Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation News and Views from the Global South Mon, 30 Nov 2015 23:32:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Drought Threatens Water-Truck Lifeline in Parched Northeast Brazil Thu, 26 Nov 2015 08:55:02 +0000 Nadia Pontes A dead cow lies on a highway in drought-hit Pesqueira, northeast Brazil.

A dead cow lies on a highway in drought-hit Pesqueira, northeast Brazil.

By Nadia Pontes
São José Dos Campos, Brazil, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

For the rural community of Pacheco in northeastern Brazil, the local school has never been so important. It is now the only place in the drought-stricken area that has water on tap.

But to fill the school’s tank, water must be trucked from a reservoir some 40 km away – and it is shrinking fast.

“This is the only way to get access to water here. We don’t have any natural source of fresh water available – everything is dry. We are facing a very difficult situation,” said teacher and community leader Josilânia de Fátima dos Santos.

Local residents go to the school each day to fill three or four large buckets with water. The distribution runs smoothly, with everybody cooperating and taking home just enough to supply their family’s drinking, cooking and hygiene needs.

“We wish we could have fresh water to drink. We pray for rain – we are desperate,” said dos Santos.

“We notice the climate has changed, but we don’t know what to do to fight this problem.”

Along with Pacheco, nearly 18,000 inhabitants in the sprawling municipality of Pesqueira in Pernambuco state have no water on tap.

Brazil’s northeast is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, which scientists link both to the current strong El Niño weather phenomenon and longer-term climate change.

The semi-arid region has a history of drought, and is vulnerable to hunger and displacement. When crops fail, local people are forced to sell their possessions to pay for new seeds in the hope that rain will come.

Jonas Brito, Pesqueira’s secretary for the environment, said drought had forced the authorities to truck water into rural areas since 2010. But in the past two years, the situation has worsened and is now at crisis point.

“We are on the verge of collapse,” he said.

Seventy water trucks ply more than 800 km of dirt roads to supply rural communities in a service provided by the local government to meet the basic needs of the poor. Wealthy landowners pay for private deliveries.

According to official data, 20 to 50 litres per capita are delivered each day. Yet there is not enough water to irrigate crops, which are the main source of local income.

Corn, bean and cassava plantations are ruined. Milk production has fallen from 150,000 litres per day to 35,000 litres, as animals die of thirst.

The dam that supplies the water trucks is now operating at half its capacity, Brito said.

“Maybe it will be empty next month,” he added. If that happens, the trucks will need to travel further and the cost will rise.

Rainfall in northeastern Brazil is highly irregular, leading to catastrophic droughts – a problem that has occurred every decade or so since the 16th century.

Despite this, the city of Pesqueira, 215 km from the Pernambuco state capital of Recife, does not have a plan to deal with the loss of its productive land.

In this region, availability of water is among the lowest in the northeast, at around 40 litres per capita per day.
The drought is also affecting city dwellers, as the storage level of another dam that provides water for urban areas has dropped to 10 percent.

In 2014 the federal government launched an online tool to monitor droughts in the northeast. The map shows a dark red stain covering the city of Pesqueira, which means “exceptional drought”.

This is also the case in some parts of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba states. The rest of the map shows “severe drought”.

Pesqueira had already drawn the attention of scientists in 2007, when José Marengo and Guillermo Obregón of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) conducted research on Brazil’s climate in the 20th century.

The researchers looked at 22 localities across five Brazilian regions: North, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and South. They found the largest temperature rise in Pesqueira, where it increased around 0.6 degrees Celsius per decade from 1981 to 2000.

These local temperature rises are linked to global warming, said the first report of the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC), released in January.

“The impacts of climate change in Brazil are more evident in the Northeast region,” said Marengo, also an author of reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In addition, droughts in this region have been associated with El Niño, a large-scale interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere linked to periodic warming in Pacific sea surface temperatures.

El Niño can influence the regional and global climate, changing wind patterns and affecting rainfall in the tropics and mid-latitudes.

If average temperatures continue to rise across continents and oceans, El Niño could occur more often and become more intense, Marengo noted.

Models suggest surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius above average through the end of this year, potentially placing the 2015-16 El Niño among the four strongest events since 1950.

It is already having devastating effects on communities like Pacheco.

“We notice the rainfall has decreased, the drought is more intense and it is warmer than before,” said Brito.

To address water shortages in the region, the federal government is implementing a plan to divert part of the flow of the São Francisco River along a canal that will bring water to Pesqueira.

Construction is due to be finished by the end of 2016, but that will not bring the urgent relief the people of Pacheco are desperately hoping for.

“We need help – we need public policy to fight this problem,” said Brito. “We cannot wait.”

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Megan Rowling from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

]]> 0
Climate Refugees and a Collapsing City Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:25:54 +0000 Sohara Mehroze A Flooded Street in Dhaka

A Flooded Street in Dhaka

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

With multiplying impacts of climate change – increasing floods, cyclones, and drought – thousands of climate refugees are migrating to Dhaka. And the city, well beyond its carrying capacity, is bursting at the seams.

The word most often associated with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps, “overpopulated.” Supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 square kilometers (125 square miles) of land, the city’s drainage, waste management and transportation infrastructure is on the brink of collapse.

Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising to find the Bangladesh capital among the worst cities to live in on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 ranking.

To delve beneath the apparent reasons – overpopulation, waterlogging and congestion – is to reveal a major underlying cause: unsustainable levels of climate-induced displacement and migration.

And the problems are washing up along Bangladesh’s 700 kilometers of low-lying coast. Rising sea levels and cyclones heighten the risk of flooding, while riverbank erosion and seawater intrusion are set to have a devastating impact on the nation’s population.

“Over the next two to three decades millions of people will no longer be able to live and earn their livelihoods from farming and fishing as they are now,” said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the Climate Change Group of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Conversely, prolonged droughts are affecting arable land by causing soil erosion and damaging crops that depend on predictable monsoon patterns.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates 20 million people will be displaced in Bangladesh in the coming five years. That is more than the cumulative populations of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. And this should be very worrying.

Even now, many of the half-a-million-plus people who move their families – along with their hopes – to Dhaka, are driven there by the effects of climate change.

No streets paved with gold

But the Bangladeshi capital, which teeters on less than 1 percent of the country’s overall landmass, is far from being the promised land.

The combination of explosive population growth and land scarcity has sent its property and rental prices through the roof.

And given that most climate refugees come from humble financial backgrounds, they are left with little alternative but to join the estimated 3.4 million people who already live without gas or electricity in cramped and substandard squatter settlements, known as bosti.

Even in their new homes, they cannot escape the environmental disasters that drove them to seek shelter in the flimsy shack-like houses in this low-lying city on the banks of the Buriganga river.

The incidence of flooding in Dhaka is increasing, and the lack of water and sanitation facilities means waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid are widespread.

But health and pollution are not the only problems bosti-dwelling climate migrants face. Rahmat Ali, a resident of Dhaka’s biggest slum Korail, moved to the city when saltwater logged his farmland. Once an agricultural worker, he now scrapes out a living as a rickshaw puller.

“It is very hard work for little money. But there are few options for the likes of us, who have lost our lands and homes, and now have nothing left to go back to.”

Slow response to an urgent problem

With ubiquitous bostis and climate refugees dominating the cityscape, more affluent Dhaka residents are becoming increasingly desensitized and apathetic to their plight, and are coming to accept it as the norm.

This apathy is reflected in the country’s policy sphere. “People are migrating to cities because the nation is not responding to their risks,” says Aminul Islam, a member of the National Displacement Strategy Working Group under the Ministry of Disaster Management.

While Bangladesh has developed a solid strategic framework for tackling climate change – including its National Action Plan for Adaptation and the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan – it has not yet prescribed any adaptation programs specifically addressing climate-induced internal displacement.

And that, thinks Islam, is a failing.

“The country needs a long-term vision and adaptation plan for reducing displacement,” Islam said. “The provision of climate resilient habitat, livelihood opportunities and civil facilities for the vulnerable will reduce incentives to migrate to cities.”

Dhaka, precursor for catastrophe?

Even if Bangladesh were to increase its adaptation efforts 100-fold, it can only go so far in protecting its people. From a Bangladeshi point of view, what it desperately needs are mitigation efforts by major carbon-emitting nations.

