Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:15:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edge Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:58:30 +0000 Amantha Perera Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed.

“In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around 730 million people, live on 1.25−2.50 dollars a day,” said the report, released in Tokyo Thursday.

It went on to warn that despite the region’s gains, the threat of more of its citizens being pushed back into poverty was very real and that there were large disparities in income and living standards within nations.

“Many who recently joined the middle class could easily fall back into poverty with a sudden change in circumstances,” the report’s authors stressed.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded healthcare and education opportunities." -- UNDP Human Development Report 2014
Here in Sri Lanka, categorised as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011, overall poverty levels have come down in the last half-decade.

The Department of Statistics said that poverty levels had dropped from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent by this April. In some of the richest districts, the fall was sharper. The capital Colombo saw levels drop from 3.6 percent to 1.4 percent. Similar drops were recorded in the adjoining two districts of Gampaha and Kalutara.

However the poorest seemed to getting poorer. Poverty headcount in the poorest area of the nation, the southeastern district of Moneralaga, increased from 14.5 percent to 20.8 percent in the same time period.

The disparity could be larger if stricter measurements aren’t used, argued economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan.

“There is a very low threshold for the status of employment,” he told IPS, referring to the ‘10 years and above’ age threshold used by the government to assess employment rates.

“Such a low threshold gives an artificially higher employment rate, which is deceptive,” he stressed.

The UNDP report said that in the absence of robust safeguards, millions ran the risk of being dragged back into poverty. “With limited social protection, financial crises can quickly lead to profound social crises,” the report forecast.

In Indonesia, for instance, the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s saw poverty levels balloon from 11 percent to 37 percent. Even years later, the world’s poor are finding it hard to climb up the earnings ladder.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011. Only 24 million of them climbed above the 1.25-dollars-a-day income poverty line over 2007–2011, compared with 134 million between 2000 and 2007.”

Globally some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 2.7 billion live on even less, the report noted, adding that while those numbers have been declining, many people only increased their income to a point barely above the poverty line so that “idiosyncratic or generalised shocks could easily push them back into poverty.”

This has huge implications, since roughly 12 percent of the world population lives in chronic hunger, while 1.2 billion of the world’s workers are still employed in the informal sector.

Sri Lanka, reflecting global trends, is also home to large numbers of poor people despite the island showing impressive growth rates.

Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the secretary to the treasury and the point man for the national economy, predicts a growth rate of 7.8 percent for this year.

“This year should not be an uncomfortable one for us,” he told IPS, but while this is true for the well off, it could not be further away from reality for hundreds of thousands who cannot make ends meet or afford a square meal every day.

While the report identified the poor as being most vulnerable in the face of sudden upheavals, other groups – like women, indigenous communities, minorities, the old, the displaced and the disabled – are also considered “high risk”, and often face overlapping issues of marginalisation and poverty.

The report also identified climate change as a major contributor to inequality and instability, warning that extreme heat and extreme precipitation events would likely increase in frequency.

By the end of this century, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels are likely to pose risks to some of the low-lying areas in South Asia, and also wreak havoc on its fast-expanding urban centres.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia are particularly vulnerable – India alone has 93 million small farmers. These groups already face water scarcity. Some studies predict crop yields up to 30 percent lower over the next decades, even as population pressures continue to rise,” the report continued, urging policy-makers to seriously consider adaptation measures.

Sri Lanka is already talking about a 15-percent loss in its vital paddy harvest, while simultaneously experiencing galloping price hikes in vegetables due to lack of rainfall and extreme heat.

It has already had to invest over 400 million dollars to safeguard its economic and administrative nerve centre, Colombo, from flash floods.

“We are getting running lessons on how to adapt to fluctuating weather, and we better take note,” J D M K Chandarasiri, additional director at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute in Colombo, told IPS.

Smart investments in childhood education and youth employment could act as a bulwark against shocks, the report suggested, since these long-term measures are crucial in interrupting the cycle of poverty.

The report also urged policy makers to look at development and economic growth through a holistic prism rather than continuing with piecemeal interventions, noting that many developed countries invested in education, health and public services before reaching a high income status.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded health care and education opportunities and other interventions for community development,” the reported noted.


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Disasters Poised to Sweep Away Development Gains Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:39:42 +0000 Stephen Leahy Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Extreme poverty and hunger can be eliminated, but only through far greater efforts to reduce carbon emissions that are overheating the planet and producing punishing droughts, catastrophic floods and ever wilder weather, said climate activists involved in talks to set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Last weekend, the United Nations released the 17 draft SDGs following a year and a half of discussion by more than 60 countries participating in the voluntary process."You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year." -- Harjeet Singh

The SDGs are a set of goals and targets intended to eliminate extreme poverty and pursue sustainable development. When finalised in 2015, at the expiration of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are intended to be the roadmap for countries to follow in making environmental, social and economic policies and decisions.

“Disasters are a major reason many of the MDG goals will not be met,” said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International, an NGO based in Johannesburg.

“A big flood or typhoon can set a region’s development back 20 years,” Singh, ActionAid’s international coordinator of disaster risk reduction, told IPS.

Last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and left nearly two million homeless in the Philippines, he said. Less than a year earlier, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 1,000 people and caused an estimated 350 million dollars in damage.

In the past two weeks, the country was struck by two destructive typhoons. The Philippines may face another 20 before the end of typhoon season.

“Everything is affected by disasters — food security, health, education, infrastructure and so on. You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year,” Singh said.

Goals for poverty elimination or nearly anything else in the proposed SDGs are “meaningless without reductions in carbon emissions”, he said.

Carbon emissions from burning oil, coal and gas are trapping heat from the sun. The amount of this extra heat-energy is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, according to James Hansen, a climate scientist and former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As a result the entire planet is now 0.8 C hotter.

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado previously told IPS.

Climate change doesn’t necessarily cause weather disasters but it certainly makes them worse, said Trenberth, an expert on extreme events.

Climate and low-carbon development pathways need to be fully reflected in the SDGs, said  Bernadette Fischler, co-chair of Beyond 2015 UK. Beyond 2015 is a coalition of more than 1,000 civil society organisations working for a strong and effective set of SDGs.

“Climate change is an urgent issue and needs to be highly visible in the SDGs,” Fischler told IPS.

In the current SDG draft climate is goal 13. It calls on countries to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. There is no target to reduce emissions, and nearly all of the targets are about adapting to the coming climate impacts.

“Countries don’t want to pre-empt their positions in the U.N. climate change negotiations,” said Lina Dabbagh of the Climate Action Network, a global network of environmental NGOs.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) involves every country in a negotiation to create a new global climate treaty in 2015. After five years of talks, countries are deadlocked on key issues.

“The SDGs are a huge opportunity to move forward on climate, but the climate goal is weak and there is no action agenda,” Dabbagh told IPS.

Finalising the SDGs draft was highly politicised, resulting in very cautious wording. The country alliances and divisions are remarkably similar to those in the UNFCCC negotiations, including the South-North divide, she said.

Every country is concerned about climate change and its impacts but there is wide disagreement on how this should be reflected in the SDGs, with some only wanting a mention in the preamble, said Fischler.

Some countries such as the United Kingdom think 17 goals is too many and it is possible that some will be cut during the final year of negotiations that start once the SDGs are formally introduced at the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 24.

The day before that the U.N. secretary-general will host a Climate Summit with leaders of many countries in attendance. The summit is intended to kick-start political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal climate treaty in 2015.

“Civil society will make a big push during the summit to make climate an integral part of the SDGs,” said Dabbagh.

However, much work remains to help political leaders and the public understand that climate action is the key to eliminating extreme poverty and achieving sustainable development, she said.

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Creating a Slum Within a Slum Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:49:42 +0000 Adam Bemma In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

By Adam Bemma
NAIROBI, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

At the eastern edge of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, children gather with large yellow jerry cans to collect water dripping out of an exposed pipe. The high-rise grey and beige Soweto East settlement towers above them. A girl lifts the can on top of her head and returns to her family’s third floor apartment.

Inside, 49-year-old mother Hilda Olali is sweeping the floor. She’s had enough. Her family of five has no running water or electricity in their two bedroom apartment.The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. Hilda Olali's considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family's brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“When we first arrived we really enjoyed life. But now it’s hard because we don’t have water for weeks. This forces me to go and buy water outside. I can’t afford that,” she told IPS.

Outside her kitchen window, garbage has been accumulating over the last six months. The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. She’s considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family’s brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“In the slum things were cheap. When we came here they took us as if we were people who could afford expensive things,” she added.

It’s been 12 years since the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, or KENSUP, launched its pilot project in Kibera. Many residents feel the government and United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme, or U.N. Habitat, have abandoned them soon after its doors opened.

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement. The 17 five-storey buildings are home to around 1,800 families. Population estimates in Kibera range from 800,000 to 1.2 million, making it one of Africa’s largest slums.

“We were told to move and it’s like we were forced. They [KENSUP] were carrying everything for us. Transport was arranged by them. I had seven rooms in the slum. Here I only have three,” Olali said.

According to the U.N., cities are now home to half of the global population. Forty percent of Kenya’s 43 million people are living in urban areas. More than 70 percent of Nairobi’s 3.1 million people live in 200 informal settlements, or slums. A lack of affordable housing in the city makes Kibera an attractive place to settle.

Godwin Oyindo, 24, is a recent university graduate and a close friend of Olali’s son. He grew up in Kibera and was hopeful this housing project would change the lives of all its residents.

“This slum upgrading project was established to address a few things in Kibera, the security of tenure, the housing of people, accessibility to services, and also to generate economic activities. One of their main objectives is a slum free society,” Oyindo told IPS.

Back in 2003, the government of Kenya and U.N. Habitat began working together to improve housing and quality of living for residents not only in Nairobi, but in Mombasa, Mavoko Kisumu and Thika. KENSUP is mandated to improve living standards for 5.3 million urban slum dwellers by 2020.

U.N. Habitat came on board with its Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, working alongside KENSUP providing expertise and technical advice. The officer in charge of this department, Joshua Mulandi Maviti, said objectives have been met in all projects.

“Kibera was the focus of our work with the ministry,” Maviti told IPS. “But we also coordinated infrastructure, land tenure, water and sanitation projects across Kenya, in Mombasa, Kisumu and Mavoko.”

Justus Ongera, 24, shares a room with his younger sister in a two bedroom apartment in the Soweto East settlement. The two share the apartment with another family. Ongera believes he may need to instruct residents on how to improve sanitation.

“When we first moved in the garbage outside was cleared every two weeks. Now it’s been rotting there under the sun for six months,” he told IPS. “This is a serious health hazard. Something needs to be done.”

Due to the 12 years which have elapsed since the contract began, U.N. Habitat ended its collaboration with KENSUP once contracts expired, according to Maviti. But he assures this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the relationship.

“The government of Kenya and the ministry haven’t engaged with us on the issues faced by Soweto East residents. We need to hear from them officially to be able to help,” Maviti said.

Olali is now weighing her options, whether or not she should move her three kids out of this apartment project and back into the slum. The fact that she has no running water forces to make a long trek through Kibera to visit the public toilet. This costs her five Kenya shillings each time.

“It all adds up, costing me even more money,” Olali said. “Some women didn’t even know how to flush a toilet before moving in, but now they do. We’ve all experienced a lot living here.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, along with KENSUP, turned down requests to be interviewed for this story.

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Caribbean Grapples with Intense New Cycles of Flooding and Drought Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:39:18 +0000 Desmond Brown Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

As unpredictable weather patterns impact water availability and quality in St. Lucia, the Caribbean island is moving to build resilience to climate-related stresses in its water sector.

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical."All governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries." -- Dr. Paulette Bynoe

“We have been making progress…making professionals and other important stakeholders aware of the issue. That is the first step,” she told IPS.

“So in other sectors we can also look at coordination whether we talk about agriculture or tourism. It’s important that we think outside of the box and we stop having turfs and really work together,” she added.

Earlier this month, Bynoe facilitated a three-day workshop on Hydro-Climatic Disasters in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in St. Lucia. The workshop was held as part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (OECS-RRACC) project.

Participants were exposed to the key principles of IWRM and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); the implications of climate change and variability for water resources management; policy legislation and institutional requirements needed at the community level to facilitate DRR in IWRM; the economics of disasters; and emergency response issues.

Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist with the RRACC Project, said the training is consistent with the overall goals of the climate change demonstration project in GIS technology currently being implemented by the OECS Secretariat.

“What we need to do now in the region and even further afield is to directly correlate the effects, the financial impacts of these adverse weather conditions as it relates to water resources,” he told IPS.

“We need to make that link strongly so that all of us can appreciate the extent to which and the importance of building resilience and adapting to these stresses.”

On Jul. 9, the St. Lucia Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) placed the entire island under a water emergency schedule as the drought worsened. The government has described the current situation as a “water crisis”.

The crisis, initially declared for the north of the island, has expanded to the entire country.

