Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:10:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Shrinking and Darkening, the Plight of Kashmir’s Dying Lakeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 02:00:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149017 Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
SRINAGAR, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mudasir Ahmad says that two decades ago, his father made a prophecy that the lake would vanish after the fish in its waters started dying. Three years ago, he found dead fish floating on the surface, making him worried about its fate.

Like his father, Ahmad, 27, is a boatman on Kashmir’s famed Nigeen Lake, located north of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar. He says the lake has provided a livelihood to his family for generations, but now things are taking an “ugly turn”.“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation." --Researcher Aabid Ahmad

The gradual algae bloom in the lake, otherwise known for its pristine beauty, led to oxygen depletion. Fish began to die. Environmentalists termed the development the first visible signs of environmental stress in the lake.

But no one was more worried than Mudasir himself. “We have been rowing boats on the lake for centuries. My grandfather and my father have been fed by this lake. I also have grown up here and my livelihood is directly dependent on the lake,” Ahmad told IPS.

He believes the emergence of rust-coloured waters is the sign of the lake dying a silent death, and he holds everyone responsible. “We have built houses in an unprecedented way around its banks. The drainage from the households directly drifts into the lake, making it more polluted than ever,” Ahmad said.

Blessed with over 1,000 small and large water bodies, the landlocked Kashmir Valley, located northern India, is known as the land of lakes and mountains. However, due to large scale urbanization and unprecedented deforestation, most of the water bodies in the region have disappeared.

A recent study by Kashmir’s renowned environmentalists Gowher Naseem and  Humayun Rashid found that 50 percent of lakes and wetlands in the region’s capital have been lost to other land use/land cover categories. During the last century, deforestation led to excessive siltation and subsequent human activity brought about sustained land use changes in these assets of high ecological value.

The study concludes that the loss of water bodies in Kashmir can be attributed to heavy population pressures.

Research fellow at Kashmir University, Aijaz Hassan, says the Kashmir Valley was always prone to floods but several water bodies in the region used to save the local population from getting marooned.

“All the valley’s lakes and the vast associated swamps played an important role in maintaining the uniformity of flows in the rivers. In the past, during the peak summers, whenever the rivers would flow high, these lakes and swamps used to act as places for storage of excessive water and thereby prevented large areas of the valley from floods,” Hassan said.

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir's Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

India’s largest freshwater lake, Wullar Lake, is located in North Kashmir’s Bandipora area. It too is witnessing severe degradation due to large-scale human intervention. Wullar Lake, which claimed an area of 217.8 sq. km in 1911, has been reduced to about 80 sq. km today, with only 24 sq. km of open water remaining.

Environmentalist Majid Farooq says large areas of the lake have been converted for rice cultivation and tree plantations. According to him, pollution from fertilizers and animal waste, hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds, and weed infestation are other factors contributing to the loss of Wullar Lake’s natural beauty. The fish population in the lake has witnessed a sharp decline due to depletion of oxygen and ingress of pollutants.

Another famed lake known as Dal Lake has shrunk by 24.49 per cent in the past 155 years and its waters are becoming increasingly polluted.

The lake, according to research by the University of Kashmir’s Earth Science Department, is witnessing “multiple pressures” from unplanned urbanisation, high population growth and nutrient load from intensive agriculture and tourism.

Analysis of the demographic data indicated that the human population within the lake areas had shown “more than double the national growth rate.”

Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, head of Department of Earth Sciences at University of Kashmir, told IPS that the water quality of the lake is deteriorating and no more than 20 percent of the lake’s water is potable.

“As the population increased, all the household sewage, storm runoff goes into the Dal Lake without any treatment — or even if there is treatment done, it is very insufficient. This has increased the pollutant load of the Dal Lake,” he said.

According to Ramshoo, when the study compared the past water quality of the lake with the present, it found ingress of the pollutants has increased and the lake water quality has deteriorated significantly.

According to the region’s tourism department, over one million tourists visit Dal Lake annually and around 300,000 people are directly and indirectly dependent on the lake for their livelihood. The multimillion-dollar handicrafts industry of Kashmir, which gives employment to over 200,000 people, is also heavily dependent upon the arrival of tourists in the region.

