Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:38:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

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

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

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Environmental Damage to Gaza Exacerbating Food Insecurityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:38 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139435 Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
BEIT LAHIYA, Northern Gaza Strip, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Extensive damage to Gaza’s environment as a result of the Israeli blockade and its devastating military campaign against the coastal territory during last year’s war from July to August, is negatively affecting the health of Gazans, especially their food security.

“We were living on bread and tea and my five children were badly malnourished as my husband and I couldn’t afford proper food,” Safa Subha, 37, from Beit Lahiya told IPS.

“My children were suffering from liver problems, anaemia and weak bones. It was only after I received regular food vouchers from Oxfam and was able to purchase eggs and yoghurt that my children are now healthier.Lack of dietary diversity is an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat

“But it is still a struggle as I have to ration out the food and my doctor has warned me to keep giving the children these foods to prevent the malnutrition returning,” said Safa.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in several communities, lack of dietary diversity was highlighted as an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat.

Before the war, Safa’s husband Ashraf worked as a farmer, renting a piece of land on which he grew produce that he then sold.

“My husband used to earn about NIS 300 per week (about 75 dollars) from farming. After the land became too dangerous to farm, because of Israeli military fire and much of it destroyed in Israeli bombings, my husband tried to earn some money renting a taxi,” said Safa.

However, Ashraf’s attempts to support his family as a taxi driver did not provide sufficient income for their survival.

“He can only use the taxi a couple of days a week because it doesn’t belong to him and he often doesn’t have money to buy fuel because it is so expensive and Israel only allows limited amounts of fuel into Gaza because of the blockade,” said Safa.

Kamal Kassam, 43, from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, has had to rely on Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme to support his wife and five children aged 6 to 12.

During the war the Kassam’s had to flee to a U.N. shelter after the family home was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which also wounded his wife and left one of his daughters severely traumatised, suffering from epilepsy and soiling herself at night.

Kassam’s wife Eman is ill and another daughter needs regular medical treatment for cancer.

The Kassams were provided with a temporary tin caravan to live in by aid organisations but were unable to purchase food or school clothes because they had received housing aid and were therefore “less desperate”.

“I used to work in a factory but lost that job after Israel’s blockade. Before the war I made about NIS 30 (about 7.50 dollars) a day by picking up and delivering goods from my donkey cart,” Kassam told IPS.

But during a night of heavy aerial bombardment, a bomb killed his donkey and destroyed the cart as well as his only way of supporting his family.

Israel’s extensive bombing campaign during the war also destroyed or damaged, infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant and water sanitation projects.

As a result, untreated sewage is pumped out to sea and then floods back into Gaza’s underground water system, contaminating drinking water and crops and leading to outbreaks of disease.

Israeli restrictions on imports, including vital spare parts for the repair of sewerage infrastructure and agricultural equipment such as fertiliser and seedlings, has limited crop production.

Furthermore, the regular targeting of fishermen and farmers, trying to access their land and Gaza’s fishing shoals in Israel’s Access Restricted Areas (ARAs), by Israeli security forces has severely hindered the ability of Gazans to earn a living from farming and fishing.

OCHA identified the most frequent concerns regarding food security and nutrition as “loss of the source of income and livelihoods due to severe damage to agricultural lands; death/loss of animals; inability to access agricultural lands, particularly in the Israeli-imposed three-kilometre buffer zone; and loss of employment.”

Food insecurity in Gaza is not caused by lack of food on the market alone. It is also a crisis of economic access to food because most Gazans cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities of quality food.

“As a result of the lack of economic access to food due to high unemployment and low wages, the majority of the population in Gaza has been pushed into poverty and food insecurity, with no other choice but to rely heavily on assistance to cover their essential needs,” said ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector’, a report by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and the Government of Palestine.

“The repetition of one harsh economic shock after the other has resulted in an erosion of household coping strategies, with 89 percent of households resorting to negative coping mechanisms to meet their food needs (half report purchasing lower quality food and a third have reduced the number of daily meals),” said the DNA report, adding that the situation was expected to worsen in 2015.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what in the world do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UN at 70: Mega-Cities, Mortality and Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:43:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139346 The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

As the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, one question worthy of some reflection is: Is world population better or worse off demographically since the establishment of the U.N.?

Some contend that the demography of today’s world population is markedly better than it was seven decades ago. Others argue that humanity is definitely worse off demographically and still others – often sceptics and cynics – feel it is neither better nor worse, but just different.This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

To consider the merits of those various perspectives and distinguish between personal opinions and measurable facts, it is useful and appropriate to dispassionately examine some fundamental demographic changes that have occurred to world population since the middle of the 20th century.

Perhaps the most visible demographic change is the increased size of world population, which now at 7.3 billion is five billion larger than at the time of the U.N.’s founding.

While world population has more than tripled in size, considerable variation has taken place across regions. Some populations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, have increased 500 percent or more over the past seven decades.

In contrast, other populations, such as those in Europe, increased by 40 percent or less over that time span.

The growth of world population, around 1.8 percent per year at mid 20th century, peaked at 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. The current annual rate of global population growth is 1.1 percent, the lowest since the U.N.’s founding.

In terms of absolute numbers, world population was adding approximately 47 million per year in 1950. The annual increase nearly doubled to a peak of 91 million in the late 1980s and then began declining to its current level of 81 million.

An important consequence of the differential rates of demographic growth globally has been the shift in the geographic distribution of world population. Whereas 70 years ago about one-third of world population resided in more developed regions, today that proportion is about half that level or 17 percent.

Also noteworthy are the regional demographic shifts that have occurred. For example, while Europe and Africa at mid 20th century accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent of world population, respectively, their current proportions are 10 percent for Europe and 16 percent for Africa.

Perhaps the most welcomed demographic change in world population that has taken place is the decline in mortality levels, including infant, child and maternal death rates.

