Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainable investments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Nepal Doesn’t Know About Water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-doesnt-know-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 06:00:30 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133337 Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September. Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists […]

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Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September.

Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists and climate scientists all call for better management of water. But a vital element of water management – quality scientific data – is still missing.“If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” -- Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development

Luna Bharati, who heads the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Kathmandu, tells IPS, “If we don’t know how much water there is, we cannot manage it or carry out good water resources assessment.”

Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development agrees that accurate and timely data, especially rainfall data, is important to rural farming communities. Thirty-five percent of Nepal’s GDP and more than 74 percent of its 27 million people are dependent on agriculture. And most of Nepal’s agriculture is rain fed.

“Reliable data is especially important for a farmer who wants to insure his crops,” says Shah. “If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” Every year, floods and landslides cause 300 deaths in Nepal on average, and economic losses are estimated to exceed over 10 million dollars.

Data becomes important in a country like Nepal that has large, unutilised water resources. At the local level, development work becomes harder, and there’s a risk that development is being based on “guesstimates”.

“Simulations without data to verify against are meaningless,” Vladimir Smakhtin, theme leader at IWMI, tells IPS from Sri Lanka.

Experts also argue that water data cannot be studied in isolation. “Data on rainfall, water resources, weather are all interlinked with hydro power development, road building and also aviation,” says Rishi Ram Sharma, director of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM).

One of the biggest challenges in Nepal, and the reason why collecting information is so difficult, is the country’s inaccessible terrain. About 86 percent of the land area is covered by hills, and steep, rugged mountains.

“Most of the high altitude data we have on water and climate change is not our own, it is based on global circulation models,” says Sanjay Dhungel at Nepal’s Water and Energy Commission Secretariat. “The more data we have the better, but in our context we don’t have much to compare with.”

Scientists believe it will take many years to establish better networks of measuring stations. Experts recommend the use of new technology such as remote sensing which can be used to measure evapo-transpiration, soil moisture and land use.

One of the most important reasons why scientists and Nepali policymakers need water and weather related statistics is to understand climate change.

“First of all we don’t have enough data, and what we do have is not analysed properly, which means a lot of climate change prediction relating to disappearing snow, glacial melt, water scarcity becomes misleading,” argues IWMI’s Bharati.

“If we find that glacial water is contributing to five percent of total water resources, then may be the effect is not as drastic as we have been made to believe,” says Bharati. “But we don’t know any of that because we don’t have reliable data.”

In one recent measure to address this problem, Nepal’s DHM introduced the climate data portal in 2012 where data relating to weather, water and geography is stored. Real-time information regarding flooding, water levels, precipitation is available through DHM’s website.

IWMI is also working on a portal to bring together data, including basic information on land use, census and migration, in order to aid researchers.

Anil Pokhrel, Kathmandu-based disaster risk management specialist with the World Bank agrees that making data public is a big and important step. This means that whoever is looking for information has access to it and can download it.

Pokhrel says data on water, climate change, weather and agriculture is so interlinked that it really needs to be open.

“We talk about ‘geo nodes’ – if DHM works on weather, water and climate change related data, the roads department can work on road data and mapping, another department can work on agriculture, but they have the ability to feed off each other,” says Pokhrel. “It is about creating synergies.”

For this he recommends that the portal be open source. “At the end of the day, there’s no other option – we have to make portals to consolidate data and make it accessible and user-friendly,” says Pokhrel.

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Kyrgyzstan’s Glacial Floods a Growing Risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/kyrgyzstans-glacial-floods-growing-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstans-glacial-floods-growing-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/kyrgyzstans-glacial-floods-growing-risk/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:23:48 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133325 It is a tough climb to the weather station: The trail leads across snow-covered boulder fields and steep, icy slopes. But for four researchers from Kyrgyzstan’s Geology and Mineral Resources Agency, the six-hour climb to the Adygene Glacier weather station, perched at 3,600 meters above sea level, is routine. From there, they can monitor 18 […]

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Researchers from Kyrgyzstan's Geology and Mineral Resources Agency hike to Adygene lake and glacier, above Bishkek, to assess its flooding potential. With glaciers retreating, many of Kyrgyzstan's 330-plus glacial lakes, 22 of which are classified as extremely hazardous, pose increased danger of flooding, but geologists only have resources to monitor the top five most dangerous. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Researchers from Kyrgyzstan's Geology and Mineral Resources Agency hike to Adygene lake and glacier, above Bishkek, to assess its flooding potential. With glaciers retreating, many of Kyrgyzstan's 330-plus glacial lakes, 22 of which are classified as extremely hazardous, pose increased danger of flooding, but geologists only have resources to monitor the top five most dangerous. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Mar 31 2014 (EurasiaNet)

It is a tough climb to the weather station: The trail leads across snow-covered boulder fields and steep, icy slopes. But for four researchers from Kyrgyzstan’s Geology and Mineral Resources Agency, the six-hour climb to the Adygene Glacier weather station, perched at 3,600 meters above sea level, is routine. From there, they can monitor 18 growing lakes at the glacier snout in the mountains above Bishkek.

The largest of these melt-water lakes is a potential hazard for the capital city, 40 kilometres down the valley, says the team’s debris expert, Vitaly Zaginaev.

“The lake is dammed by an underground ice plug that usually thaws slowly and feeds the Ala-Archa River. If the temperature rises too fast, the ice melts rapidly and can cause a sudden outburst. The flood could develop into a mudslide, endangering not only the valley but possibly also Bishkek,” Zaginaev told EurasiaNet.org.

Thanks to global warming, glaciers are retreating, new melt-water lakes are forming and the risk of so-called glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) is increasing, many scientists agree. Back in 2007, the United Nations Environment Programme classified GLOF’s as “the largest and most extensive glacial hazard […] with the highest potential for disaster and damage.”

But even before that, Central Asia was feeling their effect. In July 1998, more than 100 people died during an outburst flood in the Shahimardan Valley, which Kyrgyzstan shares with Uzbekistan. A similar flood in the Shakhdara Valley in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains in 2002 claimed 23 lives. In both cases, local communities did not receive early warnings and had no time to take emergency action.

Today, tight budgets and bureaucracy are stretching Kyrgyzstan’s ability to prevent a similar disaster, one that could possibly strike the densely populated areas around the capital.

When the ice holding back Teztor Lake in the mountains above Bishkek melted on Jul. 31, 2012, the Geology and Mineral Resources Agency predicted it with precision.

“Within just a few days, the water level rose by 16 centimetres,” said Sergey Erokhin, head of the research group. But it took the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) several days to release a warning after receiving notice from the scientists.

“We informed MChS 10 days ahead but they didn’t start putting up warning signs and evacuating people until right before the outbreak happened,” Erokhin said.

In a written response to EurasiaNet.org’s queries, MChS deputy head Davletbek Alimbekov credited the ministry’s emergency plan and warning system for averting fatalities and noted that no damage occurred. Local sources, however, reported thousands of dollars in material damage: several yurts were apparently flooded, and the mineral water pipeline to a commercial bottled-water plant was destroyed.

In contemplating hazard-reduction measures, some point to Switzerland, a country with topography similar to Kyrgyzstan’s, as a model. In a case similar to Kyrgyzstan’s Teztor, Grindelwald Lake in the state of Bern burst out in 2008. The material damage was over half a million dollars.

To avoid such a disaster in the future, government and local authorities implemented costly measures: For over 15 million dollars, they built a drainage channel and several automatic monitoring stations. Probes constantly measure the water level during summer. If numbers exceed a critical threshold, sensors trigger an alarm in the valley. In addition, a dedicated website informs residents about changes around the glacier and the lake.

“The probability of catastrophic lake outbursts is still small, but it increases with each new lake. This applies especially to high mountain regions such as Central Asia, the Himalayas, the Andes and the European Alps,” said glaciologist Wilfried Haeberli of the University of Zurich. Haeberli and his team predict melting glaciers will form up to 600 new lakes in Switzerland this century.

“We can quite accurately simulate where and when the new lakes will form. Therefore, it is possible to plan ahead and take early action,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Haeberli recommends preventative measures including artificially lowering a lake’s water level or building a reservoir dam to break the dangerous tidal wave (a rock slide can trigger a sudden “tsunami”). Early warning systems and emergency plans are important to evacuate people on time.

Of course, impoverished Kyrgyzstan does not have resources like Switzerland’s. Kyrgyz scientists say they have the means to check on only a fraction of the 330 lakes around the country that Alimbekov of MChS says are prone to outburst this year, and only a handful of the 22 that are considered extremely hazardous.

The six specialists from the Geology and Mineral Resources Agency monitor five of Kyrgyzstan’s seven provinces. In southern Batken (where the 1998 outburst that killed more than 100 happened) and Osh provinces no one is monitoring glacial lakes, they say.

In this situation, Zaginaev and his team do the best they can. Each year, they pick the five most dangerous lakes, hike to them by foot and measure parameters like temperature, precipitation and solar radiation. “At least installing some automatic measuring stations would make our work a lot easier,” said Zaginaev.

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

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Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-climate-polluters-dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133178 Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences? A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together. He […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences?

A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together."There is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations...It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity." -- Ronald Sanders

He believes the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be amenable to hearing their arguments, although the court’s requirement that all parties to a dispute agree to its jurisdiction would be a major stumbling block.

“It is most unlikely that the countries that are warming the planet, which incidentally now include India and China, not just the United States, Canada and the European Union…[that] they would agree to jurisdiction,” Sanders told IPS.

“The alternative, if countries wanted to press the issue of compensation for the destruction caused by climate change, is that they would have to go to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Sanders said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries could “as a group put forward a resolution stating the case that they do believe, and there is evidence to support it, that climate change and global warming is having a material effect… on the integrity of their countries.