A study on the Impact of Tourism Industry on Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir says that almost 50-60 percent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism related activities. The industry contributes 15 percent to the state’s GDP.

However, Mudasir Ahmad, whose livelihood is directly dependent on the lake, says every time he takes tourists to explore the lake in his Shikara (a boat), he is asked about the murkier water quality.

“My grandfather and even my father used to drink from this lake. The present situation is worrisome and if this goes unabated, tourists would cease to come. Who would spend money to see cesspools?” Ahmad said.

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday, a fisherman living on Wullar Lake, says the fish production has fallen drastically in the last three years, affecting both him and hundreds of other fishermen.

“Fish used to be present in abundance in the lake but now the scarcity of the species is taking toll. Every day we see dead fish floating on the lake’s waters. We really are concerned about our livelihood and the fate of the lake as well,” Khanday lamented.

The fisherman holds unplanned construction around the lake responsible for its pollution. Aabid Ahmad, a research scholar in Environmental Studies, says Kashmir has become vulnerable to natural disasters as region’s most of the water bodies have either disappeared or are shrinking.

“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation,” Ahmad told IPS.

But, for Shakeel Ramshoo, it is still possible to restore the lakes and water bodies of Kashmir.

“Don’t move the people living on these water bodies out.  You just allow them to stay in the lake. We have to control the haphazard constructions that are taking toll around these water bodies,” he said.

“Hutments in the water bodies should be densified with STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) installed in every household. Land mass can be removed and the area of the water bodies would increase. Also, the sewage treatment mechanism should be better so that the ingress of pollutants is ceased,” Ramshoo said.

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Worst Drought in Decades Drives Food Price Spike in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:55:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148953 Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.

East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO


In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.

Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.

Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.

According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.

FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435 000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.

Livelihood Crisis

More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.

Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO


Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.

The FAO Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan aims to assist 1.8 million vulnerable pastoralists, agro pastoralists and smallholder farmers in 2016.

To achieve this, the UN food and agriculture will prioritize agricultural production support in order to reduce the food gap, livestock interventions to protect the livelihood assets of pastoralists and agro pastoralists, and activities to enhance the resilience of affected communities through coordinated response.

As part of the emergency response, FAO has been providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons.

In an effort to preserve livestock, it has been distributing multi-nutrient blocks in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them.

Survival animal feed is also being provided to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.

In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter – and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families.

The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.

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Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:41:37 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148928 At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January.

This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.The drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

The drought is region-wide. On Feb. 10, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Argentina’s Never-ending Environmental Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 00:10:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148909 A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

Is it possible to spend 5.2 billion dollars to clean up a river which is just 64-km-long and get practically no results? Argentina is showing that it is.

As the government admitted to the Supreme Court of Justice in late 2016, that is the amount of public funds earmarked since July 2008 for the clean-up of the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which has been identified as one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the world.

The river cuts across 14 municipalities as it runs from the western Buenos Aires working-class suburb of La Matanza to the picturesque neighbourhood of La Boca, where it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate.“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court.” -- Andrés Nápoli

However, the situation remains practically unchanged since the mid-19th century, when chronicles of the time described the “rotten” state of the river. Today an estimated eight million people live in the river basin, facing a serious health and environmental emergency.

“The Riachuelo river is still serving the function of drainage for the economic and human activities in the city of Buenos Aires and a large part of the Greater Buenos Aires, as it has for the last 200 years,” says a more than 200 page report seen by IPS, which the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (Acumar), the official body in charge of the clean-up, submitted to the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2016.

“It’s not just highly polluted, but it continues to be contaminated,” said the document, which added that 90,000 tons per year of heavy metals and other harmful substances are currently dumped into the river..

In the Spanish colonial era, sheep and mule meat salting factories were built along its banks, along with tanneries that processed cow leather. Dumping waste into the river became a common practice that turned it into a veritable open sewer, which continued with more modern industries like petrochemical plants and the meat-packing industry.

In the last few decades, official promises to clean up the Riachuelo have abounded. The one perhaps best remembered by Argentines was made by María Julia Alsogaray, environment minister under then President Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who announced that they would do it in just 1,000 days. An enthusiastic Menem said that when they were finished, he would swim in the Riachuelo.

