regulations as well as environmental and social safeguards in order to score better in the ranking,” the Oakland Institute, a watchdog group, says in a new report on the issue.

“[T]he … ranking has the collateral effect of facilitating land grabbing by advocating for ‘protection of investors’ and property reforms that make land a marketable commodity and facilitate large-scale land acquisitions.”

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OP-ED: The World Bank’s Waste of Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-banks-waste-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:31:23 +0000 Janet Redman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133566 The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have […]

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By Janet Redman
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense.

Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.The programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme — like carbon trading — to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting their greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The U.N. established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM.

First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM, and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a U.N.-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013.

cdm graphThere was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations, and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in “least developed” (LDCs) and African countries by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments” — in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

The Bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits; and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one programme — the readiness fund — to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers.

The initiative has a second programme — the carbon fund — to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The Bank says it is prioritising support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar, and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management.

Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A better approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational, and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind, and small-scale hydropower projects.

The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children, and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean.

It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money, and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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OP-ED: Climate Change May Affect Your Travel Plans – and Those of Millions of Animals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-climate-change-may-affect-travel-plans-millions-animals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-climate-change-may-affect-travel-plans-millions-animals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-climate-change-may-affect-travel-plans-millions-animals/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:36:53 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133546 In this column, Dr. Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, describes the effects that climate change-related extreme weather events will have on the travels plans of both people and animals.

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Hawksbill turtle, Komodo, Indo-Pacific. Credit: Courtesy of Image Broker/Robert Harding

Hawksbill turtle, Komodo, Indo-Pacific. Credit: Courtesy of Image Broker/Robert Harding

By Bradnee Chambers
SAN JOSÉ, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

There are few experiences more frustrating than a delay in travel plans caused by bad weather. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this may be something we will have to get used to in the future.

In March 2014, the IPCC released the 5th assessment of the impacts, adaptation strategies, and vulnerabilities related to global climate change. The report makes it clear that travelling in the future will become more of an ordeal.

Extreme weather events related to climate change, such as heat waves, storms and coastal flooding, are predicted to increase in frequency with only a 1°C increase in average global temperature – and current trends indicate even higher rises in average temperature. Besides the more serious effects, this is a recipe for more travel delays, larger numbers of travellers stranded and a greater overall risk associated with travelling.

And the news gets worse if your destination involves beaches or coral reefs.

As more ice melts from the polar regions, the world’s oceans creep higher. Coastal regions and low-lying areas could suffer from submergence, flooding, erosion of coastlines and beaches, and saltwater pollution of the drinking water supply.

At sea, normally colourful corals are experiencing “bleaching” or turning white as a stress response to changes in the water itself. Carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, is dissolving into the world’s oceans, making them more acidic.

These changes are problematic for human communities. But people aren’t the only global travellers affected by climate change.

Nobody knows this better than the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which is dedicated, as its name indicates, to conserving international migratory species.

Migratory animals face many of the same challenges that humans do: having to choose when to travel, what route to take, where to eat and rest, and how long to stay before returning home. Unfortunately, these choices that are seemingly so trivial for humans are life-or-death decisions for migratory animals.

Migratory animals are potent symbols of our shared natural heritage, with their migrations often spanning continents. With warmer, wetter winters, migratory birds in Europe will be forced to migrate to breeding grounds earlier or face population declines, shrinking ranges, and the worst possible outcome: extinction.

The Monarch Butterfly undertakes an impressive migration spanning multiple generations, traversing vast distances across the North American continent. Climate change is transforming the current wintering habitats of this butterfly in Central America, making it more prone to wet freezes resulting in catastrophic mortality events.

Severe droughts, meanwhile, threaten one of the greatest migrations in the world, involving hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and other animals travelling across the Serengeti Plains of Africa.

In the world’s oceans, the planet’s largest fish species, the Whale Shark, is also threatened by climate change. Changes in global ocean temperatures and chemistry may cause declines in the numbers of this species in the future.

In marine turtles gender is determined by sand temperature on the nesting beaches, with cool beaches producing more males and warm beaches more females. Increasing sand temperatures mean that more females than males are born, thus affecting the optimal gender ratios. 

In light of these concerns, the Convention on Migratory Species is holding a workshop with national representatives and scientists in Limón, Costa Rica Apr. 9-11, 2014.

The goal of the meeting is to develop a Programme of Work on climate change and migratory species, addressing the need for monitoring, conservation, and adaptation strategies that accommodate the unique needs of migratory animals in the face of climate change.

The results of the workshop will be presented to the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CMS which will take place in Quito, Ecuador, Nov. 4-9.