“We’re seeing coastal areas vanishing and we know that if sea level rise continues large parts of existing islands will disappear and some of them may even be submerged, so the evidence is there.”

Sanders pointed to the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented” and gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of 60 million dollars.

“People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real,” Sanders said.

“They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past, from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none, from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding, and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.”

For the first time in several years, Antigua's main water source, Portworks Dam, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the first time in several years, Antigua’s main water source, Potworks Reservoir, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

At the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November, developing countries fought hard for the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. After two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations, they finally won the International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD), to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

The details of that mechanism will be hammered out at climate talks in Bonn this June, and finally in Paris the following year. As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Nauru will be present at a meeting in New Delhi next week of the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to try and build a common platform for the international talks.

“It isn’t just the Caribbean, of course,” Sanders said. “A number of other countries in the world – the Pacific countries – are facing an even more pressing danger than we are at the moment. There are countries in Africa that are facing this problem, and countries in Asia,” he told IPS.

“Now if they all join together, there is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations and maybe that is the place at which we would more effectively press it if we acted together. It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity,” he added.

Pointing to the OECD countries, Sir Ronald said they act together, consult with each other and come up with a programme which they then say is what the international standard must be and the developing countries must accept it.

“Why do the developing countries not understand that we could reverse that process? We can stand up together and say look, this is what we are demanding and the developed countries would then have to listen to what the developing countries are saying,” Sir Ronald said.

Following their recent 25th inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller praised the increased focus that CARICOM leaders have placed on the issue of climate change, especially in light of the freak storm last year that devastated St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At that meeting, heads of government agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and SIDS to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations.

In Antigua, where drought has persisted for months, water catchments are quickly drying up. The water manager at the state-owned Antigua Public utilities Authority (APUA), Ivan Rodrigues, blames climate change.

“We know that the climate is changing and what we need to do is to cater for it and deal with it,” he told IPS.

But he is not sold on the idea of international legal action against the large industrialised countries.

“I think what will cause [a reversal of their practices] is consumer activism,” he said. “The argument may not be strong enough for a court of law to actually penalise a government.”

But Sanders firmly believes an opinion from the International Court of Justice would make a huge difference.

“We could get an opinion. If the United Nations General Assembly were to accept a resolution that, say, we want an opinion from the International Court of Jurists on this matter, I think we could get an opinion that would be favourable to a case for the Caribbean and other countries that are affected by climate change,” he told IPS.

“If there was a case where countries, governments and large companies knew that if they continue these harmful practices, action would be taken against them, of course they would change their position because at the end of the day they want to be profitable and successful. They don’t want to be having to fight court cases and losing them and then having to pay compensation,” he added.

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Port Development Brings Progress to Brazil – At a Price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 09:05:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133135 “We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast. The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation […]

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View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SÃO LUIS, Brazil, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

“We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast.

The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation since 1986, has strengthened the influence of its owner, the giant mining company Vale, in São Luis. The terminal currently exports 110 million tonnes a year of iron ore, consolidating a logistical corridor of decisive importance for local economic development.

Ships too big for China



The 23-metre draught in Ponta da Madeira allows Valemax ships to dock in the harbour. They are the largest mineral cargo vessels in the world, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, and have been in operation since 2011.


China, the principal customer for Vale’s iron ore, should be the main destination of these megaships, but it banned them from its ports as too large. However, a Chinese shipyard is building 12 of these vessels for Vale. South Korea is building another seven.


Vale’s goal is to have 35 Valemax ships, 16 of which would be chartered. Their size cheapens transport costs and helps the company compete with Australia, a mining power that is closer to the large Asian market. Moreover, the giant ships reduce greenhouse gas emission per tonne of mineral transported by 35 percent, Vale said.

To get its ore to China, Vale, the world’s second largest mining transnational,
uses transfer stations in the Philippines, and will shortly open a distribution centre in Malaysia to transfer goods to smaller ships. Two Brazilan ports and six abroad currently accept Valemax vessels.

Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajás, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made Vale the world leader in iron ore production. The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.

Beside it, a Vale plant converts iron ore to spherical pellets.

These activities create thousands of jobs, especially in Vale’s area of direct influence, Itaqui-Bacanga, an area of 58 poor districts in the southwest of São Luis.

Young people aspire to work there because the pay is good, and Vale’s human resources policies, inherited from its long life as a state company (1942-1997), guarantee job stability. An employee “is only fired if he or she really messes around a lot,” an executive told IPS.

Vale also offers a lot of temporary work for the expansion of the port, and its railroad track, so far one-way, is in the process of being made two-way, with the aim of doubling mining exports from 2018.

Because of these and other local projects, the economy of the surrounding neighbourhoods is booming, said George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB). Three plants are planned, for pulp and paper, cement and fertilisers, as well as a coal-fired thermoelectric station, among others.

Some 55 kilometres further south, in the municipality of Bacabeira, the state oil company Petrobras will build the Premium I refinery, which will be the largest in Brazil when it opens in 2018. The project will be put out to tender in April, and at its peak will employ 25,000 workers, the company says.

The employment boom boosts consumption, trade and services, “but this is not the development we want. We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” Pereira said.

Sanitation, drinking water, transport, teachers and doctors are scarce, while there is an excess of violence, drugs and prostitution in the poor districts, where the population is soaring, he said. Close to 200,000 people already live there, and two more housing estates are under construction, he said.

In this context, Vale “does good works, but in isolation, without transformative programmes to develop the entire area,” Pereira criticised. The priorities are education and sanitation, he said.

Ironically, the association that criticises and puts pressure on Vale is its own creature. It arose from the company’s social investment, required by the state National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) as a condition for financing the iron ore pellet plant.

ACIB is governed by representatives of the five divisions that make up Itaqui-Bacanga and was created 10 years ago to mobilise the local population for an urban clean-up project. Its overheads and its headquarters, a two-story building, are funded by Vale, Pereira said.

Among the company’s numerous social action projects, some are outstanding for their effectiveness, such as extensions to the Itaqui-Bacanga Centre for Professional Education, an educational centre belonging to the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service (SENAI).

This year the centre is providing technical education for 10,000 students, twice the enrolment it had in 2013 and five times that of 2010, thanks to 14 new classrooms and five new laboratories.

Three other centres along the corridor between Carajás and São Luis are supported by similar partnerships between Vale and SENAI, Janaina Pinheiro, Vale’s human resources manager, told IPS.

In 2013, SENAI trained 65,000 students in Maranhão, compared to 10,000 a decade ago, state director Marco Moura told IPS.

Industrialisation in São Luis is concentrated around the ports on São Marcos bay. Near Ponta da Madeira is the state port of Itaqui, which has handled cargo of all kinds since the 1970s, and this year will see the addition of a grain terminal to export soya and maize from the new agricultural frontiers in the centre and north of the country.

Some of Brazil’s new ports were created with the goal of becoming industrial hubs, including Suape and Pecém, in the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Ceará. They were planned as industrial-port complexes and have been boosting the local economies for the past decade.

Both these ports have Petrobras refineries, and Suape has a petrochemical plant and eight shipyards, while Pecém has a steelworks and electricity generating plants. Many companies are locating in the enormous industrial zones on the landward side of the two ports.

The São Luis ports were unconnected to that wave of industrialisation because they belong to the poorest Brazilian region, which is backward and neglected compared to other hubs in the northeast.

The bay’s deep water, suitable for large-draught vessels, its location facing the North Atlantic, and the Carajás railway link, were advantages for the Ponta da Madeira terminal.

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But there have been victims, the 73-year-old Santico reminded IPS, for instance “between 80 and 100” artisanal fisherfolk from Boqueirão, who were evicted from their fishing village on the beach and resettled in different districts.

A few years later, many of them have returned to fish in the São Marcos bay, in spite of this being banned, and they have settled on a small stretch of beach not occupied by the port, he said.

“We had no other trade, and we were hungry,” he said. They eventually built eight rough cabins from poles and palm leaves, some for living in and others just for fishing equipment.

Santico has a house in a nearby district and a cabin on the beach for the gear he uses for his sporadic night-time fishing expeditions. “There are hardly any fish left, and only a few prawns,” after new underwater concrete breakers were built to control tidal currents, he said.

As a result, fisherfolk negotiated with Vale and three years ago the company donated food baskets for 52 fisherfolk, worth between 308 and 725 dollars. “That’s how we survive,” Santico said.

Thousands of other families were evicted to make way for docks and port installations. Itaqui was, in fact, the name of a district that disappeared.

More city districts are now threatened by the industrial zone under construction next to the highway. Vila Maranhão fears extinction, squeezed between the railway and the new industrial hub, and only a few kilometres from a coal-fired thermoelectric plant, a large aluminium industry and stockpiled minerals.

“There is no official word yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we are evicted from here,” predicted Lamartine de Moura, a 71-year-old ACIB director who has lived in Vila Maranhão for 23 years. “If we’re not forced out by expropriation, we will be by the pollution,” she told IPS.

A university study found heavy metals in the local stream, and mineral dust in the air stains the houses and spreads respiratory diseases, she said.