At the end of November, the world’s leaders will congregate in Paris to try and achieve a universal, binding agreement for combating climate change. And for the millions of people living in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, their success at the negotiating table is crucial.

The situation in Dhaka illustrates how climate change is neither something that affects only polar bears, nor a problem only for future generations. Many fear that failure to act now will render the Bangladeshi capital a precursor for wholesale climate catastrophe.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Tamsin Walker and @DeutscheWelle.

]]> 0
Africa’s Climate Change Funding May Hit 100 Billion by Mid-Century Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:42:00 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Climate Summit opens in Paris next week, one of the biggest issues facing world leaders is funding: how best to raise the billions of dollars needed to prevent the devastating consequences of global warming worldwide.

A new plan unveiled Tuesday calls for 16 billion dollars in funding to help African countries adapt to climate change and build up the continent’s resilience to climate shocks, according to the World Bank Group and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

At current estimates, the plan says the African region requires 5-10 billion dollars per year to adapt to global warming of 2°C.

However, the cost of managing climate resilience will continue to rise to 20-50 billion dollars by mid-century, and closer to 100 billion dollars, in the event of a 4°C warming.

Titled ‘Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development’, the Africa Climate Business Plan will be presented at the Conference of Parties (COP21), the global climate talks in Paris Nov 30- Dec 11, and lays out measures to boost the resilience of the continent’s assets – its people, land, water, and cities – including renewable energy and strengthening early warning systems.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is highly vulnerable to climate shocks, and our research shows that could have far-ranging impact – on everything from child stunting and malaria to food price increases and droughts,” the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, said in a statement released here.

“This plan identifies concrete steps that African governments can take to ensure that their countries will not lose hard-won gains in economic growth and poverty reduction, and they can offer some protection from climate change.”

Asked for her response, Doreen Stabinsky, Zennström visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden, told IPS the costs of addressing climate change impacts on Africa are already huge and must be added to the current finance priorities of African countries of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

“Indeed these sums estimated by the World Bank are first needed just to protect the development gains of the past few decades and really emphasize the injustice of the climate crisis for developing countries: at a time when their own resources and foreign assistance should be invested in development, they must spend scarce funds on adapting to a problem they did not cause, and suffering losses and damages from impacts they cannot adapt to.”

She said the estimates also show the gross inadequacy of climate finance on the table.

The Global Climate Fund (GCF), she pointed out, has a meager 10 billion dollars pledged in its first tranche — to cover both mitigation and adaptation efforts across the entire developing world — and only half of that sum has yet been delivered.

If adaptation costs for Africa alone are currently 5-10 billion dollars per year, support from those responsible for climate change — developed countries — has to be scaled up significantly.

“Whether or not this scale of resources is pledged in Paris should be a significant determining factor of success at COP21”, said Stabinsky, who was also Professor of Global Environmental Politics at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Of the 16.1 billion dollars the ambitious plan proposes for fast-tracking climate adaptation, some 5.7 billion dollars are expected from the International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank Group that supports the poorest countries.

About 2.2 billion dollars are expected from various climate finance instruments, 2.0 billion from others in the development community, 3.5 billion from the private sector, and 0.7 billion from domestic sources, with an additional 2.0 billion needed to deliver on the plan, according to the World Bank Group and UNEP.

“The Africa Climate Business Plan spells out a clear path to invest in the continent’s urgent climate needs and to fast-track the required climate finance to ensure millions of people are protected from sliding into extreme poverty,” says Makhtar Diop, World Bank Group Vice President for Africa.

“While adapting to climate change and mobilizing the necessary resources remain an enormous challenge, the plan represents a critical opportunity to support a priority set of climate-resilient initiatives in Africa,” he noted.

Stabinsky told IPS the World Bank announcement, unfortunately, fails to lay out what proportion of this money will come from grants and from loans.

Adapting to climate change is an additional burden being placed on developing countries — it’s not a business proposition where profits can be earned. Loans are not appropriate for adaptation finance, she added.

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Sinking into Paradise: Climate Change Worsening Coastal Erosion in Trinidad Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:47:45 +0000 Rajiv Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

By Rajiv Jalim
PORT-of-SPAIN, TRINIDAD, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

As unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, a lagoon here was overwhelmed, flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities. As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.

The coastline of Trinidad is under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier, and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clear.

Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimeters every year — though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.

“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land, but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.

“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach, but there is less material available to replace it.”

In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.

According to the World Bank publication Turn Down the Heat, Earth is locked into at least a 1.5°C rise in temperature compared with pre-industrial times. Rising seas caused by rising temperatures, coupled with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, which also affect wave energy, are expected to accelerate coastal erosion. Such effects are of grave concern for small island developing states (SIDS).

With Trinidad’s east coast sustaining several developing communities, through income from tourism, agriculture and fishing, management of the coastline — which is also a nesting site for endangered leatherback turtles — is of utmost importance.

Subsequent to reports of the extensive damage at Manzanilla, emergency services responded through a coordinated effort between government agencies and ministries to bring relief to those affected.

Disaster management and response units, including the local Risk Reduction Management Centre, assisted residents by providing basic supplies to flood victims, while personnel from the University of the West Indies conducted site visits to assess the damage and collect data. The Ministry of Works was involved in trying to reconnect the main access route to the south-eastern community.

At an estimated cost of $US5.8 million, the rehabilitation work combined the expertise of academics and researchers with coastal management organizations and engineering firms, both local and international.

One year later, key learnings are still being generated from data collected after the event. It is from these analyses that gaps in the coastal management plans and developmental strategies for the east coast can be identified.

Perhaps the most significant gap has been the lack of sufficient hydrological and maritime data for the island, which could be used to develop models and improve the predictive power for rare disasters.

Extraordinary events such as the Manzanilla flood occur infrequently, but they can cause significant and expensive damage when they do occur. Predicting and preparing for such events based on scientific knowledge can reduce not only their impacts, but also the recovery time.

Looking beyond Trinidad to the wider Caribbean region, and to other islands across the world, coastal erosion linked to climate change can be extremely dangerous.

Experts say long-term strategies should go beyond revetment and seawall repairs, and consider policy support, planning strategies and contingency mapping. Additionally, there is a need for increased public-private partnerships across the globe, where resources, creativity, expertise and innovation can be expanded and exchanged to deal with coastal management in a sustainable manner.

“I’m more on the side of investing in state-of-the-art, long-term monitoring and innovative research,” said Christopher Daly, lecturer in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department of the University of the West Indies.

“There is no real profit to be made from this so it’s difficult to get private investment,” Daly said. “This has to be funded through a national or regional science board that has the long-term interest of society at heart. It also has to have full government support but be independent of political influence.”

Developed countries have pledged to begin providing $100 billion a year through the United Nations to help developing countries slow and adapt to climate change by 2020. During climate negotiations in Paris later this year, developing countries will ask wealthier ones to produce a roadmap for raising and providing those funds.

SIDS have also been calling during the United Nations climate negotiations for a “loss-and-damage mechanism,” which could help poorer countries cope with flooding and other impacts of climate change. The concept was first proposed more than two decades ago, but the wealthier countries that would be expected to provide the funding have opposed it.

In the meantime, the hastily built seawall, boardwalk and main road on the Manzanilla beach will again have to stand the test of the Atlantic and the effects of climate change. Only time will tell if feats of engineering can withstand the changing environment, or if the island of Trinidad will be left to slowly erode into rising seas.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to John Upton and @ClimateCentral.

]]> 13
Against the Odds, Caribbean Doubles Down for 1.5 Degree Deal in Paris Mon, 23 Nov 2015 07:57:02 +0000 Zadie Neufville 0 Open Defecation to End by 2025, Vows UN Chief, Marking World Toilet Day Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:39:07 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The state of the world’s toilets reveals the good, the bad and the ugly – but not necessarily in that order.

As the UN commemorated its annual World Toilet Day on November 19, a new study says, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the rich nations of the developed world has access to a toilet.

The study, released by the UK based WaterAid, points out that Canada, UK, Ireland and Sweden are among nations with measurable numbers still without safe, private household toilets.