Professor Colin Galbraith, the CMS Scientific Councillor for Climate Change, said: “The workshop has confirmed that climate change is one of the most important threats to migratory species and the ecosystems on which they depend. Participants have stressed the need for urgent international actions to address the complex threats from climate change. It is encouraging to see delegates from around the world working together to outline a Programme of Work for countries in the CMS to combat the effects of climate change on migratory animals.”

The prospect of having to sit even longer in airport terminals is doubtless frustrating for poor weary human travellers, but it pales into insignificance when compared to the ever worsening odds that migratory species are facing in their struggle for survival.

Climate change is a complex and daunting problem. The plans to reduce our impact on climate are important and so are the plans to mitigate the damage we’ve already done. Hopefully, through cooperation and active effort, we can conserve the beauty of travel and our travelling animals for future generations to come.

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Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133534 For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources. “We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks […]

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Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

By Noor Ali
ISIOLO COUNTY, Kenya, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources.

“We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks and raids, lost almost all my animals to raids for them to only be wiped out by drought four years ago,” Wario told IPS.

Merti division lies in Isiolo County, in Kenya’s Eastern Province which stretches all the way to the country’s northern border with Ethiopia.

Kenya’s underdeveloped, vast and semi-arid north is plagued by prolonged and recurrent violent conflicts over resources, deadly cattle raids, and increased incidents of natural disasters like droughts and floods.“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house.” -- farmer Amina Wario

The African Development Bank’s Kenya’s Country Strategy Paper 2014 to 2018 indicates the region is the poorest in the country, with more than 74 percent of the population living in a desperate state of poverty.

“First we believed the El Niño phenomenon, flash floods, Rift valley fever and severe droughts [from the 1980s through to 2009] were a curse. Our people conducted rituals to prevent similar phenomena but it became more rampant,” Wario said. Emergency food aid offered little relief.

Although traditionally communities in Kenya’s arid regions have been pastoralists, over the years “the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalised households,” says a report by CARE International.

But Wario and his household can no longer be classified as vulnerable. He’s moved away from the livelihood of his forefathers and is currently one of a new generation of successful crop farmers in this far-flung, remote village in Merti division some 300 km north of the nearest established town of Isiolo.

His only regret is that he took so long to switch from pastoralism.

His first wife, Amina Wario, told IPS this change was thanks to the Merti Integrated Development Programme (MIDP), an NGO in the region which educates pastoralists and livestock owners on climate change resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

“We grow enough food for our family, relatives, traders and local residents. This farm produces watermelons, paw paws, onions, tomatoes, maize, and tobacco for us for sell to those with livestock and earn an average profit of Ksh 50,000 [581 dollars] a month,” Amina Wario told IPS.

The Wario family farm is partitioned by trenches of flowing water from the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is drawn by a pump.

Five years ago, the MIDP began teaching 200 families who had lost all their livestock to drought about alternative livelihoods.

Now, more than 2,000 families across Merti division, a region where people are predominantly pastoralists, are part of the programme.

At Bisan Biliku, a settlement 20km from Merti town, many wealthy former livestock owners are now farmers.

Khadija Shade, chairperson of the Bismillahi Women’s self-help group, said the community’s departure from pastoralism has empowered and emancipated people in Bisan Biliku.

Women are now innovators and the main breadwinners in their families, she said. The women’s group grows a wide variety of crops and also purchases livestock from locals, all of which is sold to a chain of clients in Isiolo County, central Kenya and the country’s capital, Nairobi.

She also runs an exclusive shop that sells women’s and children’s clothes, and perfumes.

“[Now] we have enough money but nowhere to keep the money safe. We need banking facilities. At the moment we travel far to use mobile phone banking,” she added. This is because there is no mobile network coverage in Bisan Biliku and locals are forced to travel to an area with coverage.

A respected clan elder in Bisan Biliku, who requested not to be identified, told IPS that after attending a series of seminars by the MIDP a few years ago, he sold some of his livestock, bought a truck and built two house in Isiolo town, the capital of Isiolo County. He rents out the houses and earns an additional income.

“From the seminars I learnt how to reduce risks and increase my income and lead a better life. Now I am obviously not at risk of being a poor man,” he said.

Abdullahi Jillo Shade from the MIDP told IPS that the project “has been embraced by many families in Merti [town], and the neighbouring settlements of Bisan Bilku, Mrara and Bulesa and Korbesa.”

“Our people are proud farmers and traders. They have changed the tidal wave. These days we have more trucks transporting food to the market in Isiolo town than trucks with relief food…” he said.