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Egypt Gets Muscular Over Nile Dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 07:55:50 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133136 When Egypt’s then-president Mohamed Morsi said in June 2013 that “all options” including military intervention, were on the table if Ethiopia continued to develop dams on the Nile River, many dismissed it as posturing. But experts claim Cairo is deadly serious about defending its historic water allotment, and if Ethiopia proceeds with construction of what […]

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Houseboats line the Nile bank in Cairo. Some 85 million Egyptians depend on the Nile for water. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

Houseboats line the Nile bank in Cairo. Some 85 million Egyptians depend on the Nile for water. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

When Egypt’s then-president Mohamed Morsi said in June 2013 that “all options” including military intervention, were on the table if Ethiopia continued to develop dams on the Nile River, many dismissed it as posturing. But experts claim Cairo is deadly serious about defending its historic water allotment, and if Ethiopia proceeds with construction of what is set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, a military strike is not out of the question.

Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have soured since Ethiopia began construction on the 4.2 billion dollar Grand Renaissance Dam in 2011.

Egypt fears the new dam, slated to begin operation in 2017, will reduce the downstream flow of the Nile, which 85 million Egyptians rely on for almost all of their water needs. Officials in the Ministry of Irrigation claim Egypt will lose 20 to 30 percent of its share of Nile water and nearly a third of the electricity generated by its Aswan High Dam."Hydroelectric dams don’t work unless you let the water through.” -- Richard Tutwiler, a specialist in water resource management at the American University in Cairo

Ethiopia insists the Grand Renaissance Dam and its 74 billion cubic metre reservoir at the headwaters of the Blue Nile will have no adverse effect on Egypt’s water share. It hopes the 6,000 megawatt hydroelectric project will lead to energy self-sufficiency and catapult the country out of grinding poverty.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim tells IPS. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

The dispute has heated up since Ethiopia began diverting a stretch of the Nile last May, with some Egyptian parliamentarians calling for sending commandos or arming local insurgents to sabotage the dam project unless Ethiopia halts construction.

Ethiopia’s state-run television responded last month with a report on a visit to the site by army commanders, who voiced their readiness to “pay the price” to defend the partially-built hydro project.

Citing a pair of colonial-era treaties, Egypt argues that it is entitled to no less than two-thirds of the Nile’s water and has veto power over any upstream water projects such as dams or irrigation networks.

Accords drawn up by the British in 1929 and amended in 1959 divvied up the Nile’s waters between Egypt and Sudan without ever consulting the upstream states that were the source of those waters.

The 1959 agreement awarded Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile’s 84 billion cubic metre average annual flow, while Sudan received 18.5 billion cubic metres. Another 10 billion cubic metres is lost to evaporation in Lake Nasser, which was created by Egypt’s Aswan High Dam in the 1970s, leaving barely a drop for the nine other states that share the Nile’s waters.

While the treaty’s water allocations appear gravely unfair to upstream Nile states, analysts point out that unlike the mountainous equatorial nations, which have alternative sources of water, the desert countries of Egypt and Sudan rely almost entirely on the Nile for their water needs.

“One reason for the high level of anxiety is that nobody really knows how this dam is going to affect Egypt’s water share,” Richard Tutwiler, a specialist in water resource management at the American University in Cairo (AUC), tells IPS. “Egypt is totally dependent on the Nile. Without it, there is no Egypt.”

Egypt’s concerns appear warranted as its per capita water share is just 660 cubic metres, among the world’s lowest. The country’s population is forecast to double in the next 50 years, putting even further strain on scarce water resources.

But upstream African nations have their own growing populations to feed, and the thought of tapping the Nile for their agriculture or drinking water needs is all too tempting.

The desire for a more equitable distribution of Nile water rights resulted in the 2010 Entebbe Agreement, which replaces water quotas with a clause that permits all activities provided they do not “significantly” impact the water security of other Nile Basin states. Five upstream countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda – signed the accord. Burundi signed a year later.

Egypt rejected the new treaty outright. But after decades of wielding its political clout to quash the water projects of its impoverished upstream neighbours, Cairo now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of watching its mastery over the Nile’s waters slip through its fingers.

“Ethiopia’s move was unprecedented. Never before has an upstream state unilaterally built a dam without downstream approval,” Ayman Shabaana of the Cairo-based Institute for Africa Studies had told IPS last June. “If other upstream countries follow suit, Egypt will have a serious water emergency on its hands.”

Ethiopia has sought to assure its downstream neighbours that the Grand Renaissance Dam is a hydroelectric project, not an irrigation scheme. But the dam is part of a broader scheme that would see at least three more dams on the Nile.

Cairo has dubbed the proposal “provocative”.

Egypt has appealed to international bodies to force Ethiopia to halt construction of the dam until its downstream impact can be determined. And while officials here hope for a diplomatic solution to diffuse the crisis, security sources say Egypt’s military leadership is prepared to use force to protect its stake in the river.

Former president Hosni Mubarak floated plans for an air strike on any dam that Ethiopia built on the Nile, and in 2010 established an airbase in southeastern Sudan as a staging point for just such an operation, according to leaked emails from the global intelligence company Stratfor posted on Wikileaks.

Egypt’s position was weakened in 2012 when Sudan, its traditional ally on Nile water issues, rescinded its opposition to the Grand Renaissance Dam and instead threw its weight behind the project. Analysts attribute Khartoum’s change of heart to the country’s revised domestic priorities following the secession of South Sudan a year earlier.

According to AUC’s Tutwiler, once Sudan felt assured that the dam would have minimal impact on its water allotment, the mega-project’s other benefits became clear. The dam is expected to improve flood control, expand downstream irrigation capacity and, crucially, allow Ethiopia to export surplus electricity to power-hungry Sudan via a cross-border link.

Some studies indicate that properly managed hydroelectric dams in Ethiopia could mitigate damaging floods and increase Egypt’s overall water share. Storing water in the cooler climes of Ethiopia would ensure far less water is lost to evaporation than in the desert behind the Aswan High Dam.

Egypt, however, is particularly concerned about the loss of water share during the five to ten years it will take to fill the dam’s reservoir. Tutwiler says it is unlikely that Ethiopia will severely choke or stop the flow of water.

“Ethiopia needs the electricity…and hydroelectric dams don’t work unless you let the water through.”

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World Bank Clears Congo’s Controversial Dam Project http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 00:04:19 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133133 The World Bank Thursday approved a 73.1-million-dollar grant in support of a controversial giant dam project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With another 33.4 million dollars approved by the African Development Bank late last year, the grant, which is being provided by the Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), will […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank Thursday approved a 73.1-million-dollar grant in support of a controversial giant dam project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With another 33.4 million dollars approved by the African Development Bank late last year, the grant, which is being provided by the Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), will be used to help establish the legal framework and state authority that will oversee the dam’s construction and operations.“If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.” -- Atif Ansar

It will also finance a number of environmental and social assessments to shape the development of the multi-billion dollar Inga 3 Basse Chute (BC) dam project.

“By being involved in the development of Inga 3 BC from an early stage we can help ensure that its development is done right so it can be a game changer by providing electricity to millions of people and powering commerce and industry,” said Makhtar Diop, the Bank’s vice president for Africa.

“Supporting transformative projects that expand people’s access to electricity is central to achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of helping to end extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity,” he added.

But the Bank’s support for the project drew criticism from some environmental and civil-society groups that have long opposed a project that is expected to cost at least 14 billion dollars.

“By approving Inga 3, the World Bank shows it has not learnt lessons from the bad experience of previous dams on the Congo River despite its claims to the contrary,” according to Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director of the California-based International Rivers (IR).

“The Bank is turning a blind eye to the DRC’s poor governance and is taking short-cuts to the environmental assessment of the project,” he added.

That view was echoed by Maurice Carney, executive director of the Friends of the Congo, a Washington-based organisation with ties to community and environmental groups in the DRC.

“We see this decision as consistent with past World Bank projects that wind up as white elephants,” he told IPS. “There are a number of other alternatives for developing the DRC’s enormous energy capacity, including solar, wind, smaller-scale hydro and biofuel.

“The project is being presented as if it will help the population, but more often than not, these big dam projects end up serving industry at the expense of local communities many of which will be displaced once Inga 3 is fully developed.”

As currently envisioned, the Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. This would include a single 145-metre dam, which would flood an area known as the BundiValley, home to around 30,000 people.

The full project could provide up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, a power potential that has been eyed hungrily by the rest of the continent for decades.  The DRC’s total hydropower potential is estimated to be the third largest in the world after China and Russia.

While DRC’s chaotic governance, however, has stymied forward progress on the project for years, the Grand Inga vision received an important boost last year when the South African government agreed to purchase a substantial amount of power produced by Inga III.

The dam is now supposed to be built by 2020 and, according to Congolese government estimates from November, would produce around 4,800 MW of electricity. Of this, 2,500 MW would go to South Africa while another 1,300 MW would be earmarked for use by mines and related industry in the province of Katanga.

Construction is scheduled to begin by 2016. The Bank will rely heavily on its private-arm facility, the International Finance Corporation, to help DRC’s government establish an autonomous Inga Development Authority which will, among other things, be charged with deciding on construction bids and negotiating purchasing deals for the electricity generated by the dam.

According to Peter Bosshard, IR’s director, the selection of the contractor to build the dam could prove problematic.

He told IPS three consortia are currently in the running: SinoHydro and China Three Gorges Corporation from China, a Canadian-Korean consortium, and a third made up primarily of Spanish companies.

But one of the Canadian companies involved has been barred from receiving any support from by the Bank for past corruption, while SinoHydro has been suspended pending the outcome of a corruption investigation by the Bank, according to Bosshart.

“This means that, unless the DRC government picks the Spanish consortium, it won’t be able to get any World Bank Group loans for the actual construction,” he noted.

That could be a problem. According to Bernard Sheahan, the IFC’s director of infrastructure and natural resources, “the level of investment for Inga 3 BC is so high that neither the public sector nor the private sector alone could finance the full cost of development of the project.”

Huge hydro-electric dams have long been a controversial issue at the Bank which, for most of its history, was an enthusiastic supporter.