Russia has the lowest percentage of household toilets of all developed nations, while India, the world’s second-most populous country, holds the record for the most people waiting for sanitation (774 million) and the most people per square kilometre (173) practising open defecation.

The report highlights the plight of more than 2.3 billion people in the world (out of a total population of over 7.3 billion) who do not have access to a safe, private toilet.

Of these, nearly 1.0 billion have no choice but to defecate in the open – in fields, at roadsides or in bushes.

The result is a polluted environment in which diseases spread fast. An estimated 314,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal illness which could be prevented with safe water, good sanitation and good hygiene.

Still, the tiny South Pacific island of Tokelau has made the most progress on delivering sanitation, holding number one position since 1990, followed by Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan.

Nigeria has seen a dramatic slide in the number of people with access to toilets since 1990 despite considerable economic development.

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, has the worst household access to sanitation in the world, followed closely by Niger, Togo and Madagascar, according to the study.

WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost says just two months ago, all UN member states promised to deliver access to safe, private toilets to everyone everywhere by 2030.

“Our analysis shows just how many nations in the world are failing to give sanitation the political prioritisation and financing required. We also know that swift progress is possible, from the impressive advances in sanitation achieved in nations like Nepal and Vietnam.”

No matter where you are in the world, everyone has a right to a safe, private place to relieve themselves, and to live healthy and productive lives without the threat of illness from poor sanitation and hygiene.

“On this World Toilet Day, it’s time for the world to make good on their promises and understand that while we all love toilet humour, the state of the world’s sanitation is no joke,” said Frost.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says lack of sanitation, and particularly open defecation, contributes to the incidence of diarrhoea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause malnutrition.

“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed.”

In a report released Wednesday, the 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), calls for the mainstreaming of sanitation.

The focus should widen beyond the home – because toilets are needed in schools, clinics, workplaces, markets and other public places.

“Prioritize sanitation as preventive medicine and break the vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, especially affecting women and children.”

And “get serious about scaling up innovative technologies along the sanitation chain and unleash another sanitation revolution, as key economic and medical enabler in the run-up to 2030, and make a business case for sanitation by realizing the resource potential of human waste.”

Additionally, it says, “de-taboo the topic of menstrual hygiene management, which deserves to be addressed as a priority by the UN and governments.”

In its report, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to fund, implement and account for progress towards the new UN Global Goals on sustainable development.

Goal 6 – water, sanitation and hygiene for all – is fundamental to ending hunger and ensuring healthy lives, education and gender equality and must be a priority.

“Improving the state of the world’s toilets with political prioritisation and long-term increases in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene, by both national governments and donor countries like the UK.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the central role sanitation plays in sustainable development.

“The integrated nature of the new agenda means that we need to better understand the connections between the building blocks of development.”

In that spirit, he said, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition. He said poor sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of disease and malnutrition.

Each year, too many children under the age of five have their lives cut short or altered forever as a result of poor sanitation: more than 800,000 children worldwide — or one every two minutes– die from diarrhea, and almost half of all deaths of children under five are due to undernutrition.

A quarter of all children under five are stunted, and countless other children, as well as adults, are falling seriously ill, often suffering long-term, even lifelong, health and developmental consequences.

Parents and guardians carry the cost of these consequences. Women in particular women bear the direct brunt, he noted.

“Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, progress is too little and too slow,” Ban complained.

By many accounts, sanitation is the most-missed target of the Millennium Development Goals.

“This is why the Call to Action on Sanitation was launched in 2013, and why we aim to end open defecation by 2025,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 1
UN Advisory Board Seeks Powerful New Global Arena for Water and Sanitation Wed, 18 Nov 2015 23:00:46 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

A 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), which has just completed its 11-year mandate, is calling for a complete overhaul of how the United Nations and the international community deals with two unresolved socio-economic issues on the post-2015 development agenda: scarcity of water and inadequate sanitation.

The supreme importance of water and sanitation to development and well-being merits creation of “a powerful new global arena inside the UN”, dedicated to resolving water conflicts and common challenges while tracking progress against the world’s newly-agreed development goals, says a report released Wednesday.

The far-reaching recommendations by UNSGAB include a new intergovernmental platform on water and sanitation, supported by strong, independent panels of world scientists, counsellors and monitors.

Created by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004 to advance water-related Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) targets, UNSGAB warns that today’s institutional infrastructure requires a major upgrade worldwide to possibly meet water and sanitation-related objectives in the 2030 Agenda — the new “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in September.

The 17 SDGs, which include ensuring clean water and sanitation, plus the eradication of poverty and hunger, are targeted to be achieved by 2030.

“There is currently a mismatch between the integrated and ambitious 2030 vision of freshwater and sanitation management and the international political structures available to contribute to its implementation,” says the report, presented Wednesday by UNSGAB Chair Uschi Eid to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The proposed body, if created, is expected to be the world’s pre-eminent sphere for reaching consensus on common water and sanitation concerns, and to assess progress.

It would closely involve the private sector and other major stakeholders, supported by both a secretariat (UN-Water, and a panel of independent experts mandated to amass authoritative information on water and sanitation issues and stimulate research to fill knowledge gaps.

Additionally, it would support international decision-making “in a balanced, fact-based, transparent and comprehensive way.”

A fact sheet released by UNSGAP points out that the business community ranks water crisis as the number one global risk, based on impact to society, while the projected global increase in water demand between 2000 and 2050 is around 55 percent.

The number of people currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge is over 1.7 billion.

People who still lack improved drinking water sources is estimated at one in 10 (663 million in total) while people without access to improved drinking water: 8 in 10 living in rural areas.

The number of people without such access is increasing in urban areas and in sub-Saharan Africa, and the number of people who use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated is at least 1.8 billion.

Still, the world has missed the MDG target for basic sanitation by almost 700 million people.

People who still lack improved sanitation facilities number one in 3 (2.4 billion in total) and people who practice open defecation: one in 8 (946 million in total)

The estimated loss in developing countries from lack of access to improved water sources and basic sanitation: 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) while priority given to public water expenditures varies widely between countries: from less than 0.5 percent to more than 2.0 percent of GDP.

The statistics have been sourced to several international organisations and UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum.

Addressing the special thematic session on water and disasters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday water is the source of life, health and livelihoods across the world.

The provision of safe drinking water, he pointed out, is one of the basic responsibilities of national and local governments. Water drives the decisions of businesses and, in many places, determines the rhythm of daily life.

Too little water at the time when it is needed most can mean drought and food insecurity. And too much water – in the form of floods, storms or waves – can devastate entire cities, rich or poor, Ban said.

Contaminated water, whether from human or industrial sources, is claiming the lives of children and affecting the health of communities worldwide, with far-reaching consequences, he warned.

Currently, floods, droughts and windstorms account for almost 90 per cent of the 1,000 most disastrous events since 1990.

“They have caused more than 1.0 trillion dollars in damages and affected more than 4 billion people. The poor and most vulnerable have suffered first and worst,” Ban added.

UNSGAB’s recommendations include:

— A push for increased and improved financial flows, with increased priority to the water and sanitation services sector, as well as water resources management, in national budgets.

— More emphasis to the reality that water scarcity, water pollution and deterioration of water-related ecosystems pose a threat to global sustainable development.

— Develop national wastewater policies and master plans, including cost estimates, timeframes, and sustainable financing plans, to ensure that capital investment plans are matched by external and internal funding sources.

— Water-related disasters must be addressed as part of development planning, including required social protection.

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Jamaica’s Aging Water Systems Falter Under Intense Heat and Drought Wed, 18 Nov 2015 11:12:37 +0000 Zadie Neufville 0 Drinking Water Shortages Plague Pakistan Region Sun, 15 Nov 2015 06:26:05 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Kenya’s Market-Based Youth Project Changing Lives Fri, 06 Nov 2015 14:43:30 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 Climate Change Threatens Flavour of Argentine Wine Thu, 05 Nov 2015 04:11:53 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Storage tanks in a winery in the western Argentine province of Mendoza. The distinctive colour of the wine made from malbec grapes, the main kind produced by local winemakers, is starting to change due to the impact of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Storage tanks in a winery in the western Argentine province of Mendoza. The distinctive colour of the wine made from malbec grapes, the main kind produced by local winemakers, is starting to change due to the impact of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MENDOZA, Argentina, Nov 5 2015 (IPS)

Purple garlic that is losing its color? More translucent wine? Climate change will also affect the flavours of our food in the absence of measures to mitigate the impacts of global warming, which are already being felt in crops that are basic to local economies, such as in the Argentine province of Mendoza.