During the past 70 years, the global infant mortality rate fell from approximately 140 to 40 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The improvements in mortality across all age groups have resulted in an average life expectancy at birth for the world of 70 years, a gain of some 25 years since 1950.

Another remarkable transformation in world population over the past seven decades is the decline in fertility.

As a result of men and women gaining unprecedented control over the number, spacing and timing of their children, global fertility has decreased significantly from an average of about 5 births per woman at mid-20th century to 2.5 births per woman today.

Due to the declines in fertility as well as mortality, the age structure of world population has aged markedly. Over the past seven decades, the median age of world population has increased by six years, i.e., from 24 to 30 years.

In addition, the elderly proportion aged 80 years or older has tripled during this time period, increasing from about 0.5 to 1.6 percent.

The sex composition of world population has been relatively balanced and stable over the recent past, with a global sex ratio of around 100 -102 males for every 100 females.

Although slightly more boys are born than girls, many countries, especially the more developed, have more females than males due to lower female mortality rates.

Notable exceptions to that general pattern are China and India, whose population sex ratios are approximately 107 males per 100 females due in part to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses.

Whereas the sex ratio at birth of most countries is around 105 males per 100 females, it is 117 in China and 111 in India, markedly higher than their ratios in the past.

Increased urbanisation is another significant demographic transformation in world population. A literal revolution in urban living has occurred across the planet during the past seven decades.

Whereas a minority of world population, 30 percent, lived in urban areas in 1950, today the majority of the world, 54 percent, consists of urban dwellers. The migration to urban places took place across all regions, with many historically rural, less developed countries, such as China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey, rapidly transformed to predominantly urban societies.

Another striking demographic change in world population is the emergence of mega-cities — agglomerations of 10 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, there was a single city in this category: New York, with 12.3 million inhabitants.

Today there are 28 mega-cities, with Tokyo being the largest at 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million and Mexico City, Mumbai and San Paulo each with approximately 21 million.

In addition to internal movements within nations, international migration across countries and regions has also increased markedly over the past decades. A half-century ago 77 million or nearly 3 percent of world population were immigrants, meaning they live in a place different from their place of birth. That figure has tripled to 232 million, representing slightly more than 3 percent of world population.

While most of the international migration is lawful, increasing numbers of men, women and children are choosing due to circumstance and desire to immigrate outside legal channels.

And while precise figures of migrants unlawfully resident are difficult to establish, the total number worldwide is estimated at least 50 million.

The numbers of refugees have also increased substantially during the recent past. At mid-20th century, an estimated one million people remained uprooted following the world war.

In the early 1990s the number of refugees peaked at around 18 million. Latest estimates put the global number of refugees at 16.7 million and growing.

Also, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict, which includes refugees, asylum seekers and internal displaced persons, has reached 51.2 million, the first time it has exceeded 50 million since the World War II.

From the above discussion, most would probably agree that while some aspects of world population are clearly better today than 70 years ago, others are not necessarily better and still others are decidedly worse.

Lower mortality rates and people living longer lives are certainly welcomed improvements. Men and women having the ability to decide more easily and freely the number, spacing and timing of births has also been an advance.

The logical consequence of lower mortality and fertility is population aging, a remarkable achievement that will, however, require major societal adjustments.

The scale of refugees and internally displaced person is plainly worse than a half century ago. The growing numbers and difficult circumstances of those fleeing their homes are unlikely to improve in the near future given the increasing political upheaval, ongoing civil conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions in many parts of the world.

Finally, the unprecedented growth of world population – the most rapid in human history –added about 5 billion more people since the mid 20th century.

This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

The recent declines in world population growth provide some indication of future demographic stabilisation or peaking, perhaps as early as the close of the 21st century.

At that time, would population is expected to be about 10 billion, 2.5 billion more than today or four times as many people as were living on the planet when the United Nations was founded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Analysis: Collaboration Key for a Clean Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-collaboration-key-for-a-clean-india/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 19:07:32 +0000 Neeraj Jain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139323 Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums remains a massive challenge. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums remains a massive challenge. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeraj Jain
NEW DELHI, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to action for a 100 percent Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2019 was announced as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) or Clean India Campaign last year.

With 60 percent of all those practising open defecation globally residing in India, this task is particularly crucial, yet also challenging.We need to think how we are going to engage and influence the behaviour of such a massive audience. It probably requires the most ambitious behaviour change campaign ever attempted in the history of any nation.

Inadequate waste management leads to the contamination of water sources, contributing to diarrhoeal diseases that claim the lives of 186,000 children every single year.

With nowhere safe to go to the toilet, women and girls are often put in a vulnerable position as they seek somewhere private to relieve themselves.

A lack of adequate sanitation also has a substantial impact on economic development, with money repeatedly being lost due to workers being sick or taking time off to care for sick family members, not to mention the cost of medical treatment.

So is the 2019 target actually achievable?

It may sound like a tall order but we won’t know until we try. We need to look at the ways to make it work – implement this seemingly ambitious plan in an effective manner to make the target achievable. Not just admit defeat before we start.

The recent pace of the activities under the SBM suggests that India would become clean by 2070. To achieve the target around 50,000 toilets need to be built every day, without compromising on quality.

So it’s high time that we stop focussing on the problems and start discussing possible solutions.

With this in mind, WaterAid India organised an India WASH Summit in New Delhi last week. It was the first of its kind and was aimed at devising solutions to India’s sanitation crisis and shaping future collaboration to achieve Swachh Bharat’s ambitious target of a toilet for every household by Oct. 2, 2019. 

This landmark event, organised in partnership with the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation and Ministry of Urban Development, brought together the government, the private sector and civil society groups working to make clean India a reality.

The summit concluded with the creation of a concrete set of recommendations to be shared with the government of India to help in the effective implementation of the SBM across a number of themes including behaviour, equity and inclusion, gender, water security, institutional transformation, technology, research, and convergence of nutrition, health and education.