Protests by local communities and international human rights and environmental groups that documented the massive displacements and environmental damage these mega-dams often caused – not to mention their failure to deliver electricity to those most in need – resulted in a halt in approving new projects in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, while the 50-year-old Inga 1 and 2 dams were supposed to provide power to much of the country, only ten percent of DRC households have electricity.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed a landmark new law requiring the U.S. Treasury, which represents Washington on the Bank’s board, to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydro-electric projects in developing countries.

The U.S. representative abstained on the vote Thursday, according to knowledgeable sources.

Earlier this month, four researchers at Oxford Unversity Said Business School released a major study based on data from 245 large dams built since 1934 in 65 different countries.

It found that they suffered average cost overruns of more than 90 percent and delays of nearly 50 percent inflicting huge additional costs in inflation and debt service for the mostly public entities that built them.

“Proponents of mega-dams tend to focus on rare stories of success in order to get their pet projects approved,” said Atif Ansar, one of the Oxford researchers. “If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.”

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Fight Brews over Wild vs. Hatchery Salmon in U.S. Northwest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:23:20 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133047 Built in 1909, Bonneville Fish Hatchery is one of the oldest and largest in the Columbia River Basin, located in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The hatchery annually produces over 11 million young fall Chinook salmon, three million coho eggs and 500,000 young steelhead for a number of rivers in the basin as part of an […]

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Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders allow Chinook salmon to migrate freely. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders allow Chinook salmon to migrate freely. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
PORTLAND, Oregon, Mar 18 2014 (IPS)

Built in 1909, Bonneville Fish Hatchery is one of the oldest and largest in the Columbia River Basin, located in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The hatchery annually produces over 11 million young fall Chinook salmon, three million coho eggs and 500,000 young steelhead for a number of rivers in the basin as part of an agreement under the 1938 Mitchell Act.“It’s amazing. We have a healthy population of wild and ‘natural origin’ fish." -- Paul Hoffarth

This was designed to mitigate the loss of habitat from the numerous hydropower projects built along the Columbia Basin in the 1930s to provide cheap power and aid in river navigation.

Development came at a severe cost to the previously prolific wild salmon and steelhead runs, estimated at 16 million, that sustained regional Native American tribes as the fish returned from the ocean.

After over a century of steadily declining migrations, resulting in 13 threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead species with returns averaging 600,000, things might be looking up. An estimated 1.2 million of the Chinook salmon species alone crossed the Bonneville Dam fish ladders during the fall 2013 migration.

Caroline Looney-Hunt of the Yakama Nation tells IPS she has been a tribal fisherwoman for over 40 years, since age 12.

“I was the only girl fishing with my three younger brothers and my cousin and stepdad, who was also my uncle,” she said.  According to tradition, when a brother dies, the surviving brother will raise his children.

When her father died at age 35, her mother and 10 siblings faced a crisis but survived through fishing the Columbia. A tribal treaty with the U.S. government allows the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes special fishing rights on the Columbia.

The tribes have been an important part of the recent restoration of salmon migrations, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission (CRITFC). All four tribes in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon have implemented, with the help of hired biologists, successful hatchery programmes that have restored low and previously extinct salmon and steelhead runs.

Stuart Ellis, a biologist at CRITFC, tells IPS there are three types of hatcheries under the Mitchell Act.

Production hatcheries tend to be the largest, like Bonneville, and are designed to mitigate the loss of salmon for commercial and sports fisheries and tribes, while restoration ones aim to repopulate extinct and threatened runs with wild salmon.

The third method combines restoration with production, which is what the tribes prefer.

Yet some critics believe that hatcheries represent yet another threat to wild salmon. Lawsuits have been filed over hatcheries on Washington’s Elwha River, where dams were recently decommissioned, and hatcheries on Oregon’s McKenzie River and Sandy River in the Columbia Basin.

The lawsuits cite the Endangered Species Act to access the courts to change how hatcheries are utilised.

In 2007, the century-old 22-megawatt Bull Run Hydropower project was decommissioned to support restoration of the Sandy River, but the Native Fish Society says Sandy River hatchery salmon supplied by the Bonneville site out-compete wild fish.

Bill Bakke, director of science and conservation for the Native Fish Society, tells IPS the NOAA government fisheries “don’t have a conservation mission. They are producing a huge amount of fish.”

According to the Mar. 14 ruling, the lawsuit has resulted in reducing Sandy hatchery releases from one million down to almost 500,000 fish, short of the target but a partial victory.

Mike Matylewich, fisheries manager for CRITFC, tells IPS “that project is a fisheries mitigation project which has the concrete to concrete hatchery structure.”

“The Native Fish Society would like to see the fish spawning in the river… [and their] remedy would be to shut down the programme,” he said. “The tribes would also like to see fish spawning in the river. [They] have advocated for integrated hatchery programmes that utilise wild fish in the brood stock so that the characteristics of the hatchery fish are as similar to the wild fish as possible.”

“The Nez Perce tribe has had a lot of success with their Snake River [Columbia tributary] fall Chinook program,” Sara Thompson, Public Information Officer for CRITC tells IPS. “That is a supplementation programme designed to put spawning fish on the spawning grounds. They had 56,000 adult fall Chinook go over the granite dam.”

While expensive, these programmes have a proven success rate of restoration.

“[These are] emergency cases and necessary,” explains Bakke, of restoration hatcheries for extinct salmon runs. “You will suffer a lower reproduction success but you don’t have a choice.” He contrasts this with larger hatcheries from state run projects. “What are their financial returns?”

For instance, state-run Entiat Hatchery in Washington had famously low returns for spring Chinook, with a harvest cost per fish at 68,000 dollars, according to a 2002 IEAB audit.

In 1990, only one spring Chinook was harvested, bringing costs for that fish to 800,000 dollars – the yearly cost of the programme. It was eventually phased out due to low returns and perceived risks to wild populations.

Ellis and Matylewich say things have improved since that report. Hanford Reach, former nuclear facility turned wildlife reserve, has become the largest spawning ground for wild fall Chinook in the entire basin and some hatchery-reared fish successfully spawn there as well.

Located east of Bonneville, the reserve has the longest stretch of undammed habitat along the Columbia.

Paul Hoffarth of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the area, tells IPS “It’s amazing. We have a healthy population of wild and ‘natural origin’ fish. We tend to refer to fish now as ‘natural origin’ as this may be more accurate.

“A natural origin fish spawns in the wild and has strong physical characteristics, referred to as ‘fitness.’ Our fall Chinook are 80-90 percentage natural origin.”

He concedes a minority of naturally spawning fish were initially raised at nearby restoration hatcheries which don’t mark the fins, meaning commercial fishers will release them as if they were wild.

Starting in mid-March, juveniles have been emerging from the spawning gravel. They will stay at the site for 90 days until their ocean migration in the summer.

Back on the Yakama Reservation, Looney-Hunt says fishing is her only livelihood. Though she has experienced a lot of hardship, she says, “The last three years have been pretty good.” She processed 40 crates of fish one day.

Ellis and Matylewich are also keen to point out that hatcheries also provide much needed work to the region.

In her 54 years on the Yakama Reservation, the tribal fisherwoman has faced early deaths in her family due to accidents and alcoholism and is justifiably proud of her 15 years of sobriety.

“If I’m going to die, it’s probably going to be in the Columbia. We say ‘if you take from the river, it will take from you.’ The community has lost several fishermen to the Columbia but it has also been their lifeline. The next fishing season, which starts in May for the tribes, is predicted to be even better.”

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Small Argentine Town Becoming Waste Dumping Ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sweeping-dirt-carpet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sweeping-dirt-carpet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sweeping-dirt-carpet/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 19:51:34 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132878 While the magnificent samba schools of Brazil were getting ready for the grand carnival in Rio de Janeiro, a modest carnival troupe toured a small Argentine town to draw attention to an urban problem that has brought the central province of Córdoba to the brink of environmental disaster: garbage. Some 2,300 kilometres away from Rio […]

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Gaucho dancers at the Pollution Festival in Bouwer, Argentina. Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

Gaucho dancers at the Pollution Festival in Bouwer, Argentina. Courtesy of Bouwer Sin Basura

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BOUWER, Argentina, Mar 14 2014 (IPS)

While the magnificent samba schools of Brazil were getting ready for the grand carnival in Rio de Janeiro, a modest carnival troupe toured a small Argentine town to draw attention to an urban problem that has brought the central province of Córdoba to the brink of environmental disaster: garbage.

Some 2,300 kilometres away from Rio de Janeiro, a murga (band of street musicians) named Colour and Joy gathered at the foot of a replica of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue in the Cordoban town of Bouwer.

But this town of 2,000 people bears a different cross.“It is no coincidence that waste is dumped in the poorest towns around Córdoba.” -- Cintia Frencia, a provincial lawmaker for the leftwing Workers Party

After a long struggle to close an open sky rubbish dump with an accumulated 12 million tonnes of garbage that finally succeeded in 2010, Bouwer is once again facing the prospect of another waste tip being opened, which would exacerbate chronic pollution in the area.

Twenty-four million tonnes of rubbish generated by the provincial capital and other municipalities over the next 30 years may be deposited on 270 hectares of land only 600 metres away from the old dump.

“Carnival should be for the people, and today we are here to raise awareness about what is happening with the garbage,” Sergio Moggi, the head of the murga, which is made up of children and teenagers, told IPS.

The Colour and Joy murga was one of the attractions at the Festival de la Contaminación (Pollution Festival) organised by residents to call attention to their plight.

One of the criteria for choosing the location for the new dump was the land value, and this counted against Bouwer because of its poverty.