In the end, the river remained a health threat, Menem decided not to swim, to protect his health, and Alsogaray ended up in prison for corruption.

It seemed that this story could begin to change in July 2008. Or that was what the Argentine environmentalist community thought, unanimously describing as “historic” the Supreme Court ruling that ordered national, provincial, and Buenos Aires authorities to clean up the Riachuelo.

The decision was based on an article added to the constitution in 1994, which guarantees all inhabitants in the country a “healthy environment” to live in.

However, the scant progress made so far was crudely exposed during a Nov. 30, 2016 hearing before the Supreme Court.

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

That day Supreme Court president Ricardo Lorenzetti, an expert in ecology designated Goodwill Ambassador for Environmental Justice last year by the Organisation of American States (OAS), did not try to hide his disgust.

During the hearing, Gabriela Seijo, director of operations in Acumar, said that, for example, so far only 3,147 of 17,771 housing units which were to be built to relocate the families most exposed to the pollution have been completed. “If we keep up this pace, we will finish in 2036,” she said.

Faced with this scenario, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Sergio Bergman tried to blame the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who was president when Acumar was created, and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who was president when the Court issued the ruling.

“The situation that we found was terrible. Not just because the Riachuelo was degraded and polluted to the same extent as, or worse than, when the judgment was handed down, but also because the body in charge of cleaning it up, Acumar, was not in a position to comply with the court order,“ Bergman told the Court.

However, the government of President Mauricio Macri, in office since December 2015, and Bergman himself have been in the administration for over a year and have not yet made progress towards the goals set for Acumar, which has 900 employees, many of whom were hired in 2016.

It was reported that 34,759 inspections in factories have been carried out and 57 plants have been closed down, but all of them temporarily, with no significant impacts on the environment.

According to figures provided by Acumar, there are currently six million people living in the basin, at least 10 per cent of them in some 60 slums and shantytowns.

“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court,” lawyer Andrés Nápoli, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), one of the five non-governmental organisations appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor compliance with the ruling, told IPS.

Indeed, Torti did not appear at the hearing in November and, a few days after the poor presentations given by other officials, he resigned.

Macri named as his replacement lawmaker Gladys González of the governing centre-right coalition Cambiemos, who has no background in environmental affairs.

Nápoli said that, after the hearing, he asked Acumar to explain how the 5.2 billion dollars were spent, adding that if the answer was not satisfactory, he would file a lawsuit demanding an investigation into possible corruption.

“They have only cleaned up the riverbanks a little and removed many of the boats that had sunk decades ago,” diplomat Raúl Estrada Oyuela, a member of the Association of La Boca, the neighbourhood where the Riachuelo runs into the Rio de la Plata, told IPS.

“But there is a lack of will to tackle the main problem, which is the pollution of the water, soil and air, because that would mean affecting the interests of the industries, which of course would have to make important investments if they were forced to switch to a clean production system,” said Estrada, who is internationally known in environmental issues and who was president of the committee which in 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

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How a Spring Revival Scheme in India’s Sikkim Is Defeating Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:48:07 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148759 Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

By Athar Parvaiz
GANGTOK, India, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Bina Sharma, a member of the Melli Dhara Gram Panchayat Unit in the southern part of India’s northeastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, is a relieved woman.

For the past three years, Sharma said, she has received hardly any complaints from villagers about water disputes.Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Until a few years back, our springs were staying almost dry for five months from December to April. During those months I often used to get complaints from the villagers against their fellow villagers as they would fight for water,” Sharma told IPS.

People in most parts of the mountainous Sikkim, and those in other mountainous areas across the region, use spring water for their personal consumption, kitchen gardens, farms, cattle and poultry. According to Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 80 per cent of Sikkim’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation.

From experts in Gangtok to laymen in the far-off villages, everyone agrees that erratic rains and frequent droughts have resulted in the drying up of springs in many parts of the state, especially in south. Some say that the problem became worse after the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim.

Many studies, including the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, have reported changes in precipitation and temperature in the Himalayan region in recent years, but the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says there is a major need for more research on Himalayan precipitation processes, as most studies have excluded the Himalayan region due to the region’s extreme, complex topography and lack of adequate rain-gauge data.