Collaboration emerged as a key theme at the summit, both within the sector as well as with organisations focussing on nutrition, health and education. Participants at the summit stressed the importance of capacity building and the need for effective monitoring.

It was agreed that sanitation should be acknowledged as a basic human right. To ensure success in getting sanitation for all, programmes need to be equitable and inclusive and should include behaviour change at its core.

Previous initiatives have taught us that just building toilets is not enough. To stimulate demand for toilets, hygiene education and collective initiatives are key.

We need to think how we are going to engage and influence the behaviour of such a massive audience. It probably requires the most ambitious behaviour change campaign ever attempted in the history of any nation.

The overall budget of the programme (rural as well as urban) as estimated by the government is almost Rs. 3 lakh crores (50 billion dollars).

I believe that answers to all hurdles identified above do exist but the entire WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector need to come together to find the most suitable answers as well as the most effective ways to implement it, in record time.

WaterAid has been working in the WASH sector in India since 1986 and is committed to supporting the government of India in realising the ambitious but much needed goal of making India open defecation free by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indigenous Food Systems Should Be on the Development Menuhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:08:39 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139295 Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century no longer means simply increasing the quantity of available food but also the quality.

Despite numerous achievements in the world’s food systems, approximately 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger and roughly two billion peoples suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies while, at the same time, over 2.8 billion people are obese.

Unfortunately, the debate over how to address this challenge has polarised, pitting agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and traditional ecological knowledge, land-based ways of life and a holistic, interdependent relationship between people and the Earth.“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless” – Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement

Organised to reflect on this, among other issues, the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) from Feb. 12-13 in Rome, discussed solutions that combine the need to ensure food security and a balanced diet for all with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development.

According to IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, “indigenous peoples’ lands are some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse places on earth … It is only now, in the 21st century, that the rest of the world is starting to value the biodiversity that is a core value of indigenous societies.” Occupying nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s land area, indigenous groups act as custodians of biodiversity.

Participants at the Forum debated the potential of indigenous livelihood systems and practices – thanks to an age-old tradition of inter-generational knowledge transmission – to contribute to and inspire new transformative approaches of sustainable development, synthesising culture and identity, firmly anchored in respect for individual and collective rights.

However, the Forum described how many indigenous communities and ecosystems are at risk due to the lack of recognition of their rights and fair treatment by governments and corporations, population growth, climate change, migration and conflict. According to participants, the on-going exclusion of indigenous people devalues not only the importance of their communities but also the traditional ecological and agricultural knowledge they possess.

“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless,” Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement, said at a Forum side event focused on the interconnections among nutrition, food security and sustainable development.

“The march towards this idea of progress has left women, youth and elderly people and indigenous populations at the end of the line with no one left to give a voice to them,” he continued. “All the drama of modern reality is now revealing itself: the ‘glorious march’ of progress is now on the edge of a precipice, the present crisis the fruit of greed and ignorance.”

Largely addressing the so-called developed world, the Forum described how many of the good practices and traditional empirical wisdom of indigenous peoples deserve to be studied with care and attention. For example, boosting local economies and agriculture, along with respect for small communities, are ways of reconciling man with the earth and nature.

At the same time, many indigenous communities have certain foods – including corn, taro and wild rice – that are considered sacred and are cultivated through sustainable land and water practices.  This contrasts with the global production, distribution and consumption of food which pays little attention to loss of water and soil fertility, genetic plant and animal erosion and unprecedented food waste.

The Forum also heard how issues related to the paramount role of indigenous peoples’ food systems are central to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects managed by the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at Montreal’s McGill University in Canada.

“Years of work have documented the traditional food systems of indigenous peoples and their dietary habits to understand matriarchy and the role of women in food security and community peace in Canada,” said Harriet V. Kuhnlein, Professor Emerita of Human Nutrition and founding Director of CINE.

Kuhnlein described one of CINE’s projects, the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, a three-year community-based project focused on a primary prevention programme for non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in a Mohawk community near Montreal.

Among others, the project organised community-based activities promoting healthy lifestyles and demonstrated that “a native community-based diabetes prevention programme is feasible through participatory research that incorporates native culture and local expertise,” said Kuhnlein.

According to Forum participants, the reintroduction of local food products is essential for feeding the planet – “here we see real democracy in action,” said one speaker – and a major effort is needed to avoid practices that exacerbate the negative impacts of food production and consumption on climate, water and ecosystems.

There was also a call for the post-Millennium Development Goal (MDG) agenda to ensure a healthy environment as an internationally guaranteed human right, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the MDGS at the end of 2015, encouraging governments to work towards agricultural policies that are compatible with environmental sustainability and trade rules that are consistent with food security.

It was agreed that none of this will be easy to implement and will require both a strong accountability framework and the will to enforce it, including through recognition of corporate responsibility in the private sector.

As the world prepares for the post-2015 scenario, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum in Rome said that it was crucial to incorporate food security, environmental issues, poverty reduction and indigenous peoples’ rights into discussions around the new goals of sustainable development involving citizens, governments, academic institutions, private corporations and international organisations worldwide.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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In the Shadow of Displacement, Forest Tribes Look to Sustainable Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/in-the-shadow-of-displacement-forest-tribes-look-to-sustainable-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-the-shadow-of-displacement-forest-tribes-look-to-sustainable-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/in-the-shadow-of-displacement-forest-tribes-look-to-sustainable-farming/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 18:06:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139089 Forest tribes in India’s southwestern Andhra Pradesh state fear they will soon be homeless when a dam floods their ancestral lands. They are turning to sustainable agriculture in preparation for displacement to less fertile areas. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Forest tribes in India’s southwestern Andhra Pradesh state fear they will soon be homeless when a dam floods their ancestral lands. They are turning to sustainable agriculture in preparation for displacement to less fertile areas. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHINTOOR, India, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

Laxman, a 10-year-old Koya tribal boy, looks admiringly at a fenced-in vegetable patch behind his home in southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state. Velvety-green and laden with vegetables, the half-acre patch is where Laxman’s family gets their daily quota of nutritious food.

