Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Protecting Biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Thermal Convection Dome in the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:14:11 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137280 The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

The vast habitat known as the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome in the eastern Pacific Ocean will finally become a protected zone, over 50 years after it was first identified as one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

At the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12), held Oct. 6–17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Dome was declared an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), at Costa Rica’s request.

The measure will boost conservation of and research on the area, which is a key migration and feeding zone for species like the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

“Making the ocean healthy guarantees an improvement in the living standards of the people who depend in one way or another on the country’s marine resources,” the deputy minister of water, oceans, coasts and wetlands, Fernando Mora, told Tierramérica shortly after the Dome was declared an EBSA at COP12.

“It is one of the richest areas on the planet with a food chain that starts with krill (Euphausiacea), which attracts other species, including blue whales and dolphins,” Jorge Jiménez, the director general of the MarViva Foundation, told Tierramérica.

“In that area is one of the greatest concentrations of dolphins in the American Pacific, that come from the west coast of California, to feed and breed,” he said.

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is an area 300 to 500 km wide where ocean and wind currents bring the mineral- and nutrient-rich cold deeper water to the surface, creating the perfect ecosystem for a vast variety of marine life.

The nutrients give rise to a highly developed food chain, ranging from phytoplankton and zooplankton – the productive base of the marine food web – to mammals like dolphins and blue whales, which migrate from the waters off the coast of California.

Because the dome is a mobile phenomenon caused by wind and sea currents, for half of the year it is just off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (in the area of Papagayo, in the northwest of the country) and during the other half of the year it is blown further out to sea. The centre of the dome is 300 km from the coast of this Central American nation.

“It is one of the six biodiversity-rich domes of this kind in the world,” Omar Lizano, a physicist and oceanographer, told Tierramérica. “The Costa Rican dome is the only one that is produced by the force of the wind that comes from the Caribbean and picks up speed over the Pacific, and makes the deeper water rise to the surface, which brings up a lot of rich nutrients.”

In an initiative backed by MarViva and other organisations, the Costa Rican government decided that the “upwelling system of Papagayo and adjacent areas” will be an EBSA in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Some civil society organisations have proposed regional initiatives involving the area, which they sometimes refer to as the Central American dome. But deputy minister Mora said the dome is a Costa Rican phenomenon.

He pointed out that the scientific term for the area is the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, the name it was given by U.S. physical oceanographer Klaus Wyrtki. In 1948 he began to study marine mammal sightings made from boats navigating from California to Panama.

For the local authorities, conservation of the dome and the Papagayo upwelling system is among the priorities in the waters of the Pacific, because protecting the ecosystem brings economic benefits. Approval of the declaration of the dome as an EBSA by the 194 CBD signatory countries now makes protection of the area obligatory, said the deputy minister.

In the case of exploitable species like tuna, the ministry of the environment and energy (MINAE) has drawn up a zoning decree that would make it possible to regulate tuna fishing in the dome. The tourism industry, a pillar of the Costa Rican economy, would also benefit from protection of the dome, because it is a migration route for blue and humpback whales, which draws whale watchers.

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

In September, the sixth annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins, dedicated to whale watching in southeast Costa Rica, brought in 40,000 dollars the first day alone, according to deputy minister Mora, whose office forms part of the MINAE.

Government officials, scientists and members of civil society hope this will make it possible to generate more information on one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

“From our scientific point of view, the first thing that should be done is to carry out research, and it is the last thing that is being done,” said Lizano, an oceanographer with the Marine Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica.

The area has been explored on several occasions. The last time was in January 2014, with the participation of MarViva and Mission Blue, an international organisation focused on the protection of the seas, which is one of the activist groups that pushed for special protection of the dome.

They studied the role played by the protection of the leatherback sea turtle out at sea.

Although the dome is in Costa Rican territorial waters, the fact that it is mobile means it has an influence on the exclusive economic zones of other Central American countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as on international waters.

MarViva estimates that 70 percent of the dome is outside of the jurisdiction of any country, and the organisation’s director general, Jiménez, argues that what is needed is a joint effort and shared responsibility. Mission Blue and other organisations concur.

“It is a regional matter, and all Central American countries should work together, because part of the dome is on the high seas, outside of their jurisdictions. This is like the Wild West. It’s disturbing because there are no controls or protection out there,” Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s director of expeditions and photography, told Tierramérica.

But the government stressed that the nucleus of the dome is under its jurisdiction. “Historically it has been called the Costa Rican Dome and the nucleus is in Costa Rican waters. What we know as the Thermal Convection Dome is off the coast of the north of the country, not Central America,” Mora told Tierramérica.

But the deputy minister and his team do agree with MarViva and other non-governmental organisations on the need for regional cooperation. Costa Rica forms part of the Organisation of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the Isthmus of Central America (OSPESCA), where it works together with bodies like the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:19:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137275 The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Bamboo Could Be a Savior for Climate Change, Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:37:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137221 The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Bamboo Avenue is a two-and-a-half mile stretch of road in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. It is lined with giant bamboo plants which tower above the road and cross in the middle to form a shady tunnel. The avenue was established in the 17th century by the owners of the Holland Estate to provide shade for travelers and to protect the road from erosion.