Adapting to changes, the Sikkim way

Thankfully, Sharma said, the water security scheme of Sikkim’s rural development department for recharging the springs “seems to be working in our village” since it was started in 2012. “We get water all year round now,” she said.

According to the people and the government officials in Sikkim, hundreds of springs and the lakes in Sikkim have been drying up, especially from November to May in recent years. This has compelled the government to think of a scheme to revive the drying springs and lakes by artificially recharging the springs.

The brain behind devising this innovative scheme is Sandeep Thambe, an Indian Forest Service officer with a mechanical engineering background who has also carried out extensive research on water and environmental issues in Sikkim and is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIMF), Bhopal.

Hari Maya Pradhan, a woman who lives alone in her home in Melli Dhara, said that she had decided to give up rearing poultry and cattle as a livelihood option because she had to endure so many hardships to access water. “But now I feel a lot better after the villagers worked hard and dug up the ponds [which help in recharging the springs],” Pradhan, who has two cows and a small poultry unit, told IPS.

Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Many times we protested and were preparing to take all our students to Gangtok to stage a protest demonstration. But our woes got automatically addressed when our springs started producing water in the dry season as well,” said Norbhu Tshering, the school in-charge.

Connected to nature    

In almost all parts of Sikkim, people directly connect plastic pipes to the small springs spread above their habitations to avail the natural water supply. But in the south and western parts of Sikkim, getting water from the springs all through the season has become impossible for more than a decade.

In 2009, this prompted Tambe, who then served in the Sikkim government’s Rural Development Department, to start the Dhara Vikas (or Spring Development) programme for reviving and maintaining the drying springs and lakes particularly in southern and western parts of the state.

The scheme was later launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF (India) and People’s Science Institute Dehradun.

According to Tambe, the core thrust of Dhara Vikas is to catch the surface runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources after identifying the specific recharge areas of springs accurately through scientific methods by digging staggered contour trenches and percolation pits.

“With increasing population, degrading health of watersheds and impacts of climate change, the lean period discharge of these springs is rapidly declining,” Tambe said, adding that artificial recharging has thankfully shown encouraging results.

He said that less than 15 per cent of the rainwater, as has been estimated in various studies, is able to percolate down to recharge the springs, while the remaining flows down as runoff often causing floods.

“Hence, a need was felt to enhance the contribution of that rainwater in ground water recharge, thereby contributing to rural water security,” Tambe told IPS.

Women, Tambe said, are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Reduced access to water, he said, also impacts health, hygiene, and sanitation.

Sarika Pradhan of Sikkim’s Rural Development Department said that 51 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone Gram Panchayats of Sikkim have been revived so far as the rural development department has mapped 704 springs in the village spring atlas, which provides information about all the mapped springs.

Her colleague, Subash Dhakal, said that trenches and percolation pits have been dug over an area of 637 hectares under MGNREGA for reviving these springs and lakes with an average cost of 250,000 rupees (USD 3,787) per spring.

*Research for this story was supported by a grant through The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) in collaboration with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) Media Fellowships in Environmental Conservation, 2016.

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Kenyans Turn to Wild Fruits and Insects as Drought Loomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:10:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148735 Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant." --Hilda Mukui

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Drought Could Cost Sri Lanka Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:00:22 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148655 In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jan 25 2017 (IPS)

The warnings are stark, the instructions, for a change, clear.

Sri Lanka is heading into one of its worst droughts in recent history, and according some estimates the worst in 30 years. The reservoirs are running on empty, at 30 percent or less capacity. Only 12 percent of the island’s power generation is currently from hydropower and 85 percent comes from thermal, with a staggering 41 percent from coal.

The rains have stayed away like never before. According to a recent survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the government, last year’s rains were 23 percent less than the 30-year average.One of the long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

Now the instructions: Use water sparingly, do not wash vehicles with pipe-borne water, do not put air conditioning below 26 C, and light bonfires in the morning if you want to protect your crops from the morning mist, a forerunner, according to local yore, of a impending drought.

“It is a very serious situation, something that we have not faced in a long time, but we are taking precautions,” said Lalith Chandarapala, the head of the Meteorological Department. It was his department that first warned of the drought when the rains failed yet again last year around September.

In fact, in 2016, there were only three days of exceptionally high rains, during mid-May, when 300 mm fell on some parts of the island. On either side of them, it was drier than usual.