But one day soon it will disappear under several feet of water, thanks to the Polavaram multipurpose project – a 45-metre-high, 2.32-km-long mega dam currently under construction on the Godavari, the second-longest river in India after the Ganges.

Experts say nearly 200,000 members of India's forest-dwelling tribes could be displaced by construction of the Polavaram Dam in the southwestern state of Andhra Pradesh.
A crucial link in the federal government’s river-linking project, the Polavaram dam will submerge at least 276 villages, including Narakonda, where Laxman’s family lives.

Blissfully unaware today, young Laxman will soon be among the nearly 200,000 tribal people who experts say will be displaced en masse by the development project.

Laxman’s parents, Sitamma Rao and Sodi Bhimaiah, know that when the water comes, they will have to pack up and leave their village. The government has expressed its intention to properly compensate those affected but the community here has neither heard of nor seen the results of such promises.

To this day, no government official has visited these villages, where many tribal families earn about 30 Indian rupees (0.50 dollars) each day.

Diversifying crops

They know they must prepare for hard times ahead, but with no advice, support or official assistance forthcoming from the government, tribal villagers have embarked on their own quest for alternative livelihoods.

In dozens of villages along the dam site, in the foothills of the Papi mountain range, the hunter-gather Koya and Kondareddi tribes, both listed as particularly vulnerable tribal communities by the Indian government, are learning sustainable farming to better feed their families – and save what little they can for the dark days to come.

Having dwelt in the Papi hill ranges on either side of the Godavari gorge for generations, practicing small-scale farming and selling minor forest products at nearby markets, the tribes are now looking at more sustainable practices that will increase their yield and perhaps even provide them a surplus of food and income.

Helping them in this quest is Kovel Foundation – a local non-profit that trains forest tribes in entrepreneurial and alternative livelihood skills. Under a three-year project, Kovel is training 2,000 marginal women farmers from 46 villages in the ‘Annapurna Model’ – a multi-crop farming technique – as well as providing them with seeds and financial assistance.

The model was originally conceived by the federal government to help rural women farmers achieve food security and maintain a yearly income of between 50,000 and 100,000 rupees (800 to 1,600 dollars).

Prior to this scheme, tribal communities in the region gathered forest fruits and herbs, and earned a meager monthly salary of between eight and 24 dollars by selling forest products.

Now they are diversifying crops, spreading out their risks and increasing their modest yields.

Hailing from the nearby village of Aligudem, which will also be submerged by the dam, a farmer named Laxamma Raju shows IPS her year-old garden: half an acre of land divided into 15 beds, each of them seven feet wide.

A narrow trench separates the beds, made from rich soil topped with silt, compost and cow dung. Growing on each of these nutrient-filled plots is a different crop: radish, okra, eggplant, carrot, onion, bitter gourd, pumpkin, cow bean, tomatoes, chili and coriander.

There are also banana saplings, planted alongside mango and custard apple trees.

Interspersed among them are yellow marigolds and sunflowers. The bright flowers attract pests, working as organic insect traps, explains Satya Raju, Laxamma’s husband.

The idea of growing and consuming so many crops excites farmers here, who have never before enjoyed such a varied diet.

“Earlier, we grew rice, some millets and chickpeas,” Laxamma tells IPS. “But from last year, we have been growing multiple crops, and harvesting a basket of vegetables every week,” she adds, pointing to a bag of tomatoes that she is going to sell in the market for 15 rupees a kilo. All told, she will take home about 1,200 rupees (about 20 dollars) each month from her multi-crop farm.

These are no small strides for forest tribes, 70 percent of whose population lives below the poverty line according to government data. Few attend school, or learn to read and write. The literacy level among such remote tribes in Andhra Pradesh is estimated at 47 percent.

When development means displacement

One of the major challenges for tribes in this area is the lack of irrigation facilities, says Beera Voina Murali, a Koya tribesman and a trainer with the Kovel Foundation.

“The monsoon is the only source of water,” Murali tells IPS. “Though the department of tribal affairs offers a 50 percent subsidy on diesel-powered pumps, they still cost over a lakh (2,000 dollars) – marginal farmers cannot afford that kind of money.”

And even those who do manage to install these costly devices struggle to pay for the fuel. Laxmamma, for example, spends about 10 dollars every day just to keep the pump going, since it guzzles roughly nine litres of diesel daily.

Meeting this irrigation challenge in the region is one of the stated goals of the Polavaram dam project; with a storing capacity of 551 million cubic metres, the dam promises to irrigate 700,000 acres of land.

But this “solution” represents disaster for over a quarter of a million people in this area, including farmers like Sitamma, who are will be completely inundated once the project is completed.

“Today, we can’t cultivate well because we don’t have water. But tomorrow when the water comes, we will lose our home,” says Edu Konda, another Kovel Foundation trainer who has been actively protesting the construction of the dam, but with little hope of a change in government policy.

Last year, concerned community members met with the project officer in charge of the dam at the department of tribal affairs in Rampachodavaram and made an appeal to save the threatened lands.

“He said, ‘You will be relocated into good, fertile areas,’” Konda recalls, “but the very next month he was transferred out of this district. Now, we are back to level zero,” she tells IPS.

India’s track record of relocating and rehabilitating tribal communities displaced by development projects leaves a lot to be desired. One such example is the Sardar Sarovar dam over the river Narmada in central India that displaced 300,000 tribal people in 2005.

Over a decade later, 40,000 of these people are still waiting to be relocated, or compensated for their lost lands.

