Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Climate Finance for Farmers Key to Avert One Billion Hungryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/climate-finance-for-farmers-key-to-avert-one-billion-hungry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-finance-for-farmers-key-to-avert-one-billion-hungry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/climate-finance-for-farmers-key-to-avert-one-billion-hungry/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 13:05:43 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147864 The arid region of Settat, 200 kms northeast of Marrakech, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

The arid region of Settat, 200 kms northeast of Marrakech, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
MARRAKECH, Nov 21 2016 (IPS)

With climate change posing growing threats to smallholder farmers, experts working around the issues of agriculture and food security say it is more critical than ever to implement locally appropriate solutions to help them adapt to changing rainfall patterns.

Most countries consider agriculture a priority when it comes to their plans to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2 degrees C. In line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement, 95 percent of all countries included agriculture in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).“We need to find solutions that allow people to live better, increase their income, promote decent jobs and be resilient." -- Martial Bernoux of FAO

“The climate is changing. We don’t have rains that we used to have in the past. In the last decade, we had two consecutive years of intense drought and we lost all the production. The animals all died because they had no water,” Ahmed Khiat, 68, a small farmer in the Moroccan community of Souaka, told IPS.

Khiat comes from a long line of farmers. Born and raised in the arid region of Settat located some 200 km northeast of Marrakech, he has cultivated the land his whole life, growing maize, lentils and other vegetables, as well as raising sheep. But the family tradition was not passed to his nine sons and daughters, who all migrated to the cities in search for jobs.

In the past, he said, farmers were able to get 90 percent of their income from agriculture — now it’s half that. “They don’t work anymore in the field,” Khiat about his sons. “The work here is very seasonal. I prefer they have a permanent job in the city.”

Moroccan farmer Ahmed Khiat, who has struggled with drought but benefitted from a direct seeding program that promotes resilience to climate change. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Moroccan farmer Ahmed Khiat, who has struggled with drought but benefitted from a direct seeding program that promotes resilience to climate change. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Agriculture is an important part of the Moroccan economy, contributing 15 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 23 percent to its exports. Around 45 percent of Morocco’s population lives in rural areas and depends mainly on agriculture for their income, Mohamed Boughlala, an economist at the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) in Morocco, told IPS.

Seventy percent of the people in the countryside live in poverty. Unemployment is common among youth and around 80 percent of farmers are illiterate. Khiat, for example, says he does not know how to spell his own name.

The impacts of climate change are already visible in Morocco, said Boughlala. The proportion of dry years has increased fourfold as surface water availability decreased by 35 percent. Climate change particularly affects smallholders who depend on low-input and rain-fed agriculture, like the communities in Settat.

“The studies we did here we found that between 1980 to 2016, we lost 100mm of rainfall. The average rainfall before 1980 was around 427 mm per year and from 1981 to 2016 the average is only 327 mm per year. This means that we lost 100 mm between the two periods. If we show them there is a technology so you can improve the yield, reduce the risk and the cost of production, we can improve small farmers’ livelihoods,” stressed Boughlala.

In 2015, families who used conventional ploughing methods had zero yield. But the farmers who applied so-called “direct seeding” had an increase of 30 percent. Direct seeding is a technology for growing cereals without disturbing the soil through tillage, i.e. without ploughing. With this technique, the scarce rainfall infiltrates the soil and is retained near the roots of the crop, which results in higher yields compared to traditional seeding. Soil erosion is reduced and labour costs go down.

Direct seeding had been tested in Morocco by INRA as a way to increase resilience to climate change. Morocco piloted this technology with financial support of a 4.3-million-dollar grant from the Special Climate Change Fund of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – designed to strengthen the capacity of institutions and farmers to integrate climate change adaptation measures in projects which are implemented under the Plan Maroc Vert, or the green plan addressing Moroccan’s agricultural needs.

Khiat was one of the 2,500 small farmers benefitted by the direct seeding for cereals in 2011. Facilities like GEF and the Green Climate Fund will be key for African farmers to access financial resources to cope with global warming.

However, the African continent — home to 25 percent of the developing world’s population — receives only 5 percent of public and private climate funds. Although it contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is likely the most vulnerable to the climate impacts.

The need to protect African agriculture in the face of climate change was addressed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22) with the Global Climate Action Agenda on Nov. 17. The one-day event at the Climate Summit aimed to boost concerted efforts to cut emissions, help vulnerable nations adapt and build a sustainable future.

“We need to find new sources of funding for farmers. Climate change brings back the uncertainty of food insecurity in the world. We project that we may be soon see one billion hungry people in the world if we don’t act strongly to tackle climate change. In the COP22, we saw agriculture regaining the necessary importance,” José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS.

Solutions should be designed and implemented locally, stressed the natural resources officer with the Climate Change Mitigation Unit at FAO, Martial Bernoux. “Our number one objective is to achieve food security and fight poverty,” he told IPS.

“What is more perturbing to small farmers is the scarcity of water and the unstable cycle that changes the rainfall regime. The frequency of climatic events increased and farmers have no time to be resilient and no ability to adapt. It is necessary to work with microcredit mechanisms to help them,” said Bernoux.

When climate change is added to the food security equation, local solutions become more complex, he said. “We need to hear the communities’ demands, their deficiencies and potentialities to improve, like establishing an early warning system to inform farmers some days in advance when the rain is coming so they can prepare the land. If they lose this opportunity, it could be fatal for the yield.”

Agriculture is an overarching issue that affects nearly all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including food security, zero poverty, resilience and adaptation, argued Bernoux.

“We need to find solutions that allow people to live better, increase their income, promote decent jobs and be resilient,” he said. “By working with agriculture you connect with all the other SDGs.”

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New Fund Aims to Help Build Resilience to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:15:59 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147844 Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
MARRAKECH, Nov 18 2016 (IPS)

The world has been too slow in responding to climate events such as El Niño and La Niña, and those who are the “least responsible are the ones suffering most”, Mary Robinson, the special envoy on El Niño and Climate, told IPS at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22).

The first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Robinson was appointed earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the new mandate involving climate change and El Niño."I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious." -- Mary Robinson

During the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Robinson strongly advocated for engaging community-led solutions and for incorporating gender equality and women’s participation in the climate talks.