The effects have been catastrophic. Of a possible 800,000 acres, only a little above 300,000 was planted with the staple rice crops during the last harvesting season due to lack of water.

“This is the lowest cultivation level experienced in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years,” the WFP-government joint survey said. It estimated that by end of December, already close to a million people were affected by the drought in 23 of the 25 districts. By the third week of January, the government’s Disaster Management Center said that over 900,000 were receiving water brought in from outside.

“Even if the country receives average rains in the months of January and February 2017, it is highly unlikely that the current drought situation will improve until March 2017,” the joint assessment warned.

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

The government has already slashed taxes on rice imports to fend off price hikes as well as shortages and decided to buy power on short-term agreements from private suppliers till the next rains. The additional power purchases are expected to cost the government Rs 50b.

It has also restricted water supply to areas where there is an acute shortage of safe water and ordered a survey of private wells. Millions of Sri Lankan households use dug wells for domestic consumption without any purview by any authority. Any move to curtail such use or to use these wells for public supplies will be a deeply unpopular move.

Apart from the short-term impacts of such frequent extreme weather events, experts also worry about the long term implications.

“Changing climate is an issue we have to deal with, our policies now have to reflect awareness as well as adaptation measures,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshna Yapa said.

One of these long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

The United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that 45 percent of the country’s rural population was living in degrading agricultural areas at the turn of the millennium, and that within a decade that population grew by a further 20 percent.

Researchers at the UNCCD headquarters warned that “when there is drought, most of the plant cover dies, which leaves the land exposed to wind erosion, and to water erosion when the rains return. In addition, long dry spells can make it difficult for the ground to soak up the rainfall, which is the source of ground water.”

A little known fact is that land degradation has serious impact on Sri Lanka’s economy. “Land degradation may be costing Sri Lanka up to about 300 million United States dollars every year. That is approximately one percent of the country’s gross domestic product,” UNCCD said in a statement to IPS.

In rural Sri Lanka, the impact of generations of land use without proper care is clear. In the southern Hambantota District, farmers who depend on water supply for cultivation have been moving deeper into forests and reserves as water availability becomes less and less reliable in more populated areas.

In the Andaraweva area in Hambantota, about 20 km from the closest town a large banana plantation has come up within what is essentially a forest reserve. The plantation which could be as large 20 acres, gains water from a tank meant to be for wildlife nearby.

The cultivators who have obtained written permission from local government officials to use the tank water, much to chagrin of wildlife officials, use five industrial level pumps powered by small tractor motors to pump the water and send it about a1km into the plantation.

The small lake is being dried out by the over use of water, forcing wildlife officials to despair over water for animals.

“We have been abusing our water resources for so long, at least now we should be more careful with it, or we would have to be really, really sorry,” head of the Hambantota Wildlife office Ajith Gunathunga said.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

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Managing Bangladesh’s Dwindling Water Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:50:00 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148335 Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 28 2016 (IPS)

Experts at Bangladesh’s National Water Convention 2016 in Dhaka urged the sustainable management and conservation of water as the country braces for a water crisis due to wastage, river pollution, declining groundwater tables and intrusion of salinity.

Bangladesh’s Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud told the event there is no alternative to protecting the country’s water bodies and rivers to ensure sustainable management of water resources as envisaged in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.

A United Nations initiative, the SDGs are a set of 17 aspirational “Global Goals” with 169 targets relating to poverty and hunger, the environment and other core issues related to sustainable human development.

“We have many rivers and canals but all are being encroached on, limiting the water conservation scope…we must protect these water bodies to conserve water,” he told the inaugural session of the conference in the capital.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a public sector apex body, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP), a non-profit organisation devoted to the promotion of basic as well as action research on socioeconomic development, and NGO Forum, the apex networking and service delivery body of NGOs, jointly organized the Dec. 27-28 two-day convention titled Water Convention 2016: Sustainable Water Regime in Bangladesh: Availability, Management and Access’.

Minister Mahmud said Bangladesh receives huge amounts of water during the rainy season but 80 percent of it ultimately washes down into the Bay of Bengal, while 20 percent remains available for the rest of the year.