The town is also burdened with the nearby remains of a lead smelter, a storage facility for toxic waste and a vehicle pound, and there is constant spraying of pesticides on the surrounding plantations.

The Environment Defence Foundation (FUNAM) regards Bouwer as “one of the most polluted zones of Argentina.” The large number of sources of pollution and the alarming perinatal and child mortality rates led this municipality to declare a “public health emergency.”

“In the summertime, every town in Córdoba holds a festival to celebrate something typical that represents it: salami, potatoes, and so on. Our characteristic feature, unfortunately, is garbage,” teacher Daniela Arce, of Bouwer Sin Basura (Garbage-Free Bouwer), a local residents’ association, told IPS.

Musicians of the Colour and Joy group tuning drum heads next to a replica of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Musicians of the Colour and Joy group tuning drum heads next to a replica of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But Bouwer’s problems are shared by this province, which has extensive fertile plains in the east and the Sierras de Córdoba mountain chains in the west.

The capital city, Córdoba, and 16 smaller surrounding municipalities generate some 2,200 tonnes of solid waste a day, according to the inter-municipal corporation for sustainable waste management in the Córdoba metropolitan area (CORMECOR), a public limited company that is studying technical alternatives for the handling and ultimate disposal of waste from the greater Córdoba area.

“The problem calls for waste treatment technology and a space for its disposal, and so far has not been handled in an integrated way,” says CORMECOR’s website.

The main shareholders of CORMECOR are the city of Córdoba, nine other municipalities and the garbage collectors’ union.

The normal practice was to bury garbage or dump it in open sky pits until 1981, when it began to be sent to the Bouwer tip.

Since that closed in 2010 – and it still contains 30 years’ worth of rubbish – waste has been taken to a temporary dump in Piedras Blancas, hastily made ready in less than two months and located beside national route 36, only five kilometres away from Bouwer.

Piedras Blancas has received 2,500 tonnes a day since 2010, when its estimated useful life was declared to be one year. According to the authorities it is now on the verge of collapse.

“The garbage is deposited and crushed daily, and earth is spread on top of it at the end of each day. The gases are vented, without being captured or treated; the liquid leached from decomposition of organic material is not treated either,” Nayla Azzinnari, FUNAM’s press officer, told IPS.

Now the provincial government is preparing to expropriate two pieces of land for the new project: one near the unfortunate Bouwer and another, for a transfer station, near the town of Estación Juárez Celman in the centre-north of the province.

CORMECOR is analysing proposals for waste treatment from 27 companies (from Argentina, the Netherlands, the United States and Brazil) and universities, while the people who have had the problem dumped on them have some answers of their own.

“Every town should look after its own rubbish. The Córdoba municipality should look after its waste, and so should the other municipalities,” the mayor of Bouwer, Juan Lupi, told IPS.

Bouwer produces less than half a truckload of waste a week, while the capital contributes 95 percent of the total.

In the view of biologist Ricardo Suárez, a technical adviser for local people in Bouwer, garbage should be tracked back to its origins. “Our problem is out of all proportion,” he complained.

The executive, legislative and judicial branches should take action to moderate consumption and persuade companies to sell their products with less throw-away packaging, he suggested.

The justice system should punish environmental crimes, such as failure to process waste, and municipalities should invest heavily in separation and recycling programmes and educate citizens in these new habits.

“We could achieve really low, tolerable limits [of pollution]. What we cannot accept is 12 million tonnes of garbage buried in one place, as we have now,” Suárez said.

To accomplish this, waste management must be “decentralised,” so that there are no more “sacrificed zones” like Bouwer, he told IPS.

“The first thing to do is to sit down and study the problem, and not to underestimate waste,” said chemical engineer Eduardo Riaño, who has analysed the effects of the gas and liquid emissions in Bouwer, which persist decades after the dumps were closed.

“Volatile organic compounds are very dangerous” and can cause cancer, he told IPS.

On the other hand, these deposits of organic material can be used to generate energy.

The amount of biogas emitted by the Bouwer garbage dump “until it was closed in 2010 was equivalent to one and a half years of domestic gas use, and two and a half years of compressed natural gas” for the local population , he said.

In the view of Cintia Frencia, a provincial lawmaker for the leftwing Workers Party, there are vested economic interests standing in the way of waste treatment and recycling.

“It is no coincidence that waste is dumped in the poorest towns around Córdoba,” she told IPS.

“Now there is talk of a new garbage burial site with a 30-year lifetime, which means that for the next three decades there are no plans to develop any technology for reducing and treating rubbish, in other words it’s just a business,” she said.

CORMECOR wants to raise capital by being listed on the national stock market.

Garbage is big business all over the world. In countries like Italy, it is profitable not only to companies but to the mafias that control them.

IPS obtained no replies to its requests for information from CORMECOR and the environmental secretariats of the provincial and city government.

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

 

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Kerala Throttling its Golden Goose http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/kerala-throttling-golden-goose/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kerala-throttling-golden-goose http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/kerala-throttling-golden-goose/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 12:49:50 +0000 Keya Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132445 Farming, tourism, poor fishing practices along with misdirected policies are muddying the famous backwaters of Kerala, one of India’s best known holiday destinations. Nowhere is this misuse more visible than in and around the 95-km-long Vembanad Lake. Bearing the brunt are small fishing communities which are caught between dwindling fish catch, worsening water quality and […]

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Vembanad lake in Kerala is the lifeline for over a million people. Credit: Samson Alapuzha/IPS.

Vembanad lake in Kerala is the lifeline for over a million people. Credit: Samson Alapuzha/IPS.

By Keya Acharya
ALAPPUZHA, (India), Mar 6 2014 (IPS)

Farming, tourism, poor fishing practices along with misdirected policies are muddying the famous backwaters of Kerala, one of India’s best known holiday destinations. Nowhere is this misuse more visible than in and around the 95-km-long Vembanad Lake.

Bearing the brunt are small fishing communities which are caught between dwindling fish catch, worsening water quality and the usurpation of banks – traditionally used as fish-landing points – by tourism operators.The lack of a mix of saline and freshwater, vital to fish breeding, has affected fish species.

“Until about eight to 10 years ago, I would collect this amount in just two-three hours,” says fisherman Ashokan, pointing to a mound of black clams in his canoe-like boat. “Now I work the whole day to procure it,” he tells IPS.

Kerala’s backwaters, a tourist hotspot, are made up of a 1,500-km waterway network of canals, lagoons, lakes and rivers that run parallel to the Arabian Sea and are fed by both saline and fresh water, contributing to a unique ecosystem. Many areas in these wetlands are below sea level, allowing sea water to flow inwards.

Major towns and cities dot the backwaters, such as the historic port city of Alleppey, now called Alappuzha, where the Maharaja of Travancore oversaw the building of canal waterways in the 18th century.

At the heart of this entire ecosystem is the Vembanad wetland area, spread over 36,500 hectares and fed by six large rivers and seawater. It is a lifeline for over 1.6 million people living on the lake’s banks.

More than 150 species of fish are found in Vembanad Lake. The Horadandia atukorali fish is found only around Pathrimanal island in the lake. The ecological significance of Vembanad’s rich biodiversity has made it the country’s largest Ramsar site, meant to accord protection for conservation.

But being a Ramsar site has not brought any protection for Vembanad Lake so far.

The waters of the lake are now divided by the Thanneermukkom barrage, built in 1975 to shut out saltwater ingress into fields in a bid to promote double cropping of paddy in areas surrounding the lake.

The lake’s sea water ingress traditionally helped flush out waste while containing flood waters. The lack of a mix of saline and freshwater, vital to fish breeding, has affected fish species.

“Prawns spawn at the mouth of the estuary and baby shrimps are carried inwards into the lake with tidal sea waters, but they are now trapped, unable to flow inwards because of the barrage,” T.D. Jojo from the Ashoka Trust for Ecology and Environment (ATREE) tells IPS.

Chemicals from reclaimed farmlands, illegally discharged effluents from tourism houseboats and lakeside industries such as coconut husk retting have contributed to significant pollution in the lake.

The Thanneermukkom barrage, built on the narrowest part of the lake’s width, closes its gates each year from Dec. 15 to Mar. 31, and this has proved to be long enough to hamper fish breeding and also cause decomposition of nutrients in the lake.

As fishing stocks have decreased, fishermen have begun using methods that harm fishlings. Over-fishing is now a problem in Vembanad.

ATREE scientists have been working the last six years to conserve the ecology of the lake. “We now have 13 lake protection groups, trained to check water quality in the lake,” says Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharmarajan, team leader of the ATREE Vembanad conservation project.

Fishers, whose complaints on the lake’s deteriorating health were not taken seriously for years, now feel vindicated by data that shows low salinity and high acidity corresponding exactly to the shutting of the barrage gates.

“We want both saline and freshwater for farming and fishing, so we have asked for the barrage to be opened a little earlier,” says Murlidharan, member of a joint farmer-fishing forum and a fisherman for 30 years.

But the forum has small farmers whose voices are not heard by rich farming interests.

“Our primary concern is paddy. It is not possible to open the Thanneermukkom barrage a little earlier,” district collector N. Padmakumar, Alappuzha’s top administrative official, tells IPS. “The ratio of farmers to fishermen is 10 to one. Whose interest should I protect?”

He is also short of answers on the ecological degradation of Vembanad. “It (degradation) has happened historically. I don’t have a magic wand to make things right. There should be political will on the part of the government to do something.”

The resorts on the lake’s banks blame the houseboats for the pollution, but the houseboat owners deny this. “Houseboats don’t pose a problem for the lake,” says operator Dilip Kumar.