“Global warming is accelerating too much and it is being aggravated by El Niño and La Niña. They do not have to become a humanitarian disaster, but people have now been left to cope for themselves…I think we were too slow in many instances and this has become a humanitarian disaster for the 60 million people who are food insecure and suffering from droughts,” she said.

El Niño has been directly associated with droughts and floods in many parts of the world that have severely impacted millions of livelihoods. A warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific waters, the phenomenon occurs on average every three to seven years and sea surface temperatures across the Pacific can warm more than 1 degree C.

El Niño is a natural occurrence, but scientists believe it is becoming more intense as a result of global warming.

How El Niño interacts with climate change is not 100 percent clear, but many of the countries that are now experiencing El Niño are also vulnerable to climate variations. According to Robinson, El Niño and its climate-linked emergencies are a threat to human security and, therefore, a threat to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced in September 2015 as the 2030 Agenda replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

“I have gone to Central America to the dry corridor in Honduras and have seen women crying because there is no water and they feel very neglected. They feel they are left behind and that nobody seems to know about them. I saw in Ethiopia severely malnourished children, it could affect them for life in terms of being stunted. The same thing in southern Africa. I feel I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious. We need to understand the urgency of taking the necessary steps,” Robinson said.

Drought and flooding associated with El Niño created enormous problems across East Africa, Southern Africa, Central America and the Pacific. Ethiopia, where Robinson has visited earlier this year, is experiencing its worst drought in half a century. One million children in Eastern and Southern Africa alone are acutely malnourished.

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015, according to an assessment released at the COP22 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event.

These long-term changes in the climate have exacerbated social, humanitarian and environmental pressures. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees pointed that in 2015, more than 19 million new displacements were associated with weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries, more than twice as many as for conflict and violence.

“We need a much more concerted response and fund preparedness. If we have a very strategic early warning system, we can deal with the problem much more effectively. Building resilience in communities is the absolute key. We need to invest in support for building resilience now rather than having a huge humanitarian disaster,” stressed Robinson.

On Nov. 17, during the COP22 in Marrakech, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) – a coalition led by France, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada launched at the Paris climate change negotiations in 2015 – announced a new goal to mobilise more than 30 million dollars by July 2017 and 100 million by 2020.

The international partnership aims to strengthen risk information and early warning systems in vulnerable countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and small island developing states in the Pacific. The idea is to leverage financing to protect populations exposed to extreme climate events.

There will be a special focus on women, who are particularly vulnerable to climate menaces but are the protagonists in building resilience. “Now we’ve moved from the Paris negotiations to implementation on the ground. Building resilience is key and it must be done in a way that is gender sensitive with full account of gender equality and also human rights. We must recognize the role of women as agents for change in their communities,” Robinson emphasised.

The number of climate-related disasters has more than doubled over the past 40 years, said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“This initiative will help reduce the impact of these events on low and middle-income countries which suffer the most,” he said.

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS, “We can see already in Africa the impact of climate change that is undermining our efforts to bring food security for all. Take the example of El Niño that has affected all of Africa in the last two years. Countries that had made fantastic progress like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania and Madagascar are now suffering hunger again. Countries that have eradicated hunger are back to face it again. We need to adapt.”

Climate change has different impacts on men and women, girls and boys, told IPS Edith Ofwona, the senior program specialist at International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“Gender is critical. We must recognise it is not about women alone,” she said. “[But] women are important because they provide the largest labour force, mainly in the agricultural sector. It is important to appreciate the differences in the impacts, the needs in terms of response. There is need for balance, affirmative action and ensuring all social groups are taken into consideration.”

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The Perils of Writing about Toilets in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/#comments Sun, 06 Nov 2016 03:02:38 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147650 Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Nov 6 2016 (IPS)

Journalist Stella Paul was midway through an interview about toilets when she found herself, and the women she was speaking to, under attack from four angry men.

“This man, he comes and he just grabs this woman by her hair and he starts dragging her on the ground and kicking her at the same time,” Paul told IPS.

She remembers thinking, “what is happening,” as another three men followed, beating the women, including Paul who was hit in the face.

“They are blindly just beating this woman.”

“Why? Because how dare you talk about getting a toilet when you are untouchable, you are Dalit.”

The attack took place while Paul – a 2016 recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and IPS contributor – was researching a story about women forced into dual slavery in illegal mines in South-East, India.

The women Paul was interviewing had been forced to work unpaid in the mines, but were trying to escape, some of them were attending school, and they had now found out they were potentially going to have their own toilet under a government sanitation scheme.

“They employ the poorest of the people, and they bring in a lot of women that are from the untouchable section – Dalit – and the extremely marginalised classes in India.”

“It was revealed that the whole industry was illegal – no license taken from the government – and they were taking out iron ore and selling it to China.”

“The whole day they force them to work in the mine and at night they force themselves on these women, they force them to serve them sexually.”

“So it’s dual slavery, they don’t get paid, and they have to allow these men to sleep with them, and their daughters.”

Paul, who comes from North-Eastern India, travels her home country talking to some of the poorest people in India and unearthing stories of unbelievable exploitation and corruption in places where other journalists often think not to look.

She often spends her time listening to the stories of untouchables – people who other Indians don’t consider worthy of having opinions.

“When you are untouchables your life is no better than a dog’s life. Your job is to go there and defecate in the open, because that is how you have always done and that is how you will always do.”

“Honestly I don’t feel anybody will tell these stories of these women of dual slavery, of (the) little changes that they are making in the face of huge threats.”

“I don’t see these stories anywhere, I don’t think anybody will tell them and how can I not tell their stories? So that’s my choice to go there and tell it.”

But Paul believes that although her kind of journalism often comes with little recognition she is also constantly rewarded.

“Once you start going there, meeting these people you can never become a bitter cynical skeptical person who will look down on poor people,” she says.

Listening to these stories has helped her grow in empathy and become a better person, she says.

“That is the best bonus of being a journalist, that there is this huge growth potential, internal growth.”

Yet by listening to the disenfranchised, Paul often finds herself getting into trouble, as was the case when her interviews with the women about toilets uncovered local corruption.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

“It was a positive story on how a section of these women are now coming out of (slavery).”

“I was there in a village and there was a group of women (telling me) they have started going to school … they are going to rebuild their lives.”

Yet by daring to talk about having their own toilets the women had stepped into dangerous territory.

The government of India had allotted funds to the state as part of an anti-defecation drive.