“If this water can be stored, Bangladesh is unlikely to face water scarcity during the dry season,” he said.

Mahmud noted that Bangladesh began investing in flood control and irrigation in the 1970s, and river management in the early 1980s, marking a retreat from its previous approach. “Now the extensive focus is there on river management,” he added.

About the prevailing water challenges, Mahmud said, “To meet our water demand, we’re extracting groundwater, triggering an arsenic problem here…but water availability and its management is very important. We’re polluting water every day because we’re not aware of it.”

According to documents provided at the workshop, some 36 million people are at risk of arsenic exposure in Bangladesh’s 61 districts with excessive arsenic-contaminated water.

Mahmud also said recurring floods and riverbank erosion and declining water flow in trans-boundary rivers cause a huge drop in the water level of the country’s drought-prone zones.

Addressing the event, PKSF chairman Prof. Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said it is important for Bangladesh to focus on water management to achieve the SDGs as there is also a link between poverty and water availability.

Stressing the importance of having a coordinated water management policy in place, Dr. Kholiquzzaman said Bangladesh can best utilise its river routes as those are cheap for goods and passenger transportation.

The prominent economist said poor people are most affected when there is a water crisis as it decimates crops.

Depicting a dismal global scenario of water availability, he mentioned that the earth’s total water volume is about 1,386 cubic kilometres in diameter, of which only 2.5 percent is freshwater.

“But only 0.76 percent of the total water volume which is freshwater is useable since over 68 percent freshwater is locked up in ice and glaciers,” he added.

According to him, the per capita availability of water in Bangladesh is 7,568 cubic metres and just 150-200 cubic metres in its neighbouring countries.

“So the question may arise why Bangladesh faces a scarcity of water. It’s because the country has a plenty of water during monsoon, but a very little water during dry season,” he said.

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Quality Water for All a Life and Death Issue in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 23:29:37 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148324 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

There is no exaggerating how crucial water is for human survival, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers. The level of water in a river here directly affects the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people living on its two sides, so much so that rivers and water bodies of varied sizes are an inseparable part of Bengali culture and heritage.

Several hundred rivers and their tributaries flow through the country. However, some of the rivers — often called the lifelines of Bangladesh — are dying, inflicting prolonged suffering on the people. For example, the 309-kilometer Teesta flows through northern Bangladesh and drains an area of 12,540 square kilometres on its way from the Himalayas to Fulchhari of Gaibandha in Bangladesh where it meets the Jamuna.While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it.

The river, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is reduced to a width of about 70 metres during the winter and is even narrower or completely dry at some places during the very dry season (March and April). This leaves fishermen without work and farmers in acute need of water for irrigation.

While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, particularly during winter, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it, particularly during the monsoon. Also, salinity ingress in the surface and groundwater in the coastal region has reached such a state that not even grass can grow in some areas and people face an acute shortage of drinking water.

Someone said that a third world war may be fought over water. And it indeed is turning out to be a serious issue, not only in Bangladesh but also worldwide. In any case, quality water access on the one hand and devastation caused by flooding on the other are the hallmarks of water being the cause of large-scale suffering of people in many parts of the world. Water-related natural disasters have occurred in the past, but are increasing in recent times in terms of both frequency and extent of the devastations caused.

The reasons behind various water sector problems include a growing population, fast expanding economic activity, spreading water pollution, and the consequences of climate change.

In Bangladesh, as a matter of fact, the average annual per capita availability of water is robust — 7,568 cubic meters per capita, around five times higher than that in India. However, the highly uneven seasonal and spatial distribution of available water in Bangladesh poses serious problems. Adequate water access for drinking or for other purposes by certain groups of large numbers of people and in certain areas of the country is becoming increasingly serious.

Another set of problems related to the water sector arises as Bangladesh is at the bottom of three major rivers systems—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. A particular feature in this context is severe water scarcity in certain parts of Bangladesh in the dry season, Jan. 1 to May 31, particularly in March and April, due to low-flows through transboundary rivers as a result of excessive upstream abstraction. Also, floods in Bangladesh mostly originate upstream. Hence, regional cooperation in water management is an important issue.

Increasing salinity in water in coastal areas, arsenic contamination of water, and water pollution caused by human actions are becoming increasingly serious problems. Devastating floods and prolonged droughts also affect various areas of the country from time to time.