Others too are adapting to the changing climate in their own way.

Isiolo legislator Abdullahi Tadicha says decades of deliberate marginalisation and punitive policies have denied those in northern Kenya development funding and subjected communities to displacement, massive losses of wealth, and severe poverty.

However, money has now been set aside to assist communities.

“The Isiolo south constituency development fund committee has identified, prioritised and allocated funds to address food insecurity and disaster management, and to support families rendered poor by past drought, floods and conflicts,” he told IPS.

The constituency fund, he said, helped start the Malkadaka irrigation scheme on 400 hectares of land in Isiolo south in August. It supports 200 families whose livestock were wiped out by successive droughts and floods.

Yussuf Godana from the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform, a community-based organisation, told IPS that locals suffered the most during the recurrent droughts but said education has helped people accept that erratic and harsh weather trends are not a curse but a global crisis.

He said thanks to the community diversifying its livelihood and the reduced conflicts over resources, “this whole place is now covered with a green carpet of crops – it’s an oasis.”

Partners For Resilience (PFR) is an alliance of various associations including Netherlands Red Cross (lead agency) and CARE Netherlands. It is working in partnership with Kenya to empower communities, with a focus on educating people about disaster prevention and management, and strengthening the resilience of at-risk communities.

Abdi Malik, a PFR official working with the Kenya Red Cross, told IPS that the various adaptation programmes in the region have created relief-free food zones and recorded significant decreases in families seeking food and assistance with school fees.

These programmes, said Malik, have also changed how the Kenya Red Cross engages with the local communities. Now people only visit their office to seek support for various projects, unlike in the past when they camped outside for days waiting for relief food.

Amina Wario is optimistic that her family will never need aid again.

“Our family is now respected, from the proceeds from this farm we have constructed a house … and educated our children.

“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house,” she said happily.

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In Eastern Caribbean, Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:30:59 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133516 Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time. “It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator. Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of […]

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A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MERO, Dominica, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time.

“It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator.“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching." -- Sophie Sirtaine

Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island on Dec. 24 and 25. The “freak weather system”, which also affected St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, killed 13 people and destroyed farms and other infrastructure.

Officials said the impact from the extraordinary torrential rainfall, flash floods and landslides was concentrated in areas with the highest levels of poverty.

Just six months earlier, in July 2013, tropical storm Chantal battered Dominica’s southern tip. The worst affected was the tiny southern community of Gallion, where the population is under 100.

“It [the Dec. 24 trough] did cause a high level of distress and anxiety, leaving many not knowing what to do next,” Corriette told IPS.

“There is no doubt that within my lifetime, not only in Dominica but throughout the region and the world by extension, we have seen some very significant differences in patterns of weather over the last 30-40 years that indicate that something is happening and we have to tie it to probably climate change,” he said.

“There are those who do not believe that theory but we have seen it developing and unfolding in front of our very eyes – the melting of the glaciers in the northern regions, the expansion of dry lands in Africa and other places, and the higher intensity of rainfall in the Caribbean islands – not that we are getting more rain but we are getting more intense rainfall in a shorter period of time,” Corriette added.

Flooding as a result of climate impacts has been identified as a threat to a number of communities in Dominica.

Under the Reduce Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, administered by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a demonstration project to improve drainage in the Mero community is expected to inform the rest of the country on how to mitigate the impacts of flooding.

The RRACC Project evolved after a series of one-day stakeholder meetings in July 2010 on Climate Variability, Change, and Adaptation in the Caribbean region with individuals from national governments, nongovernmental organisations, the private sector, and donor agencies.

These meetings were convened by the USAID, the OECS, and the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU). As a result of these meetings, USAID formulated a five-year (2011-2015) framework for climate change adaptation strategy for the Caribbean region to be implemented using “fast-start” financing as part of the U.S. commitment at the December 2009 U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

The strategy draws from regional and national climate change plans and addresses high priority vulnerabilities in sectors key to the region’s development and economic growth, while identifying specific interventions that could contribute to greater resilience in the Eastern Caribbean.

In St. Vincent and St. Lucia, more than 30,000 people affected by the December 2013 flash floods will start recovering and regaining access to markets, water and electricity through an extra 36 million dollars approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors under the International Development Association (IDA) Crisis Response Window.

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James’ sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Governments’ Rapid Damage and Loss Assessments conducted in January with assistance from the World Bank, the Africa Caribbean Pacific – European Union (ACP-EU) Natural Risk Reduction Programme and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), estimated total losses to be around 108 million dollars, or 15 percent of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ gross domestic product (GDP); and 99 million dollars or eight percent of GDP in Saint Lucia.