Managing director of WASCO Vincent Hippolyte said that there had not been sufficient rainfall to meet the demands of consumers. At the most recent assessment, the dam’s water level was at 322 feet, while normal overflow levels are 333 feet.

“Despite the rains and the greenery, drought conditions exist because the rivers are not moving. They do not have the volume of water that will enable WASCO to extract sufficient water to meet demand,” he said.

“We are in the early stages in the drought situation. It is not as severe as the later stages, but we are still in drought conditions.”

The government said that experts predicted the drought would persist through the month of August.

Bynoe said what’s happening in St. Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean is consistent with the projections of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Modeling Group from the University of the West Indies.

She said both bodies had given possible future scenarios of climate change as it relates to the Small Island Developing States, and how climate change and climate variability could affect water resources.

“I think generally the issue is that in the region there is a high likelihood that we can have a shortage of water so we can experience droughts; and perhaps at the same time when we do have precipitation it can be very intense,” Bynoe, who is also Director of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana, said.

She noted that the models are saying there can either be too little water or too much water, either of which could create serious problems for the Caribbean.

“With too much water now you can have run off, sedimentation, water pollution and water contamination which means in countries where we depend on surface water the treatment of water become critical and this will then bring cost implications because water treatment is very costly,” Bynoe explained.

“But also, if you are going to treat water you have to use a lot of energy and energy is one of the sectors that contribute to greenhouse gasses. So you can see where the impact of climate change is affecting water but with water treatment you can also contribute to climate change.”

For St. Lucia and its neighbours, Bynoe said lack of financial resources tops the list of challenges when it comes to disaster mitigation and adapting new measures in reference to hydro-climatic disasters.

She also pointed to the importance of human capital, citing the need to have persons trained in specific areas as specialists to help with modeling, “because in preparation we first have to know what’s the issue, we have to know what’s the probability of occurrence, we have to know what are the specific paths that we can take which could bring the best benefits to us.”

She used her home country Guyana, which suffers from a high level of migration, as one example of how sustainable development could be negatively affected by capital flight.

“But you also need human capital because first of all governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries so that we can replicate the good experiences so that we don’t fall prey to the same sort of issues,” Bynoe said.

“But also social capital within the country in which we try to ensure that all stakeholders are involved, a very democratic process because it’s not only about policymakers; every person, every household must play a role to the whole issue of adaptation, it starts with the man or woman in the mirror,” she added.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas passed very near St. Lucia killing 14 people and leaving millions of dollars in monetary losses. The island was one of three Eastern Caribbean countries on which a slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec 24, 2013 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain, killing 13 people.

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India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriers Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

By Keya Acharya
BANGALORE, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Neat rows of pampered-looking rose plants, drip-irrigated and ‘misted’ by tiny sprinklers, grow inside temperature-controlled greenhouses with high domes opened periodically for fresh air, offering 10 million cut-rose stems for export each year.

The 25-hectare farm, located roughly 35 km outside the southern Indian city of Bangalore, belongs to Suvarna Florex, arguably India’s largest cut-rose exporter.

But though the plants are thriving, the industry is hassled by such thorny issues as the high royalty rates of its foreign-bred roses and steadily increasing input costs.

“This is a billion-dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders." -- Dr. Thilak Subbaiah, horticultural consultant
Occupying a niche in the flower market – hitherto dominated by traditional demand for loose flowers for cultural and religious occasions – the cut-rose industry in India is on the rise, registering a 17-20 percent increase last year alone, with growers exporting some 76.73 million tonnes, mainly roses, in 2012-2013.

Major export destinations are Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Japan, Canada and Australia.

Until 2010, the Bangalore-based operation Karuturi commanded nearly 10 percent of the cut-rose market in Europe and expanded rapidly from rose farms in Kenya to agricultural crops in Ethiopia.

Tangled in a web of bankruptcy, violations of labour and taxation laws in Kenya and money troubles – among others – in Ethiopia, Karuturi faced a storm of criticism over its controversial acquisition on paper of 400,000 hectares of virgin lands in Ethiopia at a very inexpensive rate, beginning in 2010.

The move, which some called a ‘land grab’ and which resulted in the threat of displacement of thousands and the loss of livelihoods for many in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, quickly became synonymous with Karuturi’s notorious founder Sai Ramakrishna, whose reputation tainted India’s operations in Africa.

According to a disgruntled rose-grower and former chief of the forest services in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, R. D. Reddy, Ramakrishna is “a playboy in all respects; one who speculated in stocks with borrowed money and lost heavily, and now the whole industry in India is being blamed because of him.”

Dr. Manjunatha Reddy, a Dubai-based Indian industrialist with a rose farm located just five km away from Karuturi’s flower operations in the Holata region, near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, says that the ‘takeover on paper’ in the Gambella region is symptomatic of Ramakrishna’s speculative Ponzi-like financial schemes.

“His misdeeds have really turned public sentiment against Indian industry in Africa,” he told IPS, adding that a bad commercial reputation goes viral in a continent where local communities rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods.

Reddy says other Indian enterprises like telecommunications and farming have also been tarnished with the same negative image cast by Karuturi’s actions on the ground.

“We now have difficulty even in raising funds for agri-business from venture capitalists and investment brokers,” Reddy asserted.

Karuturi’s head offices in Bangalore did not respond to IPS’ repeated requests for an interview.

A matter of royalties

Other growers, situated in the elevated Deccan plateau lands surrounding the southern cities of Bangalore and Pune, dismiss Karuturi’s reputation as ‘immaterial’, nothing more than an embarrassment for the sector.

What’s really bothering major players in the industry, according to Suvarna Florex Managing Director Sridhar Chowdary, are the “huge royalties we have to pay foreign breeders for rose varieties.”

An ‘introduced industry’ stemming from the demand for cut-flowers in the international market, India’s flower sector was initially heavily in debt due to huge capital expenses incurred from the purchase of foreign greenhouse infrastructure imported from the Netherlands, along with Dutch patents for its roses.

On average, each grower incurred costs of up to 20 million rupees (roughly 332,000 dollars) per hectare of rose farm. Now, 20 years later, the cost of setting up a farm with indigenous technology costs less than half that amount.

“This is a billion dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders,” horticultural consultant Dr. Thilak Subbaiah told IPS.

“There is no way we can compete,” he stressed, adding that problem is made worse by Indian horticultural institutes’ lack of attention to breeding research.

According to Anne Ramesh, president of the South India Floriculture Association and chairman of Suvarna Florex, royalty rates for Indian growers average between 0.85 and 1.25 euros per plant for each variety of rose.

“This is the same rate as Kenya, which grows 100 percent [of its flowers] for export, whilst we grow half that percentage at best, the rest being for the domestic market,” he told IPS. “We find it unfair to have the same rate of royalty imposed on us.”

Small steps in a growing industry

As late as 2007 the industry at large was still complaining about a marked lack of awareness on exporters’ needs and a dearth of any government assistance.

Cold-chain systems for transportation, facilitated international flights, phyto-sanitary inspections and the lack of any financial incentives for the industry were among the top concerns over half a decade ago.

Recents developments, however, have stemmed some of the criticisms directed at the administration.

A cold-chain flower-auction centre set up in Bangalore, capital of the state of Karnataka, is described by rose-growers as one of the best in the world market. This, coupled with speedy transportation and easy facilitation at Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, is putting a smile on many exporters’ faces.

In addition, the government has made some important concessions that have greatly reduced the burden on local growers.

“The South India Floriculture Association approached the government with our financial constraints and we subsequently got a one-time waiver of 50 percent of our heavy loans [in 2004-2005] incurred due to imported infrastructure,” Ramesh said.

“Today we have greenhouse-technology pioneers, we have employment at the village-level and small farmers who can put up greenhouses because of state and central government incentives. We managed to progress because the government saw the industry as a way to rural development,” he stated.

In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu alone, the rose industry employs 10,000 women and 3,000 men.

Rural farmers now cater mostly to the domestic market, says Satish Aswathappa, co-owner of Nandi Floriculture, based in Devanahalli, about 40 km outside Bangalore city.

“We are farmers ourselves, we deal directly with other rural farmers who give us their roses and we have a same-day system of grading and sending the roses by public bus to Hyderabad [capital of Andhra Pradesh],” he added.

Environmental concerns also influence the industry, whether domestic or export-oriented.

Chowdary says protective environmental measures are perceived by growers as “survival technologies.”

Walking IPS around Suvarna Florex’s huge farm, Chowdary demonstrated how rainwater is collected in aqeducts and then channeled into a central pond, reducing dependency on groundwater.

There are also checkdams, plastic sheeted ‘ponds’ where rainwater is held in troughs, recharge measures around groundwater pumps and wells, and vermicomposting of plant leafage for manuring.

With groundwater sources steadily depleting due to overusage by consumers and mismanagement by the government, the quality of groundwater has also suffered, he said, which could be disastrous for rose-growers since the plants thrive best when fed uncontaminated water.

Rose growers guzzle water at the rate of millions of litres per week for a farm covering 25 hectares. Sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques are crucial, since an hour’s rain provides enough water to sustain a 25-hectare plot for two days.

Still, input costs remain high, since the use of chemicals has increased in “application and in price”, according to Subbaiah. “We also pay more than government-stipulated wages plus incentives just to ensure the [workers] turn up,” he added

Organic compost has depleted too as lands and cattle around the cities disappear into urbanisation.

Despite these problems, a steadily increasing domestic market means the industry will likely be around for a while.



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U.N.’s New Development Goals Must Also Be Measurable for Rich Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:45:50 +0000 Thalif Deen A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is on the verge of releasing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – perhaps 17 or more – to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will run out by the end of 2015.

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda which, among other things, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030."Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?" -- Jens Martens

Neelie Kroes of the European Commission says the new development agenda is being described as “the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations in its entire history.”

But Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS that in general, the current list of proposed goals and targets is not an adequate response to the global social, economic and environmental crises and the need for fundamental change.

The proposed SDG list, he pointed out, contains a mix of recycled old commitments and vaguely formulated new ones (such as the goal 1.a. to “ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources to provide adequate and predictable means to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.”).

According to some development experts, the world’s rich nations have mostly failed to meet their obligations on MDG target 8 which called for a “global partnership for development” between developed and developing nations.

As the Geneva-based South Centre points out, “The SDGs should not be a set of goals for only developing countries to undertake as a kind of conditionality or new obligations.”

The Rio-plus-20 outcome document, adopted at an international conference in Brazil in 2012, specifically said the new goals should be “universally applicable to all countries,” including developed countries.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The OWG is currently holding its 13th – and perhaps final – round of negotiations ending Friday, after which a report is to be submitted to the General Assembly in August.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

Until then, said one senior U.N. official, “there may be plenty of deletes and inserts.”

Martens told IPS governments should not repeat the mistake of MDG 8 on “global partnership”, which was formulated so vaguely it did not imply any binding commitments for the North.

“What we need instead are measurable goals for the rich,” said Martens, who has been monitoring the last 12 sessions of the OWG.

He said any post-2015 agenda must address the structural obstacles and political barriers that prevented the realisation of the MDGs, such as unfair trade and investment rules (including the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism) and the problems of tax evasion and tax avoidance by TNCs and wealthy individuals.

“Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?” he asked.

Among activist groups, there was widespread criticism that water and sanitation was not a “stand alone goal” in the current MDGs but only a secondary goal under Goal 7 on “environmental sustainability.”

Nadya Kassam, global head of campaigns at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS, “We believe water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal for the post-2015 framework, and we are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”

She said it is unthinkable that water, sanitation and hygiene could not be included – they are critical to so many other outcomes such as good health, education and economic growth.

U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson has made the importance of sanitation clear, with his campaign to end open defecation, which WaterAid strongly supports.

After nearly 15 years on from the MDGs, the original goal on water to halve the proportion of people without has been reached globally. Yet coverage in sub-Saharan Africa remains poor, with 36 percent of the population still living without this essential service.

Kassam said access to sanitation is lagging the furthest behind, and at the current rates of progress, it would take sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, over 150 years just to reach the existing goal of halving the proportion of people without.

“So water, and in particular sanitation, need to be of central importance going forward,” she said.

Martens said it is a positive signal that the current draft list of proposed SDGs contains a goal on reducing inequality within and between countries.

“It will be of utmost importance that this goal does not get lost in the final phase of the negotiations,” he stressed.

However, it would not be sufficient to just have a single goal on inequality — each SDG should have targets and indicators on distribution and inequality, Martens said.

Meanwhile in a statement released Monday, Reporters Without Borders said there was “heated discussion and opposition from certain OWG members such as Russia, Cuba and China” on a proposed SDG covering media and information.

The protection of the right to information is in danger of being weakened or disappearing altogether, to be replaced by a vague reference to freedom of expression, the statement added.

At the Millennium Summit held in New-York in September 2000, 189 U.N. member-states adopted the Millennium Declaration based on the outcomes of several international conferences of the 1990s, including population, human rights, the environment, habitat and social development.

A year later, in August 2001, the U.N. Secretariat released the eight MDGs.