An exposition by the National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), during the Climate Change Forum held in October in Mendoza, the capital of the province of the same name, organised jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNCP), raised the subject.

“Will climate change affect the quality of malbec?” read one sign at the exposition, referring to Argentina’s most characteristic wine.

“The rise in temperature dulls the color of purple garlic,” says a study by horticulture expert Mónica Guiñazú at UNCuyo’s department of agrarian sciences.

Gastronomic considerations aside, a large part of the economy of this Andean province in west-central Argentina depends on crops like malbec grapes. Winemaking alone represents six percent of the province’s GDP.

“In our regional economy, malbec is the most important variety. That’s why we chose it as an object of study,” said Emiliano Malovini, one of the researchers who carried out a study on “the effect of rising temperatures on the physiology and quality of malbec grapes” by the university’s vegetable physiology section and the National Council on Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).

In Argentina, “nearly 90 percent of the garlic is produced in Mendoza,” said Guiñazú.

It’s not a question of alarming wine tasters or lovers of garlic, which has proven nutritional and therapeutic properties.

But in the case of malbec, Malovini explained to IPS, “we expect the quality of grapes will decline as a result of the climate change that is projected, as well as what is already happening, the very warm years we have had.”

Malovini cited forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of a temperature rise of two to four degrees Celsius in this part of South America by the end of the century.

Climate Change Forum held in October in the city of Mendoza, the capital of the western Argentine province of that name, where rising temperatures threaten the flavours of the crops that are a pillar of the regional economy. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Climate Change Forum held in October in the city of Mendoza, the capital of the western Argentine province of that name, where rising temperatures threaten the flavours of the crops that are a pillar of the regional economy. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“What has been observed in the preliminary results is a small decline (in quality), mainly in the colour,” he explained, referring to anthocyanins, phytochemicals that play a crucial role in the colour of red wine.

“This is very important because a high-quality, high-end wine for export requires a certain minimal level of colour in the grapes,” he said.

At the same time, “there is another component, the polyphenol content in wine, which gives it ageing potential, to produce wines laid down for two or three years,” he added.

Other changes seen were an increase in alcohol content and a reduction in acidity.

Malovini is studying techniques to counteract the effects of climate change, such as hormone therapy and agricultural practices like restricting irrigation water in vineyards.

Also worried are garlic growers in Mendoza, who make Argentina the world’s third-largest garlic exporter, after China and Spain, in a country where more than half of all exports are agricultural products.

The researchers found that the growing period was up to 10 days shorter, which would in principle be a positive thing, said Guiñazú, because it would make it possible to produce garlic earlier, to supply other markets.

The bad news was that a five degree Celsius rise in temperature – and a 1.5 degree increase in the soil – would spell significant decoloration in purple garlic.

“In Argentina, it doesn’t matter if the colour pales…but in the European Union they put a lot of importance on that. It is penalised,” he said.

According to industry estimates, garlic production generates 10,000 direct and 7,500 indirect jobs, and is a driver of the economy in the wine-producing, mountainous geographical region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina, especially Mendoza and the neighbouring province of San Juan.

Participants in the Climate Change Forum noted that global warming would reduce the water coming from mountain snow melt, fuelling the process of desertification in Mendoza, besides causing more frequent and severe climate events like hail or drought.

“In the last four years a significant water shortage has been seen,” said Daniel Tomasini, UNDP’s coordinator of environment and sustainable development. “Which could form part of the normal variations that have always been seen, or could be the result of climate change.”

“Rivers in Mendoza are expected to see water flows shrink by 15 to 20 percent in the next few years,” he told IPS.

A UNDP report points out that this would affect crop yields and the quality of life of small-scale rural producers.

“Not only regional food security faces a threat, but also the production of food that is distributed to the rest of the country, and is exported,” he said.

That prospect, said Elena Abraham of the Argentine Dryland Research Institute (IADIZA), would increase the social inequality between arid and productive parts of the country.

In Mendoza, 95 percent of the territory is desert and only 4.8 percent is made up of irrigated oases, where 95 percent of the province’s 1.8 million inhabitants are concentrated. Agriculture consumes 90 percent of the province’s water supply.

Outside of the productive areas people mainly depend on subsistence sheep herding and small-scale agriculture, and have historically been neglected by the state.

“We are going to have a desert in the strictest sense of the word,” Abraham told IPS. “The word desert comes, precisely, from ‘to desert’. And people will leave because they won’t have any other option for development – as they are already doing.”

It is the paradox of a region of the developing South that is preparing to mitigate the effects of climate change for which it has virtually no responsibility, but is a direct victim, since experts predict that Mendoza will be one of the provinces hit hardest by the rise in temperatures.

“Climate change is no longer an abstraction,” José Octavio Bordón, president of the UNCuyo Global Affairs Centre, which works on climate change adaptation, said during the forum. “It is the world that my children and their children will live in.”

Argentina is the third biggest Latin American emitter of greenhouse gases and ranks 22nd in the world, accounting for 0.88 percent of the global total, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

In its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), Argentina pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030, and said it could increase that goal to 30 percent with international support.

That commitment, considered insufficient by local and international environmentalists, forms part of the INDCs that will be included in the new treaty climate to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Paris in December.

Argentina’s position is that “we are not going to reduce emissions if that generates problems for our people, or for national development, but the goals we have set take this into consideration,” the government’s undersecretary of promotion of sustainable development, Juan Pablo Vismara, told IPS.

“We are worried that absolute obligations will be established (in Paris), such as a quota or an emissions ceiling for us. We must consider that we will have to continue to emit gases, to develop and to fight poverty, but also because we produce food for the rest of the world,” said the high-level official of the secretariat of the environment and sustainable development.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 2
Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal, a Nightmare for Environmentalists Tue, 03 Nov 2015 01:08:16 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Hundreds of small farmers came to Managua from the Caribbean coastal region in southern Nicaragua on Oct. 27 to take part in the 55th protest against the construction of the interoceanic canal, which is set to displace thousands of rural families. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Hundreds of small farmers came to Managua from the Caribbean coastal region in southern Nicaragua on Oct. 27 to take part in the 55th protest against the construction of the interoceanic canal, which is set to displace thousands of rural families. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Nov 3 2015 (IPS)

The international scientific community’s fears about the damage that will be caused by Nicaragua’s future interoceanic canal have been reinforced by the environmental impact assessment, which warns of serious environmental threats posed by the megaproject.

The report “Canal de Nicaragua: Executive Summary of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment” was carried out by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and commissioned by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN Group), the Chinese company that won the bid to build the canal.

The 113-page executive summary sums up the study, whose unabridged version has not been made publicly available by the government, ERM or HKND.

In the study, ERM says the megaproject could be of great benefit to the country as long as best international practices on the environmental, economic and social fronts are incorporated at the design, construction and operational stages, for which it makes a number of recommendations.

But it spells out specific risks and threats to the environment in this impoverished Central American country of 6.1 million people with a territory of 129,429 square kilometers.

The canal will go across the 8,624-sq-km Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua – the second largest lake in Latin America after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. The route will be nearly four times longer than its rival, the Panama Canal.

The 276-km canal will link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; of that length, 105 km will cross Lake Cocibolca.

Salvador Montenegro, former executive director of the Aquatic Resources Research Centre of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (CIRA/UNAN), stressed that the executive summary suggests additional studies on Lake Cocibolca, to fully assess the risks to the environment and to recommend actions to mitigate them.

“These are the same observations that I have been making, which were never taken into account,” Montenegro told IPS. “On the contrary, they accused me of being a traitor to the government and of being in the opposition, when the only thing I was doing was trying to preserve the health of Lake Cocibolca.”

The scientific researcher was dismissed from his post in the university allegedly due to pressure from the government of left-wing President Daniel Ortega, in office since 2007, who backs the canal project driven by the government investment promotion agency, Pro-Nicaragua, headed by his son Laureano Ortega.