Bamboo has been part of Jamaica’s culture for thousands of years, but it has never really taken off as a tool or an option to resolve some of the challenges the country faces."The evidence shows that [bamboo] is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment." -- Dr. Hans Friederich

That’s until recently.

Last month, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

It is still in the early stages, but Jamaica is being hailed for the project which the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity and mitigating against climate change.

“The plant bamboo, and there are about 1,250 different species, has a very important role to play in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Bamboos have very strong and very extensive root systems and are therefore amazing tools to combat soil erosion and to help with land degradation restoration,” Friederich told IPS.

“More bamboo will absorb more CO2 and therefore help you with your REDD+ targets, but once you cut that bamboo and you use it, you lock the carbon up, and bamboo as a grass grows so fast you can actually cut it after about four or five years, unlike trees that you have to leave for a long time.

“So by cutting bamboo you have a much faster return on investment, you avoid cutting trees and you provide the raw material for a whole range of uses,” he explained.

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The BSJ is conducting training until the end of November for people to be employed in the industry and is setting up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency is also ensuring that local people can grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo for its various uses.

“It can be planted just like planting cane for sugar. The potential for export is great, and you can get jobs created, and be assured of the creation of industries,” said the special projects director at the BSJ, Gladstone Rose.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friederich told IPS bamboos can contribute directly to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 14 and 15.

Target 14 speaks to the restoration, by 2020, of ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15 speaks to ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks being enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

“We are here to encourage the parties to the convention who are bamboo growers to consider bamboo as one of the tools in achieving some of the Aichi targets and incorporate bamboo in their national biodiversity strategy where appropriate,” Friederich said.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant said bamboo “is an industry whose time has come,” while Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Derrick Kellier has admonished islanders to desist from cutting down bamboo to be used as yam sticks.

“We are collaborating to spread the word: stop destroying the existing bamboo reserves, so that we will have them for use,” he said.

Kellier said bamboo offers enormous potential for farmers and others.

“It is a very fast-growing plant, and as soon as the industry gets going, when persons see the economic value, they will start putting in their own acreages. It grows on marginal lands as we have seen across the country, so we are well poised to take full advantage of the industry,” Kellier said.

On the issue of conservation of biodiversity, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ibrahim Thiaw said there is a lack of understanding among developing countries that biodiversity is the foundation for the development.

As a result, he said, they are not investing enough in biodiversity from their domestic resources, because it is considered a luxury.

“If the Caribbean countries are to continue to benefit from tourism as an activity they will have to invest in protecting biodiversity because tourists are not coming just to see the nice people of the Caribbean, they are coming to see nature,” Thiaw told IPS.

“It is important that developing countries invest their own resources first and foremost to conserve biodiversity. They have the resources. It’s just a matter of priority. If you understand that biodiversity is the foundation for your development, you invest in your capital, you keep your capital. Countries in the Caribbean have a lot of resources that are critical for their economy.”

Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards said it is aiming to tap into the lucrative global market for bamboo products, which is estimated at 10 billion dollars, with the potential to reach 20 billion by next year.

Friederich said while some countries have not yet realised the potential for bamboo, others have taken it forward.

“I was in Vietnam just last week and found that there is a prime ministerial decree to promote the use of bamboo. In Rwanda, there is a law that actually recommends using bamboo on the slopes of rivers and on the banks of lakes for protection against erosion; in the Philippines there is a presidential decree that 25 percent of all school furniture should be made from bamboo,” he explained.

“So there are real policy instruments already in place to promote bamboos, what we are trying to do is to encourage other countries to follow suit and to look at the various options that are available.

“Bamboo has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity. The evidence shows that this is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama’s Coral Reefs Ringed with Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:28:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137217 The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

By Emilio Godoy
TABOGA, Panama, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Fermín Gómez, a 53-year-old Panamanian fisherman, pushes off in his boat, the “Tres Hermanas,” every morning at 06:00 hours to fish in the waters off Taboga island. Five hours later he returns to shore.

Skilfully he removes the heads and scales of his catch of sea bass, snapper, marlin and sawfish. He delivers the cleaned fish to restaurants and hotels, where he is paid four dollars a kilo, a good price for the local area.

“I use baited hooks, because trammel nets drag in everything. That’s why the fishing isn’t so good any more: the nets catch even the young fry,” said this father of three daughters, who spent years working on tuna-fishing vessels.

Gómez lives 200 metres from Taboga island’s only beach, in a town of 1,629 people where the brightly painted houses are roofed with galvanised iron sheets. Located 11.3 nautical miles (21 kilometres) from Panama City, the mainstay of the island is tourism, especially on weekends when dozens of visitors board the ferry that plies between the island and the capital twice a day.