But the goals were devised not by governments through an open debate but by a working committee drawn from several U.N. bodies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (MF), the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The goals were not the object of a formal resolution of the U.N. General Assembly.

The eight MDGs included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

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Mechanical Pumps Turning Oases into Mirages Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:28:18 +0000 Cam McGrath The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
BAHARIYA OASIS, Egypt, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Using a hoe, farmer Atef Sayyid removes an earthen plug in an irrigation stream, allowing water to spill onto the parcel of land where he grows dates, olives and almonds.

Until recently, a natural spring exploited since Roman times supplied the iron-rich water that he uses for irrigation. But when the spring began to dry up in the 1990s, the government built a deep well to supplement its waning flow.

Today, a noisy diesel pump syphons water from over a kilometre below the ground. The steaming-hot water is diverted through a maze of earthen canals to irrigate the orchards and palm groves that lie below the dusty town of Bawiti, 300 kilometres southwest of Cairo.

“The deeper source means the water is hotter,” Sayyid explains. “The hot water damages the roots of the fruit trees. It also evaporates quicker, meaning we have to use more water to irrigate.”

Bahariya, the depression in which Bawiti is situated, is one of five major oases in Egypt’s Western Desert. While Egyptians living in the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta depend on the Nile for their freshwater needs, communities in this remote and arid region rely entirely on underground sources.“This [water drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer] is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished. So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good” – resource management specialist Richard Tutwiler

Since ancient times, freshwater has percolated through fissures in the bedrock, making agriculture possible in the otherwise inhospitable desert. Water was once so plentiful in the five oases that they were collectively known as a breadbasket of the Roman Empire on account of their intensive grain cultivation.

Ominously, where groundwater once flowed naturally or was tapped near the surface, farmers must now bore up to a kilometre underground, raising fears for the region’s sustainability.

“Historically, springs and artesian wells supplied all the water in the oases,” says Richard Tutwiler, a resource management specialist at the American University in Cairo. “But water pressure is dropping and increasingly it has to be pumped out, particularly as you go from south to north.”

The water is drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, an underground reservoir of fossil water accumulated over tens of thousands of years when the Saharan region was less arid than it is today. The vast aquifer extends beneath much of Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Chad, and is estimated to hold 150,000 cubic kilometres of groundwater.

But it is a finite resource, says Tutwiler.

“This is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished,” he told IPS. “So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good.”

Extraction is intensifying in all of the countries that share the aquifer. In Egypt alone, an estimated 700 million cubic metres of water is pumped from deep wells each year.

The increase in water usage is the result of agricultural expansion and population growth. Nearly 2,000 square kilometres of desert land has been reclaimed by groundwater irrigation in the last 60 years. Farmers employ flood irrigation, a traditional technique in which half the water is lost to evaporation and ground seepage before reaching the crops.

Since the 1980s, government programmes aimed at alleviating population pressure on the Nile Valley have encouraged Egyptian families to relocate to the desert. Existing oasis communities have grown while new ones have sprung up around deep wells.

One of these settlements, Abu Minqar, was founded in 1987 and now boasts over 4,000 residents. The isolated community only exists because of its 15 wells, which draw groundwater from depths of up to 1,200 metres.

“Water management in (places like) Abu Minqar must be sustainable,” says Tutwiler. “Because if the wells dry up, it’s game over.”

The number of wells in the Western Desert has increased immensely since the first appearance of percussion drilling machinery 150 years ago. Records show that in 1960 there were less than 30 deep wells in all the oases – today there are nearly 3,000.

In Dakhla Oasis, 550 kilometres southwest of Cairo, natural springs and 900 wells provide water for the 80,000 inhabitants of the oasis, as well as orchards that produce date palms, citrus fruits and mulberries. This was traditionally one of Egypt’s most fertile oases because of the proximity of the aquifer to the surface – less than 100 metres throughout the depression.

But here, as elsewhere, water sources that flowed freely less than a generation ago now only flow with the aid of mechanical pumps. Groundwater extraction has exceeded 500,000 cubic metres a day and the water table is dropping, in some places by nearly two metres a year.

“There are too many straws in the same glass of water,” remarks hydrologist Maghawry Diab

While Diab estimates the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer may hold enough water to last the next 100 years, Egypt’s desert communities could have a lot less time.

Over-pumping has created localised “dry pockets” in the aquifer, which behaves more like a layered damp sponge than a pool of water. Tightly-spaced deep wells are drawing down the water table, while their overlapping well cones intercept upward flowing groundwater before it can recharge the shallower wells.

“All the wells are tapping the same larger cone of depression,” Diab told IPS. “To gain years, we’ll have to find even deeper groundwater sources or (come to terms with) using saline water.”

In an effort to reduce pressure on groundwater resources, Egypt’s government has set restrictions on the drilling of new wells and reduced the discharge rates of certain high-productive ones.

At government wells, a formalised system of water sharing is in place. But farmers thirsty for more water have drilled their own wells, concealing them from authorities or bribing local officials to turn a blind eye.

“We have tried to control the drilling, but there is a lot of resistance from farmers,” says one former irrigation ministry official. “Every time we capped (an unlicensed) well, two more would appear.”

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Scepticism as “Green Goods” Trade Talks Begin Fri, 11 Jul 2014 00:23:44 +0000 Carey L. Biron LM Glasfiber workers hoist a wind turbine blade in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Credit: Tu/cc by 2.0

LM Glasfiber workers hoist a wind turbine blade in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Credit: Tu/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

Formal negotiations began this week around the increasingly significant global trade in “environmental goods”, those technologies seen as environmentally beneficial, including in combating climate change.

Attempts have been made to liberalise this market for years. But on Tuesday, 13 countries, constituting nearly 90 percent of the current trade in green goods such as solar panels, wind turbines and wastewater treatment filters, came together in Geneva to try again to reach agreement."There is no definition yet of what actually constitutes an ‘environmental good’, and many of the goods being considered are actually harmful to the environment.” -- Ilana Solomon

Yet there remains significant confusion around the actual potential – or even broader aim – of the talks, towards what’s being called the Environmental Goods Agreement. Green groups are expressing open scepticism of the process, taking place under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“From our perspective, we think increasing trade in and use of environmentally beneficial products is incredibly important. But we have really serious concerns about the approach the WTO is taking,” Ilana Solomon, the director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“This approach is about removing tariffs on a list of products that are supposedly beneficial to the environment. But there is no definition yet of what actually constitutes an ‘environmental good’, and many of the goods being considered are actually harmful to the environment.”

The WTO talks are taking place between the United States, the European Union, China, Australia, Japan and others. Representatives are starting from a list of 54 product categories, agreed upon in 2012 among the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.

The APEC countries are now working to reduce tariffs on these products to below five percent by 2015.

Yet the list includes many items that can be used in ways that could be either environmentally positive or negative. This includes, for instance, waste incinerators, centrifuges, gas turbines, sludge compactors and a variety of technical machinery.

The list would also seem to largely exclude poor countries. Currently, only Costa Rica has joined what are otherwise industrialised and middle-income economies in the talks.

“Poor countries are probably not producing these items,” Kim Elliott, a senior researcher on trade at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS. “If they don’t participate in these talks they’ll likely lose out around high tariffs, but they’re probably not going to be doing much exporting.”

While proponents tend to characterise the negotiations in terms of lowering overall prices for green goods, little is said of the potential impact on nascent domestic industries.

“There might well be reasons a developing country would want to develop its own industry in, say, solar panels or wind turbines,” the Sierra Club’s Solomon says. “But having low or no tariffs could impede the ability of these countries to develop their own domestic renewable energy industries.”

Knock-on effects?

The World Trade Organisation does not include climate change in its purview. Yet since the mid-1990s the multilateral organisation says it has worked to establish “a clear link between sustainable development and disciplined trade liberalization – in order to ensure that market opening goes hand in hand with environmental and social objectives.”

Momentum behind the new talks is in part due to a push from President Barack Obama. Last year, as part of a major new focus on climate, the president announced that U.S. officials would engage in the negotiations in order “to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.”

The administration’s interest in the issue will also be shared by other proponents of expanded free trade. Multilateral trade talks have seen little to no progress over the past two decades, after all, so proponents hope that linking these issues could give a fillip to the multilateral system.

“Everybody, at least on paper, wants to do something on climate change, so this is seen as an issue that might be able to move,” the Center for Global Development’s Elliott says. “The idea is regarded as something of a win-win, as useful for the trading system and also for the planet.”

Of course, the U.S. government’s interest is also around strengthening U.S. exports, and as political pressures have risen around the world around climate change, the trade in green goods has quickly become a major force. According to official estimates, this market’s value doubled between 2011 and 2007, and stood at around a trillion dollars last year.

The U.S. share has been growing by eight percent per year since 2009, amounting to some 106 billion dollars last year.

Certainly business interests, in the United States and industrialised countries around the world, are showing significant interest in the new talks. On Tuesday, nearly 50 major business groups and trade associations wrote to the WTO negotiators to “strongly endorse” their efforts.

The industry groups also expressed hope that an accord around environmental goods could act as a catalyst for broader liberalisation.

“An ambitious [agreement] will further increase global trade in environmental goods, lowering the cost of addressing environmental and climate challenges by removing tariffs that can be as high as 35 percent,” the groups stated.

“In addition to its intrinsic commercial importance and desirability, a well-designed [agreement] can act as a stepping stone to lowering tariffs and other trade barriers in other sectors and associated value chains.”

Backdoor liberalisation

The U.S. administration may share this view. The Sierra Club’s Solomon points to a recent letter from Michael Froman, the United States’ top trade official, requesting the U.S. International Trade Commission to research the potential impact of trade liberalisation around environmental goods.

“In the absence of a universally accepted definition of an ‘environmental good,’” Froman wrote, “I request that, for the purpose of its analysis, the Commission refer to the items contained in the list attached to this letter.”

That list, which extends to 34 pages, contains hundreds of items not currently on the APEC list. These range from natural products (honey, palm oil, urea, coconut fibres, bamboo) to the technical (pipes and casings “of a kind used in drilling for oil and gas”) to the seemingly random (vacuum cleaners, cameras).

“This appears to suggest that this exercise isn’t about protecting the environment but rather about expanding the current model of free trade – a backdoor attempt to achieve liberalisation on a broad range of goods,” Solomon says.

“As this process moves forward, we’ll need a full environmental impact assessment of everything on the list under consideration. And it can’t just be the end uses that are examined, but rather the whole lifecycle of a product’s impact that is taken into account.”

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Amid Scepticism, U.N. Trumpets Successes in Cutting Poverty Mon, 07 Jul 2014 19:53:15 +0000 Thalif Deen A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. The U.N. study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. The U.N. study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen

With 17 months before the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targets by the December 2015 deadline, the United Nations is trumpeting its limited successes – but with guarded optimism.

“Global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015 time frame,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the latest status report released Monday."Unfortunately, the trend in the U.N. secretary-general's office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and 'multi-stakeholder partnerships' that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations." -- Yoke Ling Chee

In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

“This rate dropped to 22 percent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million,” the study claims.

Still, the overwhelming majority of people living in extreme poverty belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan African, according to the 56-page Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

But some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) closely tracking trends in social and economic development in the developing world are sceptical of the claims.

Roberto Bissio, director of the Uruguay-based Social Watch, told IPS the global average the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively due to China – and most of that poverty reduction in China happened before the year 2000.

“Thus the MDGs are credited with outcomes that happened before they existed,” he said.

“This is because the target is defined as lowering to half the 1990 global poverty line, not the 2000 figure as the Millennium Declaration implies by talking in present,” Bissio added.

The study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools.

“If trends continue,” says the report, “the world will surpass MDG targets on malaria, tuberculosis and access to HIV treatment (while) the hunger target looks within reach.”

Other targets, such as access to technologies, reduction of average tariffs, debt relief, and growing political participation by women, “show great progress.”

Over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children are saved every day, according to the report.

Yoke Ling Chee of the Malaysia-based Third World Network told IPS the MDG report is “over optimistic”, and avoids the systemic obstacles that continue to deprive large parts of the world from their right to development.

“A much-needed orderly sovereign debt work-out mechanism is still rejected by rich countries and we see Argentina on the verge of another crisis because of the greed of ‘vulture funds,’” she said.

Failure to deal with structural barriers can negate any success made over the past two decades.

“Unfortunately,” she pointed out, “the trend in the U.N. Secretary-General’s office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations.

“The vote on Jun. 26 at the Human Rights Council to start a process for a treaty to regulate transnational corporations is a clear signal that if we are to make development a reality, corporations cannot be the deliverer,” she added.

In a statement released Monday, the London-based WaterAid said the U.N. report is a reminder of a terrible truth: that there are still 2.5 billion people in the world without access to basic toilets.

Of the 2.5 billion, 644 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 1.0 billion in South Asia.

“Going without this right is compromising the health, safety, security and dignity of billions of people,” said Fleur Anderson, global head of campaigns at WaterAid.