He also tries to sweep aside allegations of declining fish catch. “You can get prawns as big as this (pointing from his fingers down to his elbow) for 80 rupees (1.15 dollars) a kilogram,” he says.

 

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Chevron Wins Latest Round in Ecuador Pollution Case http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case/#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 00:46:32 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132455 In the latest twist in a 21-year-old environmental pollution case, a U.S. federal judge Tuesday ruled that the victims of massive oil spillage and their U.S. attorney could not collect on a nine-billion-dollar judgement by Ecuador’s supreme court against the Chevron Corporation. In a racketeering case brought by the U.S. oil giant, the judge found […]

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Outside the New York federal courthouse on Oct 15, 2013, Ecuadorians and their supporters gather to protest the Chevron lawsuit. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

Outside the New York federal courthouse on Oct 15, 2013, Ecuadorians and their supporters gather to protest the Chevron lawsuit. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 5 2014 (IPS)

In the latest twist in a 21-year-old environmental pollution case, a U.S. federal judge Tuesday ruled that the victims of massive oil spillage and their U.S. attorney could not collect on a nine-billion-dollar judgement by Ecuador’s supreme court against the Chevron Corporation.

In a racketeering case brought by the U.S. oil giant, the judge found that the lawyer, Steven Donziger, and his associates had used bribery and falsified evidence to prevail against Chevron in Ecuador’s courts and thus should not be permitted to collect damages.“Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers... is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.” -- Marco Simons

“It is distressing that the course of justice was perverted,” the District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in a nearly 500-page ruling.

“There is no ‘Robin Hood’ defense to illegal and wrongful conduct,” he went on. “And the defendants’ ‘this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador’ excuses – actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador – do not help them.”

Chevron applauded the judgement “as a resounding victory,” while Donziger and his attorneys said they would take the ruling to the same appeals court that overturned a similar judgement in the case rendered by Kaplan in 2011. At that time, Chevron appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Kaplan’s original ruling, but the Court rejected the appeal without comment.

Donziger himself called Kaplan’s latest judgement, which followed a six-week trial conducted late last year, “an appalling decision resulting from a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court. …We are confident we will be fully vindicated in the U.S., as we have been in Ecuador.”

The case was first filed in the U.S. federal court in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 mostly indigenous residents of the Lago Agrio region of the Ecuadorean Amazon where Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, had operated continuously from the 1960s until 1992. For much of that period, it worked in partnership with Petroecuador, which took over all of Texaco’s operations in the region when the U.S. oil giant left.

The plaintiffs claim that Texaco dumped more than 70 billion litres of toxic liquids, left some 910 waste pits filled with toxic sludge, and flared millions of cubic metres of toxic gases – poisoning the environment in one of the most biologically diverse areas in South America and creating serious health problems, including an unusually high incidence of cancer, for people living in the region.

Apparently concerned that U.S. courts would be more sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ case, Texaco persuaded Judge Jed Rakoff to have the case transferred to Ecuador in 2002 — when it was ruled by a conservative government eager for foreign investment — on condition that the company waive certain defences, such as the expiration of the statute of limitations, and ensure that any judgement would be enforceable in the U.S. The Ecuadorean case was filed the following year.

Chevron has long argued that the damages cited by the plaintiffs are exaggerated and that, in any case, Texaco extinguished its obligations when it carried out a 40-million- dollar environmental remediation project as part of a 1995 agreement with the Ecuadorean government that covered 37.5 percent of the well sites and waste pits in the concession area.

The remaining sites were to be cleaned up by Petroecuador, according to Chevron.

But the plaintiffs, who are backed by a number of local and international green groups, have argued that Chevron, having drilled all of the original sites, also remains responsible for Petroecuador’s portion, as well as for the continuing health and other impacts of its operations that are not covered by the 1995 agreement.

The trial court in Ecuador ruled against Chevron and granted the plaintiffs, who were represented by Donziger and his associates, an 18 billion dollar judgement. The country’s Supreme Court subsequent upheld the judgement but reduced the damages to 9.5 billion dollars.

Chevron, however, has sought to prevent the plaintiffs from collecting any of the money, by, among other steps, withdrawing all of its assets from Ecuador and initiating a racketeering suit against Donziger and his team based on its charges that they used bribery and other corrupt methods to win the case and extort billions of dollars from the company.

To sustain those charges, it subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents, emails, and other materials from Donziger and other lawyers, as well as activist groups that supported the case. It even subpoenaed out-takes from a 2009 documentary produced by film-maker Joe Berlinger, “Crude,” about the case.

In his testimony last November, Donziger himself admitted making mistakes, such as concealing his interactions with and payments to a court-appointed expert witness who produced a report on which the Ecuadorean courts relied for the assessment of damages.

One former Ecuadorean judge testified for Chevron that plaintiffs paid him to ghostwrite opinions for the presiding judge who had been promised half a million dollars by Donziger for a favourable ruling. Both Donziger and the presiding judge, Nicolas Zambrano, vehemently denied those charges.

Nonetheless, Kaplan, who has never questioned the extent of the environmental damage wrought by the oil companies’ operations in the region, ruled in favour of Chevron, noting that “an innocent defendant is no more entitled to submit false evidence, to co-opt and pay off a court-appointed expert or to coerce or bribe a judge or jury than a guilty one.” He also noted that Donziger himself stood to win more than 600 million dollars in contingency fees.

If upheld, Kaplan’s ruling would prevent Donziger and the plaintiffs from collecting any damages from Chevron in U.S. courts. It also requires them to turn over any damages against Chevron they might collect in foreign courts to the company.

The plaintiffs have brought cases in three countries where Chevron has major operations and assets — Canada, Brazil, and Argentina – to enforce the Ecuadorean judgment, and Chevron’s CEO Tuesday told reporters Tuesday that Kaplan’s ruling should bolster the case in those countries.

The judgement, according to Deepak Gupta, who represented Donziger, amounted to “what is in effect a global anti-collection injunction that would preclude enforcement of a judgement from one country in every jurisdiction.” He noted that was one of the main reasons why the appeals court overturned Kaplan’s 2011 decision.

Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, told IPS Tuesday’s judgement was vulnerable on other grounds as well. He said the law over whether the kinds of injunctions issued by Kaplan could be employed under the federal racketeering law remains unsettled.

In addition, he noted, the fact that Kaplan had found that the Ecuadorean judicial system had not provided due process “offers a good basis for re-filing the substantive case against Chevron in U.S. courts.”

“And even if all of what Judge Kaplan said about the fraudulent conduct of the attorneys was true, the answer shouldn’t necessarily be that Chevron gets away with no liability for what it has done in the Ecuadorean Amazon,” he said. “Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers, which is what Judge Kaplan suggested, is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.”

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Water, Water, Everywhere: To Green our Deserts http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/water-water-everywhere-green-deserts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-water-everywhere-green-deserts http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/water-water-everywhere-green-deserts/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 08:51:05 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132391 Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (U.S. and Brazil), who created their Green Transition Scoreboard, is author of many books and co-developed the Principles of Ethical Biomimicry Finance. She points to a greater need to tap saline agriculture for food and energy.

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Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (U.S. and Brazil), who created their Green Transition Scoreboard, is author of many books and co-developed the Principles of Ethical Biomimicry Finance. She points to a greater need to tap saline agriculture for food and energy.

By Hazel Henderson
ST.AUGUSTINE, Florida, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

Providing water for our still growing human population is reaching crisis levels. Water is vital for agriculture, energy production and industrial processes worldwide. Floods and droughts in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the United States accompanied unprecedented typhoons and winter storms. While none could be linked directly to climate change, the debate surfaced. Mainstream media started covering these issues more broadly.

The Earth’s surface is largely covered with water. So, why has the world’s attention focused on the three percent of fresh water on our planet, on water management, pollution, waste and recycling? Yet 97 percent of the water on Earth is saline: oceans, salty lakes and brackish wetlands ignored in most policy, finance, business and public debates!

At last, unnoticed research on the 10,000 salt-loving halophyte plants which grow in deserts and thrive on seawater is coming to light. I have long reported on saline agriculture, noting that halophyte plants can provide humans with food, fibre, edible oils and biofuels. Indeed, the only biofuels that meet ethical criteria are those based on algae grown on seawater.

Today, as water-related risks reach crisis levels, they are changing traditional risk analysts’ focus on financial risk. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk in 2014, water rose to third place behind fiscal crises in key economies and structurally high unemployment/underemployment. The United Nations General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cited water and drought issues high on its agenda while many countries’ delegates voted to make oceans a stand-alone focus of the SDGs.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) provides a welcome global focus on the needed transition to renewable energy, many forms of which will conserve water and provide better methods of desalination and treatment.

Fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants are prodigious gulpers of water, another reason for the shift to renewables. Additional risk factors focus on the rising ocean levels and acidification as CO2 emissions are absorbed by oceans which are heating faster than previous models predicted. This led to renewed interest in ocean thermal differentials as a source of electricity along with ocean currents and wave energy technologies.

Embracing this broader view, the 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit connected the dots in February 2014 as Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security for All. The International Conference on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, May 19-20, 2014 in Bonn, Germany, takes the same systems approach.

The Earth Systems Science programme at NASA is the most comprehensive approach to understanding how our planet processes the daily free photons from the Sun, through the atmosphere and ocean currents, which combined with geothermal energy from its core, create the conditions for life on Earth.  This daily information on how our planet functions and our human effects on it must now be cranked into all financial and business risk-analysis models, as I outline in Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age: from Economism to Earth Systems Science, with foreword by NASA Chief Scientist Dennis Bushnell, who is also an expert on halophyte plants and saline agriculture.