“We will never forget the people who lost their lives as a result of this disaster, and will use their deaths as a wake-up call for the entire nation that we are a country that is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of climate variability,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

The disaster happened at the peak of the tourism season. While the full financial impact remains unknown, early estimates conclude that this event will affect the agriculture and tourism sectors and result in economic contractions in both countries.

“While services and transport access have been largely reinstated, parallel efforts will need to be undertaken to mobilise resources required to stabilise and permanently rehabilitate, reconstruct and retrofit damaged infrastructure,” St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony told IPS.

Within a few weeks of the disaster, the World Bank was able to make 1.9 million dollars in emergency funds available to support the governments’ recovery efforts.

“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank country director for the Caribbean. “Our financial support will not only rebuild critical infrastructure and boost the economy, it will also help build long-term climate resilience.”

Last week, St. Lucia announced it is conducting a survey to determine the potential impact of climate change on the supply of and demand for freshwater as well as on the exposure, sensitivity and vulnerability of the livelihoods of communities.

The Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Water Resources and Human Livelihoods in the Coastal Zones of Small Island Developing States (CASCADE) is being undertaken by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in collaboration with the Italty-based Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) and the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

The survey will also seek to determine how households view environmental issues affecting their communities.

“The survey results will provide guidance for future public awareness programmes and policy development. The knowledge obtained will also allow government agencies, NGOs and community groups to take appropriate measures to adapt to and, hopefully, minimize the negative impacts identified, which will be to the benefit of all the citizens of St. Lucia,” according to a statement issued by the government.

It said that surveyors would be visiting households throughout the island until May 13, reiterating that the results of the exercise “will be of critical importance to individuals, their families and to St. Lucia”.

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Mercury Still Poisoning Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-still-loose-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:08:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133493 Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry. After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in […]

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Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry.

After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in the metal shot up in the region.

“Mexico’s exports have tripled in the last few years,” Ibrahima Sow, an environmental specialist in the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Climate Change and Chemicals Team, told Tierramérica. “And activities like the extraction of gold from recycled electronic goods are on the rise.”

The global treaty on mercury was adopted in October 2013. It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, control measures for air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

But of the 97 countries around the world that have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury – including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean – only one, the United States, has ratified it, and 49 more must do so in order for it to go into effect.

Minamata is the Japanese city that gave its name to the illness caused by severe mercury poisoning. The disease, a neurological syndrome, was first identified there in the 1950s.

It was eventually discovered that it was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation. The local populace suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish and shellfish containing a build-up of this neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical.

The contamination occurred between 1932 and 1968. As of 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised; at least 100 of them died as a result of the disease.

In Latin America, mercury is used in artisanal gold mining and hospital equipment. And emissions are produced by the extraction, refining, transport and combustion of hydrocarbons; thermoelectric plants; and steelworks.

It is also smuggled in a number of countries.

“It is hard to quantify the illegal imports,” Colombia’s deputy minister of the environment and sustainable development, Pablo Vieira, told Tierramérica. “Everyone knows that artisanal and small-scale mining uses smuggled mercury, mainly coming in from Peru and Ecuador, although hard data is not available.”

According to Colombia’s authorities, the mercury is smuggled through the jungle in the country’s remote border zones.

Mercury Watch, an international alliance which keeps a global database, estimated Latin America’s mercury emissions at 526 tonnes in 2010, with Colombia in the lead, accounting for 180 tonnes.

In an assessment published in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that mercury emissions caused by human activities reached 1,960 tonnes in 2010, with artisanal mining as the main source (727 tonnes), followed by the burning of coal, principally from power generation and industrial use.

Artisanal gold mining is practised in at least a dozen Latin American countries, largely in the Andean region and the Amazon rainforest, but in Central America as well, UNEP reports.

Some 500,000 small-scale gold miners drive the legal or illegal demand for mercury.

Mexico and Peru have mercury deposits, but there is no formal primary mercury mining in the region. The extraction is secondary, because the mercury tends to be mixed with other minerals, or comes from the recycling of mercury already extracted and used for other purposes.

The biggest producers are Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while the main consumers and legal importers are Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In 2012 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia headed the regional list of exporters of mercury and products containing the metal, according to Mercury Watch.

Mercury is naturally present in certain rocks, and can be found in the air, soil and water as a result of industrial emissions.

Bacteria and other microorganisms convert mercury to methylmercury, which can accumulate in different animal species, especially fish.

Mining industry laws in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Honduras ban the use of mercury.