As the U.N. works on a renewed set of development goals, it is critical that sanitation be made a central priority in development, activists say.

For the first time in history, bringing safe water and basic sanitation to everyone, everywhere within a generation “is in our grasp”, Anderson stressed. “But it will require political will and dedication to get there. Without these basic building blocks, there is no effective way to address extreme poverty,” she added.

Bissio told IPS that by concentrating attention on extreme poverty, developed countries got off the hook and do not feel they have to report on their own commitments at home.

Poverty in developed countries is ignored and inequalities are ignored everywhere, resulting in this being the major constraint now to economic growth (apart from all other considerations) as recognised even by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he noted.

The study also points out that after two years of declines, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 134.8 billion dollars in 2013.

“However, aid shifted away from the poorest countries where attainment of the MDGs often lags the most,” it said.

Eighty per cent of imports from developing countries entered developed countries duty-free, and tariffs remained at an all-time low.

The debt burden of developing countries remained stable at about 3.0 per cent of export revenue, which was a near 75 per cent drop since 2000, according to the report.

Despite considerable advancements in recent years, the report says reliable statistics for monitoring development remain inadequate in many countries, but better statistical reporting on the MDGs has led to real results.

Chee told IPS the explosion of transnational corporations (TNCs) suing national governments in developing countries over environmental and health regulations by invoking corporate rights under bilateral investment agreements is sucking billions of dollars from those countries, she added.

She also pointed out that developing countries that made some progress and continue to face huge challenges are increasingly excluded from the commitments of developed countries to provide climate finance, ensure access to affordable life saving medicines and transfer technologies for sustainable development.

This is because countries such as China and India are regarded as “competitors” by the U.S.

European corporations assert undue influence over their home governments’ development cooperation policies, which in turn undermines the key U.N. treaties on climate change and biodiversity, she said.

The ongoing negotiations at the U.N. on sustainable development goals are mired in debate because developed countries refuse to put the systemic economic issues at the centre of the next development partnership – which should be primarily about inter-state responsibilities and commitments, not unaccountable “partnerships,” Chee declared.

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India’s Unholy Mess Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:31:12 +0000 Neeta Lal The fabled Yamuna River – revered by Hindus as a ‘living Goddess’ -- has been reduced to a stinking drain. Credit: Gérard Janot/cc by 3.0

The fabled Yamuna River – revered by Hindus as a ‘living Goddess’ -- has been reduced to a stinking drain. Credit: Gérard Janot/cc by 3.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

One of the first things that Narendra Damodardas Modi did after being anointed as the Indian prime minister on May 26 was to set up an exclusive ministry (Ganga Rejuvenation) under Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti to clean up the country’s national river, the Ganges.

However, the Ganges’ largest tributary, the Yamuna – also one of the most polluted in the world and which provides the capital city of Delhi with 70 percent of its water needs — was barely mentioned in Modi’s rhetoric."Entrenched corruption has stymied all attempts to address the problem. River cleaning is simply not a priority on the national agenda." -- an ecologist with Kalpavriksh

Critics point out that after a landslide win in the recent Lok Sabha (lower house) elections, Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party has made numerous references to the Ganges’ pollution (including organising a pan-India meet on the river on Jul. 7 featuring top experts) while totally ignoring the Yamuna.

Such neglect is hardly new. Despite millions of dollars being pumped into numerous ambitious and state-funded schemes, as well as direct intervention by the Supreme Court and government agencies, the fabled Yamuna – revered by Hindus as a ‘living Goddess’ — has been reduced to a stinking drain.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the country’s premier pollution monitoring agency, Delhi alone contributes up to 80 percent of the pollution load of the 1,370-km river. In 2010, the Indian Supreme Court even referred to the Yamuna as a “ganda nullah” (“dirty drain”) rather than a dirty river.

The Yamuna plays a pivotal role in Delhi’s life, providing water for nearly 57 million people who live in its floodplains. Most importantly, 92 percent of the river’s waters are used to irrigate 12.3 million hectares of agricultural land that feeds a sizeable portion of India’s 1.2 billion people.

The river’s pristine beauty even prompted the Mughals to build one of their most spectacular monuments on the Yamuna’s banks — the Taj Mahal.

Yet today, the river is impacted deeply by pollution as garbage from millions of households, municipal disposals and soil erosion due to deforestation sullies the river each day. Toxic chemical substances — insecticides, fertilisers, pesticides – only worsen the situation.

A World Health Organisation urban air quality database released on May 9 this year rang alarm bells in Delhi’s power corridors, forcing the administration to sit up and take note. According to the report, the air quality in Delhi is the worst in the world, with polluting industries brazenly discharging much of their refuse into the Yamuna in the absence of strong punitive action.

Following the report, Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung constituted a high-powered committee – consisting of scientists and ecologists – to examine all aspects of air pollution, including pollution in the Yamuna caused by industrial and sewage discharges. The committee has been tasked with suggesting steps to check pollution and to devise both long-term and short-term measures to tackle this serious issue.

Experts say the extent of pollution of the Yamuna River is so shocking that it now has a permanent thick layer of foam covering it completely. Yamuna is often also described as a ‘dead river’ since its pollution has seriously inhibited the survival of fish or other marine life in its waters.

Unfortunately, the State Pollution Control Board as well as the Central Pollution Control Board have also failed to address Yamuna’s pollution. All the past directives of the apex court have also been flagrantly ignored.

“The Central Air and Water Pollution Prevention Act gives unrestricted powers to these statutory bodies to proceed against polluters but entrenched corruption has stymied all attempts to address the problem. River cleaning is simply not a priority on the national agenda,” says an ecologist with Kalpavriksh, a pan-India green NGO.

Although a large number of NGOs, pressure groups and citizens’ movements have been active in cleaning up the Yamuna, given the size and dimension of the problem, these piecemeal and sporadic efforts have not yielded any tangible benefits, adds the activist.

Environmentalists assert that treatment of effluents before their release into the river is far more vital than keeping a tab on the river and drains.

“We should learn from how countries abroad are scientifically recycling these wastes and using them for construction of new buildings and roads. Singapore recycles 98 per cent of its construction and demolition (C&D) waste. We need to better the existing systems,” says Delhi-based environmentalist Anumita Roy Chowdhury.

Until now, experts say, the Centre has spent approximately 300 million dollars under the Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) I and II to clean the river. The YAP’s first phase was launched in 1993. It then covered Delhi, eight towns in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and six towns in the state of Haryana.

Under YAP II, the focus was on the Yamuna’s 22-km stretch in Delhi. The government plans to spend another billion dollars in the next phase to clean the river.

Experts add that pesticide traces in the water cannot be removed with conventional treatment as has been the case so far. “It’s like trying to slay a dragon with a pen knife,” explains B.R. Rao, an environmental scientist formerly with the ministry of environment and forests.

“For micro pollutants such as pesticides, only more freshwater can reduce the percentage of traces in water. These cannot be dissolved or assimilated, but they can certainly be diluted to an extent which will gradually help whittle down the levels of pollution in the river,” adds Rao.

The Yamuna has a dilution requirement of 75 percent, explains Rao, which implies that for every 100 litres of wastewater, 75 litres of freshwater needs to be pumped into the river. With this fresh flow of water, pollutants (especially organic pollutants) dissipate to a large extent.

But at every step, this purified water is abstracted, and ever larger loads of pollution make their way into the river.

However, according to the Delhi-based think tank Center for Science and Environment, the main problem lies in the sub-optimal utilisation of the city’s sewage treatment plants (STPs).

Says Sushmita Sengupta of CSE, Delhi’s 17 STPs have a capacity to treat 2,445 MLD (million litres per day). “Going by the Comptroller Auditor General 2013 Report sewage generation estimate of 3,060 MLD, the city can treat about 80 per cent of its waste, but it actually treats 1,651 MLD, approximately 54 percent Why is Delhi unable to treat its sewage completely?”

Of its installed capacity of 2,445 MLD, about 585 MLD remains unutilised (as of 2011-12). With only 1,218 MLD of sewage being treated, there exists a wide gap between what is treated and what is not. In other words, about 46 per cent of the total waste generated by Delhi goes untreated into the river Yamuna.

Water experts also point out that the problem of sewage not reaching a treatment plant is also what scuppers the plans to clean the Yamuna. The city depends on its 6,400-km sewerage network to convey its waste to treatment facilities. But most of the time, this network does not function, leaving the treatment plants starved for sewage.

Illegal or unauthorised colonies only worsen the situation. Almost 50 per cent of Delhi lives in such colonies, generating ‘illegal’ sewage – sewage which is not transported in official sewers to official treatment plants. These colonies do not have drains to transport sewage.

The people living in these areas either defecate in the open or connect their wastewater drains to an open channel, which flows into a larger drain and eventually into the river.

“A paradigm shift is required in Delhi’s approach to clean the river. The city planners must swivel their attention from the standard hardware – sewer and STP – to comprehend the linkages between water, sewage and pollution and most importantly, the need for authentic data. The science on river cleaning needs a drastic change in India,” sums up Sengupta.

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At the Crucial Nexus of Water and Energy Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jewel Fraser Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Global institutions are still in the learning phase when it comes to successfully managing water and energy in an integrated manner as part of the quest for sustainable development.

According to World Bank official Daryl Fields, understanding the water-energy nexus is critical for addressing growth and human development, urbanisation and climate change, but many policy-makers are finding it challenging to transform this concept into a reality."There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it." -- Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi

Fields, who is also a Technical Committee member of the Global Water Partnership, was speaking at a recent meeting of the GWP Consulting Partners, held in Trinidad for the first time.

“We are left with a lot of opportunities and many questions and a fair amount of work to do,” she said.

According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, “Climate change is also likely to aggravate pressure on resources and so add to the vulnerability of people and ecosystems, particularly in water scarce and [water] marginal regions.”

Fields said “network” was a more appropriate term than “nexus” because of the many linkages involved and the mutual dependence of energy and water. Energy affects water quality through discharges and effluence, as well as through its impact on the reliability of water supply and the cost of maintaining that supply, because energy is needed to pump water to consumers.

On the other hand, she said, water quality affects the ability to provide energy. As an example, she cited a hydropower plant in India whose equipment suffered erosion because of sediment in the water used by its turbines. As well, there was the issue of salinisation.

Hence, she said, there is “a virtuous cycle. You reduce the need for water and you reduce the need for energy.”

She said that the challenge of managing water and energy in an integrated fashion was compounded by the extreme differences between the two. Those working in the two industries often spoke different “languages”, had different perspectives and a different way of looking at things.

Stressing the urgent water challenges facing nations, Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi, chair of the GWP Technical Committee, pointed out that water-scarce regions now account for about 36 percent of the global population and 22 percent of global GDP. He said demand for water had grown 600 times during the 21st century.

“Good water management is important to [sustainable] growth and for building resilience to climate change,” he said. “There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it.”

Nevertheless, GWP’s experience in Africa shows that water managers are finding practical, yet simple solutions to the water crisis, while taking into account the energy needs of communities.

Andrew Takawira, senior programme officer, GWP-Africa, Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP) Coordination Unit, was in Trinidad for the conference and shared with IPS the work GWP-Africa is doing to successfully integrate water management with energy needs.

The WACDEP programme in Africa comprises Tunisia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It seeks to ensure that water issues and the capacity to deal with climate change issues that affect water within those countries are strengthened.

Takawira told IPS that in the Lake Cyhoha catchment, a basin shared by Burundi and Rwanda, people were cutting down trees for fuel, leading to deforestation that adversely affected the watershed.

WACDEP created a buffer zone around the watershed by planting trees, and with the help of partners in the two countries provided alternative sources of energy for the people in the area, namely, more fuel-efficient stoves and biogas digesters.

He said his organisation realised that water management requires a broad-based approach to meet the vital needs a community may have.

“They still need the energy. We are learning that you have to go broader. That is why it is important to tackle water, food and energy issues together. What you want to do as water managers is ensure the watersheds are managed properly. [But] if you tell them to stop cutting trees, what are they going to cook with?”

He cited a second example showing the interconnection of water and energy. In Cameroon, people wanted to be close to the river to easily access water, which created problems like siltation and reduction of plant coverage. Those problems could become disastrous in times of flood or drought.

Takawira explained that intensive activity near the riverbank loosens the soil and causes siltation. Siltation in turn reduces the amount of water stored in river dams, which would prove detrimental during times of drought.

Moving people away from the river is important for dealing with floods also, he explained, since occupation of river banks tends to reduce the vegetation that slows down and absorbs flood waters.

To deal with the problem, WACDEP in Africa encouraged the Cameroonians to move farther inland by providing them with pipes so that they could easily get water. However, energy was needed to move the water through the pipes and so the organization also provided solar energy to pump the water to people’s properties.

Takawira said WACDEP in Africa was “delivering on the ground” as far as working with communities and government institutions to ensure water security and reduce vulnerabilities to climate variability and change.

GWP-C’s Dr. Natalie Boodram said GWP in the Caribbean had learnt much from the experiences of their partners in Africa, since there were many similarities in the two regions’ situation. She said GWP-C had particularly benefited from learning about the capacity-building strategy of GWP-Africa.