Now Montenegro forms part of the Grupo Cocibolca, a group made up of scientists, academics, environmentalists and activists openly opposed to the future canal.

Ometepe Island within Lake Cocibolca in western Nicaragua. Scientists, environmentalists, political opponents, academics, social organisations and people whose lives will be affected have come together against construction of the interoceanic canal and in defence of the lake. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Ometepe Island within Lake Cocibolca in western Nicaragua. Scientists, environmentalists, political opponents, academics, social organisations and people whose lives will be affected have come together against construction of the interoceanic canal and in defence of the lake. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Mónica López, an activist who belongs to the group, summed up for IPS the main findings in the ERM study which she believes make it clear that the project would open the doors to an unprecedented environmental catastrophe for Latin America.

She said ERM concluded that neither HKND nor the government have the experience to carry out a project of this magnitude.

The report says “the government would be wise to consider engaging with international development agencies such as the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank,” to avoid damage in sensitive areas like the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, the San Juan River, Lake Cocibolca and surrounding nature reserves.

“The study says that in normal situations, these areas would generally be considered untouchable due to their social and ecological fragility,” López noted.

ERM says that if further studies are not conducted and “mitigation and offset measures” are not successfully implemented, “biodiversity impacts would be significantly worse than described.”

It recommended further studies to identify seismic risks posed by construction of the canal; gauge the impact of dredging in the lake; identify the threats from the introduction of saltwater into the lake; and assess the risk of a reduction of the outflow of water from the lake to the San Juan River.

It also concludes that without the implementation by HKND and the government of the environmental and social mitigation measures recommended in the report, not even Route 4 – the one that was selected and the only one considered viable – would have the positive net impact for the environment that could justify construction of the canal.

Based on the ERM executive summary and the considerations of local and international scientists and other experts, the Grupo Cocibolca sent a letter to the president on Oct. 26 asking for the repeal of the law that made the canal project possible.

Ortega has not responded. But HKND, through its officials outside of Nicaragua, announced further studies with a view to moving ahead on the project that will have a projected cost of 50 billion dollars – the largest megaproject that the world has seen in the last few years.

HKND’s chief project adviser, Bill Wild, told the local media that the company had made some “optimisations, with a higher cost to the project, to avoid and reduce environmental and social impacts and keep the risks to a minimum.”

According to Wild, the studies that began to be carried out in 2013 will continue until 2016 and will be complemented by additional topographic and hydrological research, to be conducted by the Australian consultancy CSA Global.

Map of southern Nicaragua with the six projected canal routes. The fourth, in green, was the one that was selected. Credit: ERM

Map of southern Nicaragua with the six projected canal routes. The fourth, in green, was the one that was selected. Credit: ERM

The executive vice president of HKND Group, Kwok Wai Pang, told the local newspaper El Nuevo Diario that now that the ERM study has been presented, “more in-depth studies will be carried out along the route.

“During the feasibility study we conducted topographical, seismic, hydrological and archaeological research and we collected a large volume of seismic information and data on water levels, salinity intrusion and other questions, to draft a conceptual design.”

Telémaco Talavera, spokesman for the president’s Great Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua Commission, downplayed the concerns expressed by ERM and environmentalists.

Speaking with IPS and three other journalists, he expressed confidence in HKND’s capacity “to work out, with great wisdom, any inconvenience that may emerge, and which are normal in projects of such magnitude.”

Not just environmental problems

But despite the government’s and HKDN’s upbeat attitude about the project, it is overshadowed by factors other than environmental issues.

On one hand, specialised media outlets reported in September that because of China’s current financial crisis, HKND magnate Wang Jing had lost as much as 84 percent of his fortune, previously estimated at more than 10 billion dollars, which has shrunk to some 1.2 billion dollars.

On the other hand, growing resistance by peasant farmers along the projected canal route has hurt the international business climate for the company, according to López, the activist.

So far, 55 demonstrations against the project have been held in Nicaragua. The latest, held Oct. 27 in Managua by rural residents from different parts of the country along with other protesters, made the international headlines because of the violent clashes between the demonstrators and supporters of the megaproject.

In its executive summary, ERM says the social opposition affects the project’s viability.

“The land expropriation and involuntary resettlement process to date has not met international standards,” the ERM report states. “The Project risks losing its social license to operate and may jeopardize the viability of the Project by not following international standards.”

So far, the government has given HKND permission to expropriate 2,909 square kilometres of land along the projected route.

The canal law was approved in 2013. But small-scale work on the project along the Pacific Ocean did not officially get underway until December 2014.

HKDN projected that the work would take five years, and the canal would be operating in 2019. But ERM predicts that it will not meet that deadline.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goals Fri, 30 Oct 2015 22:46:44 +0000 Princess Sarah Zeid

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

By H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.


]]> 2
Bangladesh Facing Tough Climate Choices Mon, 26 Oct 2015 17:01:37 +0000 Amantha Perera 0 Terrace Farming – an Ancient Indigenous Model for Food Security Wed, 21 Oct 2015 23:44:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Terraces built by Atacameño Indians in the village of Caspana in Alto Loa, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. This ageold farming technique represents an adaptation to the climate, and ensures the right to food of these Andes highlands people. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Terraces built by Atacameño Indians in the village of Caspana in Alto Loa, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. This ageold farming technique represents an adaptation to the climate, and ensures the right to food of these Andes highlands people. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile, Oct 21 2015 (IPS)

Terrace farming as practiced from time immemorial by native peoples in the Andes mountains contributes to food security as a strategy of adaptation in an environment where the geography and other conditions make the production of nutritional foods a complex undertaking.

This ancient prehispanic technique, still practiced in vast areas of the Andes highlands, including Chile, “is very important from the point of view of adaptation to the climate and the ecosystem,” said Fabiola Aránguiz.

“By using terraces, water, which is increasingly scarce in the northern part of the country, is utilised in a more efficient manner,” Aránguiz, a junior professional officer on family farming with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told IPS from the agency’s regional headquarters in Santiago, some 1,400 km south of the town of Caspana in Chile’s Atacama desert.

In this country’s Andes highands, terrace farming has mainly been practiced by the Atacameño and Quechua indigenous peoples, who have inhabited the Atacama desert in the north for around 9,000 years.

Principally living in oases, gorges and valleys of Alto Loa, in the region of Antofagasta, these peoples learned about terrace farming from the Inca, who taught them how to make the best use of scant water resources to grow food on the limited fertile land at such high altitudes.

The terraces are “like flowerbeds that have been made over the years, where the existing soil is removed and replaced by fertile soil brought in from elsewhere, in order to be able to grow food,” the Agriculture Ministry’s secretary in Antofagasta, Jaime Pinto, told IPS.

“This has made it possible for them to farm, because in these gorges where they terrace, microclimates are created that enable the cultivation of different crops,” Pinto, the highest level government representative in agriculture in the region, said from the regional capital, Antofagasta.

The official said that although water is scarce in this area, “it is of good quality, which makes it possible, in the case of the town of Caspana, to cite one example, to produce garlic or fruit like apricots or apples on a large scale.”

According to official figures, in the region of Antofagasta alone there are some 14 highlands communities who preserve the tradition of terrace farming, which contributes to local food security as well as the generation of income, improving the quality of life.

Communiities like Caspana, population 400, and the nearby Río Grande, with around 100 inhabitants, depend on agriculture, and thanks to terrace farming they not only feed their families but grow surplus crops for sale.

But people in other villages and towns in Alto Loa, like Toconce, with a population of about 100, are basically subsistence farmers, despite abundant terraces and fertile land. The reason for this is the heavy rural migration to cities, which has left the land without people to farm it, Pinto explained.

The town of Caspana, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Its 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale agriculture as they proudly declare on a rock at the entrance to the village, thanks to the use of the ancient tradition of terrace farming. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The town of Caspana, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Its 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale agriculture as they proudly declare on a rock at the entrance to the village, thanks to the use of the ancient tradition of terrace farming. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Ours is fertile land,” Liliana Terán, a 45-year-old mother of four and grandmother of four who belongs to the Atacameño indigenous community, told IPS. One of her income-generating activities is farming on the small terrace she inherited from her mother in Caspana.