And last year Colombia passed a law that would phase out mercury in mining over the next five years and in industry over the next 10 years.

Since November 2013, the Peruvian Congress has also been debating a draft law to eliminate mercury in mining and replace it in industrial activities.

According to UNEP, there were a total of 11 chlor-alkali plants operating with mercury technology in seven countries in the region in 2012. But several of the factories plan to adopt mercury-free technologies by 2020.

“The mercury content in products, the replacement of mercury, and the temporary storage and final disposal of mercury waste are significant aspects of mercury management,” Raquel Lejtreger, undersecretary in Uruguay’s ministry of housing, territorial planning and environment, told Tierramérica.

Uruguay imports products that contain mercury. But a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant operating in the South American country plans to convert to mercury-free technology, although financing to do so is needed.

GEF has provided funds to Uruguay and other countries in the region for the negotiation of the global treaty on mercury and for the adoption of alternative, mercury-free technologies. But there is still a long way to go.

This story was originally published Apr. 5 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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As Planet Warms, Clean Energy Investments Take a Dive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 17:28:58 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133489 Policy uncertainty and plummeting solar prices led to a 14-percent decrease in investment in renewable energy in 2013, according to a report released Monday. Investment fell across the globe, even in high growth regions like China, India and Brazil. But it was severe cuts in Europe – until recently a pace-setter for the rest of […]

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A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Policy uncertainty and plummeting solar prices led to a 14-percent decrease in investment in renewable energy in 2013, according to a report released Monday.

Investment fell across the globe, even in high growth regions like China, India and Brazil. But it was severe cuts in Europe – until recently a pace-setter for the rest of the world – that marked the retrenchment.“In the longer run, the market frameworks will have to change in order to integrate a large fraction of renewables into the grid.” -- Ulf Moslener

In 2013, the continent spent 48 billion dollars less than the year before.

The report, jointly released by the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Frankfurt School and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, painted a hopeful picture of an industry recuperating after a period of consolidation, but could only highlight a “trickle of significant” projects of the kind that possibly could supplant – not supplement – traditional power generation on a wide scale and curb carbon emissions.

“Lower costs, a return to profitability on the part of some leading manufacturers, the phenomenon of unsubsidized market uptake in a number of countries, and a warmer attitude to renewables among public market investors, were hopeful signs after several years of painful shake-out in the renewable energy sector,” said Michael Liebrich, chair of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in a statement.

Renewables constituted 43 percent of new power capacity and increased their share of global power generation from 7.8 to 8.5 percent. Still, they have not been able to displace rising coal consumption in the developing world and continue to staunch carbon growth rather than reduce it overall.

Though last year renewables prevented an estimated 1.2 gigatonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere, global emissions still grew by 2.1 percent.

“On their own, renewables investment will certainly not grow fast enough to put the world on a two-degree compatibility path,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research at the Frankfurt-School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, referring to the temperature threshold widely used by scientists.

A rise of more than two degrees centigrade over the year 1900 temperatures would have catastrophic consequences in much of the world.

Moslener says the post-crisis investment climate and the Basel III global regulatory framework makes investing in alternative energy less attractive to large funds and institutional investors who seek higher leverage to cover the higher up-front costs associated with renewable projects.

A study commissioned last year by the Norwegian government predicted “the capital and liquidity requirements of Basel III are likely to limit the amount of capital available for renewable energy financing from banks in the future.”

The Frankfurt report found that venture capitalists and private equity companies cut back considerably in 2013, reducing investments in specialist renewable energy companies to only two billion – their lowest levels since 2005.

But convincing global regulators to make room for the type of leveraged investments and bundled-and-chopped assets that caused the financial crisis will be a tough sell.

“It’s always faster for a government to say ‘we will put in a set price for energy’ than it is to change their financial regulations – which are essentially their entire financial system,” said Eric Usher, chief of the finance unit in UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics.

Despite uncertainty, Usher says larger investors are slowly – very slowly – starting to take notice as renewables increasingly become interchangeable with rent-paying assets like real estate.

“There’s been an uptick in green bonds and pension funds are starting to engage,” Usher told IPS. “In the U.S. and Canada you have tax-driven structures that group power plants together and sell them to investors. It provides very low cost financing.

“The investors with longer time horizons get interested in mature technologies,” he added.

Those companies that survived an extended period of consolidation and a recovery from over-capacity – primarily in the solar industry – saw their equity prices increase by 54 percent last year, roughly doubling gains in the market at large. But despite frothy returns for portfolio managers and a rash of IPOs, the main tracking index – The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) – is still 60 percent below its 2007 peak.