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Floods Displace Lives and Dreams in Paraguay Thu, 03 Jul 2014 21:14:55 +0000 Natalia Ruiz Diaz Out of desperation, flood victims in Asunción have built makeshift shelters in public spaces, like this improvised camp opposite the Congress building. Credit: Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

Out of desperation, flood victims in Asunción have built makeshift shelters in public spaces, like this improvised camp opposite the Congress building. Credit: Natalia Ruiz Díaz/IPS

By Natalia Ruiz Diaz
ASUNCIÓN, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

The worst floods in the history of Paraguay have forced 300,000 people to flee their homes. Asunción, the most affected area, and other urban and rural areas were flooded by the rain-swollen Paraguay and Paraná rivers, foreshadowing what might happen when the El Niño phenomenon kicks in.

“I lost everything, I had my workshop but nothing is left, I only salvaged my tools,” one of the flood victims, Antonio Esteban, told IPS as he tried to fix a television set next to the four walls of wood and metal sheets he put up as a shelter for his family in front of the Congress building, after fleeing the Chacarita neighbourhood.“I just want to weep, but I hold it back. I have to be strong and keep working, because this flood has left my husband without work." -- Myriam Agüero

“The main problem is getting water for drinking, cooking and bathing,” he said.

The bad news is that the Paraguay river could soon rise further, after reaching the record level of 7.19 metres in the port of Asunción, pushing the waters into the heart of the city after completely flooding the low-lying neighbourhoods along the banks, where boats have become the only means of transport.

Heavy rains have flooded not only Paraguay, but also regions of the Parana basin in Argentina and Brazil. At least 12,000 people have been evacuated in Argentina and 50,000 in Brazil, and the authorities of both countries have warned that the situation will get worse, because more rain is forecast for the coming days.

In Paraguay, more than 15,000 families have been displaced by the floods, according to official figures which are lower than those of local and international organisations. In the capital city with its population of 514,000, over 60,000 people have had to leave their homes to live in camps on military bases or public spaces.

Alejandro Max Pastene, of the climatology department at the National Directorate of Meteorology and Hydrology, told IPS that June, July and August are usually dry months in Paraguay. But this year, heavy rains began in June.

So when the normal rainy season arrives, from October to March, “there will not have been time for the river level to fall.”

Moreover, this year “the rains from October onwards will be particularly intense because of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation meteorological phenomenon,” he said. This is caused by warmer than usual surface temperatures in the east and central tropical Pacific ocean.

Pastene said that the critical level for flooding of the Paraguay river is 5.5 metres, nearly two metres below its current level of 7.19 metres. “In a single day, Jun. 27, as much rain fell as in a normal month,” he said.

Residents in lowlying shanty towns like Bañado Sur, Tacumbú and Chacarita had to evacuate with virtually no help at all.

In improvised shelters on public land, the homeless are living in crowded structures of wood, plastic and metal sheeting. Drinking water and sanitation are their major needs.

Aldo Zaldívar, director of operations at the National Emergency Secretariat (SEN), told IPS the situation had exceeded all forecasts and assistance had not arrived as quickly as was required.

He said the SEN has provided provisions, materials and logistics to 75,000 people in Asunción and over 150,000 people in affected areas in the rest of the country.

The worst affected zones are in the department of Presidente Hayes, in the Chaco region (west), in the department of Ñeembucú (southwest), and in the department of Alto Paraná (north).

“Our orders are to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of the population. And we are doing this, but sometimes we cannot arrive as soon as people want,” Zaldívar said about the situation that began in June.

But criticism is mounting over the slow and insufficient reaction of the authorities to the worst river flooding in 30 years, especially from social organisations working in the affected areas.

The government of rightwing President Horacio Cartes is coming in for particular criticism for failing to support the lowlying neighbourhoods, local residents and activists reported. Later on, images were being circulated showing representatives of the ruling party proselytising with state aid to the flood victims.

Part of the deficiencies were alleviated by solidarity campaigns organised by NGOs, clubs, youth groups and neighbourhood organisations that collect money, clothes, food and materials to resettle families who have to evacuate their homes.

At present the authorities have opened 86 shelters to house families who had to abandon their homes in Asunción. Two thousand families have been relocated on three military bases alone.

Conditions in the shelters are far from ideal. The main problem is sanitation, as there are no more chemical toilets. The SEN has commissioned the building of toilets and showers in containers, which will be used to alleviate the lack of these facilities in the camps.

The “palangana” (washbowl)

Miguel Barrios is a blacksmith, like Esteban, and he was unable to salvage much when the waters reached his home. He finds it incredible that Chacarita is still being flooded after the works built along Costanera avenue, that were supposed to act as a retaining wall by the river.

“The neighbourhood was left in the ‘palangana’ (washbowl), between the Costanera avenue and the Asunción city wall,” he said.

Juan Ramón Martínez, another Chacarita resident, experienced the great flood of 1983, the biggest on record so far in Asunción, and in his view the present flood is much worse.

At the camp in front of the Congress building, people are working with spades, sawing wood and hammering nails in roofs, women and children included. All around, clothes are spread to dry in the sun.

In another part of the city, not far from the historic centre and the downtown area where public institutions are located, Myriam Agüero is evacuating from the Yta Pyta Punta neighbourhood with her husband and four children.

“The floodwaters have arrived, we have no alternative. We can’t even stay on the second storey of our house,” the 33-year-old woman, a leader in the Domestic Workers’ Union in Paraguay, told IPS.

Agüero was born in the lowlying belt of shanty towns in the floodpains along the banks of the Paraguay river, where many women go out to work as domestic employees.

“I just want to weep, but I hold it back. I have to be strong and keep working, because this flood has left my husband without work,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Teodosia Duarte, another flood victim, said with resignation, “They say we will be here for many months.”

According to forecasts, the river level will not fall markedly until 2015.

Duarte is distressed by the thought of what she will find when she eventually goes back to her home and neighbourhood. She pressed her hands against her chest and said in Guaraní, the mother tongue of Paraguayans: “Ñandejara tuicha ohecha kuaá va´era ñandeve” (God is great, he will help us).

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Problems Inspire Ingenious Solutions in Peruvian Amazon Town Wed, 02 Jul 2014 23:49:25 +0000 Milagros Salazar A Jepelacio resident carries a blue jerrycan with 20 litres of “Jepe water” along one of the dusty but clean streets of this town in the Peruvian Amazon, a healthful routine many families carry out daily. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

A Jepelacio resident carries a blue jerrycan with 20 litres of “Jepe water” along one of the dusty but clean streets of this town in the Peruvian Amazon, a healthful routine many families carry out daily. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
JEPELACIO, Peru, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

He may look like a rapper, but 33-year-old José Antonio Bardález is the mayor of Jepelacio, in the Peruvian Amazon. His ingenious innovations in the municipality include transforming waste management into a source of income and making spring water a source of drinking water.

“I’m a civil engineer, but people think I’m an environmental engineer,” the mayor told IPS, driving his pickup truck and stopping frequently to greet and joke with local people in the district, located in the department of San Martín, in the country’s northern Amazon region.The eye-catching blue jerrycans of “Jepe water” are delivered free to schools and to 100 “healthy families” who have kept their houses and surroundings clean and have processed their waste appropriately.

Bardález wears torn denim jeans and dark glasses, and styles his hair with gel. His black pickup, with polarised windows, is part of his image, and he has changed the letters of its brand name around to “Jepe”, the brand of the town’s sustainable products.

Jepelacio, one of the principal districts in Mayobomba province, has over 20,000 people distributed in 70 villages. Most local people make their living from agriculture, mainly coffee growing. The district has lush biodiversity, but also suffers from serious deforestation.

Between 2006 and 2011, deforested areas in San Martín fell to an average of 36 percent, but the level of deforestation in the Gera valley, one of the main basins in Jepelacio, is still 65 percent, according to the Asociación Amazónicos por la Amazonia (AMPA – Amazonians for the Amazon), an NGO.

Half the population lives in poverty, and 26 percent of children under five were chronically malnourished in 2009, according to official figures.

When Bardález became mayor in late 2010, he decided to turn the disadvantages into an opportunity for change. His monthly budget was 93,000 dollars, or about four dollars a head.

He began to mobilise local people to collect garbage to be turned into cheap agricultural fertiliser. Local families keep the streets clean and separate organic from inorganic materials, putting them in plastic buckets, sacks, bags or any other suitable containers.

Small containers of classified rubbish can be seen outside the houses that line the dusty unpaved streets of Jepelacio. These are emptied by municipal personnel and the garbage is processed with the aid of efficient microorganisms, found in yeast mixture, molasses, milk whey or cow rumen.

One litre of this fermentation culture can decompose 100 tonnes of organic material, said the mayor. In five days, the waste material can reach a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius, and the residue is passed through a sieve until the final product is “Jepe fertiliser.” The process lasts a little over two weeks.

Every month the municipal district decomposes 30 tonnes of organic waste, at a cost of 3,500 dollars, which is covered by sales of the fertiliser at 143 dollars a tonne.

In Bardález’s view it is a win-win formula, because building a sanitary infill to dump rubbish would cost nearly one million dollars, equivalent to the municipality’s budget for a whole year and preventing it from undertaking any other works.

“The best thing of all is that the microorganisms do not generate bad odours, there is zero pollution, and people are learning to process waste in order to make an income from fertiliser sales,” he said.

Mayor José Antonio Bardález at the treatment plant producing “Jepe fertiliser”, an initiative that is generating sustainable changes in his district in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Mayor José Antonio Bardález at the treatment plant producing “Jepe fertiliser”, an initiative that is generating sustainable changes in his district in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

To replicate the project, the municipality is organising a fertiliser mini-plant contest among 10 of its outlying villages. “This means I have gained 10 clean townships,” the mayor said.

In the upper years of the district’s secondary schools, students are being taught how to make the fertiliser as well as the basics of how to run a family business, in order to help improve the management of their family farms.

“This fertiliser has a value. It’s no good giving it away for free, if it costs people nothing they don’t value it,” Bardález said, explaining that some government programmes give sacks of fertiliser to farmers, and instead of using them they sell them on at half price in order to get cash in hand.

“It’s good that they’re making that fertiliser to sell to people more cheaply,” said Martina Díaz Vásquez, a 39-year-old mother of seven. She told IPS that she had come to Jepelacio from Cajamarca at the age of 11.

More than 80 percent of the district’s residents come from other departments, mainly in the Andean region, like Cajamarca and Piura. The challenge is to involve them in a project in an area other than their birthplace, AMPA director Karina Pinasco told IPS.

“It is highly innovative for an authority to transform a problem (like waste) into an opportunity. I have not seen anything like it elsewhere in San Martín,” Pinasco said.

Bardález’s ingenuity has been applied to other municipal projects related to the district’s natural resources.

The mayor saw the potential for making the clear water of a natural spring fit for human consumption, and so solve the problem of diarrhoeal diseases in the district. Now the water is filtered and processed with fine silver rods, which have a powerful bactericidal effect.

For the past two years, residents have been able to buy 20-litre containers of drinking water for less than 50 cents. “It’s good to drink, we don’t have to boil our water any more. We save time and money,” Margarita Delbado, who has three children, told IPS.

At present the eye-catching blue jerrycans of “Jepe water” are delivered free to schools and to 100 “healthy families” who have kept their houses and surroundings clean and have processed their waste appropriately.

In April 2013 the municipality of Jepelacio was recognised by the San Martín departmental government as a key ally in the implementation of a special programme for improving child nutrition.

In December, the Health ministry recognised it as one of the municipalities that has contributed to overcoming social problems that affect people’s health.

In addition to waste management and water treatment, a natural swimming pool has been created under a waterfall on the Rumi Yacu stream. A pool of water was simply dammed up and surrounded with rocks, creating a recreational space for children and their families.

“Innovation can happen in small stages. The next step is to provide more ‘Jepe water’ for the whole district, to improve waste treatment and to keep making progress,” said Bardález, who went into politics because in his technical job he was unable to realise the changes he wanted.

Early in his term of office he asked for a loan to buy heavy machinery. Criticism rained down on him: Why purchase an excavator, a tractor, a bulldozer or a dumpster? people asked.

But these voices faded away when people saw roads being built and stones being moved. Bardález is convinced that it is well worth taking risks. As indeed he has.

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

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Here Are the Real Victims of Pakistan’s War on the Taliban Tue, 01 Jul 2014 14:44:54 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai An elderly displaced man carries a sack of rations on his shoulder. The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs of 110 kg each. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

An elderly displaced man carries a sack of rations on his shoulder. The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs of 110 kg each. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

Three days ago, Rameela Bibi was the mother of a month-old baby boy. He died in her arms on Jun. 28, of a chest infection that he contracted when the family fled their home in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, where a full-scale military offensive against the Taliban has forced nearly half a million people to flee.

Weeping uncontrollable, Bibi struggles to recount her story.