More than 500 million people in India, almost half of the total population, still defecate in the open. According to UNICEF open defecation is a serious threat to public health and an underlying reason why 188,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year in India.

“There is a lot of money that is coming in and these men, the local government, they are actually stealing this money,” said Paul.

This is why the women talking to Paul about toilets was met with violence.

After getting punched again while rescuing a girl she had asked to take photos for her, Paul marched straight to the office of a senior local official.

But the commissioner sat behind a transparent window clearly unoccupied while his receptionist told Paul he was too busy to see her.

Paul didn’t give up, returning the next day.

“We finally got to meet him, but what I wanted was not to complain about what happened to me but to interview him about … the sanitation project because I wanted to get my story first.” she said.

The commissioner pretended not to understand Paul’s English or Hindi.

“Finally he gave me one sentence and I could complete my story.”

Paul herself comes from a part of India officially designated as a “disturbed region.”

“My home province is in the North Eastern part of India, which borders China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.”

“The army has a special power act and under a law they are legally authorised to go and take special action against people there.”

“Therefore security forces (can go) to anybody’s home without a warrant at any time of the night or the day.”

“There is rampant gender violence there committed by the army.”

“Very few male reporters actually report that – it’s the women reporters who report these things.”

Paul says that even in apparently peaceful parts of India, gender violence “is rampant” and “women reporters are specifically targeted.”

“A guy reporter never has to worry about being touched inappropriately, groped, assaulted, molested or raped.”

She says that reporting on development issues like gender violence or gender inequality is difficult because a lot of people, including government officials, don’t believe these issues are important.

“Without these issues being solved there is no real progress, no real development so we have to report on them, but then there are people who believe that these issues do not matter which makes you feel very lonely.”

Paul herself almost did not survive childhood because she was born a girl. When she was 2 years old, and sick with diptheria, part of her family did not see it as worth treating her, because she was a girl. She survived because her mother fought to save her.

Preference for male sons has led to a ratio of 919 girls to every 1000 boys in India, according to the 2011 census.

Paul has gone on to write about infanticide for IPS.

Courage in journalism often focuses on reporting on war zones, but reporting on gender violence is also a form of war reporting, Chi Yvonne Leina, a journalist from Cameroon and Africa Lead at World Pulse told IPS.

“Violence against women is the longest most continuous and the most dangerous war we are having on earth.”

“Stories like what (Stella) tells – people don’t necessarily know until they dig through in the community,” said Leina.

But this digging can lead to negative reactions, says Leina.

“When you are attacking a culture, you are alone… when soldiers go to war they are going in numbers but when you as a reporter are in face of a culture coming against the culture alone, you are alone against a whole community.”

“Anything can happen and maybe you can disappear, where I come from journalists disappear, they don’t die they disappear.”

Paul has received threats both anonymous and to her face that she too will be made to disappear. While reporting on brick kilns using child labour in her home state a man grabbed her phone and threw it in the river.

“He said: ‘do you see that phone it didn’t take seconds to disappear in the river we make people disappear just like that,’ and then he was snapping his fingers,” Paul described.

Paul is one of three 2016 recipients of the Courage in Journalism Award, alongside Janine di Giovanni, Middle East Editor of Newsweek and Mabel Cáceres Editor-in-chief of El Búho Magazine.

The awards were presented at ceremonies held in New York and Los Angeles in late October. Reeyot Alemu, of Ethiopia the 2012 recipient of the award was also honoured at the ceremony – she was previously unable to attend after being jailed for 1963 days.

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Funding Lags to Combat Land Degradationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:44:42 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147529 Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Land degradation already affects millions of people, bringing biodiversity loss, reduced availability of clean water, food insecurity and greater vulnerability to the harsh impacts of climate change.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two billion hectares of productive land are currently degraded worldwide. An additional 12 million hectares are degraded every year.

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20 all agreed that urgent action is needed to address the problem.

But for efforts to combat land degradation to succeed, huge financial resources must be mobilised.

UNCCD has proposed creation of the Impact Investment Fund for Land Degradation Neutrality (Land Degradation Neutrality Fund). Although not yet operationalsed, the fund is intended to bring together institutions committed to addressing the global challenge of land degradation.

It will support large-scale rehabilitation of degraded land, for sustainable and productive use, with long-term private sector financing. The fund also aims to contribute to the achievement of global and local food and water security, and to mitigate climate change by sequestering up to 20 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

The fund hopes to mobilise 50 billion dollars to rehabilitate 300 million hectares of land worldwide in the next 20 years, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 20 billion tonnes.

The Global Mechanism is spearheading the establishment of the Fund. The Fund plans to provide a structured framework in which private and public actors will be able to engage with the aim of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). The private-public partnership will include provision of funds and technical assistance.

The LDN concept was introduced at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. According to UNCCD, attaining LDN means ensuring that the amount of land resources that every household, region or country depends on for ecosystems services such as water, remains healthy, productive and stable.

The resolve resonates with target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in September 2015 in New York. The target is to achieve LDN by 2030.

The Global Mechanism, UNCCD’s operational arm, was identified as the body to administer the fund to support initiatives that aim to reach LDN.

The vision of the LDN Fund is to combat land degradation and finance rehabilitation of 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. When in place, it will also complement and leverage existing initiatives by creating a link between the bottom up approach (projects developed on the ground) and the top down initiatives (government targets, institutional initiatives).

Markus Repnik, managing director of the Global Mechanism, said that 450 billion dollars is required annually to combat land degradation and desertification. He noted that climate funding is growing but more resources are needed. Repnik added that states have spent 200 billion dollars but total financing is less than 400 billion dollars.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is aiming to provide half of its funds for climate change adaptation measures. He noted that the African Development Bank (ADB) wants to triple climate financing by 2020.

Repnik said that there is abundance of funding initiatives and systems but there is no single measure to show how finances are being mobilised.

“In-depth data on global financing is required. It should be known how much has been spent, where it came and who provided it in addition to ensuring data compatibility and reliability,” said Markus.

He called upon parties to consider how they will mobilise resources to implement the convention. The EU delegation to the UNCCD’s CRIC 15 urged parties to explore more funding mechanisms instead of relying on multilateral partnerships. They said innovative measures to source funds from the private sector should be explored.