“In the longer run, the market frameworks will have to change in order to integrate a large fraction of renewables into the grid,” Moslener told IPS. “That will also need government attention – I would expect renewables to be only part of the solution.”

Unless significant cuts are achieved in existing emissions, the goal of renewables risks changing from serving as an avant-garde solution to just another corollary low-cost fuel for increased growth. Though most models predict global energy use tapering off by mid-century, without cuts or a rethinking of axiomatic growth, it will be too late by then to head off climate change’s most cataclysmic impacts.

“The financial system we have today is based on a construct that is not helpful to sustainable development,” says Usher. “The reality is a huge challenge – it will take some time to solve. Renewables are not the solution on their own.”

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Going Green Without Sinking into the Red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-green-without-sinking-red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:34:57 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133485 Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of […]

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Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of human capital."Rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions - or indeed other people’s mistakes." -- Dr. David Smith

The 53-member Commonwealth grouping is now trying to fill this knowledge gap with a new green growth analysis that circulated at last week’s third Biennial Conference on Small States in St. Lucia, although the formal launch is not until May.

Titled “Transitioning to a Green Economy-Political Economy of Approaches in Small States,” the 216-page document provides an in-depth study of eight countries and their efforts at building green economies.

Dr. David Smith, one of the authors, notes that none of the eight, which include three from the Caribbean – Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica – has managed on its own to solve the problem of balancing green growth with economic development.

The other case studies are Botswana, Mauritius, Nauru, Samoa and the Seychelles.

“What is useful about this book is that rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions – or indeed other people’s mistakes – and learn from those and try to tailor those to our own situations,” said Smith, the coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Smith said that all the countries studied revealed that high dependence on imported energy and its associated costs are major factors constraining growth of any kind. Progress in greening the energy sector would have the great advantage of benefitting other sectors throughout the economy.

“Within our constraints we have to try and change that. We have to try and make sure we are much more energy sufficient and our diversity in terms of our sources of energy is increased,” he said.

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been too dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell wants his country to become a “centre of excellence” for a clean and green economy that will result in the dismantling of an electricity monopoly with a high fossil-fuel import bill.

He said that despite help under the Venezuela-led PetroCaribe initiative – an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Caracas to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment – Grenada has one of the highest electricity rates in the region.

“We are now engaging with partners on solar, wind and geothermal energy to make Grenada an exemplar for a sustainable planet,” he told IPS.

Mitchell believes that the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa this September must advance small states’ quest for energy that is accessible, affordable and sustainable.

“The threat of climate change is real and poses a clear and present danger to the survival of SIDS. We call on the international community to release long-promised resources to help small states like Grenada move more rapidly on our disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts,” he added.

Last month, the University of Guyana announced that it was teaming up with Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS) and the Beligium-based Catholic University of Leuven to be part of an 840,000-dollar programme geared at capacity-building in applied renewable energy technologies.

The overall objective is to improve the capacity of the Universities of Guyana and Suriname to deliver programmes and courses with the different technologies associated with applied renewable energy.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud says that one of the biggest needs for the local manufacturing sector is the availability of cheap energy.

“For us, it is an economic imperative that we develop not only clean energy, but affordable energy as well, and we are lucky that we possess the resources that we can have both,” he told IPS. “The low-hanging fruit in this regard is hydro.”

When he presented the country’s multi-billion-dollar budget to Parliament at the end of March, Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said that with the intensification of the adverse impacts of climate change, the government would continue to forge ahead with “our innovative climate resilient and low carbon approach to economic development backed by our unwavering commitment to good forest governance and stewardship”.

Guyana has so far earned 115 million dollars from Norway within the framework of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Singh said that this year, 90.6 million dollars have been allocated for continued implementation of the Guyana REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) + Investment Fund (GRIF).

“Guyana is on track to have the world’s first fully operational REDD+ mechanism in place by 2015. This will enable Guyana to earn considerably more from the sale of REDD+ credits than we do today,” he told legislators.

But the case studies showed that locating suitable and adequate financing for greening was a major constraint, even in those countries that had allocated government resources to green activities.

The study on Jamaica for example, noted that the country is still dependent on natural resource-based export industries and on imported energy, with debt servicing equalling more than 140 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It said all these factors also contributed to constraining implementation of new policies.

With regard to financing, Smith argues that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the World Bank to consider allowing countries to access concessional financing up and until their human development index hits 0.8.

“We want to look at renewable energy and lower cost energy. We want to make sure that the human and environmental capitals that we have within our countries are maintained,” he said.