“My son was born on Jul. 2 in our own home,” the 39-year-old woman tells IPS. “He was healthy and beautiful. If we hadn’t been displaced, he would still be alive today.”

“My wife is expected to deliver a baby within a fortnight, But the doctors say the child will be premature due to the stressful journey we undertook to get here." -- Jalal Akbar, a former resident of the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan Agency
But Bibi does not have the luxury of grieving long for her little boy.

Soon she will have to dry her eyes and begin the grim task of providing for herself and her two young daughters, who now comprise some of the 468,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) seeking refuge from the Pakistan army’s airstrikes on the militant-infested mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Launched on Jun. 15, the army’s campaign was partly motivated by terrorist attacks on the Karachi International Airport that killed 18 people in early June.

Having failed since 2005 to flush out the militants from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the army is now focusing all its firepower on the 11,585-square-kilometre North Waziristan Agency, where insurgent groups have enjoyed a veritable free reign since escaping the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan over a decade ago.

Some political pundits are cheering what they call the government’s “hard line” on the terrorists. But what it means for a civilian population already weary from years of war is homeless, hunger and sickness.

Most of the displaced have collapsed, fatigued from hours of travel on dirt roads in 45-degree heat, in massive camps in Bannu, an ancient city in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) province.

Already groaning under the weight of nearly a million refugees who have arrived in successive waves over the last nine years, KP is completely unprepared to deal with this latest influx of desperate families.

With tents serving as makeshift shelters, and the blistering summer heat threatening to worsen over the coming weeks, medical professionals here are warning of a full-blown health crisis, as doctors struggle to cope with a long line of patients.

Many traveled for hours on dirt roads, in 45-degree heat, to reach safe ground, with no food or water along the way. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Many traveled for hours on dirt roads, in 45-degree heat, to reach safe ground, with no food or water along the way. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Muslim Shah, a former resident of North Waziristan, has just arrived in Bannu after a 45-km journey on an unpaved road with his wife and children.

He is being treated at a rudimentary ‘clinic’ in the camp for severe dehydration, and recovering from a stomach flu caused by consumption of contaminated water along the way.

The frail-looking man tells IPS he is concerned for his family’s health in an unsanitary environment, gesturing to a nearby filthy canal where his children are bathing amongst a herd of buffalos.

“We have examined about 28,000 displaced people,” Dr. Sabz Ali, deputy medical superintendent at the district headquarters hospital (DHQ) of Bannu, told IPS.

About 25,000 of these, he said, are suffering from preventable diseases caused by sun exposure, lack of nutrition, and consumption of unclean water.

On Jun. 29, the government relaxed its curfew, giving families a tiny window of escape before resuming its operation Monday.

Families who left in the allotted timeframe are expected to descend on Bannu soon, prompting an urgent need for preemptive and coordinated efforts to avert an outbreak of diseases, Ali asserted.

“Given the soaring temperatures, we fear outbreaks of communicable water and vector-borne diseases, like gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, as well as vaccine-preventable childhood diseases such as polio and measles,” he said.

Seeking some relief from the 41-degree heat, displaced children in Bannu join a herd of buffalos for a bath in a filthy canal. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Seeking some relief from the 41-degree heat, displaced children in Bannu join a herd of buffalos for a bath in a filthy canal. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Ahmed Noor Mahsud (59) and his family of four epitomise the unfolding crisis.

Mahsud himself is bed-ridden as a result of a heat stroke caused by walking 40 km in sweltering heat, while his sons – aged 14, 15 and 20 – have been suffering with diarhhoea, fever and headaches since they arrived in the camp on Jun. 22.

The family has had very little access to clean water for nearly a week, which is exacerbating their illness.

According to public health specialists like Ajmal Shah, who was dispatched by the KP health department, exhaustion among IDPs has even led to some cases of cardiac arrest.

Out in the desert, families are also at risk of snake and scorpion bites, and could suffer long-term psychological stress as a result of the trauma, Shah told IPS.

About 90 percent of the displaced are extremely poor, having lived well below the poverty line for over a decade due to the eroding impacts of terrorism on the local economy. Few can afford private care and must wait patiently for thinly-spread doctors to make their rounds.


But for people like 30-year-old Jalal Akbar, a former resident of the town of Mir Ali in Waziristan, patience is almost impossible.

“My wife is expected to deliver a baby within a fortnight,” he told IPS anxiously. “But the doctors say the child will be premature due to the stressful journey we undertook to get here. She requires bed rest, but we have been unable to find a proper home.”

The exhausted man fears their eviction will deprive him of his first child.

Another major crisis looming on the horizon is a food shortage, which will only add to the woes of the displaced.

According to a Jun. 30 assessment report by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs each of 110 kg. The WFP has provided food rations to over 8,000 families while a number of NGOs and charity organisations are also carrying out relief activities.”

Still, those like Ikram Mahsud, a displaced tribal elder, fear that the worst is yet to come.

“We lack good food, and the non-availability of sanitation facilities like latrines, detergent and soap [means] our people are destined to suffer in the coming days,” he told IPS, adding that requests for clean water and sanitation facilities have fallen on deaf ears.

Women and children currently comprise 74 percent of the IDPs, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to point out, in a Jun. 30 report, the urgent need for “mass awareness campaigns among women to promote use of safe drinking water, hygienic food preparation and storage.

“Information regarding benefits of hand-washing before eating and preparation of food, use of impregnated bed nets to avoid mosquitoes’ bites and prevent occurrence of malaria should also be encouraged,” the agency noted.

WHO says it had sent medicines for 90,000 people to Bannu, but experts here feel this will fall short in the face of a spiraling crisis.


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Water, Rivers and Runoff Challenge Ethiopia’s Expanding Capital Tue, 01 Jul 2014 08:34:06 +0000 James Jeffrey Pedestrians stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles and mud around Meskal Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Pedestrians stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles and mud around Meskal Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

The streets of Addis Ababa are increasingly turning into water-logged obstacle courses as downpours increase in the run up to Ethiopia’s July to September rainy season. Strangers link hands to steady themselves as they step high and gingerly over the spreading puddles and slippery mud.

Sustainable drainage systems may not sound like an exciting topic to get the heart beating faster, but it is one of increasing importance in Ethiopia and especially in Addis Ababa as the capital city grows, construction sites abound, its population swells and demand for accessible, clean water increases — and the downpours keep coming.

“Despite Ethiopia being called the water tower of Africa, it’s actually more of a water highway due to runoff and a lack of storage capacity,” Manaye Ewunetu, managing director of London-based ME Consulting Engineers that works on water systems in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, tells IPS.

Due to its mountainous topography Ethiopia’s water storage capacity is relatively low at about 30 percent, compared to countries like Australia where it is nearer 80 percent.“I have to set the alarm on my mobile and wake up around midnight. I go outside to join the neighbours queuing by the tap, it can take up to three hours before I go back to bed.” -- Meleshew.

This issue affects a population of 92 million that is projected by the World Bank to grow to 145 million by 2050, hence efforts by the likes of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development trying to enhance the resilience of small-scale agriculture through sustainable land management practices.

But water issues are also sharply felt in urban areas like Addis Ababa, with a population that has grown from around 2.7 million in 2008 to a current population estimated at over three million, and likely to reach more than five million by 2037, according to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency.

Addis Ababa is increasingly emerging as an important world city, home to the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and many other international organisations, embassies and consulates.

New York-based consultancy A.T. Kearney in the emerging cities outlook of its 2014 annual Global Cities Index ranked Addis Ababa, after Jakarta and Manila, as the third-most likely city to advance its global position. “At current rates of improvement, the Ethiopian capital is among the cities closing in fastest on the world leaders — despite current distances — in income equality, healthcare and business transparency,” states A.T. Kearney’s report.

Despite the plaudits, the speed of this young city’s development — other demographic growth estimates put Addis Ababa’s population nearer 5 million now and increasing up to 8 million by 2030 — threatens to overwhelm it and the rivers and springs that led to its creation in 1886 as the country’s New Flower, the translation of its Amharic name.

Waste disposal, inadequate drainage, industrial and petrol station run off and discharge into water sources, create significant health hazards in the city. This is exacerbated by flooding.

“Floods have significant health hazards by [carrying] pathogens and pollutants which can contaminate food and water sources,” Wendwosen Feleke, a water and sanitation expert for the World Bank Ethiopia Country Office, tells IPS.

About 14 million birr (700,000 dollars) is spent by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health treating water-borne diseases each year, an estimation that does not include other economic losses such as loss of time and loss of earnings due to absence from jobs.

There are other economic implications, also.

“Inadequate drainage can result in deterioration or even destruction of infrastructure meaning it may fail to reach its design life,” James Markland, a senior transport specialist with the World Bank Ethiopia Country Office, tells IPS. “[This reduces] the economic effectiveness of substantial investments made.”

Furthermore, 24-hour-a-day water availability is all but unknown in the city, despite an average yearly rainfall of 1,180mm which is just under what rain-drenched U.K. experiences.

For the majority of Addis Ababa households the norm is to fill water receptacles during the periods when water flows from taps: in some parts of the cities this is early in the morning, in other parts it is late at night.

“I have to set the alarm on my mobile and wake up around midnight,” says 24-year-old Meleshew. “I go outside to join the neighbours queuing by the tap, it can take up to three hours before I go back to bed.”

Meleshew lives with three friends in a small house to the west of Addis Ababa where they take it in turns to wake to refill their house’s water container once every few days.

“It’s hard because during the daytime I am looking for a job and so I’m tired at the end of the day,” Meleshew says. Often she finds herself nodding off while queuing for her turn, and typically wakes up with a headache after a night of interrupted sleep.

Many other city dwellers can’t even rely on a water source at home, hence the sight of people walking along the city’s roads carrying large yellow water containers on their backs after visiting public water points.

The authorities in Addis Ababa are not turning a blind eye to the relentless expansion of the city, and there is, as a result, a so-called city master plan that aims to mitigate the city’s disorganised growth and guide efforts to modernise it over the next 25 years.

But, some argue, presently the master plan doesn’t address the water issue adequately.

“Unless you put a drainage master plan into the city’s master plan there will be chaos,” says Manaye, who has watched the city expanding for the last 27 years during visits from U.K..

And despite the relevant government and city departments producing the necessary manuals, lack of coordination and willpower means little of tangible worth is occurring on the ground, he says.

“The problems stem from a lack of integration,” Teshome Worku, from Addis Ababa-based CORE Consulting Engineers, tells IPS. “The master plan doesn’t involve enough different disciplines and peoples.”

A robust water and drainage system would have much needed aesthetic benefits for the city, in addition to the benefits of tackling pollution, disease and lack of potable water.

“When you come from outside [and see Addis Ababa] it is very disturbing—it’s one of the most polluted cities in the world,” Manaye says.

Making the most of existing waterways and constructing ponds and parkways to absorb runoff would help make the city more attractive and offer huge investment opportunities for recreation and tourism, Manaye says.

Currently the city has very few parks, and a common lament from ex-pats in Addis Ababa is its lack of water features. In most global cities water bodies within developments can be used to boost marketing and contribute to increased property values.

“There is huge potential for regeneration is Addis,” Manaye says. “Water gives life to a city.”

Issues related to water, rivers and runoff are given increasing precedence due to the effects of climate change. The result, according to those pushing for improved drainage systems, is the need for radically different thinking at all levels to manage infrastructure and water issues. But that could be hard to achieve, partly due to Ethiopians’ tendency to accept hardships and soldier on.

“It’s not normal but it becomes normal,” Meleshew says of water shortages in Addis Ababa. “We adapt.”

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Plagued By Dengue Fever, Sri Lanka Looks to the Weatherman Mon, 30 Jun 2014 05:15:14 +0000 Amantha Perera Schoolchildren hold up a handmade sign that reads: ‘Let’s Eradicate Dengue’. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Schoolchildren hold up a handmade sign that reads: ‘Let’s Eradicate Dengue’. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

What’s the connection between weather forecasts and the mosquito-borne dengue virus? It’s not just a question for science nerds; in Sri Lanka, health officials believe answering this question could save lives.

For over half a decade now, doctors and residents of this island nation, especially those living in the cramped Western Province, have been battling the persistent, sometimes deadly, dengue plague, which tends to follow the monsoon rains that drench the southwest coast from June to October.

The tropical disease generally results in prolonged fever, muscle and joint pains, as well as skin rashes. In a small number of cases, the disease turns into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, characterised by bleeding, low levels of blood platelets, or dangerously low blood pressure, which can send the victim into shock, sometimes triggering fatalities.

“When we have better forecast data, we [will] be able to correlate the disease distribution in various parts of the island and make a feasible disease map that can be used for the whole country." -- Faseeha Noordeen, head of the department of microbiology at the University of Peradeniya
In mid-2009, soon after the annual monsoon, dengue infections increased at an alarming rate across Sri Lanka. By the end of the year, 35,095 people were infected, while the number of fatalities stood at 346.