During the conference it was revealed that developing countries and their partners have contributed five billion dollars towards efforts to curb desertification and land degradation. However, delegates insisted that more money is urgently needed and the developed countries should provide more funds.

Representatives of community-based organisations (CSOs) noted that the cost per unit (hectare) in combating land degradation also varies from country to country.

“More precise and comprehensive information is required,” they noted in a statement.

They emphasized that financing of programmes to combat land degradation should incorporate human resources development. They also noted that the financing mechanism should involve the 500 million smallholder farmers across the world whose rights require protection.

“Vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and pastoralists should be targeted for support,” read the CSOs statement.

At the same time, parties recognised the need to mobilise additional financial resources for voluntary LDN target setting and implementation from multiple sources such the GEF, Green Climate Fund, LDN Fund (once operational), national budget allocations and the private sector.

They called upon the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial entity that works with countries and international institutions, CSOs and the private sector to address global environmental issues, and the Global Mechanism to provide the required support.

Richard Mwendandu, director of Multilateral Environment Agreements at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said that although money can be mobilised to finance efforts towards meeting SDG 15.3, there is no specific global fund in place to support efforts to fight land degradation.

“Just a paltry 30,000 dollars has been issued by the Global Mechanism to assist countries on a pilot basis in the area of target setting as envisaged in the LDN concept,” he told IPS.

Mwendandu added that individual countries are trying to mobilise resources to combat land degradation. Citing the case of Kenya, he noted the government is mobilising funds in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to fund projects aimed at fighting land degradation.

CRIC 15 was aimed enabling parties to UNCCD to agree to a post-2018 strategy.

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Kenya Greens Drylands to Combat Land Degradationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/kenya-greens-drylands-to-combat-land-degradation/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:19:22 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147511 A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

Faced with growing degradation that is swallowing large swathes of land in arid and semiarid areas, Kenya is heavily investing in rehabilitation efforts to stave off the threat of desertification.

Charles Sunkuli, secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, says a programme targeting 5.1 million hectares of degraded and deforested land for restoration by 2030 was launched in September 2016. He added that Kenya is increasing its forest cover from the current seven percent to a minimum of 10 percent.High levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities in East Africa.

“We have introduced an equalisation fund to help communities living in dry and degraded lands eke out at a living and participate in rehabilitation initiatives,” said Sunkuli.

He was speaking in Nairobi during the Fifteenth Session of the Committee of Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which concluded last week.

Afforestration, he noted, will mainly be done in the country’s arid and semiarid areas which make up 80 percent of Kenya’s land cover, although other areas of the country to are being targeted too.

To succeed in its ambitious endeavour, Sunkuli said Kenya is implementing a programme to promote drought-tolerant tree species such Melia volkensii (locally known as Mukau) in the country’s vast drylands to increase forest cover.

Indeed, Kenya is heavily investing in research into drought resistant trees to enhance afforestration of dry lands and improve livelihoods. At Tiva in the dry Kitui County, eastern Kenya, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has established a research centre to breed tree species ideal for planting in arid and semiarid areas. The centre is supported by the government in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

James Ndufa, director of the Drylands Eco-region Research Programme (DERP) at KEFRI, says growing population and conversion of forest into farms has led to unsustainable land use, thus contributing to land degradation and desertification.

Ndufa says the Tiva centre focuses on developing drought-tolerant trees for adaptation to climate change in dry lands. “Breeding is done to adapt tree species to much warmer and drier weather conditions linked to climate change,” he says.

Breeding is undertaken by the conventional method of selecting better performing trees. Ndufa says they intend to provide farmers with genetically improved seeds that are drought-tolerant, fast growing and produce quality timber in addition to fodder for livestock. This, he says, will eventually aid in rehabilitation of degraded land and conserve biodiversity.

DNA analysis is undertaken during selection and grafting is done to achieve desired results. They thus have established a seed orchard and progeny test site for Melia (Mukau) and acacia species.

The project, which started in 2012, gives genetically improved seeds of the two species to farmers. Apart from JICA, Kenya Forest Research Institute’s partners in the project are Kenya Forest Services, local universities, the Japan-based Forest and Forest Products Research Institute as well as the country’s Kyushu University.

The centre is located in a semiarid area that receives just 700 ml of rain per year. Farmers have meagre harvests and as a result they put pressure on natural resources by overexploiting them. Ndufa says the communities depend on cutting trees for charcoal sold in places such as Kenya’s capital Nairobi, leading to deforestation and land degradation.

Others wantonly harvest sand thus affecting the vegetation and causing land degradation. He adds that Mukau timber fetches 100 Kenyan shillings (one US dollar) per foot. “Approximately 400 trees can be grown on one hectare and when mature can yield between two million to two and half million Kenya Shillings (USD 200 -250,000),” he says .

According to Ndufa, the two tree species they are targeting have been overharvested. Mukau, whose wood is red in colour, is equivalent in value to mahogany and preferred by furniture makers, while acacia species are treasured for charcoal.

The aim is to develop fast-growing trees that can be ready for harvest in 15 to 20 years. Some 3,000 Mukau trees and 1,000 acacias have been planted on 100 hectares at the Tiva research site. About 2,500 kilogrammes of seeds have so far been collected.

They are also exploring breeding varieties from the two species which can retain leaves for a long period to serve as fodder for livestock such as goats. The project is also undertaking extension work to distribute seeds and create awareness about the trees using field trips, agriculture shows and field days.

The trees are easy to manage so women famers are increasingly adopting them. Veronica Kioko, a resident of Kitui county, says low adoption rates in some areas could be linked to food insecurity and poverty.

She said that although farmers have been educated about the benefits of the trees, they find waiting for 15 to 20 years for trees to mature before harvesting difficult. She says trees are mainly cut for making charcoal before they fully mature.

The situation is exacerbated by drought and hunger and fuelled by the overall state of poverty in the region. “People usually go without food when seasons fail, and without money they cut trees for charcoal and sell it cheaply,” said Kioko.

In terms of acacia breeds, Ndufa says the aim is to develop a variety that produces a lot of pods, branches and leaves to feed goats and camels apart from timber.

Frank Msafiri, chair of the Kenya chapter of the East African Sustainability (SusWatch) network made up of nongovernmental organisations from East Africa, says large-scale national and cross border interventions are necessary to combat desertification and land degradation.

He says high levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities.