Bringing desert areas into food, fibre and fuel production by employing saline agriculture and these thousands of salt-loving plants is now the lowest hanging fruit for humanity to address its myriad crises of tunnel vision: inequality, poverty, pollution, food, water, energy and political conflicts.

Desert-greening science has been quietly maturing for decades with experiments in many countries in the Middle East, China, Australia, Mexico and the U.S. Today, business plans are emerging, such as DESERTCorp, by the Planck Foundation in Amsterdam, as well as the work of Carl Hodges in Egypt and the U.S.; Allan Savorys Savory Institute in Zimbabwe and Australia and the Grasslands Project in South Dakota, U.S., with the Capital Institute; the research of Mae-Wan Ho of ISIS in Britain; Wes Jacksons Land Institute in Kansas, U.S; Janine Benyus at Biomimicry 3.8; Gunter Pauli at ZERI; and many other projects.

A biofuels breakthrough was announced, January 22, in Abu Dhabi that Boeing, in partnership with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are producing biofuel for jet aircraft made from algae grown on desert land, irrigated with seawater. This Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) is affiliated with the MASDAR Institute.

Director Alejandro Rio states, the UAE has become a leader in researching desert land and seawater to grow sustainable biofuel feedstocks with potential applications in other parts of the world. Other airlines are also researching biofuels, but all seem to find that oils from tar sands and shale are too dirty for jet fuel and that oil companies seem unwilling to refine these dirty oils to the standards needed for aviation since they see this market as too small. Meanwhile, worries about shale fuels include their huge water requirements, methane emissions, pipeline leaks, earthquakes and other environmental problems.

None of these hazardous forms of energy are needed!  Humanity can now stop digging up the Earth and look up harvesting the free photons from our Sun as green plants do, providing our food. Let’s now green our desert areas, growing salt-loving crops using abundant land, salt waters and sunlight. Lets accelerate the global transition, to the more equitable, knowledge-rich, cleaner, greener economies now within our grasp!

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Shifting Rainy Season Wreaks Havoc on Barbuda’s Crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 14:58:01 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132281 Water rationing has become a way of life for the 1,800 residents of the tiny island of Barbuda, which has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Marine biologist John Mussington told IPS the problem is that the wet period has shifted from the traditional July to […]

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Some small famers in the Caribbean have come together to build their own catchments to harvest rainwater for crops and livestock. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Some small famers in the Caribbean have come together to build their own catchments to harvest rainwater for crops and livestock. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
HIGHLANDS, Barbuda, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Water rationing has become a way of life for the 1,800 residents of the tiny island of Barbuda, which has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands.

Marine biologist John Mussington told IPS the problem is that the wet period has shifted from the traditional July to September period to September to November, and when the rains do come, the showers are sharp and end just as quickly.An artificial rainwater catchment is one adaptation option that can reduce the threat of drought.

“Without areas to store the water when it comes, it runs off into the sea or penetrates underground,” Mussington told IPS. “The other problem is that the groundwater is ‘hard’ due to high levels of calcium and magnesium, and in many cases salty due to saltwater intrusion.

“This groundwater is not suitable for agriculture and because the wet season has shifted, the traditional method of planting crops at particular times so that they can be rain-fed is not as effective,” Mussington added.

The director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, Keithley Meade, said that climate change poses the greatest threat to Barbuda and the rest of the Caribbean region.

“If you look at what happened in the southern islands in December…climate change is impacting us,” Meade told IPS.

A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people.

“We find that our droughts are drier than normal and our wet seasons are wetter than normal,” Meade said.

Barbuda has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Barbuda has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

As the conditions worsen, the state-owned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has been urging residents to practice water conservation, with several public service announcements (PSAs) airing on radio and television.

“No rainfall is expected within this period. We have been getting some drizzle, but not the gut showers that are needed,” water manager Ivan Rodriques told IPS.

On average, Antigua and Barbuda requires 5.6 million gallons of water per day, increasing to six million gallons during the peak tourism season.

But there is a flicker of hope: the island is set to benefit from an artificial catchment area to trap rainwater.

The much needed help is thanks to the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, being implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Susanna Scott, coordinator of the RRACC project, told IPS the artificial catchment would be used “to demonstrate an adaptation option that can reduce the threats of drought and decreasing water availability on the agriculture sector.”

Mussington welcomes the plan to build a water catchment and storage area on the western edge of the Highlands to overcome some of the challenges being faced by the island.

“Incidentally, the concept and initial project design was my doing. By harvesting rainwater on the Highlands and storing the water, it can be used throughout the year to produce high value vegetable crops.

“By incorporating an aquaponics component, Barbuda could become self-sufficient in vegetables and also have the availability of fresh fish for local consumption and export in a more efficient production system,” he said.

Gaston Browne, who is seeking to oust Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in general elections, constitutionally due here in March, has vowed to make Barbuda “the breadbasket” of the twin-island state.

But with forecasts for hotter and drier conditions going forward, Browne could find it difficult, if not impossible to realise his promise for the drought-stricken island.

Barbuda and mainland Antigua are not the only countries where drought, brought on by climate change, is wreaking havoc on agriculture and water resources.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  scientists said last month was the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record. It also marked the driest month for the contiguous United States since 2003 and the fifth driest since records started being kept in 1880.

On Feb. 24, while launching the United Nations (UN) International Year of Small Island Developing States, Antigua-born General Assembly President John Ashe said “this year takes place at a time when the vast majority of islands are combatting the ravages of climate change, and some, like the Maldives are literally sinking because of it.”

Ironically, predictions are that the tiny 62-square-mile island of Barbuda could sink in 60 years due to sea level rise.

“The challenges that small island developing states are facing are challenges that all countries should be concerned about,” the head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said at the launch.

He noted that small islands are particularly vulnerable because of their unique locations. For example, the hurricane season has devastating impacts on lives and property, particularly in countries which see an increasing number of cycles and decreasing rainfall.

“Climate change represents a grave threat to the survival and viability of a number of low-lying nations,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in his address at the launch of the International Year.

To galvanise support for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mobilising political will, Ban will convene a Climate Summit on Sep. 23 in New York.

U.N. member states agreed two years ago to support 51 highly vulnerable Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – a group that was politically recognised at the Rio Summit in 1992, underscored at a major international conference in Barbados in 1994 and again at a follow-up meeting in Mauritius in 2005.

The group of states share similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments.

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Sri Lanka Feels the Heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sri-lanka-feels-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-feels-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sri-lanka-feels-heat/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:14:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132196 Sri Lanka is heading into a major crisis under extreme heat, as the rains stay away. Fears are growing of power cuts and interruption to the water supply because reservoir levels are running scarily low. By the third week of February, the Ceylon Electricity Board said it was relying on expensive thermal generators for 76 […]

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arched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

arched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is heading into a major crisis under extreme heat, as the rains stay away. Fears are growing of power cuts and interruption to the water supply because reservoir levels are running scarily low.

By the third week of February, the Ceylon Electricity Board said it was relying on expensive thermal generators for 76 percent of the country’s power supply.

Around August 2012, extended dry weather almost dried up hydro-reservoirs. The country spent over two billion dollars to import furnace oil. The drought impacted over a million persons, according to the Sri Lanka Red Cross.Power supply and the vital paddy harvest are likely to be hit if the rains stay away for longer.

The 2012 dry spell was followed by heavy rains that allowed hydro-power to gain lost ground last year. That vicious cycle could be repeating itself.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said last week that changing climate patterns have had a serious impact on the country’s fortunes. “Sri Lanka also is impacted by climate change in the form of droughts, floods and other natural disasters. We take these matters into consideration when framing monetary policy,” he said during a live Twitter interaction.

According to experts, power supply and the vital paddy harvest are likely to be hit if the rains stay away for longer.

Asoka Abeygunawardana, executive director of the Sri Lanka Energy Forum and Advisor to the Ministry of Technology, told IPS that Sri Lanka’s power supply was too dependent on hydro-power or on costly coal and furnace oil.

“We are too reliant on these sources; one can be unpredictable while the other two can be quite expensive,” he said.

In a normal year Sri Lanka looks to harvest half of its power supply through hydro and the remainder through a combination of coal furnace oil and a negligible content of renewable sources. When the rains fail, as they have now, there is no alternative but to turn to more coal and oil.

Abeygunawardana, who is also a board member of the Climate Action Network South Asia, a grouping of over 100 civil society groups that studies climate change and impact, told IPS that Sri Lanka should look at investing more in renewable energy sources. Sri Lanka’s future energy policy is skewed towards coal, which Abeygunawardana said is expensive and polluting.

He advocates wind and solar use which could be cheaper in the long run despite the initial high expenses.

“We get sunlight and wind both free of charge all year round, making running costs quite cheap. In the event of a drought, the strong sun will naturally fill the gap created by lack of water.”

The other important factor is managing the meagre water resources that feed both the power supply and the vast rice fields.

There is some level of dialogue that takes place between government agencies reliant on reservoirs like the Department of Irrigation, and the Electricity Board. But Abeygunawardana said that these discussions lacked scientific basis and planning.

“These agencies have to come up with a process where the release of water is integrated and not done at the wish of one agency.”

Such policy changes are vital given the potential impact the scorching heat is packing. The current dry spell is likely to reduce the main rice harvest by seven to 10 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture. Sri Lanka’s main cash crop, tea, is also likely to get hit with rising temperatures reducing leaf quality.

Riza Yehiya, a climate risk management specialist, warned that policy makers are still not taking shifting climate patterns and their impact seriously. “Current spell of extreme heat experienced in Sri Lanka is considered a passing cloud. It is not discernible to those in power and decision making in their air-conditioned chambers,” he told IPS.