Gómez, who comes from a long line of fishermen, tends to go out fishing at midnight, the best time to catch sea bass. On a good day he might take some 30 kilograms.

“The fishing here is good, but we are dependent on what people on the other islands leave for us,” said Gómez, tanned by the sun and salt water.

The island of Taboga, just 12 square kilometres in area, lies in the Gulf of Panama and is the gateway to the Las Perlas archipelago, one of the most important nodes of coral islands in this Central American country of 3.8 million people.

From the air, they appear as mounds emerging from the turquoise backdrop of the sea, surrounded by what look like dozens of steel sharks, the ships waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal.

The isthmus of Panama possesses 290 square kilometres of coral reefs, mostly located on the Atlantic Caribbean coast, which harbour some 70 species. Coral reefs in the Pacific ocean host some 25 different species.

What the fisherfolk do not know is that their future livelihood depends on the health of the coral reefs, which is threatened by rising sea temperatures, maritime traffic, pollution and illegal fishing.

(2)Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

 Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

In Coiba National Park, in western Panama, and in the Las Perlas islands, “the diversity of the coral and associated species has been sustained in recent years. We have not detected any bleaching, but a troublesome alga has appeared,” academic José Casas, of the state International Maritime University of Panama (UMIP), told IPS.

“It’s threatening the reef,” said the expert, who is taking part in a project for the study and monitoring of reef communities and key fisheries species in Coiba National Park and the marine-coastal Special Management Zone comprising the Las Perlas Archipelago. The study’s final report is due to be published in November.

Algal growth blocks sunlight and smothers the coral, which cannot survive. Experts have also detected the appearance of algae in Colombia and Mexico.

The project is being carried out by UMIP together with Fundación Natura, Conservation International, the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Mexico, and the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP).

Researchers are monitoring the coral in Coiba and Las Perlas in Panama. They took measurements in March and August, and they will repeat their survey in November.

There are differences between the two study zones. Coiba is little disturbed by human activity; it is a designated natural heritage area and a protection plan is in place, although according to the experts it is not enforced. Moreover, Coiba Park is administered by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

A protection programme for Las Perlas, to be managed by ARAP, is currently in the pipeline.

Reefs are essential for the development and feeding of large predators like sharks, whales, pelagic fish such as anchovy and herring, and sea turtles, the experts said.

In Panama’s coral reefs, ARAP has identified species of algae, mangroves, sponges, crustaceans, molluscs, conches, starfish, sea cucumber, sea urchin, as well as groupers, snappers, angelfish and butterflyfish.

Fishing generates some 15,000 jobs in Panama and annual production is 131,000 tonnes, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

An Environmental Agenda for Panama 2014-2019 (Agenda Ambiental Panamá 2014-2019), published by the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON),

Fundación MarViva, Fundación Natura and the Panama Audubon Society, proposes the passage of a law for wetlands protection, emphasising mangroves, mudflats, marshes, swamps, peat bogs, rivers, coral reefs and others.

On the Caribbean coast, coral reefs around the nine islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, 324 nautical miles (600 kilometres) west of Panama City, are experiencing bleaching caused by high water temperatures.

This was a finding of a study titled “Forecasting decadal changes in sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching within a Caribbean coral reef,” published in May by the U.S. journal Coral Reefs.
Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach, of the U.S. University of Virginia, predict that by 2084 nearly all the coral reefs they studied will be vulnerable to bleaching-induced mortality.

They simulated water flow patterns and water surface heating scenarios for the present day and projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080. They concluded that reefs bathed by cooler waters will have the greatest chances of future survival.

Bocas del Toro adjoins the Isla Bastimentos National Park, one of 104 protected areas in Panama covering a total of 36,000 square kilometres, equivalent to 39 percent of the national territory.

“Local communities need education in resource management, sustainable use, fisheries zoning and fisherfolk organisation,” Casas said.

The next phase of the corals project, financed with 48,000 dollars this year and requiring about 70,000 dollars for 2015, will involve quantifying the value of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs.

Gómez has no plans to change his trade, but he can see that his grandchildren will no longer follow the same occupation. “Fishing is going to be more complicated in future. They will have to think of other ways of earning a living,” he told IPS, gazing nostalgically out to sea.

Edited byEstrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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High-Tech, High Yields: Caribbean Farmers Reap Benefits of ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:21:49 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137194 Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Farmers in the Caribbean are being encouraged to make more use of farm apps and other forms of ICT in an effort to increase the knowledge available for making sound, profitable farming decisions.

Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) said Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is being increasingly used to track “localised conditions, pests and disease prevalence. The technology will not only add value to us but to the farmers in giving information that they need.”“The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death." -- Peter Thompson

Thompson spoke to IPS at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held Oct. 6-12 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

A great deal of attention was given to “scaling up” the integration of technology into day-to-day farming practices at CWA 2014, co-sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, showcased apps that students in the Department of Computing and Information Technology had developed as part of the AgriNeTT project, a collaborative effort between the Department, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, and farmers’ representatives.