A similar controversy unfolded around the site of the Hasdeo Bango dam in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. Construction of the dam that began in 1962 and ended in 2011 affected 52 mostly tribal villages. But they have been poorly relocated and even today have few basic facilities and even fewer livelihood opportunities, according to government data.

Against this backdrop, some community members feel it is futile to adopt new farming techniques when they could soon be landless. The vast majority, however, are convinced that their newly acquired sustainable agricultural practices will serve them well – even if they are forcibly moved to less fertile areas.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Rob McCreath
BRISBANE, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Local Pollutants Compound Threats to Coral Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 11:40:05 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139042 The research team has been studying this relatively acidic coral reef in the Palauan archipelago. Seawater pH on this reef today represents acidification levels predicted for tropical western Pacific by the end of the 21st century. Credit: Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

The research team has been studying this relatively acidic coral reef in the Palauan archipelago. Seawater pH on this reef today represents acidification levels predicted for tropical western Pacific by the end of the 21st century. Credit: Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

By Leila Lemghalef
NEW YORK, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

A recent study suggests that one of the multiple threats to coral reefs contains both the problem and solution.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), based in Cape Cod, conducted a study highlighting multiple threats to coral reef ecosystems and also identifying a management strategy that could slow reef decline."Management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century." -- marine researcher Thomas DeCarlo

Coral reefs are animal organisms that are like sea castles, vibrant with algae and home to sponges, mollusks and creatures seeking shelter. In fact, 25 per cent of marine life relies on coral reefs as part of their habitat.

Coral reefs build their skeletons using limestone, or calcium carbonate. The increase of acid in the ocean due to excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere causes the carbonate ion to become less available. Coral reefs rely on carbonate to produce their well-cemented skeletons, which they are doing more slowly.

As a result, the natural equilibrium governing production–erosion of coral reefs has been disrupted in favour of erosion.

To add to the imbalance, the added component of ‘nutrients’ to water accelerates the rate of erosion 10 times.

The interaction between high levels of nutrients with acidity makes the effect of ocean acidification 10 times greater.

‘Nutrients’ refer here to pollution by humans on a local scale.

And herein lies the study’s seed of good news as it says in encouraging terms that “…people can take action to protect their local reefs. If people can limit runoff from septic tanks, sewers, roads, farm fertilizers and other sources of nutrient pollution to the coastal ocean, the bioeroders will not have such an upper hand, and the balance will tip much more slowly toward erosion and dissolution of coral reefs”.

Mark Eakin is coordinator of Coral Reef Watch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Reducing erosion by tenfold is major,” he told IPS.

He also explained that coral reefs face both global and local threats, thereby requiring solutions at each level, regardless of whether the global stressors or the local factors, such as overfishing, are paramount (and in fact, both are severe).

“In addressing things like pollutant runoffs that contribute to the local issue of why ocean acidification can be so harmful, what you’re doing is you’re pointing to a local solution to a local problem,” said Eakin.

While the climate change remains a problem of planetary scale, requiring concerted efforts on a cross-national level, the plus-side of local problems is that they can be addressed on a local scale.

“And by doing that what you’re doing is making the reefs more resilient to climate change and ocean acidification. So that better helps them to survive, while we work on getting the global problems under control,” he said.

A good warning sign

Thomas DeCarlo is doing his PhD in the joint programme of oceanography between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and WHOI. He led the Woods Hole study.

In an interview with IPS, DeCarlo was asked the extent to which cleaning up waters locally could alleviate the overall strains on coral reef development.

He explained that local action could buffer or limit to some extent the global impact of ocean acidification, which is certain to continue over the next century.

“I guess the source of optimism is that whereas the CO2 ocean acidification problem is really truly global, and that’s a really big problem because reefs can’t really escape that, it’s such a global phenomenon that all coral reefs are going to be seeing this ocean acidification effect.

“But the nutrient problem from human nutrient addition is really a pretty local problem, in a lot of respects so, the optimism is that that can actually be limited and controlled on a local scale, so management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century,” he said.

There is an economic incentive that could help the political agenda bend to the needs of nature, with the total dollar value of coral reef services estimated in the billions annually in the U.S. alone.

Furthermore, coral reefs protect shorelines by absorbing storm energies and perform many other roles in the world as we know it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Feb 4 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

Lesser Flamingos in flight, Credit: ©Mark Anderson

By Jacques Trouvilliez
BONN, Jan 31 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ecological Latrines Catch on in Rural Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/ecological-latrines-catch-on-in-rural-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecological-latrines-catch-on-in-rural-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/ecological-latrines-catch-on-in-rural-cuba/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 13:48:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138951 Pastor Demas Rodríguez shows a dry composting toilet in the town of Babiney, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Pastor Demas Rodríguez shows a dry composting toilet in the town of Babiney, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BABINEY, Cuba , Jan 31 2015 (IPS)

Most people in Cuba without toilets use the traditional outhouse. But an innovative, ecological alternative is catching on in remote rural communities.

So far 85 dry latrines have been installed in eastern Cuba – the poorest part of the country – thanks to the support of the non-governmental ecumenical Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Centre for Service and Training (CCSC-Lavastida) based in Santiago de Cuba, 847 km from Havana, which carries out development projects in this region.

“Over 70 percent of these toilets are in San Agustín, a town in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The rest are in Boniato and the municipality of Santiago de Cuba, in that same province; and in Caney, Babiney and Bayamo, in the province of Granma,” CCSC’s head of social projects, César Parra, told IPS.

Dry composting latrines separate urine from feces. The latter is used to produce fertiliser. They prevent the proliferation of disease-spreading vectors and the contamination of nearby sources of water, unlike the classic pit latrines that abound in the Cuban countryside.