“Whatever you plant here, grows,” she added proudly.

The name of her indigenous village, Caspana, means “children of the valley” in the Kunza tongue, which died out in the late 19th century. The village is located 3,300 metres above sea level in a low-lying part of the valley.

Caspana is “a village of farmers and shepherds” reads a sign carved into stone at the entrance to the village, which is inhabited by Atacameño or Kunza Indians, who today live in northwest Argentina and northern Chile.

Each family here has their terrace, which they carefully maintain and use for growing crops. The land is handed down from generation to generation.

Each village has a “juez del agua”, the official responsible for supplying or cutting off the supply of water, to ensure equitable distribution to the entire village.

“The water flows down through vertical waterways between the terraces, from the highest point of the river, and is distributed in a controlled mmaner,” said Aránguiz.

“With this system, better use is made of both irrigation and rainwater, and more water is retained, meaning more moisture in the soil, which helps ease things in the dry periods,” she added. “And the drainage of water is improved, to avoid erosion and protect the soil.”

All of these aspects, said the FAO representative, make terrace farming an efficient system for fighting the effects of climate change.

“Well-built and well-maintained terraces can improve the stability of the slopes, preventing mudslides during extreme rain events,” she said, stressing “the cultural importance of this ancestral technique, which strengthens the economic and social dynamics of family agriculture.”

Aránguiz pointed out that indigenous people in the Andes highlands have kept alive till today this tradition which bolsters food security. She specifically mentioned countries like Bolivia and Peru, noting that terrace farming is used in the latter on more than 500,000 hectares of land.

Luisa Terán, 43, who has an adopted daughter and is Liliana’s cousin, works the land on her mother’s terrace.

When IPS was in the village the day before the traditional ceremony when the local farmers come together to clean the waterways that irrígate the terraces, Luisa was hard at work making empanadas or stuffed pastries for the celebration.

“This ceremony is very important for us,” as it marks the preparation of the land for the next harvest, she said.

Pinto underlined that “maintaining these cultivation systems is a responsibility that we have, as government.”

He said that through the government’s Institute of Agricultural Development, the aim is to implement a programme for the recovery and maintenance of terraces that were damaged in the most recent heavy storms in northern Chile.

In addition, projects are being designed “to help young people see agricultural development as an economic alternative.”

This goes hand in hand with the fight against inequality, Pinto said.

“We are working on creating the conditions for food autonomy and it is this kind of cultivation that can generate contributions to agricultural production to feed the region,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Water Remains Largely Marginalized in Climate Talks Tue, 20 Oct 2015 23:26:42 +0000 Thalif Deen Credit: WaterAid

Credit: WaterAid

By Thalif Deen

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week turned the spotlight on the “record number” of extreme weather-related events the world is witnessing these days.

With an eye on the upcoming climate change talks in Paris, he warned that in the South Pacific, entire islands are at risk, largely threatened by a sea-level rise.

In southeast Brazil, they’re suffering through the worst drought in 80 years. In California, it’s the worst drought in a century – plus wildfires.

In Malawi, there are record floods. And in the Arctic, whole villages are in danger, said Kerry, speaking at the Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies on Oct.15.

Despite Kerry’s admonition, the role of water remains a relatively neglected issue in the run-up to the Paris talks, while the primary focus has been on carbon emissions.

Reinforcing the need for water security, Louise Whiting, Senior Policy Analyst on Water Security & Climate Change at UK-based WaterAid, told IPS the world’s poorest are affected most by climate change, which is felt primarily through water: too much (flooding and rising sea levels), too little (droughts), at the wrong time (unpredictable weather patterns) or of the wrong quality (too salty or polluted).

The more than 650 million poor and marginalised people who rely on unsafe water sources will be increasingly vulnerable as these sources are highly exposed to climate-related threats.

For example, she pointed out, floods can inundate tube-wells, and natural sources of fresh water can become contaminated with salty seawater.

And in the lead-up to this year’s U.N. climate talks from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, WaterAid is calling on the international community to make water security, which includes first and foremost having access to water, sanitation and hygiene, a priority when it comes to helping poor countries adapt to climate change.

Whiting said adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities improve people’s health, education and economic stability, making them more resilient to climate change.

‘We must also ensure that money flows from the people that caused the problem to those least able to cope with it.”

In 2010, the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution that recognized water and sanitation as a human right.

And U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly said that safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are crucial for poverty reduction, crucial for sustainable development and crucial for achieving any and every one of the Millennium Development Goals, which end December.

But the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders on Sep. 25, also singles out water and sanitation as key issues in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

By 2030, the United Nations is hoping to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all; improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials; and substantially increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity, and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

Whiting told IPS WaterAid will be focusing on improving access to safe water and a decent toilet for poor communities.

“Through our work we increase water storage capacity and strengthen monitoring of water supplies so droughts can be detected early. Where flooding is a problem, for example in Bangladesh, we make infrastructure more robust where necessary, and we also help communities come together and assess their own vulnerability so they can demand better services from their governments”

WaterAid is also helping 29 communities across West Africa cope with water scarcity and becoming more resilient to climatic threats, particularly by helping them improve the way they manage their own water resources.

In Burkina Faso, where the dry season already lasts for up to eight months a year, many communities live a precarious existence. Climate change will only exacerbate their situation.

WaterAid is combining additional boreholes, sand dams and improvements to existing wells alongside training local people to become water experts.

These experts, she said, are revolutionising communities’ abilities to control their own water supply by measuring water levels, monitoring rainfall, pre-empting threats and spotting emerging data patterns, so they know what water can be used, at what times of day, and in what quantities.

They are also feeding that data into government monitoring schemes, to help build a more cohesive national picture of climate patterns across the country.

“Nature doesn’t care whether you are a poor subsistence farmer in Burkina Faso or an accountant in California,” Whiting said.

“Climate change will impact us all. However, it will impact those who have contributed the least to the problem the hardest.”

World leaders gathering in Paris must commit to providing the technical and financial support that is needed to help poor countries adapt to the coming changes, she declared.

According to the United Nations, about 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without, and at least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 per cent to 91 per cent.

The U.N. also points out that water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise.

The writer can be contacted at

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

]]> 0
Toasting to a More Sustainable Planet with Argentine Wine Tue, 20 Oct 2015 21:37:50 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LUJÁN DE CUYO, Argentina , Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina is famous for its vineyards. But it is one of the areas in the country hit hardest by the effects of climate change, such as desertification and the melting of mountain top snow. And local winegrowers have come up with their own way to fight global warming.

In the cup, malbec, Argentina’s flagship red wine, still has the same intense flavour and colour.

But behind the production process is a new environmental reconversion, which began four years ago in the arid province of Mendoza, where vineyards bloom in the midst of oases created by human hands.

Only 4.8 percent of the desert province of Mendoza is green; 3.5 percent is dedicated to agricultural production, which uses 90 percent of the water consumed, and the rest is urban areas.“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“We are trying to maintain the same production levels, using less water and less energy, reducing waste, reusing waste products, and creating less pollution,” the provincial coordinator of the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, Germán Micic, told Tierramérica.

The initiative, launched by the national Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, benefits some 1,250 small and medium-sized companies in Argentina.

It is carried out with technical and administrative support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funds from the Interamerican Development Bank. In Mendoza, 210 companies – 60 percent of them wineries – are participating. They receive advice and up to 28,000 dollars in funds.

“We’re producing the same wine, but in a sustainable manner,” said Luis Romito, the head of the Sustainability Commission of the Bodegas de Argentina wineries association, while participating in the Climate Change Forum organised this month in Mendoza by the National University of Cuyo and the UNDP.

Some of these practices have begun to be implemented by Dominio del Plata, a family winery at the foot of the Andes mountains, in Agrelo, a town in the department of Luján de Cuyo.

By changing equipment and modifying processes, the family business has managed to use less water in the production of its wine.

In the wine production process, water is mainly used for washing, rinsing, heating and cooling.

One example of the changes introduced was the replacement of manual washing of the grape picking lugs, which took some 20 minutes per unit, by automated industrial washers.

“The lug is washed in five minutes with this machine,” Marcelo del Popolo, the winery’s adviser on quality and environmental responsability, told Tierramérica. “We have reduced water consuption by some 60,000 litres a month. In three months of harvest, that’s 180,000 litres of water saved.