AgriNeTT’s project leader/coordinator, Dr. Margaret Bernard, said “the main focus…is developing intelligent systems within agriculture. There is a lack of data [and] many of the models being built did not have real data from the field.”

The apps are intended to support agriculture, she told IPS. “A big part of the AgriNeTT project is the development of an Open Data repository, particularly to house agriculture data on a national level… The repository will house different data sets, including farm level production data, commodity prices and volumes, farm land spatial data, soils, weather, and pest and diseases tracking data.”

Dr. Bernard said the aim of the Open Data repository was to build a platform that would be accessible throughout the Caribbean. The project seeks to encourage all in the Caribbean farming community to share in uploading data so that “developer teams can use that data creatively and build apps [for agriculture].”

She added that the creation of apps and tools based on the data would help to modernise Caribbean agriculture. “The collection, aggregation, analysis, visualisation and dissemination of data are key to Caribbean competitiveness,” Dr. Bernard said.

Dr. Bernard holds high hopes for a new app, called AgriExpenseTT, which her team developed for farm record-keeping. The app, now available for download at Google Play, allows farmers to track expenses of more than one crop at a time, track purchases of agricultural products they use on their farms, as well as track how much of the products purchased are actually used for each crop.

She said farmers who opted for the subscription service for this app would then have their data stored which would allow researchers “to verify some of the models for cost production, so we know this is what it costs to produce X amount of [any crop].”

Another reason for encouraging the use of ICT in agriculture is the need to make farming a more attractive career option for young people, CTA’s Director Michael Hailu explained. He said an important dimension to family farming, the theme of this year’s CWA, was the significant role that young people should and could play in the development of the region’s agriculture.

Since the region’s farming population is aging, “we at CTA are making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture—in ways that they can relate to, using new technologies that are far removed from the old image of farming,” he said.

To this end, CTA offered a prize to young app developers in the region who would develop innovative ICT applications to address key Caribbean agricultural challenges and foster agri-enterprise among young people.

Winners of this year's AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Winners of this year’s AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Photo Courtesy of CTA

Many of the apps developed for the CWA 2014 AgriHack Talent competition focused on providing farmers with useful information that is not always readily available.

Jason Scott, part of the Jamaican team that won the agricultural hackathon with their app named Node 420, said, “Collecting the information they need can be a real problem for farmers.” He said he and his colleague Orane Edwards “decided to design some hardware that could gather all sorts of data to help them with their cultivation, including planting, sowing and harvesting.”

RADA’s Thompson said, “The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death…We have these young guys coming in who are just hungry to do things in terms of technology. We have to help them.”

However, Faumuina Tatunai, a media specialist who works with Women and Business Development, an NGO that supports 600 farmers in Samoa, told IPS that excessive focus on attracting youth to farming through ICT may be short-sighted.

“The reality of farming is that we need young people on the farms as part of the family. To do that we need to attract them in quite holistic ways…and ICT is just part of the solution but it is not the only solution.”

She said her organisation seeks to encourage interest in farming among youth by taking a family-centred approach and encouraging all members of the family to learn about agriculture and grow together as farmers through the use of training and other opportunities.

“Everyone in the family is a farmer, whether they are six or 70 years old…our approach is to build capacity with mother, father, and child,” Tatunai said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Curbing Biodiversity Loss Needs Giant Leap Forwardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 17:32:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137185 Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

When political leaders from climate-threatened Small Island Developing States (SIDS) addressed the U.N. General Assembly last month, there was one recurring theme: the urgent need to protect the high seas and preserve the world’s marine biodiversity.

“I have come to the United Nations compelled by the dictates of my conscience,” pleaded President Emanuel Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia."In the long-term, there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss." -- Nathalie Rey of Greenpeace International

“We are all stewards of God’s creation here on earth. The bounties of Mother Nature are priceless. We all bear the obligation to sustainably manage them.”

An equally poignant appeal came from President Christopher Loeak of the Marshall Islands: “The Pacific Ocean and its rich resources are our lifeline. We are the custodians of our own vast resources on behalf of future generations.”

“Our suffering could have been prevented by the United Nations – if only you had listened,” he told delegates, pointing an accusing finger at the world body for dereliction of duty.

A two-week long Conference of the State Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in South Korea and continuing through Oct. 17, will finalise a road map to protect and preserve biodiversity, including oceans, forests, genetic resources, wildlife, agricultural land and ecosystems.

A report titled ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4‘ (GBO-4) released last week provides an assessment of the progress made towards achieving biodiversity targets set at a meeting in Nagoya, in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, back in October 2010.

Nathalie Rey, deputy political director of Greenpeace International, told IPS the U.N. report monitoring “the miserable progress to date of implementation of the world’s government’s 10-year plan to save life on Earth shows that sustainable development is still a distant dream.”