The impact of the epidemic can be gauged by comparing current infection rates with the last dengue outbreak, which was recorded in 1989, a year that saw 200 infections and around 13 deaths.

Since 2009 the number of infections has been steadily high; they have never fallen below 28,000, while the highest number of infections – 44,461 – was reported in 2012.

While fatalities have been brought down – there were 83 deaths in 2013, the same year that logged 32,000 infections – dengue experts and medical professionals say there is an urgent need for a comprehensive management plan to curtail the impact of the disease.

“We need a much more stringent prevention regime,” Nimalka Pannilahetti, a consultant community physician at the National Dengue Control Unit, told IPS.

It is not that Sri Lanka has been lax on tackling mosquito breeding grounds; in fact it has initiated everything from a Presidential Task Force on Dengue Prevention, to fines for those who neglect possible breeding grounds, to declaring national dengue eradication programmes.

Unfortunately, the combined result of these projects is that the rate of infection is exactly what it was five years ago, or – in areas where slight reductions are reported – still alarmingly high.

The situation is especially worrying in the Western Province, home to over 25 percent of the country’s population of over 20 million people, and to 60 percent of all reported dengue cases since 2009.

Enter the forecasters

Given that so many strategies have been tried and failed, experts are now suggesting that the authorities call in help from the national Meteorological Bureau as the latest weapon in the fight against the virus.

Faseeha Noordeen, head of the department of microbiology at the University of Peradeniya in central Sri Lanka, told IPS that there is a clear connection between changing climate patterns and the spread of dengue.

In a research paper she co-authored, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in October 2013, Noordeen said that mosquito breeding grounds increased following heavy rains, pointing out that the two annual peaks in infections were recorded soon after the two annual monsoons.

Noordeen’s research also found that warming weather patterns increased the distribution of the dengue-carrying mosquito. She believes that detailed weather forecasts could help health authorities to better allocate resources and strategically implement prevention campaigns.

“When we have better forecast data, we [will] be able to correlate the disease distribution in various parts of the island [and] make a feasible disease map that can be used for the whole country,” she said.

Pannilahetti agrees, stressing that detailed forecasts would be “invaluable” for people like her, who are tasked with hunting a species of mosquito that is constantly on the move, and eradicating a disease that is constantly changing.

“Right now we are following the rains,” she said. “Preemptive programmes could be much more effective.”

Midway through June the Prevention Unit was scrambling to relocate most of its resources to the Western Province, which absorbed the heaviest rains in the first week of this month.

The third of week of June, meanwhile, saw the launch of a massive dengue eradication programme that included members of the armed forces, Pannilahetti added.

Some regions of the province received four to six times their average June rainfall in the first week of the month this year. Pannilahetti said that detailed forecasts would have enabled health officials to raise their levels of preparedness beforehand.

Greater risks for low-income communities

She added that the burden of the disease is unevenly distributed between the rich and poor, since the spread of dengue is largely determined by the cleanliness of the immediate environment, and a community’s proximity to receptacles like tanks of stagnant water, or even accumulated garbage.

“What we have seen is that there are more breeding grounds in low income areas, where people tend to pay less attention to how safe or healthy their immediate environment is,” Pannilahetti said.

Additionally, medical treatment comes at a high price, often leaving the poor without access to quality care.

LakKumar Fernando, who heads the Centre for Clinical Management of Dengue and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever at the Negombo Government Hospital, 35 km north of the capital Colombo, says that dengue can be successfully treated if detected early.

“The first thing is to get a blood test done,” he told IPS; but doing so costs about 2,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) at private clinics, a sum that many people in this country cannot afford.

In a bid to make the process more accessible, the government recently set up six new blood testing centres in government hospitals across the Western Province, but these alone will not be able to tackle the hundreds of cases coming in every single day, according to experts.

The unit that Fernando heads has been recognised as one of the best treatment facilities in the country, with only a single fatality out of 1,180 cases admitted since June 2013.

“We never let our patients go into shock, we monitor them round the clock,” Fernando said, adding that the most effective treatment for dengue was constant monitoring of blood pressure, pulse and urine output while maintaining a good fluid intake.

But the cost of setting up the unit, where each of the 17 beds is equipped with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment, was about 100 million rupees, or 750,000 dollars, hardly the kind of initiative that can be easily replicated around the country.

In fact, units like the one in Negombo are few and far between in Sri Lanka’s public health system, which makes an even stronger case for developing solid prevention systems, experts say.


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No Limits to Shale Gas Chemicals in Mexico Sat, 28 Jun 2014 14:02:52 +0000 Emilio Godoy A cocktail of polluting chemicals is used in hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract shale gas, for example at this fracking well in the U.S. state of Texas, on the border with Mexico. Credit: United States Government

A cocktail of polluting chemicals is used in hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract shale gas, for example at this fracking well in the U.S. state of Texas, on the border with Mexico. Credit: United States Government

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 28 2014 (IPS)

The new legal framework for Mexico’s oil industry has not placed controls on the use of harmful chemicals in the extraction of unconventional fossil fuels, and environmentalists and experts fear their consumption will increase in an industry that is opening up to private capital.

The energy reform “will exacerbate the use of chemicals. The new laws do not address this problem. We need to know what is used, because otherwise we cannot know the consequences. That’s why we want a ban on ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing),” activist Claudia Campero, of Canada’s Blue Planet Project, told IPS.

A package of nine initiatives, including eight new laws and modifications to 12 others on fossil fuels, water, electricity and oil funds, came before the senate in the last week of June, after being debated since Jun. 10 by the Energy Commission.

On Dec. 11, 2013, Congress reformed articles 25, 27 and 28 of the Mexican constitution, opening up exploration, extraction, refining, transport, distribution and sales of hydrocarbons to private, local and foreign investors.

This reform dismantled the foundations of the 1938 nationalisation of the oil industry.

“Many chemicals have not been tested, and new ones are being developed all the time. Companies use trade secrets as an excuse to withhold information." -- Claudia Campero, of Canada’s Blue Planet Project
Analysis of the projects of state oil giant Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), as well as reports from the U.S. Congress and the local oil industry, give an idea of the amount of chemicals used to extract shale gas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. The method is known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The gas extraction and recovery process requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated before they are disposed of, and even afterwards, according to experts and environmental organisations like Greenpeace.

PEMEX’s enviromental impact study for the 2007-2027 Regional Project in Cuenca de Sabinas Piedras Negras, in the northern states of Coahuila and Nuevo León, says that “the liquid wastes generated will be sludges.”

Other Latin American Models

Countries like Brazil and Colombia have already put blocks of natural gas deposits, both conventional and unconventional, out to tender for exploration and extraction, and have created regulations.

The Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP) granted 240 blocks of crude and gas in November 2013.

On Apr. 10 the ANP issued resolution 21 stipulating that operators must disclose all chemical products used for processing, transport and storage, including quantities and compositions and their potential impact on human health and the environment.

Operators must also describe chemicals to be used in fracking, and stipulate whether they are inert or may potentially react on contact with groundwater, rocks, plants and human beings, and the control measures being applied.

In Colombia, the National Hydrocarbons Agency is preparing fracking guidelines. This year the agency is offering 25 oil and gas areas, including shale gas.
The waste is classified as dangerous under Mexican regulations and is made up mainly of diesel, barium sulphate and bentonite, a cocktail that is toxic for human health and the environment.

The document says that drilling and fracking will require harmful chemicals like bentonite, lime, calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, caustic soda, additives, emulsifiers and soaps. These substances can damage skin, lungs, liver and eyes.

The project would allocate 34,000 hectares out of the total of 4.5 million hectares in the Sabinas Piedras Negras basin for gas exploration and exploitation. Gas extraction would take place on an area of 21,270 hectares, within which 8,035 hectares would be reserved for drilling.

The Poza Rica Altamira y Aceite Terciario del Golfo 2013-2035 regional oil project, in the states of Veracruz (southeast), Hidalgo (centre) and Puebla (south), is planning to use similar chemicals.

In March, PEMEX presented the environmental impact study for this project to the environment ministry, but withdrew it in May because it would have affected natural protected areas in Puebla. It is expected to reintroduce the project on a more limited geographic scale.

The state-owned company has drilled 18 shale gas wells, five of which are about to complete their exploratory phase, in Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. PEMEX plans to operate a total of 6,500 commercial wells over the next 50 years, but shale gas exploitation may end up in private hands because of the energy reform.

PEMEX has identified five regions with potential shale gas reserves, from Veracruz to Chihuahua, on the border with the United States.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ranks Mexico sixth in the world for technically recoverable shale gas resources, after China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, in an analysis of 137 reserves in 41 countries.

PEMEX had no information on how the levels of chemical substances they use compare to Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) concentrations.

According to Greenpeace, the fracking fluids used during the life of one well require 380,000 litres of additives.

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a U.S. organisation that compiles and disseminates scientific information about health and environmental problems caused by exposure to chemicals that interfere with hormone actions, identified 944 products containing 632 chemical substances, many of which are potential endocrine disruptors, that are used in hydraulic fracturing.

The U.S. national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry, FracFocus, reports over 72,000 fracking wells in the country and lists 59 chemicals, consistent with those injected by PEMEX in its wells, including methanol, isopropanol, carbonates and acids.

Mexico’s National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH) has drafted regulations for shale gas operations, but IPS ascertained that these contain no limits on the use of chemicals.

“The problem with the chemicals is the leftover waste, which must be removed from contact with persons and treated to prevent harm to people and the environment. We are going to specify that it must be treated,” Néstor Martínez, a member of the CNH, told IPS.

The CNH draft regulations cover water use and pollution, use of dangerous chemicals and production of earth tremors. They seek to reduce work accidents, prevent pollution by waste fluids and chemicals, and reduce the environmental footprint.

The regulations refer to types of drilling slurries, the quality of well sealing, hydraulic fracking methods and the discharge of fluids and solids.

PEMEX’s contractors will have to present the CNH with a good management plan that includes specifications to be complied with in those areas.

“Many chemicals have not been tested, and new ones are being developed all the time. Companies use trade secrets as an excuse to withhold information,” Blue Planet’s Campero said.

The Environment ministry is due to begin reviewing the regulations for drilling wells and discharging waste in October.


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Community Resilience Tops U.N.’s Disaster Relief Agenda Thu, 26 Jun 2014 14:07:25 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne A women-led village council prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

The Bangkok Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia and the Pacific adopted at the close of the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) here today emphasised community-based solutions, and reflects a growing global desire to focus more on grassroots actions in the face of catastrophic climate change.

Organised annually in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), this year’s conference – hosted by the Thai government – marks the last time stakeholders from the region will meet before a global summit in Japan next year brings governments together to draft post-2015 plans.

Margareta Wahlstrom, special representative of the U.N. secretary general for disaster risk reduction, said in her opening remarks to the conference that an inclusive and participatory model is needed, which allows grassroots communities and local government authorities to work together as central players in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts.

“The more growth we have, the more problems we create. As Asia grows we need policy coherence, accountability and transparency.” -- Bangladeshi Parliamentarian Saber Chowdhrey
Her words found echo with Harjeet Singh, international coordinator of ActionAid’s disaster risk reduction and climatic adaptation project.

“We should not be developing solutions in boardrooms and conferences like this,” he told IPS. “We should rather work with communities, that know much better how they are effected. Most of the time they have solutions that work best for them.”

Speaking at a media conference later, Wahlstrom pointed out that East Asia serves as a model for the rest of the world, as its DRR policies over the last 20 years have led to significant reductions in fatalities as a result of natural hazards.

She said the conference is addressing the fundamental question of how to bring grassroots communities, who are already doing the hard work of mitigation and adaptation, into conversation with national policy makers in order to influence the development agenda.

In preparation for the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Japan in March 2015, the Bangkok Declaration calls upon governments and stakeholders to enhance resilience at local levels by institutionalising integrated community approaches into local development.

In addition, it recommended the inclusion of volunteer and community-based networks and strengthening the role of women as a force in local level resilience building.

The document also stressed the need for strong accountability measures in partnerships between the community and local governments.

Thailand also managed to incorporate King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s philosophy of Sufficiency Economics into the document, highlighting the importance of a people-centered development model that could “reduce the impact of uncertainties and increase the self-immunity of local communities.”

Sufficiency economics, based on the Buddhist principles of moderation, self-sufficiency and sustainability, promotes a grassroots-oriented economic model that rejects greed, overexploitation and waste.

In the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) adopted here as the blueprint for the region’s input to the Japan conference next year, building community resilience to disaster risk management was given top priority.

In the consultation process for HFA2 from March 2012 to May 2013 the emphasis has shifted from reducing vulnerabilities to building resilience. This would involve devolution of authority from a central to a local government level and the use of multi-stakeholder platforms.

This is particularly relevant in the Asia-Pacific region, where – according to a background paper produced for the Bangkok meeting by UNISDR – the number of people exposed to annual flooding has increased from 29.5 to 63.8 million in the past four years, while the number of people living in cyclone-prone areas has grown from 71.8 to 120.7 million.