Smith said the countries could look at the payment for ecosystem services, charging realistic rents for the use of their beaches and looking at ways debt can be used creatively.

He believes that the repayment should “not always [be] to reduce the stock of debt but at least to use the payments for something that will build either human capital or financial capital…that can be used for real growth and development.”

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Hard-Hit CDM Carbon Market Seeks New Buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:21:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133457 Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2. The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for […]

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WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2.

The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for verifying carbon emissions reduction projects in developing countries."At some point the developed countries will wake up and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions." -- Dr. Hugh Sealy

According to Dr. Hugh Sealy, chairman of the Executive Board of the CDM, it has generated 396 billion dollars in financial flows from developed to developing countries.

“We are fairly proud of that. Very few development banks can say they have had that kind of investment,” Dr. Sealy told IPS.

The CDM, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), validates and subsequently certifies the effectiveness of projects in reducing carbon emissions.

Such certification can then be used as a basis for obtaining Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits that are sold to developed countries seeking to meet emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

The big problem for local entrepreneurs is that the market for CER credits has collapsed in recent years.

In the Caribbean, many of the emissions reductions projects tend to be in the area of windfarming, said Dr. Sealy, since wind technology is proven and banks understand the risks.

The Caribbean’s North-East trade winds make it a very viable one as well. Guyana also has a bagasse project for generating steam and electricity.

In the Caribbean, there are 18 CDM projects, but only one, the Wigton Windfarm project in Jamaica, has made an application for CER certification. Dr. Sealy said that Wigton, which was registered as a CDM project in 2006, reduced carbon emissions by more than 52,000 tonnes per year in its first phase, and then by 40,000 tonnes per year in its second phase.

The challenge facing the Wigton project, as with all CDM projects currently, is the steep decline in the value of CER credits over the past couple of years. Four years ago, Dr. Sealy said, the credits were worth about 104 each dollars. Now they are worth about 50 cents.

He said the actual value the Jamaican company obtains for its CERs “will depend on the contract between it and the buyer.”

Dr. Sealy said the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties agreed at a recent meeting to the sale of CERs to entities that do not have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, in an effort to widen the market for CERs. Under this new arrangement, “anybody, whether private or government, if they are going to voluntarily cancel the CER credits” can buy them as their contribution to the fight against climate change, he said.

The Brazilian government bought 40,000 CER credits to “green” the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and has done the same for the upcoming World Cup Football championship in that country.

Microsoft has done something similar under a different UNFCCC scheme for reducing emissions, known as REDD+, by buying an unspecified number of carbon credits from Madagascar generated by a rainforest conservation project in that country, according to a report by environmental news website Mongabay.com.

According to the report, attributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Microsoft bought the credits as part of its carbon neutrality programme.

Dr. Sealy attributes the steep decline in CER values to the downturn in the developed countries’ economies since 2008 that led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and thus to a decline in the need for carbon offsets. At the same time, the target set by developed countries for carbon emissions reductions was too low in the first place, he said.

“The EU is saying it will aim for 20-30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Science is saying we must peak emissions by 2020” in order to reach the target of less than two degrees global warming, Dr. Sealy said.

“At some point the developed countries will wake up to that and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he said, the carbon reduction projects in the region are still bringing the Caribbean many benefits. He pointed out that the increase in renewable energy projects means the energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters.

Landfill gas mitigation projects in the region are bringing health and environmental benefits, and projects such as one in Haiti for improved cooking stoves are resulting in less soot and less smoke that saves lives.

The UNFCCC’s Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) in Grenada is working to create awareness in the region of current opportunities available to the region through CDM, said Karla Solis-Garcia, the RCC’s team leader.

So far, she told IPS, the RCC has provided support “to at least 60 CDM stakeholders with renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), energy efficiency (improved cooking stoves, and efficient buildings) and landfill gas technology projects.

The RCC in Grenada is active in 16 Caribbean countries.

Solis-Garcia said the solid waste management sector and electricity sector were particular focuses of the RCC.

The solid waste sector was of particular interest since “Caribbean states share common challenges on how to deal with waste, considering especially the geographical limitations,” she said. “The waste challenge also represents an opportunity for investors, as emission reductions from landfill gas – methane gas – are significant.”

Regarding electricity, she said, the key issues are “the significant dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the increase of electricity demand, and the potential for renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave/tidal.”

Dr. Sealy said that the region was in a good place with regard to deriving benefit from CDM projects, since it is accepted that failure to deal with climate change means that many islands will cease to exist.