Whilst small steps have been made, she said, it is going to require a giant leap forward to get the world on track to slow down and curb biodiversity loss altogether.

Rey pointed out that healthy and productive oceans are the backbone of the planet, and essential in the fight against poverty and ensuring food security. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet the report highlights that they are on the frontline of destruction, she added.

“We continue to plunder them of fish, choke them with pollution and alter them forever with the impacts of human-induced climate change,” she said.

The acidification of oceans from the increased absorption of carbon dioxide in particular is having widespread effects on these coral ecosystems.

Reflecting another perspective, Alice Martin-Prevel, policy analyst at the Oakland Institute, a progressive think tank based in San Francisco, told IPS biodiversity preservation targets will never be achieved without secured access to land for farmers and safeguarding small holders’ ability to invest sustainably in their production activity.

She said the World Bank continues to produce business indicators, such as ‘Doing Business’ and the new ‘Benchmarking the Business Agriculture Project’, to encourage governments to create private land markets and open up to imported hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers.

“This is why we launched the ‘Our Land Our Business’ campaign to protest the Bank’s business-friendly agenda and selling of countries’ ecosystems and land to foreign investors,” Martin-Prevel said.

She added that this jeopardises equal and environmentally-sustainable development.

Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS resource mobilisation remains elusive.

She said the second report of the High Level Panel presented to the ongoing COP12 reiterates that estimates at global, regional and national levels all point to a substantial gap between the investments needed to deliver biodiversity targets and the resources currently allocated.

This is true for all of the 2010 Aichi Targets, she added.

The report referred to a 2012 review that estimated current levels of global funding for biodiversity at between 51 and 53 billion dollars annually, compared to estimated needs of 300 to 400 billion dollars annually.

“Although the developed country parties have legally committed to provide new and additional financial resources to meet the full incremental cost of implementing the CBD, this commitment, as with other environmental treaties, has not been honoured,” Ling said.

She said a regular excuse used now is about the current economic condition of developed countries which has restrained development funding.

Rey of Greenpeace International told IPS that without concerted efforts to keep climate change under control, “we will see irreversible damage to coral reefs and other vulnerable habitats, with devastating consequences for marine life and those people that directly depend on them for work and protein.”

Building resilience through the establishment of an extensive network of marine reserves – ocean sanctuaries free of industrial activities – will be an essential tool to help the marine world adapt to climate change and protect against other stressors such as overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

This is a target that governments are still lagging way behind on, she said.

In 2012, world governments committed to double funding towards addressing biodiversity loss. Still, shrinking state budgets are negatively affecting funding for environmental conservation. This points to a continued lack of understanding of the huge economic returns from investing in biodiversity protection, said Rey.

Furthermore, the cost of not acting now far outweighs the costs of acting in the future. There are sufficient sources of money, but it is often a case of redirecting these sources towards sustainable activities, she noted.

Rey also said a clear starting point identified by the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) will be to reallocate harmful subsidies to conservation.

It has been estimated, said Rey, that a staggering one trillion dollars or more of public money is spent by governments every year on subsidies harmful to the environment, including the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Yet whilst the report notes there is an increasing recognition of harmful subsidies, very little action has been taken.

The current U.N. report hopefully acts as a half-time reality check that forces a major game change in the second half of this decade. Green groups say governments and companies should stop defending destructive activities, like oil drilling in the Arctic, ancient deforestation and agricultural activities that promote industrial, chemical- dependent monocultures.

“Because in the long-term there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” Rey declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Biodiversity, Climate Change Solutions Inextricably Linkedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:34:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137165 Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

The remarkable biodiversity of the countries of the Caribbean, already under stress from human impacts like land use, pollution, invasive species, and over-harvesting of commercially valuable species, now faces an additional threat from climate change.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17, Saint Lucia’s Biodiversity Coordinator Terrence Gilliard told IPS that his government understands that biodiversity and ecosystem services underpin sustainable development."Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come." -- Helena Brown

But he said climate change is having an impact on biodiversity of the island nation.

“There have been reports of coral bleaching occasioned by higher sea temperatures and there has been a lengthening in the productive season of some agricultural crops,” said Gilliard, who also serves as sustainable development and environment officer.

“The extreme weather events such as Hurricane Tomas [in 2010] and the [2013] Christmas Eve trough resulted in major landslides within forested areas and there is…loss of animal life during these events. Long periods of droughts limit water availability and affect agricultural production.”

Though less than 616 square kms in area, Saint Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. More than 200 species occur nowhere else, including seven percent of the resident birds and an incredible 53 percent of the reptiles.

The nation’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Saint Lucia amazon parrot. Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and Saint Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the 12-hectare Maria Major Island, is arguably the world’s most threatened snake following recent increases in numbers of its distant relative in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Antiguan racer, a small, harmless, lizard-eating snake, was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. As of 2013, the population size was 1,020.