“In eastern Cuba, we replicated the pioneering work of the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Man (FANJ),” said Parra, a veterinarian, during an exchange on permaculture among farmers in the region, held in the town of Babiney, in the province of Granma.“For us it’s been a really good thing because it doesn’t pollute, it saves a lot of water, and it provides us with natural fertiliser.” – Local farmer Marislennys Hernández

Five years ago, FANJ introduced dry latrines in Cuba as part of permaculture, a system that combines green-friendly human settlements and sustainable farms. It was involved in the construction of another 30 ecotoilets distributed in the provinces of Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and the outskirts of Havana.

“At first people were sceptical, but they have seen the major advantages of these latrines such as the fact that they don’t contaminate the wells near their houses,” said Parra. “Water quality has improved, according to studies carried out in the places where the latrines have been installed.”

The latrines have been so widely accepted that “CCSC-Lavastida doesn’t have the construction capacity, resources or staff to respond to all of the requests for dry toilets” through its projects, which provide the construction material and specialised labour power.

The organisation is now putting a priority on rural families without sanitation, who live near rivers and wells. And in the cities, it benefits families who have backyard gardens.

Of Cuba’s 11.2 million people, over 94 percent had improved sanitation services in 2012. The sewage system served 35.8 percent of the population, and 58.5 percent used septic tanks and latrines. But latrines contaminate nearby water sources with feces and urine, especially if they are poorly built or maintained.

According to the latest statistics provided by the National Water Resources Institute, 79.9 percent of the 2.5 million people living in rural areas have septic tanks or latrines, while 16.8 percent have no toilets at all.

Worldwide, 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and over one billion still practice open defecation, according to the United Nations.

In eastern Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, the country’s biggest mountain chain, much of the local population lives in remote rural areas.

And drought plagues the eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, the least developed part of the country.

“Dry toilets don’t waste water,” said Demas Rodríguez, the pastor of the Baptist church in Babiney, who has been here for a decade. “They’re a new experience for us, so the church has the responsibility to teach the community how to use them, and to explain their benefits.”

After using the urine-separating dry composting toilet, the users sprinkle ash, sawdust or lime down the feces hole. The urine is collected in a different compartment, also to be used as fertiliser.

“By separating liquids and solids, we keep the smell down,” said Rodríguez while showing IPS the first composting latrine built in Babiney, in the home of the Figueredo-Cruz family.

“Another dry toilet has almost been completed, and four more local families are getting the materials together to make their own,” said Leonardo R. Espinoza, a builder from Babiney who has been installing dry composting latrines and biogas plants for the beneficiaries of CCSC-Lavastida’s projects.

“In terms of materials, building the dry latrines is expensive because you need at least one cubic metre of sand, 160 concrete blocks or 800 bricks, six sacks of cement and 14 metres of steel,” he said.

Based on the lowest prices for construction materials in Cuba, it costs at least 80 dollars to build a dry toilet – and more than that, if the toilet is tiled, to improve hygiene and appearance.

Using cement blocks and reinforced concrete, Espinoza built a 60-cm high feces collection compartment, which does not drain into the ground. “The total size is estimated based on the number of users of the toilet,” he said.

Dry composting latrines have a special toilet bowl with an internal division that separates urine from feces.

Cuba does not produce the toilet bowls. CCSC-Lavastida has imported them from Mexico. But now it has obtained a mould to make cheaper, sturdier bowls using concrete. If the user can afford it, the toilets can be covered with ceramic tiles.

“In houses with foundations elevated above ground, the dry toilet can be installed inside, to facilitate access by the elderly or the disabled,” said Espinoza. “But in general they are built outside the house, and you climb up four steps to use the toilet.”

Other designs include a shower next to the toilet.

Marislennys Hernández, a 32-year-old farmer, had never heard of dry toilets until she joined the permaculture movement. She and her husband Leonel Sánchez work a 32-hectare ecological farm, La Cristina, in the rural area of El Castillito in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

“For us it’s been a really good thing because it doesn’t pollute, it saves a lot of water, and it provides us with natural fertiliser,” she told IPS.

“Three years ago we managed to build [the ecological toilet] in our house,” she said. “They should be promoted more among the rural population.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Marine Resources in High Seas Should be Shared Equitablyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:07:38 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138914 An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

After almost 10 years of often frustrating negotiations, the U.N. ad hoc committee on BBNJ decided, by consensus, to set in motion a process that will result in work commencing on a legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use, including benefit sharing, of Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction.

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

As a consequence, the General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution in the summer of 2015 establishing a preparatory committee to begin work in 2016 which will be mandated to propose the elements of a treaty in 2017, to be adopted by an intergovernmental conference.

The Ad Hoc Working Group, established in 2006, has been meeting regularly since then. In 2010, for the first time, it adopted a set of recommendations which were elaborated methodically until the momentous decision on Saturday.

This decision will impact significantly on the biggest source of biodiversity on the globe.

The political commitment of the global community on BBNJ was clearly stated in the 2012 Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”, largely at the insistence of a small group of countries which included Argentina, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the European Union (EU).

It recognised the importance of an appropriate global mechanism to sustainably manage marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

In 2013, GA resolution A/69/L.29 mandated the UN Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the 69th Session of the GA.While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

During the past few years our understanding of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction has advanced exponentially. The critical need to conserve and sustainably use this vast and invaluable resource base is now widely acknowledged.

The water surface covers 70 percent of the earth. This marine environment constitutes over 90 percent of the volume of the earth’s biosphere, nurturing many complex ecosystems important to sustain life and livelihoods on land. Two thirds of this environment is located in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The contribution of oceans to the global economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents based on them are being filed annually.

The value of these patents is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is increasingly obvious that mankind must conserve the resources of the oceans and the associated ecosystems and use them sustainably, including for the development of new substances.

At the same time, unprecedented challenges confront the marine environment and ecosystems. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean warming, coral bleach and ocean acidification, to name a few, pose a severe threat to marine biological resources. Many communities and livelihoods dependent on them are at risk.