“Players from sectors such as water, forest, agriculture and research bodies in Africa should not pursue conflicting strategies. They should harmonise their strategies under the umbrella of sustainable land management,” stresses Msafiri.

Speaking during the CRIC 15 in Nairobi, Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said many countries engaged in land restoration have recorded positive results. Giving the example of Ethiopia, she said the land restored under that plan withstood the El Nino-related drought that affected eastern and southern Africa for the last year.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147434 A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.

 

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Private Interests Valued over Human Lives in Flint, Michiganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2016 19:10:37 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147391 Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Phoebe Braithwaite
NEW YORK, Oct 16 2016 (IPS)

When the water in Flint, Michigan was found to be corroding cars at a General Motors’ (GM) factory, government officials agreed to change the factory’s water source, yet the same water source continued to poison the residents of Flint for another year.

From 17 to 20 October governments will meet in Quito, Ecuador, for HABITAT III, the UN’s most important conference about cities, which only occurs once every 20 years. HABITAT III looks to inaugurate a new urban agenda and set down goals about how cities can and should be responsible for the wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Flint’s ongoing crisis demonstrates some of the challenges cities face, all the more important due to extensive urbanisation, which means that half the world’s population now lives in cities. Judging by the example of Flint, much more can be done to hold state officials to account, and protect and support the most vulnerable in society, as corporations become more powerful.

In October 2014, six months after the crisis in Flint had begun, GM were given permission by the city’s emergency manager, appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, to reconnect their water to Detroit’s water source, Lake Huron, at a cost of $440,000. According to reporting by Democracy Now!, GM also took all the water fountains out of the plant, indicating they knew it was not fit for human consumption.

All over the world, the poorest pay the most for water, and 650 million people – almost 1 in 10 – don’t have easy access to clean water. Many of these people spend half their daily income on informal water supplies, while those connected to formal water sources pay a fraction of this amount, according to a report published this year by Water Aid. It cites Papua New Guinea as a salient example, where 60% of the population lives without access to clean water, and water costs, on average, 54% of an already economically deprived person’s salary.

But the United States is the richest country in the world, and the web of factors which have brought about this crisis did so because – in America as elsewhere – poor lives matter less than richer ones. “If this had happened in a more well-to-do or more economically successful or vibrant area, it is arguable that the problem would not have become as bad as it was permitted to become… their voice was more easily ignored,” lawyer Kenneth Stern, Chief Executive of Stern Law PLLC, who has represented many Flint residents affected by the crisis, told IPS.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” -- Lorei Graham

“It’s shameful. I’m not proud as an American to say that to you. It embarrasses me, quite frankly… You can’t treat these people like that,” Stern said.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” Lorei Graham, a Flint resident who to this day deals with chronic rashes and hair loss as a result of ongoing contact with Flint water, told IPS. Graham has two jobs, one in a department store, another for a merchandising agency. She used to work in a gas station, where customers would cringe at the sight of her skin, thinking she was contagious, an experience she says wore her down.

In East Chicago’s West Calumet Housing Complex, 1,100 residents were recently forced to move after extraordinary levels of lead were found in their soil, showing that the public health crisis in Flint is by no means a lone example of negligence towards poor, primarily black citizens. There are thought to be comparable problems with plumbing in at least 19 states.

“Really, humans matter. Life matters,” said Flint resident Clarissa Camez to IPS. “And when you put profits before people, profits before the environment, profits before the good of all, this is what you end up with.”

What happened in Flint

All of Flint’s 98,310 residents have been exposed to the water’s various toxins. A public health crisis of enormous proportions has afflicted the city: Legionnaire’s Disease, a virulent form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that can multiply in certain water systems, has so far killed 10 of the 87 people it affected. Though data is scarce, the city’s 8-9000 children under six have been exposed to lead poisoning, which leads to brain damage, developmental disorders, and sudden behavioral change. It has also been linked to violent behaviour later in life.

Graham has noticed changes of these kinds in her own grandchildren. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, who used to be a good student, is now struggling in school. Her grandson, who is even younger, is no longer the obedient kid he once was, and she says that both children are far slower to respond to requests. These reports are incredibly common, and doctors are clear that no level of lead exposure is safe for developing brains.

About 57 percent of Flint’s inhabitants are black, and 41.6 percent of the city lives below the poverty line. There is nothing accidental about the fact that Flint’s primarily black population experiences increased poverty, while its more affluent suburbs are still substantially white: beginning in the 1930s, racist mortgage redlining policies were explicitly and systematically designed to stop black people from buying homes and building wealth, and left them more vulnerable to extortion through contracts that overvalued homes, harshly punished them for missing payments and never entitled them to own those houses.

These policies enabled white residents to move out when GM began to de-industrialise and jobs began to be cut in the 1940s, as the company sought cheaper labour according to the whims of the global economy. This trapped black people in increasingly economically deprived areas, and lay the groundwork for the poverty that persists in Flint today, a shell of the headquartered industrial town General Motors claimed it as in 1908.

“The Federal Housing Administration, along with the Homeowners Loan Corporation, mapped out cities across the country and determined which areas of the metropolis were safe for federally backed mortgages,” Andrew Highsmith, Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Demolition Means Progress, a history of inequality and metropolitan development in Flint, told IPS. “Effectively, this enabled millions of white Americans to leave cities like Flint or Los Angeles and move to racially segregated suburbs with federal subsidies.”

Alongside the movement of whites into the suburbs, a drastic restructuring of state revenue-sharing occurred between 1998 and 2012, reducing Flint’s income from $900 million to $215 million, and significantly diminishing its tax base. This is led to a chronic lack of investment in public services. The same impulses underlay initial plans to build a cost-saving pipeline and the corresponding switch from Lake Huron to Flint River water.

Cutting Flint’s money, Highsmith says, has been “part of this broader shift towards austerity,” “this belt-tightening at all levels of government”. But, reflecting the same pattern of prioritising private investments over basic social provisions, in this topsy-turvy world, enormous tax subsidies were created to attract private investment, such as the millions film studios were offered to set up in Michigan. GM saves an undisclosed amount in capped tax credits, in return for which the company has made a deal with Governor Snyder that it should spend a billion on public investment.

Today

Although Flint’s water has been switched back to Lake Huron, the crisis is far from over for Flint’s residents.
Residents “are still not drinking water. They are still afraid of the water,” Stern says. “Many of these people if not most of them are still washing their clothes in only bottled water; many of them are still drinking only bottled water; many of them are still bathing in bottled water.”