“And the water used in the washing process goes down a drain and is carried to a treatment plant, and is then used to irrígate the vineyards,” he said.

And irrigation systems are being improved in Mendoza, where 90 percent of water is used in agricultural activities, and where water shortages are increasingly severe as a result of global warming.

“Water is vital to our province, and we are being seriously affected by this problem,” Ricardo Villalba, an expert in geosciences and former director of the Mendoza-based Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences, told Tierramérica. “Water is the element that controls regional development.”

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Our province basically depends on the water that comes from the snow up in the mountains, and all of the global forecasts and models indicate that there will gradually be less and less snow,” said Villalba, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The wine-growing industry, which represents six percent of GDP in Mendoza and 1.3 percent of GDP nationwide, also aims to reduce energy consumption, which in Argentina is responsible for 43 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the wineries, energy is used for heating, cooling, pumping of liquids and lighting.

“In each one of these stages we can incorporate modifications of equipment or processes, which make significant energy savings possible,” Micic said. “From jackets on the tanks to maintain temperatures more efficiently to the installation of advanced new pumps for a stronger water flow and lower energy consumption, through the change of compressors and lighting.”

Del Popolo said: “We keep track here of the water that comes in and the temperature we manage to achieve. By doing this we have reduced the energy used for heating by 15 percent.”

The company also uses green-friendly materials like lightweight wine bottles and lighter boxes that use less cardboard. Plastic and other waste products like broken bottles are classified, recycled and reused.

“We’re using boxes that we have already recycled many times over,” he said.

The benefits to the environment also bring considerable cost savings.

“We have addressed two fundamental questions: savings in energy and in water. And in both of them, we’re also seeing significant economic savings,” said the head of the winery, which plans in the future to invest in a solar thermal system for heating and fermentation.

This, according to UNDP representative in Argentina René Mauricio Valdés, is what makes the project self-sustainable.

“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case,” said Valdés during a visit to the winery.

Fincas Patagónicas Tapiz, an olive oil producer in the neighbouring department of Maipú, is another company taking part in the programme in Mendoza.

Among other measures, it implemented a system to circulate water heated by solar energy around the tanks of oil to eliminate that energy expense.

It also insulated the room holding the tanks of oil, to keep the temperature steady. This made it possible to avoid the need to use air conditioning in the entire plant, which consumed an enormous amount of energy.

“If the temperature of the oil drops below 14 or 15 degrees Celsius, it solidifies and I can’t filter it,” plant manager Sebastián Correas explained to Tierramérica. “Which means that in the (southern hemisphere) winter I have to keep heating the entire plant until the warmer temperatures of September and October make it possible to bottle the oil.”

Argentina is not one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases. Producing 0.66 percent of all greenhouse gases released globally, it is 22nd in a ranking that counts the 28 European Union countries as a single bloc.

But Villalba, the scientific researcher, believes that Argentina, like Mendoza, has a role to play.

“We are going to have to prepare ourselves for this, for example to continue to be leaders in the production of malbec at a global level,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Opinion: “Sanitation, Water & Hygiene For All” Cannot Wait for 2030 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 22:54:13 +0000 Geeta Rao Gupta

Dr Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), joined UNICEF in June, 2011, and brings over 20 years of experience in international development programming, advocacy and research to the UN children’s agency.

By Geeta Rao Gupta

The new Sustainable Development Goals, agreed upon recently by the member states of the United Nations, are all interconnected, as has been reiterated time and again. However, it is in the new Goal 6 – “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”—for which this interconnectedness is most apparent.

Geeta Rao Gupta

Geeta Rao Gupta

Water flows throughout the 2030 Development Agenda. And sanitation and hygiene underpin any possible gains from access to water.

If we do not reach Goal 6, the other goals and targets will not be reached. Progress in the areas of education, health, inequality and extreme poverty all depends on how well we do on water and sanitation.

The United Nations some years ago declared that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. However today, 663 million people are without access to adequate drinking water and 2.4 billion lack adequate toilets.

We at UNICEF are particularly concerned about the children, who are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to these basic needs.

It affects their health. Water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under five. Without access to sanitation hundreds of them fall ill and die every single day from preventable causes, particularly diarrhoea and other fecal-oral diseases.

It affects their education. In many communities, girls stay out of school because they need to fetch water; because they do not have a safe space to use when they menstruate; because they must help their mothers care for those who are sick – often from water-borne diseases.

It affects their nutritional status and their development. There is emerging evidence of direct linkages between lack of access to water and sanitation, and chronic malnutrition. Around 159 million children worldwide are stunted (short height for age), a condition which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. The repercussions of stunting can be felt beyond the individual child. It can significantly diminish the learning and future earning potential of entire generations, and thus negatively affect the local and national economy.

It affects equality and equity. One important aim in the new SDGs is the goal to reduce inequalities. New evidence from the World Bank shows that investing in water and sanitation for the poorest 20 per cent of a population yields greater economic returns than investing in the other quintiles and thus has the potential to reduce societal inequalities.

Our data from 45 developing countries show that in 7 out of 10 households, the burden of collecting water falls to women and girls, so access would also aid gender equity.

A side event in the margins of the UN General Assembly, hosted by the governments of the Netherlands, South Africa, Hungary and Bangladesh, concluded that targeting the poorest and the most marginalized will require an immense mind-shift for governments. But it must be done.

It cannot be done without strengthening institutions and improving the accountability of governments and service providers. And it will not be done without involving those who have the most at stake – the poor, women, and adolescents – in planning and in monitoring of services. Their influence has already been brought to bear in the drafting of Goal 6, the fastest agreed-upon goal.

It is no coincidence that impressive results are achieved by working closely with those directly affected. Partnership with them is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but a must-have.

In short, access to water and sanitation is not only a matter of dignity and human rights, but fundamental to our ability to attain any of the goals the governments of the world have just adopted.

We must start right away on working on Goal 6, and it can’t be business as usual: we need to start with the most disadvantaged, or we risk losing the gains we have so painstakingly made in the last 15 years, and we endanger the future. There is no time to waste.


]]> 1
Healthy Oceans Key to Fighting Hunger Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

Seafood offers a large amount of animal protein in diets around the world, and the livelihoods of 12 percent of the global population depend directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture.

However, the impacts of climate change, plastic waste pollution, illegal fishing, and acidification threaten the oceans and their biodiversity, said experts at the second international Our Ocean conference, held Oct. 5-6 in the Chilean port of Valparaíso, 120 km northwest of Santiago.

The more than 500 participants from 56 countries taking part in the gathering committed to some 80 marine conservation and protection initiatives for over 2.1 billion dollars, covering more than 1.9 billion km of ocean, said Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz.

Muñoz and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, hosted the conference, whose first edition took place in 2014 in Washington, D.C.

In one of the keynote speeches, the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said keeping the oceans healthy and productive was key to eradicating hunger and reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the international community during a Sept. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York.

“We cannot continue to use water resources as if they were infinite,” said Graziano da Silva, who pointed out that nearly one-third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

The U.N. official said oceans do not have an infinite capacity to withstand the threats they face: over-exploitation of marine resources, climate change, pollution and loss of habitat.

“The health of our own planet and our food security depends on how we treat the blue world,” he stated.

FAO emphasises that fish is a highly nutritious complement to diets lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.

According to FAO, about one billion people – largely in developing countries – rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. And in 2010, “fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20 percent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of such protein.”

And in some countries, especially small island states, fish accounts for over 25 percent of animal protein intake, the U.N. agency reports.

Besides offering a staple element in diets worldwide, fishing and aquaculture provide jobs and incomes to millions of people across the planet.

“Fishing is part of the oldest, most remote history of the American continent,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “In the interior of the continent as well as along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for dozens of native peoples, especially groups whose nomadic way of life depended on the sea.”

And that is still true: 12 percent of the global population – or 875,000,000 people – depend directly or indirectly on fishing and aquaculture.