While 2.8 percent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine protected areas, only 0.79 percent of such areas are located beyond national jurisdiction. In recent times, these protected areas have become a major asset in global efforts to conserve endangered species, habitats and ecosystems.

While the management of areas within national jurisdictions is a matter primarily for states, the areas beyond are the focus of the challenge that confronted the U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group.

Developing countries have insisted that benefits, including financial benefits, from products developed using marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction must be shared equitably.

The concept that underpinned this proposition could be said to be an evolution of the common heritage of mankind concept incorporated in UNCLOS.

The Ad-Hoc Working Group acknowledged that UNCLOS, sometimes described as the constitution of the oceans, served as the overarching legal framework for the oceans and seas. Obviously, there was much about the oceans that the world did not know in 1982 when the UNCLOS was concluded.

Given humanity’s considerably better understanding of the oceans at present, especially on the areas beyond national jurisdiction, the majority of participants in the Ad Hoc Working Group pushed for a new legally binding instrument to address the issue of BBNJ.

Last Saturday’s decision underlined that the mandates of existing global and regional instruments and frameworks not be undermined; that duplication be avoided and consistency with UNCLOS maintained.

The challenge before the international community as it approaches the next stage is to identify with care the areas that will be covered by the proposed instrument in order to optimize the goal of conservation of marine biodiversity. It should contribute to building ocean resilience, provide comprehensive protection for ecologically and biologically significant areas, and enable ecosystems time to adapt.

The framework for sharing the benefits of research and developments relating to marine organisms needs to be crafted sensitively. Private corporations which are investing heavily in this area prefer legal certainty and clear workable rules.

An international instrument must establish a framework which includes an overall strategic vision that encompasses the aspirations of both developed and developing countries, particularly in the area of benefit sharing.

Facilitating the exchange of information between States will be essential to achieve the highest standards in conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. They will need continued capacity building so that they can contribute effectively to the goal of sustainable use of such resources and benefit from scientific and technological developments.

To address the effects of these complex dynamics, the proposed instrument must adopt a global approach, involving both developed and developing countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Antiguan Shanty Dwellers Ask if Poverty Will Be the Death of Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:06:04 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138887 Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GREEN BAY, Antigua, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

It was early on a Saturday morning and there was no sign of life in the community. The shacks erected on both sides of the old, narrow road that winds through the area are all surrounded by zinc sheets which rise so high, it’s impossible to see what lies on the other side.

But behind those walls is a story of life on the margins: poverty and fear for women. In spite of noticeable improvements in the overall quality of life in Antigua and Barbuda, inequality and deprivation continue to challenge development, with pockets of extreme poverty in some areas.“Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.” -- Cynthia James

For Cynthia James and other women living in this shoreline community on the outskirts of the capital St. John’s, hope is all but lost.

“A politician came here once and called me a dog,” James said as she stood outside her gate holding her one-year-old grandson. “The politician said all of us in here are dogs and are not used to anything good and we will always be dogs. I will never forget that. When you get hurt you never forget it.”

The two main political parties here hold differing views about the level of poverty and unemployment in the country. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) has consistently placed the poverty level at around 35 per cent but the United Progressive Party (UPP) placed the percentage of the working population living on less than EC$10 a day at 12 per cent, the lowest in the region.

“The highest is in Haiti: 79 percent of the population, that is eight out of 10, live on approximately EC$10 a day. Guyana, 64 percent; Suriname, 45 percent; Jamaica, 43 percent; Dominica, 33 percent; St Vincent & the Grenadines, 33 percent; Grenada, 32 percent; St. Kitts, 31 percent; Trinidad, 21 percent; St. Lucia, 19 percent; Barbados, 14 percent; Antigua, 12 percent,” said former legislator Harold Lovell, citing World Bank figures. Lovell served a minister of finance in the former administration.

James, 53, does not care much for the numbers being debated by politicians. For year now, she and the other women living in this vulnerable area have been watching a drain which runs through the community wreak havoc on their modest dwellings whenever it rains.

James, her 78-year-old mother Gertrude and 28-year-old daughter Terry-Ann Lewis all live on the same street. Their biggest fear now is that the drain which runs through the area will one day cause their deaths.

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“When I was a little girl they would always come and clean out the gutter, they would send the prisoners to clean up the area, but all of that has stopped,” James told IPS. “Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.”

The dozens of families here have thought about moving to safer communities but they say they are just too poor to relocate without assistance.

In 2014, the issue of poor drainage that leads to flooding in this and other communities across the country came into focus with a series of community consultations led by the Environment Division.

Senior Environment Officer Ruleta Camacho said the aim was to establish a sustainable financing mechanism and develop a climate adaptation project that could bring about significant changes to affected communities.

“Due to the impact of climate change we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall – we are having large amounts of rain in a short amount of time and what we need to do at this point is to make sure our waterways and drains can handle that volume of water,” she said.

Terryann Lewis is anxiously awaiting the commencement of the promised project. She recalled her brush with death on Oct. 13, 2014 when Tropical Storm Gonzalo passed near Antigua, tearing roofs from people’s homes and knocking down trees.

For several hours, heavy rain and strong winds lashed Antigua, which bore the brunt of the storm as it cut through the northern Leeward Islands. Downed trees blocked many island roads and people lost power or reported that the storm damaged, or in some cases destroyed the roofs of their homes.

“I went to sleep that night and when I woke up, I was in water. I had just come home from work and I was tired so I just went to sleep but when I woke up the whole place was flooded. Everything gone; everything was soaked or washed away. I lost everything and I had to start fresh again,” Lewis told IPS.

“The gutter that runs through this community collects waste from all over the place so everything ends up right here in this community.