Residents are concerned that their water is still being contaminated because of the corrosion already caused to their pipes.

Nobody knows when the $1.5 billion needed to replace the pipes will turn up.

This is more than just inconvenient, he stresses. It is an extraordinary cost to bear over years – and Graham, like many other Flint residents, is still being charged for water that has poisoned her and continues to cause them severe health problems There have been recent reports of shigellosis in Flint, a bacterial disease that spreads from people not washing their hands.

There are also a vast number of problems caused by the crisis for which it is impossible to demonstrate a direct causal connection. Camez suffers from a chronic auto-immune disorder, as well as accompanying psychiatric effects. Both have been aggravated by the crisis – she experiences tingling in her hands and feet, she has pain in her joints and her hair falls out. All of the pre-existing difficulties in her life have been exacerbated by the crisis, and she conveys her sense of betrayal that what is causing all the ruin in Flint is “something that is necessary for life”.

“People say, ‘why is it so important?’ Well, why is it so important that you have something that’s necessary for the sustenance and maintenance of life? You know, you can do without food for a few days, but you should really have water every day. It would help if it was clean.”

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147333 A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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The Beating Pulse of Food Security in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-beating-pulse-of-food-security-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-beating-pulse-of-food-security-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-beating-pulse-of-food-security-in-africa/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:32:18 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147318 Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MASVINGO, Zimbabwe, Oct 12 2016 (IPS)

Elizabeth Mpofu is a fighter. She is one of a select group of farmers who equate food security with the war against hunger and shun poor agricultural practices which destroy the environment and impoverish farmers, especially women.

Mpofu grows maize, legumes and different beans on her environmentally-friendly 10-hectare farm in Masvingo Province, about 290 kms southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.“Pulses are the perfect food for Africa but their production is challenged by imperfect policies.” -- Charles Govati

Despite a region-wide drought in Southern Africa, she harvested 150 kg of dried beans this year. Although the number was still far less than what she harvests in a good season, dried peas and beans have armed farmers like Mpofu to battle food and nutritional insecurity at the household level.

The dried beans and peas belong to a class of food legumes known as pulses, widely considered a revolutionary food because of their many benefits. Pulses are rich in protein, drought resistant, offer an alternative cash crop and provide a fuel source. They are a perfect food in Africa, challenged by high rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among children under five years old.

The World Food Programme says the African region has the highest percentage of hungry population in the world, with one person in four undernourished, while over a third of children in Africa are stunted.

Celebrating the Year of Pulses

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines pulses as legumes with dry, edible seeds that have low fat content such as chickpeas, kidney beans, butter beans, black eyed peas, lentils, pigeon beans and cow peas among others.

Legumes used as vegetables such as green peas and beans or those used for oil extraction such as soybean and groundnuts are not classified as pulses.

“Pulses are the key to food security and nutrition in Africa, taking into consideration the climate crisis being faced on the continent,” Mpofu told IPS. “Pulses are providing a diversity of food for my family and also are important in improving soil health, especially in promoting an agroecology farming system.”

Pulses on display at a farmer's market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Pulses are power crops, offering nutritional and income security for farmers in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses on display at a farmer’s market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Pulses are power crops, offering nutritional and income security for farmers in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Mpofu, a member of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) and the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, an international peasants’ movement with a membership over 200 million farmers, is one of six special Ambassadors for the Africa region nominated by the FAO raise public awareness about the contribution of pulses to food security, and the positive impacts they can have on climate change, human health and soil biology.

“Without these pulses a woman cannot call herself a mother of a family because you do not have a complete dish to feed your family,” said Mpofu, a mother of three. “There is need to create awareness of the importance of pulses to build a strong united voice which will enable women to lobby for policies that promote peasant agroecology and food sovereignty.”

Noting that farmers are challenged by lack of information, Mpofu says most have to make do with poor inputs, for example, growing commercial hybrid seeds rather than native varieties that have proven to be resilient for generations.

“The principles of keeping and producing native seeds is our way of advocating for food sovereignty through the promotion of our indigenous seeds and agroecology farming methods, and these principles can work in promoting the growing and consumption of pulses especially in Africa where we face challenges of food insecurity,” said Mpofu.

Recognising the importance of pulses to global food and nutritional security and environmental sustainability, the 68th United Nations General Assembly voted in 2013 to declare 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYOP).

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said at the 2015 launch of IYOP that pulses are important for the food security of millions, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where they are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers.

The IYOP is positioning pulses as a key contributor to meeting Sustainable Development Goal #2 of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture.

In Malawi, farmers like Janet Mingo do not go hungry even when her maize crop fails — which it has done often owing to drought. The reason: protein rich pigeon peas (Cajanus Cajan) Mingo intercrops with maize on her quarter of a hectare plot in Chikalogwe village in the southern Balaka District, one of the driest regions of the country.

Pigeon peas are a nutritious legume which also improve crop yields by fixing nitrogen into the soil. More strategically for Mingo, pigeon peas are a key cash crop. Each season, Mingo harvests up to 1500 kg of pigeon pea from her plot, earning enough money to buy maize and cover other household needs.

“I now sell my maize crop and pigeon peas through the Agriculture Commodity Exchange,” said Mingo, who was introduced to pigeon pea by her local extension officer. “Life is hard but I do not feel the pinch.”

Mphatso Gama, the principal agricultural officer for Machinga Agriculture Development Division in Southern Malawi and a member of the National CA Taskforce, told IPS that farmers who used to rely entirely on maize have diversified into pigeon pea as a second crop. As a result, both their food security and income has improved.

“The drought-resilient pigeon has been a lifesaver,” Mphatso said. “While intercropping the nitrogen-fixing legume with maize has boosted yields, importantly pigeon peas have become a viable cash crop for farmers in Malawi, where it has a ready market and is a good source of protein for families.”

Tapping the trade power of pulses

Gavin Gibson, former executive director of the Global Pulse Confederation, told IPS that pulses are part of the traditional diets of the greater part of the world’s poorest population.

Gibson said of the 60 to 65 million tonnes of pulses produced annually, until very recently only around 7 to 10 million tonnes were traded between countries.  The rest were consumed domestically in countries where pulses are traditionally grown.