Helena Brown, technical coordinator in the Environment Division of the Ministry of Health and the Environment, said there are at least two conservation programmes in Antigua where the racer and another critically endangered species, the hawksbill turtle, are being conserved.

“There is a lot of work being done there but that’s just two species out of many. Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come,” Brown told IPS.

According to Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), ecosystems on that island most vulnerable to climate change impacts include coral reefs, highland forests, and coastal wetlands (mangroves).

With more than 8,000 species recorded, Jamaica is ranked fifth globally for endemic species. The Caribbean island has 98.2 percent of the 514 indigenous species of land snails and 100 percent of the 22 indigenous species of amphibians.

Jamaica’s rich marine species diversity include species of fish, sea anemones, black and stony corals, mollusks, turtles, whales, dolphin, and manatee. In addition, nearly 30.1 percent of the country is covered with forests and there are 10 hydrological basins containing over 100 streams and rivers, in addition to several subterranean waterways, ponds, springs, and blue holes.

For Saint Kitts and Nevis, where biodiversity is described as “very important to sustainable development,” the effects of climate change are not highly visible at this point.

“More time will be needed to observe some of the subtle changes that are observed. For instance, in some cases there seems to be longer periods of drought which are impacting on the natural cycles of some plants and also on agricultural crops,” the director of Physical Planning and Environment in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Randolph Edmead, told IPS.

“The rainy season appears to be getting shorter and when there is rain the episodes are more intense thus leading to flash floods.”

Saint Kitts and Nevis is pursuing tourism development as its main economic activity, and many of the country’s tourism-related activities and attractions are based on biodiversity. These include marine biodiversity where coral reefs represent an important component.

Edmead said coral reefs also support fisheries which is an important source of food.

“The income generated from these activities not only supports development but also is important for sustaining livelihoods,” he explained.

Forest biodiversity also forms an important part of the tourism product of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Ecotourism activities which are based on organised hikes along established trails are engaged in regularly by tourists.

“Biodiversity also helps to protect soils from erosion which is not only important for agriculture but also in the protection of vital infrastructure,” he added.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told IPS climate change is a main threat to biodiversity and he urged progress at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP scheduled for Dec. 1-12 in Peru.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“The threats to biodiversity continue. But where do these threats come from? They come from public policies, corporate policies and other factors that come from the socio-economic sector. These are population increase, consumption increase, more pollution, climate change. These are some of the big drivers of loss of biodiversity,” said de Souza Dias.

“So unless we see progress in the negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the loss of biodiversity will probably continue.”

But de Souza Dias is also putting forward biodiversity as part of the solution to the climate change problem. He suggested that better management of forests, wetlands, mangroves and other systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can also enhance adaptation because adaptation is not just about building walls to avoid the sea level rise impacting coastal zones. It is about having more resilient ecosystems that can resist more the different scenarios of climate change,” he told IPS.

“We need to conserve better the ecosystems in our landscape…having more diverse landscape with some forest, some wetlands, some protected catchment areas. Currently we are moving to more simplified landscapes, just big monocultures of crops, large cities, so we are going in the wrong direction.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Drought Plagues Brazil’s Richest Metropolishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/drought-plagues-brazils-richest-metropolis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-plagues-brazils-richest-metropolis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/drought-plagues-brazils-richest-metropolis/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 18:34:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137110 The heat island generated by São Paulo draws rainfall away from the water sources the city depends on. Credit: Rafael Neddermeyer/Fotos Públicas

The heat island generated by São Paulo draws rainfall away from the water sources the city depends on. Credit: Rafael Neddermeyer/Fotos Públicas

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Agricultural losses are no longer the most visible effect of the drought plaguing Brazil’s most developed region. Now the energy crisis and the threat of water shortages in the city of São Paulo are painful reminders of just how dependent Brazilians are on regular rainfall.

Nine million of the 21 million inhabitants of Greater São Paulo are waiting for the completion of the upgrading of the Cantareira system, made up of six reservoirs linked by 48 km of tunnels and canals, which can no longer supply enough water.

For the past four months, the water that has reached the taps of nine million residents of Brazil’s biggest city has come from the “dead” or inactive storage water in the Cantareira system – the water that cannot be drained from a reservoir by gravity and can only be pumped out. These supplies will last until Mar. 15, 2015, according to the state government.

“If rainfall in the [upcoming southern hemisphere] summer is only average, we will have another complicated autumn; and if it rains less it will mean a collapse,” architect Marussia Whately, a water resource specialist with the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told Tierramérica.

There is no possible replacement system, she said, because Cantareira supplies water to 45 percent of the metropolitan area, distributed by Sao Paulo’s state water utility Sabesp, while other water sources are also low due to drought and pollution.

Whately said the intensification of extreme weather events, such as this year’s drought in southeast Brazil, preceded by two years of below normal rainfall, is one of the causes of the water crisis in the state.