“That gutter is going to kill all of us; that is the only thing I can tell you. The gutter is blocked so whenever we have rain the water is not free to run. The drain is clogged up so the water quickly overflows. Whenever it rains this whole area is like a beach,” she added.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, whose administration came to power just seven months ago, said his government will focus on improving human development, putting people first. He has consistently said he intends to make Antigua the region’s economic powerhouse, a Singapore on the Caribbean Sea.

“We will focus on building our human capital into internationally competitive individuals capable of driving the growth and social development of our nation state,” Browne said.

“We will concentrate on youth empowerment, providing our youth with employment, the opportunity to own a piece of the rock under our land for youth programme, a home under our home for youth programme or his/her own business through a dedicated entrepreneurial loan programme, that will commence in 2015 at the Antigua & Barbuda Development Bank.

“Our main focus of human development will be through education and training. No one will be left behind,” Browne added.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in the region of 2.2 percent for 2015. This represents something of a rebound for the region, as growth in 2014 was estimated to be 1.3 percent.

But whether that figure will translate into improved living conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable remains to be seen.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Developing Nations Write Hopeful New Chapters in a Toxic Legacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:35:56 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138854 Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

The village of Dong Mai in Vietnam’s agricultural heartland had a serious problem.

To boost their meager incomes, its residents – former artisans who once produced and sold bronze casts – had taken to cannibalizing old car and truck lead-acid batteries and smelting them by hand in their own backyards. As a result, the 2,600 people living there had some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded."Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it." -- Stephan Robinson

Dong Mai’s water and soil had become terribly contaminated — 32-36 times higher than the acceptable limits. People were getting sick, including children. One home assessed with an X-ray Florescence (XRF) analyser had lead levels 50 times the higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.

Local government knew of the problem, but the cost of cleaning it up – expected to run into the millions – was daunting. Then, a collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth found ways to remediate the lead for much less: about 20 dollars a person.

Once major remedial work was completed, in February 2014, lead levels in the population fell by nearly a third in six months.

“Political will takes time to build,” Rich Fuller, Blacksmith’s president, told IPS. “Governments need solid data on the scope of problems, and how to solve them. Most governments are just starting to build their teams for pollution, and those NGOs that provide support, rather than criticism, have really been a huge help.”

Together with Green Cross Switzerland and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), the Blacksmith Institute released a report Tuesday highlighting cleanup success stories like Dong Mai’s.

Top Ten Countries Turning the Corner on Toxic Pollution notes that pollution kills more than 8.9 million people around the world each year, most of them children, and the vast majority — 8.4 million — in low- and middle-income countries.

To put that figure in perspective, it is 35 percent more than tobacco-related deaths, almost three times more deaths than malaria and 14 times more deaths than HIV/AIDS.

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

“Contrary to popular belief, many of the worst pollution problems are not caused by multinational companies but by poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining, small industrial estates or abandoned factories,” Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland told IPS.

“However, high-income countries are indirectly contributing by their demand for commodities and consumer goods to the issue as many of these small-scale operations produce the raw or precursor products,” he added. “They thus support many of these smaller industries, adding to the severity of pollution problems in low-income countries.”

Lead, the culprit in Dong Mai, is especially devastating for children. It can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, and in cases of extreme exposure, result in death. Children also tend to have higher exposures because they play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

The economic toll of pollutants on poor and middle income countries is high: the costs of air pollution alone range between six and 12 percent of GDP.

Previous Blacksmith reports had focused on the 10 worst toxic hotspots, but this year, the groups chose to look at practical, replicable solutions that don’t require a vast amount of resources to implement.

“There is so much to do,” Fuller said. “Only a few countries have started down the path. We wanted to give them credit, and have them be examples for expanding work on pollution in other countries.”

In the case of Dong Mai, mobilising the active participation of villagers and local officials was key.

Instead of removing the contamined soil and carting it off to landfills, the backyards were capped with sand, a layer of geotextiles, 20 centimetres of compacted clean soil, bricks, and finally, concrete on top, safely sealing away the lead.

After an educational campaign, 50 villagers took on the task of remediating their own yards in this way. What could have cost about 10 million dollars was accomplished for 60,000.

“GAHP members are encouraged to help their neighbours,” Fuller said. “Often, a success in one country can translate into a project in another.  This is certainly true of lead poisoning and e-waste. The GAHP model is collaborative between international agencies, and between countries, all helping each other work out how to solve these awful problems.”

The other success stories in the report were led by Ghana, Senegal, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, the Former Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal, lead battery recycling was replaced with profitable hydroponic gardens.

In Mexico City, a contaminated oil refinery was turned into an urban park with one million visitors a year.

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, informal e-waste recycling by burning electronic scrap that released toxins is now performed safely by machines.

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

“We worked hard to find solutions that would work for the local recyclers,” Kira Traore, Blacksmith’s programme director for Africa, says in the report. “Simply banning burning wouldn’t help them earn an income. Rather, forbidding burning in Agbogbloshie might push the practice elsewhere, thus expanding the pollution and the number of people affected by it.”

Experts note that local sources of pollution – particularly heavy metals like mercury and arsenic – are often very mobile and can have health impacts thousands of kilometres away.

“Mercury from unsafe artisanal gold mining and coal plants travels the globe and is found in our fish which, e.g., we eat as sushi in London,” Robinson said. “DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is found in the body fat of the inhabitants of Greenland, though there was never agriculture in Greenland.

“Contaminated air from China and elsewhere can be measured in other countries. Radionuclides from nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, have reached other countries in most of Europe,” he noted.

In essence, rich countries have not only a moral obligation but a vested interest in helping poorer nations address pollution.

“Western nations have had success in cleaning up their toxic and legacy pollution over the last 40 years and can transfer technology and know-how to low- and middle-income countries today. Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it,” he said.

“Pollution problems can only be solved by organisations joining forces and bringing in what they are best at…These are stories proving we are on the right track, and moving forward. But we need to do more with industrialisation in full swing around the world.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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