He said that discussions were taking place at policy level but what was lacking was adaptation and implementation on the ground level. “In a practical sense, making society climate change resilient requires putting the society almost on a war footing to prepare them to proactively respond.”

Water management is one area where experts say the country’s policy makers need to show urgent attention.  Irrigated water for farming is provided free in Sri Lanka but officials at the Department of Agriculture complain that it is almost impossible to get farmers to use water sparingly or to shift to more climate resistant crop varieties.

Yehiya said that people’s behaviour from watering plants to washing their cars or how they used electricity needs an overhaul.

“What is required to forestall this threat is to change the behaviour of people, their societies and economies to reduce their carbon footprint, and enable them to live sustainably without affecting the natural eco-system.”

No such seismic shift is in sight. The country is still facing each new climate threat in isolation, without linking the dots.

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Indoor Mini-Farms to Beat Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:29:31 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132201 Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says. Bhagwandeen told IPS that […]

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Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says.

Bhagwandeen told IPS that his hydroponic project was also developed “to leverage the growth of the urban landscape and high-density housing, so that by growing your own food at home, you mitigate the cost of food prices.”

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrients in water, is increasingly considered a viable means to ensure food security in light of climate change.

His project is one of several being considered for further development by the Caribbean Climate Innovation Centre (CCIC), headquartered in Jamaica.

The newly launched CCIC, which is funded mainly by the World Bank and the government of Canada, seeks to  fund innovative projects that will “change the way we live, work and build to suit a changing climate,” said Everton Hanson, the CCIC’s CEO.

A first step to developing such projects is through Proof of Concept (POC) funding, which makes available grants from 25,000 to 50,000 dollars to successful applicants to “help the entrepreneur to finance those costs that are related to proving that the idea can work,” said Hanson.

Among the items that POC funding will cover are prototype development such as design, testing, and field trials; market testing; raw materials and consumables necessary to achieve proof of concept; and costs related to applications for intellectual property rights in the Caribbean.

A POC competition is now open that will run until the end of March. “After that date the applications will be evaluated. We are looking for ideas that can be commercialised and the plan is to select the best ideas,” Hanson said.

The CCIC, which is jointly managed by the Scientific Research Council in Jamaica and the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in Trinidad and Tobago, is seeking projects that focus on water management, resource use efficiency, energy efficiency, solar energy, and sustainable agribusiness.

Bhagwandeen entered the POC competition in hopes of securing a grant, because “this POC funding would help in terms of market testing,” he explained.

The 48-year-old engineer says he wishes to build dozens of model units and “distribute them in various areas, then monitor the operations and take feedback from users.” He said he would be testing for usability and reliability, as well as looking for feedback on just how much light is needed and the best locations in a house or building for situating his model.

“I would then take the feedback, and any issues that come up I can refine before going into mass marketing,” he said.

Bhagwandeen’s model would enable homeowners to grow leafy vegetables, including herbs, lettuce and tomatoes, inside their home or apartment, with minimal expense and time.

The model uses smart electronics, meaning that 100 units can run on the same energy as a 60-watt light bulb, he said. So it differs from typical hydroponics systems that consume a great deal of energy, he added. His model can also run on the energy provided by its own small solar panel and can work both indoors and outdoors.

Bhagawandeen said his model’s design is premised on the fact that “our future as a people is based more and more on city living and in order for that to be sustainable, we need to have city farming at a family level.”

A U.N. report says that “the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050.” Most of that urban growth will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the world’s less developed regions.

To meet the challenges of climate change adaptation, the CCIC “will support Caribbean entrepreneurs involved in developing locally appropriate solutions to climate change.”

Bhagwandeen said that support from organisations like the CCIC is critical for climate change entrepreneurs. “From the Caribbean perspective, especially Trinidad and Tobago, we are a heavily consumer-focused society. One of the negatives of Trinidad’s oil wealth is that we are not accustomed to developing technology for ourselves. We buy it.

“We are a society of traders and distributors and there is very little support for innovators and entrepreneurs.”

He said access to markets and investors poses a serious challenge for regional innovators like himself, who typically have to rely on bootstrapping to get their business off the ground.

Typically, he said, regional innovators have to make small quantities of an item, sell those items, and then use the funds to make incrementally larger quantities. “So that if you get an order for 500 units, you cannot fulfill that order,” he said.

Fourteen Caribbean states are involved in CCIC: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean CCIC is one of eight being developed across the world.

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The Race to Save the Caribbean’s Banana Industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/race-save-caribbeans-banana-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=race-save-caribbeans-banana-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/race-save-caribbeans-banana-industry/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:55:38 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132141 When Dean, the first storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, lashed Dominica on Aug. 16, it left behind a trail of destruction, claimed the lives of a mother and son, and decimated the island’s vital banana industry. Seven years later, Dominica’s agricultural sector remains painfully vulnerable to natural disasters and climate variability. Every year, […]

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A farmer shows the damage to his banana crop following the passage of a storm. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A farmer shows the damage to his banana crop following the passage of a storm. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LONDONDERRY, Dominica, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

When Dean, the first storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, lashed Dominica on Aug. 16, it left behind a trail of destruction, claimed the lives of a mother and son, and decimated the island’s vital banana industry.

Seven years later, Dominica’s agricultural sector remains painfully vulnerable to natural disasters and climate variability. Every year, farmers lose a significant portion of their crops and livestock during the six-month hurricane season.“Climate change is clearly the greatest development challenge of the 21st century.” -- Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit

“Our first major hurricane was Hurricane David in 1979, which ravaged the entire country. Everything went down,” former prime minister Edison James, himself a farmer, told IPS. “Since then we’ve had storms and hurricanes from time to time which have caused damage of varying extent.

“Sometimes we have 90 percent crop damage, particularly bananas and avocados and tree crops generally.”

The banana industry is a valuable source of foreign exchange for several Caribbean countries, including Dominica.

The island produces approximately 30,000 tonnes of the fruit annually, earning an estimated 55 million dollars. The neighbouring islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which together market their fruit under the Windward Islands Banana brand, earn an average of 68 million dollars.

The banana industry is also the second largest employer on the island after the government, providing work for 6,000 farmers and many others within the sector. Research has found that even slight temperature increases can damage banana production or even eliminate it altogether.

James, a longstanding legislator who served as prime minister from 1995-2000, has shifted to “multi-crop farming” over the last decade. But he has suffered huge losses of bananas, plantains, coconuts, okra, and other crops. He blames unpredictable rainfall, ironically in a country best known for its many rivers and abundance of water.

“There has been drought from time to time and it has been very intense in areas like Woodford Hill and Londonderry,” he told IPS.

So intense was the drought that “the country was moved to take action to put in place irrigation systems,” James explained. “So wind and drought have been the climatic factors affecting us here in Dominica.”

A water resources specialist with the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project in the OECS Secretariat, Rupert Lay, said the potential losses to farmers in Londonderry and Dominica as a whole are hitting across the board, a situation which is increasingly common in the region.

“Climate change and variability is disrupting the modus of operation of farmers and as a result their output volumes are unpredictable and sporadic,” he told IPS.

“The variations in output are wide-ranging, from bumper harvests to zero yields for respective periods, and these stressors apply not only to crops but also to livestock production,” Lay added.

The World Bank reports that agriculture’s share of GDP in Dominica has fallen consistently with each major natural disaster, with the sector failing to recover previous levels of relative importance.

Most of this decline is attributable to crop losses, and specifically the decline in banana production.

According to World Bank figures, agricultural production accounted for 12.2 percent of total GDP, and overall the sector is estimated to have declined by 10.6 percent in 2010 on the heels of a 1.5 percent growth rate for 2009.

The performance of the crops sub-sector was severely affected by the extended drought in 2010, the World Bank said, adding that agriculture’s decline has been particularly marked since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Environment Minister Kenneth Darroux notes that for a country that could be self-sufficient and provide food to neighbouring countries, Dominica’s food imports constitute an increasing burden on the economy, and threaten food security.

He called for “adaptive measures [to] build resilience to the stressors of climate change in that a farmer will be better able to maintain predicted levels of production, thus protecting expected levels of livelihoods and sustenance,” Lay told IPS.

These could include better farm management, pest control, and broader agricultural improvement programmes.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Dominica’s vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by its present economic performance, its particular socio-economic structure and high concentration of infrastructure along the coastline.

“The additional stress that climate change places on ecological and socio-economic systems is not to be underestimated,” Skerrit said.

“Climate change is predicted to have severe, if not catastrophic, consequences over the short to medium term across sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy, human settlements and water, if immediate action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.

“Climate change is clearly the greatest development challenge of the 21st century,” Skerrit said.

His St. Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, told IPS regional countries will be pushing to strengthen their institutional arrangements to deal with the impact of climate change.

Gonsalves said that the issue would be discussed at the upcoming CARICOM Inter-sessional summit in Kingstown, Mar. 10-11.

“There are several dimensions to climate change [and] clearly an immediate one for us is how do we better prepare ourselves for national disasters and how do we better recover from natural disasters, and we have to look at the strengthening of our institutional arrangements against the backdrop of increased vulnerabilities arising from the frequency and intensity of natural disasters,” Gonsalves told IPS.

He said this was a serious matter because “we do not contribute greatly to man-made climate change but we are on the frontline and there is lots of talk all the time about monies for adaptation and mitigation.

“We haven’t seen those monies yet. There are some limited resources which come out of the World Bank but the kinds of monies which have been pledged…are yet to be delivered,” he told IPS.

Gonsalves said this is a matter where the region would have to do much more coordinated work, adding “we have a lot of good allies – the British are now talking in a very serious way because of what is happening there”.

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