“The sea is so important for us because it not only feeds us, but gives us life,” said Petero Edmunds, mayor of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, located 3,700 km off the coast of Chile in the Pacific ocean.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“For Polynesians, the sea is our source of life,” he said in an interview with IPS. “It is so important that in our mythology we have Tangaloa, the God of the Sea, and in Rapa Nui’s ancient traditions, when a baby is born, the first thing the father must do is dip it into the sea, to return it to its natural state.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over two million small-scale fisherpersons who generate some three billion dollars a year in revenues, according to the Latin American Organisation for Fisheries Development (OLDEPESCA).

Three of the world’s large marine ecosystems are found along South America’s coasts.

The main one is the Humboldt Current, in the Pacific ocean. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to FAO.

Other important ecosystems in the region, in the Atlantic ocean, are the Patagonian Shelf along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the South Brazil Shelf.

But these ecosystems are in serious danger: Around eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year, killing innumerable marine animals and sea birds.

In addition, nearly one-third of global fish stocks are overfished.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved at the late September global summit in New York, number 14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

But the interdependence of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the vital role played by oceans which, for example, absorb more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, mean the SDGs are impossible to achieve without healthy and resilient oceans.

“Today we know there is a much closer relationship between oceans and climate change,” EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella told IPS.

He added that the protection of oceans should be a central focus of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Foreign Minister Muñoz, meanwhile, said the government leaders taking part in the conference in Chile, who will also attend COP21, “have promised that protection of the oceans will be included in the documents and commitments that emerge from the summit.”

Muñoz stressed the importance of the announcements made by a number of countries at the Valparaíso conference.

He emphasised Chile’s pledge to protect more than one million sq km of sea, which will be one of the largest protected marine areas in the world.

As part of that initiative, the country announced the creation of 720,000 sq km of protected areas in Rapa Nui, as demanded by the island’s slightly over 5,000 inhabitants, who are seeking to protect the biodiversity of the surrounding waters, which are home to 142 endemic species, 27 of which are endangered or threatened.

The measure will also make it possible for them to continue their ancestral practice of subsistence fishing in the island’s 50 nautical mile zone.

“Artisanal fishing is still practiced according to our ancestral traditions in Rapa Nui,” Edmunds said. “Rocks are used as weights for the hooks, so we can catch tuna or other big fish.”

He said the creation of the marine protected area, announced by President Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the conference, would help combat illegal fishing in the waters surrounding the island.

“For decades we have seen ‘ghost’ ships that appear in the early hours of morning as lights on the horizon, which take our fish,” the mayor said.

“With the help of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), it has been shown that an average of 20 illegal vessels a day fish in our waters, which are taking our resources, and we don’t want them to be exhausted,” he added.

Bachelet also announced the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park covering 297,518 sq km, which will be the biggest such protected area in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 4
Honduran Fishing Village Says Adios to Candles and Dirty Energy Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:28:07 +0000 Thelma Mejia View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

A small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras has become an example to be followed in renewable energies, after replacing candles and dirty costly energy based on fossil fuels with hydropower from a mini-dam, while reforesting the river basin.

They now have round-the-clock electric power, compared to just three hours a week in the past.

The community, Plan Grande, is in the municipality of Santa Fe in the northern department of Colón, and can only be reached by sea, after a 10-hour, 400-km drive from Tegucigalpa on difficult roads to the village of Río Coco on the Caribbean coast.

From Río Coco you take a motorboat the next morning, which takes 20 minutes to reach Plan Grande.

It’s 6:00 AM and the sun has started to come up. The sea is calm and the conditions are good, say the motorboat operators, who add that manatees used to be found in these waters but have since disappeared, which they blame on the damage caused to the environment.

Plan Grande, a village of 500 people, is at the foot of steep slopes, along the Caribbean coast.

On the boat ride to the village, seagulls can be seen flying in the distance as the fishermen return in their cayucos (dugout canoes) and small boats after fishing all night at sea. Others take jobs on larger fishing boats, which keeps them away from home for eight months at a stretch.

Fishing and farming are the only sources of work in the village, which makes electricity all the more important: in the past, because they couldn’t refrigerate their catch, they had to sell it quickly, at low prices.

“There was very little room for negotiating prices, and we would lose out,” community leader Óscar Padilla, the driving force behind the changes in Plan Grande, told IPS.

The village finally got electricity for the first time in 2004, thanks to development aid from Spain. But it was thermal energy, and for just three hours a week of public lighting they paid between 13 and 17 dollars a month per dwelling.

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We couldn’t afford anything more than street lamps – no electricity for TV and no refrigerator, because the costs would skyrocket. We couldn’t keep things on ice for long, and our dairy products and meat would spoil,” said Padilla, 65.

But in 2011 the people of Plan Grande opted for hydropower after a visit by technicians from the Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who suggested a small community-owned hydroelectric plant.

The entire community got involved and designed their own project for renewable energy and sustainability. With 30,000 dollars from the SGP and aid from Germany’s International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA), a round-the-clock power supply became possible and Plan Grande left candles and dirty energy based on fossil fuels in the past.

“Our lives have changed – we now have electricity 24 hours a day and we can have a refrigerator, a freezer, a fan, and even a TV set – although we have to use the energy rationally and respect the limits and controls that we set for ourselves,” another local resident, Edgardo Padilla, told IPS.

“If we’re not careful, demand for power will soar, which would create problems for us again,” said the 33-year-old fisherman, who is responsible for running the energy supply from the micro-hydroelectric power station.

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rules and schedules set by the villagers to optimise and ration energy use include specific times for watching soap operas, turn on freezers, or use fans. For example, freezers are turned on from 10 PM to 6 AM, which is the time of lowest consumption, he said.

“For now, air conditioning is not allowed because it uses so much electricity, and light bulbs and freezers have to be the energy efficient kind,” said Edgardo Padilla, who added that they also focus on transparency and accountability in their energy policy.

The change in the source of energy has brought huge advantages. “We used to pay 360 lempiras (17 dollars) for three hours a week; now we pay 100 lempiras (four dollars) for a round-the-clock power supply,” he said.

The villagers also set a sliding pay scale. Families who have a refrigerator, fan, TV set, computer and freezer pay 11 dollars a month; those who have only a fan and a TV set pay six dollars; and families who just have light bulbs or lamps pay just four dollars.

The Plan Grande mini dam is 2.5 km from the centre of the village, along footpaths through a 300-hectare forest that runs along the Matías river, which provides them with electricity. The plant generates 16.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The villagers also developed a conservation plan to preserve their water sources and installed cameras to monitor illegal logging and to identify the local fauna.

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García runs a nursery created a year ago to grow trees such as pine, which can be used for timber, in order to reforest and keep the area green. She organises maintenance and reforestation crews, which all villagers take part in.

“If someone doesn’t come on the day they were scheduled to do clean-up and maintenance of the nursery or the streets and paths that lead to the dam, they have to pay for that day of missed work,” García, 27, told IPS while watering seedlings.

“We organise ourselves, and using the nursery we also want to become entrepreneurs in other income-generating areas, such as growing rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum),” said García.

The local population is of mixed-race heritage. The municipality of Santa Fe is mainly Garifuna – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe. The mayor of Santa Fe, Noel Ruíz of the Garifuna community, is proud of the village. “It is a model at the national level for the good use of clean energy,” he told IPS.

“It’s worth investing here; this is a committed community and its leaders know about accountability, believe in transparency and love nature, three things that you can’t find easily,” said the 44-year-old mayor, who was reelected to a second term.

“These people are happy because while the country has energy problems, they don’t; they have understood that there is a correlation between conservation of nature and well-being for the community,” added Ruíz, an agronomist.

Energy demand in this country of 8.8 million people is estimated at 1,375 MW. Sixty percent of that is generated by the national power utility, ENEE, and the rest comes from private companies or is imported by means of interconnection with other Central American nations.

Energy in Honduras comes from four sources: thermal, hydropower, wind and biomass. In 2010, 70 percent came from thermal power stations, and 30 percent from renewable sources. But since 2013, that has changed, and thermal energy now represents 51 percent of the total, while the rest comes from renewables.

The village of Plan Grande is now an example of the rational use and conservation of renewable energy.

Thanks to the new power supply this isolated community now has its own bakery.

“As a little girl I would imagine that one day I would trade my candle for a lamp. Things have really changed for us!” a 55-year-old local resident, Julia Baños, told IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0