India, where pulses have been consumed for thousands of years as a staple food, is the biggest producer and consumer of pulses.  Africa is still finding its feet in ramping up its production of pulses, but is making progress.

“We think that this is likely to change quite quickly for a number of reasons, not least of which is the rapid emergence of new origins in Northern Europe and Africa,” Gibson said.

“We strongly believe — and will be forcefully promoting and driving — the view that increased demand from new market sectors that will rapidly emerge from the work of this group will of necessity force measures to be taken by governments and local communities alike to overcome present logistical and educational barriers in developing countries.”

Pulses, a climate-smart food

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which has developed more than 80 percent of cowpea varieties released to farmers in Nigeria through its breeding programmes, says pulses such as cowpea are an alternative source of protein from the expensive animal sources.

Cowpea – a widely grown food and animal feed legume in the semi arid tropics in Africa and Asia – is one of the most drought-tolerant crops adapted to the dry areas of poor soils. But there is more. Pulses helping fix nitrogen in the soil thrive under uncertain growing conditions, making them climate smart.

“There is no doubt that pulses are very important in food and nutrition security in Africa,” says Christian Fatokun, a cowpea breeder with IITA. “However, they are a part of the solution to food and nutritional security in Africa. Apart from being good sources of plant based protein they also help in providing nitrogen in the soil for companion or following crops because they are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen.”

Radical policies for pulse production

While strategic to ensuring food security in Africa, pulses are not being prioritised as an important crop, argues Charles Govati, a development specialist and chair of the Agriculture Supply Services Consortium (ASSC) in Malawi.

“Pulses are the perfect food for Africa but their production is challenged by imperfect policies,” Govati told IPS. “There too much lip service paid to pulses yet there are challenges of low production, poor soils, pests and diseases which affect their production. Farmers focus on growing more for income and less for food and nutrition, besides we need structured markets in Africa to boost production if we are serious about pulses in ensuring food security.”

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Amid South Africa’s Drought, Proposed Mine Raises Fears of Wetlands Impacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2016 20:06:46 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147212 A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

The dam supplying Johannesburg’s water sits less than 30 percent full. Water restrictions have been in place since November and taxes on high water use since August. Food prices across South Africa have risen about 10 percent from last year, in large part due to water shortages.

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” -- Melissa Fourie
In the midst of one of the country’s worst droughts in recorded history, the government continues to permit new coal mines and coal-fired power plants. One mine in particular is gaining increased scrutiny, as it has been given nearly all the permits necessary to mine in a high yield water area called the Mabola Protected Environment in the Mpumalanga province.

Indian mining company Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd’s proposed Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine would sit 160 miles southwest of Johannesburg in the catchments of three major rivers: the Vaal, the Tugela and the Pongola. The surrounding area also falls within a Strategic Water Source Area, the eight percent of land in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that accounts for 50 percent of water supply.

The proposed mine site is in the midst of numerous other protected and high importance demarcations such as the endangered Wakkerstroom Montane Grassland and the South Eastern Escarpment National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment Priority Area. The Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan labels the habitat of the proposed site as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.”

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Because the mine would tunnel underneath Mabola, the Protected Areas Act prohibits mining unless a company obtains written permission from the directors of both the Department of Mineral Resources, DMR, and Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA.

The DMR signed off on the project when it granted a mining right in September 2014, just eight months after Mabola was declared protected. However, at a September hearing of the South African Human Rights Commission, a representative of the DMR falsely asserted under oath that the department would not allow mining in the area. The DEA has given no indication of Minister Edna Molewa’s plans regarding the mine.

Neither the DMR nor the DEA responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Melissa Fourie is the director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, which is spearheading litigation to slow the mine’s progress through the permitting procedure. She said the whole process has been “slight of hand” and “a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” Fourie told IPS. “It affects not just that area, but it affects the whole country’s water resources and a whole lot of downstream users.”

The Vaal River System ultimately provides water for most of the country’s coal-fired electricity generation, as well as the country’s most populous province of Gauteng, and Fourie fears pollution from the mine would impact the system.

The underground Yzermyn mine would cover about 2,500 hectares of Atha-Africa’s 8,360 hectare mining right. Surface infrastructure would be kept to a minimum, although plans indicate a pollution control dam is to be built on a wetland.

Atha-Africa’s senior vice president Praveer Tripathi said, “The evidence that mining in that area is going to disturb the functionality of the wetland as well as any apprehensions about acid mine drainage were very, very scant.” According to Tripathi and the environmental authorisation, mitigation will include recharging wetlands, onsite water treatment and sealing of the shafts post-closure.

Tripathi argued that a nearby abandoned mine is dry, which would suggest Yzermyn might not flood and cause acid mine drainage. However, it took several iterations of consultants’ reports to reach the conclusion that the mine would have minimal environmental impacts. “There was concerns raised by our own specialists about some of the negative effects of some activities,” Tripathi said.

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Angus Burns, senior manager for the Land and Biodiversity Stewardship Programme at WWF-SA, was active in the movement to demarcate protected areas. “The precedent that can be set by the allowance of this kind of activity within a protected environment opens up, I believe, a floodgate of opportunities for any mining company to challenge protected environments,” he said.

The water use license granted to Atha-Africa allows the company to use 22 Olympic size swimming pools-worth of water annually, dewater the underground area it would mine and pump a limited amount of treated effluent into wetlands.

In a statement, Tsunduka Khosa, the director of water use licensing at the Department of Water and Sanitation said: “The water use licence granted contains a set of conditions aimed at mitigating the possible impacts…South Africa is water scarce country. Therefore all activities that have a potential to impact water resources are considered serious to the Department and all available water resources are sensitive.”

Mining opponents also claim political ties helped push this mine through a stringent permitting process. One of Atha-Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment partners called Bashubile Trust has several trustees with connections to President Jacob Zuma. Sizwe Zuma, one of the trustees, is alleged to be the president’s relative – although Atha-Africa denies this – and in court documents Sizwe Zuma listed his residential address as the presidential estate in Pretoria.

Bashubile did not respond to requests for comment. Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, which acknowledged all the protected areas yet still granted the environmental authorization, also did not respond.

Regardless of permits, much of the population in nearby Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, is afraid that mining would severely impact the current economy, which is reliant on livestock farming and ecotourism.