Invariably, poor people and low-income communities who live in areas most vulnerable to climate change – informal housing settlements and coastal areas, for instance – have been disproportionately impacted.

“We need to be innovative and think out of the box to reform governance [at the] community level,” Bangladeshi Parliamentarian Saber Chowdhrey said at the conference.

He argued that 2015 is poised to be a watershed year with three major international conferences addressing the post-2015 development agenda.

“The more growth we have, the more problems we create,” he noted. “As Asia grows we need policy coherence, accountability and transparency.”

Stefan Kohler, with the sustainable infrastructure group of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) told IPS a key component to the whole process is community consultation.

“They are the ones who will be involved in using the (DRR) infrastructure created for them and [we] need to understand their requirements, so that [we] can feed it to the design process.”

Nepal, for instance, has been ranked by the U.N. Development Programme as the fourth most vulnerable nation to the impacts of climatic change.

While the country has been developing national action plans on disaster management since 1996, it is only recently that the government enhanced the role of local-level participation.

Addressing a workshop here, Gopi Khanal, Nepal’s joint-secretary of the ministry of federal affairs and local development, explained that the government has shifted responsibility for DRR management to the community level.

Through Ward Citizens Forums and 3,625 Village Development Councils operating under local government structures, the national government has created an information sharing system from national through district to village levels.

“Mainstreaming of risk management requires coordination between various levels of governance, and the sharing of financial resources,” he explained.

Becky-Jay Harrington of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who is based in Nepal, told IPS that this pilot scheme – currently implemented in seven of the country’s 75 districts – has channeled a considerable amount of state financial resources to community-based action on disaster risk management.

The project’s total budget is 2.5 million dollars.

Another example can be seen in the Maldives, a country seriously threatened by rising sea levels as a result of global warming.

Mohamed Zuhair, the country’s national disaster management minister, told the meeting that the central government has given a lot of freedom to communities from far-flung atolls and islands to steer DRR activities, which in turn has influenced national policy.

He also believes that high-risk communities like his need to be innovative if they wish to survive.

“We have a private-public collaboration with the tourist industry to introduce green energy and collaborate in risk management,” he pointed out, adding, “While the Maldives has taken the initiative, bigger countries with more funds need to take responsibility and contribute to these initiatives.

Experts say the shift towards civil society must be encouraged and built upon, as the world prepares for a decade of disasters.


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When Faith Meets Disaster Management Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:09:15 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

A consortium of faith-based organisations (FBOs) made a declaration at a side event Wednesday at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), to let the United Nations know that they stand ready to commit themselves to building resilient communities across Asia in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Hosted this year by the Thai government, the conference is an annual collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with the aim of bringing regional stakeholders together to discuss the specific challenges facing Asia in an era of rapid climate change.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers." -- Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India
A report prepared for the Bangkok conference by UNISDR points out that in the past three years Asia has encountered a wide range of disasters, from cyclones in the Philippines and major flooding in China, India and Thailand, to severe earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan.

In 2011 alone, global economic losses from extreme weather events touched 366 billion dollars, of which 80 percent were recorded in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the region accounts for 39 percent of the planet’s land area and hosts 60 percent of the world’s population, it only holds 29 percent of global wealth, posing major challenges for governments in terms of disaster preparedness and emergency response.

FBOs believe they can fill this gap by giving people hope during times of suffering.

“It’s not about the goods we bring or the big houses we build,” argued Jessica Dator Bercilla, a Filipina from Christian Aid, adding that the most important contribution religious organisations can make is to convince people they are not alone on the long road towards rebuilding their lives after a disaster.

The FBO consortium that drafted the statement – including Caritas Asia, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the ACT Alliance – held a pre-conference consultative meeting here on Jun. 22nd during which some 50 participants from various faiths discussed the many hurdles FBOs must clear in order to deliver disaster relief and assist affected populations.

The final FBO Statement on Disaster Risk Reduction drew attention to faith organisations’ unique ability to work closely with local communities to facilitate resilience and peace building.

Overcoming Hidden Agendas

One challenge to including FBOs in national DRR frameworks is the prevailing fear that religious organisations will use their position as providers of aid and development services to push their own religious agendas.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, for instance, Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as Muslim communities in Indonesia, complained that FBOs tried to impose their beliefs on the survivors.

When IPS raised this question during the pre-conference consultation, it triggered much debate among the participants.

Many feel the fear is unfounded, as FBOs are driven by the desire to give value to human life, rather than a desire to convert non-believers or followers of different faiths.

“If beliefs hinder development we must challenge those values,” asserted a participant from Myanmar who gave his name only as Munir.

Vincentia Widyasan Karina from Caritas Indonesia agreed, adding that in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Caritas worked among Muslim communities to rebuild the northern Indonesian region of Aceh, and “supported the Islamic community’s need to have prayer centres.”

Organisations like SGI go one step further by following methods like the Lotus Sutra for the realisation of happiness in all beings simultaneously.

“This principle expounds that Buddha’s nature is inherent in every individual, and this helps lead many other people towards happiness and enlightenment,” argued Asai, adding that in countries where Buddhists are a minority they work with other stakeholders. “If we form a network it is easier to work,” he added.
Given that an estimated one in eight people in the world identify with some form of organised religion, and that faith-based organisations comprise the largest service delivery network in the world, FBOs stand out as natural partners in the field of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

A declaration enshrined in the statement also urged the United Nations to recognise FBOs as a unique stakeholder in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2) to be presented to the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in 2015.

It also wants national and local governments to include FBOs when they organise regular consultations on DRR with relevant stakeholders, as FBOs are the ones who often sustain development programmes in the absence of international NGOs.

For example, since 2012 Caritas Indonesia has been working with a coastal community that has lost 200 metres of its coastal land in the past 22 years, in the Fata Hamlet of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggar Province, to build community resilience to rising seawaters.

The agency helped community members form the Fata Environment Lover Group, which now uses natural building methods to allow seawater to pass through bamboo structures before reaching the coast, so that wave heights are reduced and mangroves are protected.

Collectively, the three partners to the declaration cover a lot of ground in the region.

Caritas Asia is one of seven regional offices that comprise Caritas International, a Catholic relief agency that operates in 200 countries. SGI is a Japanese lay Buddhist movement with a network of organisations in 192 countries, while ACT is a coalition of Christian churches and affiliated organistaions working in over 140 countries.

All three are renowned for their contributions to the field of development and disaster relief. Caritas International, for instance, annually allocates over a million euros (1.3 million dollars) to humanitarian coordination, capacity building and HIV/AIDS programmes around the world.

“We would like to be one of the main players in the introduction of the DRR policy,” Takeshi Komino, head of emergencies for the ACT Alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, told IPS. “We are saying we are ready to engage.”

“What our joint statement points out is that our commitment is based on faith and that is strong. We can be engaged in relief and recovery activity for a long time,” added Nobuyuki Asai, programme coordinator of peace affairs for SGI.

Experts say Asia is an excellent testing ground for the efficacy of faith-based organisations in contributing to disaster risk reduction.

According to a survey by the independent Pew Research Centre, the Asia-Pacific region is home to 99 percent of the world’s Buddhists, 99 percent of the world’s Hindus and 62 percent of the world’s Muslims.

The region has also seen a steady increase in the number of Catholics, from 14 million a century ago to 131 million in 2013.

Forming links between these communities is easier said than done, with religious and communal conflicts plaguing the region, including a wave of Buddhist extremism in countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a strong anti-Christian movement across Pakistan and attacks on religious minorities in China and India.

Some experts, however, say that the threat of natural catastrophe draws communities together.

According to Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India, “When there is a disaster people forget their differences.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers,” he told IPS, citing such cooperation during major floods recently in the northern Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Loy Rego, a Myanmar-based disaster relief consultant, told IPS that the statement released today represents a very important landmark in disaster risk reduction.

“FBOs need to be more visible as an organised constituency in the roll-out of future frameworks,” he stated.

Rego believes that the biggest contribution FBOs could make to disaster risk management is to promote peaceful living among different communities.

“Respecting other religions need not be done in a secular way,” he said. “It only happens when they work with other FBOs in an inter-faith setting.”


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Companies Urged to Disclose “Plastic Footprint” Mon, 23 Jun 2014 23:24:20 +0000 Carey L. Biron Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled. Credit: Lucyin/cc by 2.0

Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled. Credit: Lucyin/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jun 23 2014 (IPS)

The environmental cost of the plastics used by corporations producing consumer goods likely mounts to more than 75 billion dollars a year, according to a first-time valuation released Monday by the United Nations and others.

This estimate is based on the cost of everything from greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of plastics to the eventual impact on wildlife and ecosystems – particularly in the oceans – of the resulting trash. The environmental ramifications are also influenced by the cost of lost resources when plastic products are thrown away rather than recycled.“Innovation can come from individual entrepreneurs, but also from the companies themselves – if they come under pressure to do so." -- Daniella Russo

Researchers say these estimates, broken down among 16 sectors, stand as a warning to corporate executives and their shareholders. Several industries are shown to be particularly vulnerable to potential new regulation, consumer demand or resource crunches regarding the future use or availability of plastic.

In order to insulate themselves from such shocks, companies are being urged to engage in a new era of disclosure around their use of plastics. In order to do so, corporate executives will first need to have an accurate understanding of the amount of plastics their companies are using in the first place – for some, a potentially new set of considerations.

“The research unveils the need for companies to consider their plastic footprint just as they do for carbon, water and forestry,” Andrew Russell, director of the Plastic Disclosure Project, an advocacy group that co-sponsored a new study on the issue, said Monday.

“By measuring, managing and reporting plastic use and disposal … companies can mitigate the risks, maximise the opportunities, and become more successful and sustainable businesses.”

The release of the findings coincided with the inaugural session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, in Nairobi. The assembly, comprising some 1300 government and industry leaders, constitutes the highest-level body the U.N. has ever brought together to discuss green issues.

“Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored,” Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said in a statement.

“[R]educing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits – from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries, vital for many developing countries, to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks.”

Efficiency competition

For the study, UNEP and the Plastic Disclosure Project collaborated with Trucost, a British consultancy that works to price natural resource use and did the related number-crunching. They say that transparency around plastics use – and, subsequently, greater efficiency in its use – could become a point of competition between corporations.

“As the impacts of plastic gain more prominence, companies may be expected by their stakeholders to improve rates of disclosure,” the report, released Monday, states.

“For example, this information is useful to inform institutional investors interested in protecting the value of their investments. Asset managers could engage with these companies to find out how they plan to manage the risks and opportunities of plastic.”

The food and soft drinks industries have the largest “natural capital” costs in terms of their plastics use, the research finds, constituting more than a third of the total. As such, these companies could be most vulnerable to risks to their reputation or sourcing.

On the other hand, toy companies, followed by manufacturers of athletic goods and footwear, have the highest proportion of their business based around plastic. Thus, they stand to experience the greatest potential economic impact from plastics-related problems.

Yet public disclosure on corporate plastics use remains poor, with only half of the 100 companies studied reporting on even a single related metric. Further, there is little pattern in terms of which corporations have made the decision to go public with this information.

“Currently, there is no correlation between a sector’s disclosure rate and its plastic intensity or absolute natural capital cost due to plastic,” the report notes.

“This means that sectors which face the most significant risks to their revenues … need to consider being more transparent about how they are managing the potentially material issue. It also suggests that disclosure may be more driven by external factors, such as legislation and reputation, rather than an internal understanding of risks and opportunities.”

Innovation opportunities

Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled.

A huge amount of the resulting trash is ending up in the oceans, causing some 13 billion dollars’ worth of damage, according to new estimates from the United Nations. Just last week, President Barack Obama’s administration hosted a first-ever summit on ocean sustainability, with a key focus on plastics pollution.

For its part, the new report does not attempt to weigh out the use of plastics versus other materials, in terms of transport weight or ancillary impact on important goods such as food. Nor does it propose any great trend away from the use of plastic, urging rather that the material be used simply in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible.

Such a view is being applauded by the plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, a leading lobby group here, “endorsed” the conclusion Monday, noting that the report overall “provides one data point that companies that manufacture and deliver a range of valuable consumer goods can use when assessing their products and processes.”

Yet some worry that the plastics industry is too fixed and insular to lead any process of innovation.

“The industry is represented by a very small set of companies that are heavily entrenched. They make most of the packaging we use, and they’re not very open to innovation and entrepreneurship,” Daniella Russo, the head of Think Beyond Plastic, a forum that pushes researchers and start-up companies to come up with new ways to address plastic pollution, told IPS.

Russo says it’s important to remember that some plastics present significant environmental challenges while others do not.

For instance, she notes, single-use packaging represents some 50 percent of plastics production and yet is destined purely for the landfill. Indeed, the UNEP report identifies such disposable packaging, along with Styrofoam, as the most significant problem plastics.

Yet Russo says that these also offer the most important innovation opportunities.

“This is a huge market, ripe for the taking,” she says. “Innovation can come from individual entrepreneurs, but also from the companies themselves – if they come under pressure to do so.”

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