For that reason, he said, countries with obligations under the Kyoto protocol “are quite willing to assist the small islands in any reasonable way they can.” Caribbean islands can, therefore, negotiate for a good price on CER credits, he said, especially if these are from renewable energy projects.

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Chile Graduates in Earthquake Preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:52:06 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133441 Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country. Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the […]

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President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country.

Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the hills, two km away from the Pacific ocean, after a tsunami alert was issued by the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service.

But despite the fear, nearly one million people participated efficiently in a mass evacuation, and the six people who were killed died of heart attacks or falling debris.

The 8.2-magnitude temblor occurred at GMT 23:46 and was the strongest in a series of quakes that have hit northern Chile since Jan. 1.

“We were in our apartment, which is on the third floor of a building. My daughter and my husband and I all held onto each other. Suddenly, the windows burst and glass started to fall on our backs. It was horrible,” a woman who lives in the northern city of Iquique, and had later evacuated to higher ground away from the coast, told Tierramérica.

“We have learned a lot, and many of the elements that didn’t work right in 2010 functioned perfectly now,” the director of the National Seismological Centre, Sergio Barrientos, told Tierramérica.

Four years ago, “the seismological monitoring system broke down and we were only able to provide information on the earthquake a couple of hours later,” he said.

“On this occasion, even though it was a much smaller earthquake, we managed to deliver the necessary information just a few minutes after it occurred,” he added.

President Michelle Bachelet flew over the most heavily affected areas, Iquique and Arica, 1,800 and 2,000 km north of Santiago, respectively, to view the destruction.

“There has been an exemplary evacuation process, with strong solidarity that has made this a process without major setbacks, which has protected people from a tsunami or other serious problems linked to the quake,” she said.

Tuesday’s earthquake was also a trial by fire.for Bachelet, who took office as president for the second time, on Mar. 11.

The president ended her first term just 12 days after the 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami that devastated vast areas in central and southern Chile on Feb. 27, 2010.

That time the emergency preparedness protocols didn’t work, and a tardy tsunami alert was blamed for some 500 deaths, added to the destruction of over 200,000 housing units. Bachelet faced legal action, and several members of her first administration are still under investigation.

Four years later, the president decreed a timely state of emergency for the affected regions and called out the armed forces and the security forces to keep public order.

The tsunami warning sirens sounded early enough to allow thousands of people to begin evacuating calmly.

Significant investment in economic and human resources lies behind these changes. In 2012, the National Seismological Centre signed an agreement with the Interior Ministry to strengthen the network of sensors and set up new stations, while creating a robust communications system.

The ongoing investment of nearly seven million dollars has included the installation of 10 new monitoring stations, the purchase of satellite equipment, and training for the staff at the National Seismological Centre and the National Emergency Office.

The disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies are bearing fruit not only in Chile, but in the rest of Latin America as well, according to the regional office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes are common in different parts of the region, often associated with conditions of vulnerability, poverty and insecurity.

However, local populations are better prepared today, regional cooperation is effective, and warning and response systems are efficient, UNESCO reports.

“The situation has improved greatly since the 27 February 2010 tsunami that impacted Chile,” said UNESCO which, in alliance with the authorities, is involved in work on education for tsunami preparedness in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

In Chile, the work has been carried out in 144 schools in areas at risk of flooding – lower than 30 metres above sea level.

“Citizen education is essential in these situations, especially in a country like Chile, where a tsunami can occur 15 or 20 minutes after an earthquake and it takes 10 minutes to analyse the information,” hydraulic engineer Rodrigo Cienfuegos of the National Research Centre for Integrated Natural Disaster Management (CIGIDEN) told Tierramérica.

“People have to react in an autonomous manner; they have to know where to evacuate to immediately after an earthquake of the characteristics of the one we had on Tuesday,” added Cienfuegos, an expert on tsunamis.

One of the biggest challenges now is for people to be prepared to deal with the impacts that follow the quake itself: living in evacuation centres, and putting up with the lack of food, water and electricity.

“The idea is that, once the emergency is over, people will be more ready to live through that complex period,” he said.

According to Cienfuegos, an academic at the Catholic University, this South American country, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone, with more than 4,000 km of coastline, should rethink human settlements in the future.

“We have to be aware of the threat that living so close to the coast means,” he said. “It’s hard to move people away who for years have been living close to the sea, but measures have to be taken when the construction of new human settlements is being studied.”

For now, the people of northern Chile should be ready, seismologists warn. It has been 137 years since the last major quake in the north of the country and the energy that has accumulated is greater than what was released on Tuesday.

*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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