Clean, accessible water for all is the sixth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. The Sheikh Hasina-led Government of Bangladesh is working relentlessly to achieve the goals well before the 2030 deadline. The country already has necessary policies to save the rivers and other water-bodies and to ensure even distribution of quality water.

What the country now needs is stricter enforcement of the policies and relevant laws, and more effective efforts from both government and non-government actors in realising the goal of ensuring accessibility to quality water for all.

Against such a backdrop, the National Water Convention 2016 is being held in Dhaka on Dec. 28-29, 2016. Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) — the government-established apex development agency of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad — a non-profit research organization, and NGO Forum for Public Health are organising the event.

Through 13 sessions participated by experts, scholars, government high-ups and sector-related actors, the Convention will review the state of affairs in respect of various key water sector issues and to reflect on: where we stand regarding those issues, how people’s perspectives can be brought to bear on water policies and water actions, how the increasing water difficulties and problems can be more effectively addressed, how coordination among various stakeholders, particularly between the Government and others can be strengthened, and, overall, how the best possible water regime can be forged under the prevailing circumstances.

Ensuring accessibility to quality water for all is a must for sustainable development. And this has to be ensured before it is too late.

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Developmentalism and Conservation Clash Out at Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:10:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148182 Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 12 2016 (IPS)

“We don’t have access to marine areas, because most are protected areas or are in private hands. We indigenous people have been losing access to our territories, as this decision became a privilege of the state,” complained Donald Rojas, a member of the Brunka indigenous community in Costa Rica.

The complaint from the head of the non-governmental National Indigenous Council of Costa Rica was in response to the ban keeping the Brunka and Huetar people from entering five of their ancestral land and sea territories, after they were declared natural protected areas.

“That restricts access to and management of resources,” said Rojas, who is a member of one of the eight native peoples in that Central American country of 4.8 million people, where 104,000 indigenous people live on a combined area of 3,500 square km.

Rojas is one of the Latin American indigenous leaders participating in different events and forums in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, which has brought together nearly 6,500 delegates of governments, international organisations, academia and civil society in Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 2-17.

Native people used to fish and gather food in these areas located near the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, within Costa Rica’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This conflict reflects the growing exploitation of EEZs by the states, which at the same time face an obligation to increase their protected marine areas and clean up the oceans – a contradiction that generates friction, and where the local communities are often victims.

This collision of interests has been seen during the global summit on biodiversity in the coastal city of Cancún, 1,200 km southeast of Mexico City, where the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP13, as well as other intergovernmental events and forums related to the preservation of the planet’s natural wealth, is taking place.

Coastal waters and continental shelves are increasingly exploited for fishing, agricultural, industrial or touristic purposes.

In the EEZ, which comprises a 200-nautical mile strip (240 km) from the coast, traditional activities are carried out such as fishing, extraction of oil and dredging of ports, that now extend to ultra-deep water drilling, underwater mining and extraction of minerals from polymetallic nodules.

Altogether, protected marine areas cover about 15 million square kilometres or 4.12 per cent of the world’s oceans, which is still far from the goal of 10 per cent, although the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted in Cancún the increase achieved in recent years.

But protection of coastal and marine areas under national jurisdiction has already reached 10 per cent, according to the “Protected Planet Report 2016” by UNEP and other international and civil society organisations.

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

However, only 0.25 per cent of areas beyond national jurisdiction are protected, which demonstrates a significant gap in conservation efforts and underlines the urgent need to seek ways to address the challenges of expanding protected areas.

Goal 11 of the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, wbich includes the Aichi Targets, adopted in 2010 by the state parties to the CBD, states that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

Moreover, the 14th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the international community has set itself to achieve by 2030 proposes to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The 10 targets included in SDG 14 refer to healthy seas, the sustainable use of resources and the reduction of pollution.

“It’s a big challenge. Two approaches can be adopted. One is based on marine planning and management, and the other on selection of economic sectors and closed seasons,” said Christian Neumann, Marine Ecosystem Services project manager for the Norway-based non-governmental GRID-Arendal, which collaborates with UNEP.