To that is added poor management, which has mainly sought to increase supply by tapping into distant sources that require infrastructure to transport water long distances, without adequately combating losses and waste, she said. But in her view, the main reason is “the lack of dialogue and social participation” regarding water supply.

Droughts have become more frequent and intense this century. “The first alert came in 2001, when the system was reduced to 11 percent of capacity in August,” said journalist and activist Isabel Raposo, who has lived for 30 years in the Sierra da Cantareira, a forested mountain range north of the city with a huge state park. Water piped in from far away flows through the hills.

“The current crisis could have been avoided” if the large-scale reuse of water had been adopted after the crisis 13 years ago, Ivanildo Hespanhol, a professor of hydraulic engineering at the University of São Paulo, told Tierramérica.

The Jacareí reservoir, part of the Cantareira supply system, has begun pumping inactive storage water to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, which is stricken by drought. Credit: Vagner Campos/Fotos Públicas

The Jacareí reservoir, part of the Cantareira supply system, has begun pumping inactive storage water to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, which is stricken by drought. Credit: Vagner Campos/Fotos Públicas

The five sewage treatment plants in the metropolitan region provide primary processing of 16,000 litres per second. But with further treatment the wastewater could be prepared for a wide range of uses, and could even be made potable, said the renowned expert.

That could increase the total amount of water available in the city by one-quarter – enough to relieve the pressure on the water sources and make it possible to replenish them, even with lower than normal levels of rainfall.

“Unfortunately decision-makers don’t plan, but only manage the crisis,” said Hespanhol, who is confident that the situation will give a boost to “the concept of water treatment and reuse.”

Industrial companies already use these techniques, reducing their water consumption by up to 80 percent and recuperating their investments in under two years, he said. Political will and a “realistic legal framework” are lacking, as well as a better understanding of the issue by the environmental authorities, he added.

The emergency now requires more urgent measures, said Whately, such as reducing waste, which leads to losses of up to 30 percent according to different institutions; incentives for saving water; and better use of existing water resources.

Given the “failure of the current model of water management,” with regulatory agencies lacking authority and basin committees that are ignored, ISA is trying to identify and mobilise concerned experts and institutions to discuss a diagnosis and solutions for the water crisis, she said.

“More than 90 proposals for short-term measures have been presented,” she added.

The 2001 drought led to a power shortage and blackouts that forced Brazilians to reduce electricity consumption for nine months starting in June of that year. The drop in the water level in rivers hurt the hydropower plants, which produced 90 percent of the electrical energy consumed in Brazil at the time.

As a result, the energy sector was restructured, with an expansion of thermoelectricity, which is more costly and more polluting because it uses fossil fuels, but provides a measure of energy security. Hydropower’s share of the country’s installed capacity thus fell to 67 percent.

For that reason, this year’s drought, even though it has been more severe in many basins, did not create an energy deficit, but drove up the price of electricity due to the full use of thermal power plants, generating insolvency problems for energy distributors, which were bailed out by the government, and exacerbating the difficulties suffered by the most energy-dependent industries.

The vast sugarcane fields of the state of São Paulo have also suffered from the persistent drought, which cut short the harvest and aggravated the crisis in the sugar and ethanol industries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The vast sugarcane fields of the state of São Paulo have also suffered from the persistent drought, which cut short the harvest and aggravated the crisis in the sugar and ethanol industries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Even worse, because it affects millions of people, is the water supply problem in São Paulo and the surrounding areas. At least 30 cities have implemented mandatory water restrictions in the past few months.

In Itu, a city of 160,000 located 100 km from São Paulo, local inhabitants have held demonstrations and occupied the city council building in September, to protest supply problems that were worse than what the local water company had announced.

In São Paulo, people in the neighbourhoods supplied by the Cantareira system complain that water has been rationed, without any officially announced measures, for several months. Sabesp, the main water supplier throughout the state of São Paulo, admitted that it had lowered the water pressure in the pipes at night to prevent leaks and waste.

“We had no water for three or four days in August,” said economist Marcelo Costa Santos, who lives in an 18-story building in Alto Pinheiros, a quiet neighbourhood on the west side of São Paulo. He told Tierramérica that the low water pressure made it impossible to pump water up to the higher floors.

And climate change threatens to aggravate the situation. A good part of the rain that falls in southeast Brazil comes from the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation has reduced humidity levels.

It can be inferred that São Paulo is receiving less water from the Amazon, said Antonio Nobre with the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Deforestation, the researcher told Tierramérica, also weakens the “flying rivers” – currents of air that carry water vapor resulting from evapotranspiration in the rainforest to the interior of Brazil. Rainfall in the centre and south of the country depends on the Amazon “water pump”.

Another local phenomenon aggravates the situation. The “heat island” formed by the increase in urban temperatures in Greater São Paulo attracts rain away from water sources, said Raposo.