Johan Uys works on his family’s farm near Wakkerstroom and said his children will be the sixth generation to farm there. “Most of the people that are from Wakkerstroom are against mining, but there are the people that don’t have jobs that are for the mining because there are these promises that are made,” he said, citing the racial disparity between wealthy white landowners and poor black communities in town.

Wakkerstroom residents from the black community said they would only want mining if Atha-Africa pledged environmental protection and sustainable job growth. The company estimates that 500 direct jobs will be created and 2,000 indirect, although the mine is only expected to operate for 15 years.

“We know from very bitter experience that this hardly ever transpires,” Fourie said of the job creation estimates. “So often those jobs are not local jobs.”

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Canals Save Cambodian Farmers in Times of Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:03:51 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147084 Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

“When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with "millions" spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

“Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

“In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

There are 500 households from six villages who are members.  To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

“The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

“Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

“This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

“When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

“It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.

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

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

By Justus Wanzala
STOCKHOLM, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

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

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

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

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

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

A Floating Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Climate change means even heavier rains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A critical network of canals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwindling water bodies

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

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

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

Lack of coordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Five Big Options

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

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

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 11 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Key Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperate Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Drought in 35 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Food Safety Issues Rise in Colombohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 18:50:54 +0000 Editor sunday http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146460 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Aug 8 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

This newspaper’s News Desk has been following up on Public Health issues for some time, and their ongoing reports should raise concerns among Colombo residents, both the affluent, and the not-so, because of the declining standards in the monitoring of food establishments, from the humble ‘buth kades’ to the restaurants of five-star hotels.

There is a lot of debate about the delay in holding Local Government elections and whether the representatives of the country’s Municipalities, Urban Councils and Praadeshiya Sabhas should be elected under the proportional representation system, the old ward system or a combination of the two. There is, however, little debate on how many of these local councils actually work, and do their work.

The News Desk has been concentrating much of its efforts on how the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), the country’s showpiece local council, operates, and especially in an area that directly affects its rate-payers and residents – ensuring food safety.

Only last week, it was discovered that a CMC Public Health Department worker had been admitted to the National Hospital with not only dengue but also with typhoid fever.

In Colombo, the underground water is polluted. Even five-star hotels use underground water to prepare food although under the Municipal Ordinance by-laws, water supply should be from the city mains. Many hotels use underground water to save on their water bill.

The sewer lines in Colombo are overloaded and prone to leaks that pollute the underground water supply. According to those in the know, residents in areas from Colombo Fort to Wellawatte, including those working in and patronising star class hotels in these areas are at risk of water-borne diseases.

Sicknesses such as hepatitis, typhoid, para typhoid, diarrhea and viral stomach ailments knock-on the belly of those affected for days, some getting treatment from General Medical Practitioners (GPs) and others even needing hospitalisation. Only Government hospitals provide statistics to the Epidemiology Unit so the real figures of those affected are not known.

At the bottom of this malaise seems to be major happenings at the Municipality’s Public Health Department with in-fighting, court cases and a privatisation programme in lab reports. These give a foul stench.

There is a need for constant checks on workers in all eating houses, including the bigger hotels, restaurants and even clubs, big and small. Only investigations can find the source of a disease so that preventive action can be taken. Medical examinations of eating houses is compulsory under Municipal by-laws such as the Food Hygiene Regulations, and what use are elections of councillors if they, once elected, do not supervise the implementation of these by-laws when they are practised in the breach.

The Tourism Authority also has regulations governing food safety. Its capacity to check on food relied almost entirely on the investigations carried out by the Municipalities and other local bodies around the country. It has been given this responsibility to protect tourists (tourism being one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners) but what’s the status when these local councils fall on their own responsibilities? Today, private laboratories, with questionable ability are tasked with providing these reports, something the CMC did on its own for more than 40 years, but now side-lined due to petty in-fighting and jealousies.

Most Sri Lankans have an in-built immune mechanism to cope with most germs they have grown up with. What of the unsuspecting tourist for whom an upset stomach can ruin his entire holiday?

The CMC, like many other councils, is no doubt, hard-pressed for human resources, with its Public Health Inspectors battling the dengue menace on the one hand. However, when the CMC’s Microbiological Laboratory, the regulatory arm gazetted by the Ministry of Health, has the professionalism and wherewithal to do the job, it is mind-boggling why its services are not used. As of today, the CMC hardly tests for Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus etc., any more – all food poisons and these are now handled by private labs which have mushroomed only in recent times. The fall-out on the entire food safety monitoring is to be expected.

When the whole country is talking about kidney disease, Creatinine tests for kidney patients, Hemoglobin tests for pregnant mothers, HbA1C for diabetes sufferers – and HIV tests have come to a standstill for the past 4-5 months and Pathological services for the poor heart patients are wanting. These constitute a serious situation. It is well and good to keep asking when the next Local Government elections are. These are mere political exercises. City Fathers (and now Mothers) are a dime a dozen. With the rapid construction boom and hundreds upon hundreds of high rise buildings and apartment blocks coming up, the strain on the water requirements and the corresponding drainage and sewerage capacities has to increase multi-fold.

With problems already existing, is the city ready for this explosion? The system needs fixing at the officials’ level – not the political level so much, before the public health systems completely break down in the capital city and the malaise spreads to the rest of the country, where it is not much different.

Rio: Run the good race

The world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympics, began over the weekend in Brazil, dogged by a host of internal problems and an eagle-eyed press fond of looking for negatives in an economically developing country.

Not that the last Olympics in London was without warts – till it happened. Delays there were aplenty in the preparations, and the British Army had to be called in at the 11th hour to expedite matters. Yet, the hype around Brazil ranging from political unrest to the construction delays to the crime and drugs scene to the Zika virus – and then, the doping scandal surrounding the Russian athletes has been one wet blanket after another thrown over the mega event which most Brazilians and the rest of Latin America were waiting to host.

Not surprisingly, the small Sri Lankan contingent received a ‘fond farewell’ from the Sports Minister and the National Olympic Committee head who have given them all the encouragement by saying; “Sri Lanka has no chance of winning any medals”.

The French news agency AFP ran a story this week on Sri Lanka’s only Olympic medallist in recent times saying how she has been discarded and her talents ignored by the athletics panjandrums over the years. That is how Sri Lanka’s sports administrators are across the board. For now, however; “Let the Games begin”. And the very best wishes to our contingent of nine competitors to keep the flag flying.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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