“The general problem is the overexploitation; it’s very difficult to put them (the two approaches) on balance. There is a growing understanding that in order to achieve sustainable development, a healthy ocean is needed,” he told IPS.

Construction projects highlight the contradiction between the exploitation of the EEZs and the preservation of healthy oceans and the rights of coastal inhabitants.

One example near Cancún is the expansion of the port of Veracruz, which is going ahead in spite of the threat it poses to the Veracruz Reef System, a natural protected area that spans coral reefs and subtidal aquatic beds, shallow marine waters, sandy beaches and mangroves.

The reef system was declared a national marine park in 1992.

The project, presented as the biggest port investment in the country in 100 years, includes the construction of two 7,740-metre-long breakwaters, an 800-metre-diameter harbor and nine kinds of dock terminals in a nine-square-km area.

In Honduras, the Misquito indigenous people are waiting to see the results of the oil exploration, which started in 2014 in the department of Gracias a Dios off the country’s Caribbean coast.

“It’s a fishing area, so there is an impact on this sector. We need to know what will happen with those jobs,” Yuam Pravia, a delegate from the non-governmental Moskitia Asla Takanka – Unity of the Moskitia (MASTA) in Honduras, told IPS during the conference.

In 2014, the British BG Group (which has since been taken over by Royal Dutch Shell) began exploration in a 35,000-square-km area granted in concession by the Honduran government.

In an attempt to safeguard their rights, the Misquito people set a series of conditions in order to allow the exploration to go ahead. But since the company failed to comply, the Misquito and Garifuna people are considering withdrawing their approval.

In Costa Rica a dialogue began between the government and indigenous peoples to solve the question of territorial access. “We are losing a fundamental basis of our indigenous identity. Since the government does not acknowledge this, an entire biological and cultural system is being violated,” said Rojas.

For Neumann, energy, mining and waste are becoming serious issues. “We need to consider them. But we have the (question of) economic needs as well. It’s difficult to think about alternatives for millions of fishermen,” he pointed out.

In Pravia’s opinion, governments should protect the rights of communities. “They just issue permits, without considering the impacts. There is a lack of information,” he complained.

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Europe to Decide on Use of Mercury in Dentistryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 07:25:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148108 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Europe will soon decide the future of a common but controversial dental practice: mercury in tooth fillings.

Three major European institutions, namely the European Commission, Parliament and Council, are due to meet on 6 December to discuss regulations on mercury, particularly its use in dentistry.

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury makes up 50 percent of amalgam, which is commonly used for dental fillings. Europe is currently the world’s largest amalgam user.

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organisations launched a global campaign in July to end the use of mercury in dentistry, citing health and environmental risks.

“Mercury is globally one of the 10 chemicals of major public health concern, yet the Commission proposes we maintain the status quo,” said Health Care Without Harm Europe’s Chemicals Policy Advisor Philippe Vandendaele

Amalgam is often the largest source of mercury releases in municipal wastewater and is also an increasing source of mercury air pollution from crematoria.

Mercury entering water bodies can contaminate fish and other animals, further exposing consumers to dangerous levels of secondary poisoning.

Though direct health risks from amalgam are still uncertain, mercury is known to cause damage to the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses, infants and young children.

As a result, the European Commission’s health advisory committee recommended a ban on mercury-based fillings in children and pregnant women.

“An ambitious regulation is needed to reduce the use of mercury in the European Union and phase it out of dentistry…over 66 percent of dental fillings in the EU are now made without mercury and it is now time that this becomes the norm,” said European Environment Bureau’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo.

The European public also voiced their concerns over amalgam.

Following consultations, the European Commission found that 88 percent of participating Europeans recommended to phase out the toxic material while 12 percent called for its use to be phased down.

Some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark have already banned or restricted the use of mercury-based dental fillings.

“European dentists know the end is near for amalgam. Alternatives are available, affordable, and effective. It is time for Europe to say good-bye to amalgam, a material clearly inferior to composite or ionomers,” said German Dentist Hans-Werner Bertelsen.

Composites and ionomers are both alternative dental restorative materials that use various glass and plastic compositions.

There is a growing consensus on the issue within the European Parliament as members have received over 17,000 signatures on petitions calling to ban amalgam in Europe.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents approximately 10 percent of global mercury consumption, making it the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world.

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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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