Recent studies found that rainfall is generally more intense in the city of São Paulo than in the nearby mountains that feed the reservoirs of the Cantareira system. Twofold damage is the consequence: cities suffer constant flooding even though it is raining less than necessary, the activist said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Bank Pushes Private Sector for Major Investments in Infrastructurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/world-bank-pushes-private-sector-for-major-investments-in-infrastructure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-pushes-private-sector-for-major-investments-in-infrastructure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/world-bank-pushes-private-sector-for-major-investments-in-infrastructure/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 23:58:56 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137095 A new road is built near Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. Credit: David Brossard/cc by 2.0

A new road is built near Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. Credit: David Brossard/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank has initiated a major call to action for private sector investors around infrastructure projects in developing countries.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on Thursday launched a new initiative, worth some 15 billion dollars, aimed at motivating banks, pension funds and other institutional investors to turn their focus to the pressing, and growing, infrastructure needs in developing countries.“Institutional investors have deep pockets – insurance and pension funds have some 80 trillion dollars in assets.” -- World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

In announcing the new Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF), Kim estimated these needs would require up to a trillion dollars of additional investment each year through the end of this decade. That’s twice as much as these countries are currently spending.

The private sector has turned away from infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies in recent years, the bank reports. Between 2012 and last year alone, such investments declined by nearly 20 percent, to 150 billion dollars.

“Given the scale of infrastructure financing needs in developing countries, we definitely welcome an initiative like this,” Marilou Uy, the incoming director of the Group of 24 (G24) developing countries and a former bank official, told IPS.

“The private sector’s role here is especially important: to find good models to work with, so that private investment in developing countries can start to rise again and grow to levels even higher than before.”

In a surprise to many, the bank’s sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this week came out forcefully in favour of public spending, particularly on infrastructure. The IMF and World Bank are currently holding semi-annual meetings here in Washington.

The GIF will start a number of pilot ventures later this year, reportedly with a focus on climate-friendly projects and those that can promote trade. But it will not be financing these initiatives directly.

Rather, it will aim to turn the private sector’s attention back towards the road, bridges, energy production and other large-scale physical projects that make up the foundation of any country’s economic and social development.

“Institutional investors have deep pockets – insurance and pension funds have some 80 trillion dollars in assets,” Kim said Thursday, speaking with reporters.

“But less than 1 percent of pension funds are allocated directly to infrastructure projects, and the bulk of that is in advanced countries. The real challenge is not a matter of money but a lack of bankable projects – a sufficient supply of commercially viable and sustainable infrastructure investments.”

Fundamental bottleneck

The World Bank is hoping the GIF will function as a conduit through which major investors, together with the development institution’s own experts, can advise governments how to structure infrastructure projects in order to entice investors looking for long-term opportunities. Kim said a “massive infrastructure deficit” in developing countries today constitutes a “fundamental bottleneck” in addressing poverty, the bank’s key mandate.

Perhaps in response to past criticisms, the bank also notes that the GIF will not simply try to move as much money into these projects as possible.

“We know that simply increasing the amount invested in infrastructure may not deliver on the potential to foster strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” Bertrand Badre, the institution’s managing director, said in a statement. “A focus on the quality of infrastructure is vital.”

The GIF will focus on fostering particularly complex partnerships between the public and private sectors, known as PPPs. In anticipation of Thursday’s announcement, the World Bank Group’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), has reportedly been ramping up its PPP units around the world.

Yet the growing dependence on the private sector in development aims continues to spark concern among many development advocates and anti-poverty campaigners, who worry that the goals of for-profit entities are often at odds with the public good.

“While the bank’s new infrastructure facility is welcome, we are concerned that any sudden push into new big-ticket infrastructure deals must improve the lives of ordinary people,” Nicolas Mombrial, the head of the Washington office of Oxfam International, a humanitarian and advocacy group, said Thursday.

“Therefore, the World Bank must ensure that new infrastructure lending comes fitted with proper safeguards in place to protect the poorest and most vulnerable communities from clients that might be more interested in profit over development. We need safeguards for people and not just for investors.”

The head of the GIF, meanwhile, cautions that the initiative is still in its very early days.

“I have been meeting with civil society organisations who were really interested in engaging with us on the GIF,” Jordan Schwartz, the official in charge of the new programme, told IPS.

“Like them, we want to ensure that decisions around infrastructure investment are sensitive to a wide range of environmental, social and economic considerations, so that not only is there benefit for the poor and for economic activity generally but so the investments are sustainable. We look forward to continuing that dialogue.”

PPP worries

Concerns around public-private partnerships are particularly notable around public water systems. In recent years, private companies around the world have shown growing interest in stepping into partnerships to resuscitate public water infrastructure that has often been underfunded for decades.

The World Bank’s IFC has been a major proponent of such deals. Yet some of these have sparked powerful backlash from critics who note that water privatisation has often resulted in higher costs and inequitable service.

This week, for instance, activists in Nigeria stepped up a campaign to urge the government to pull out of discussions with the IFC around a potential water project in Lagos. They say the scheme’s details are being kept from the public.

“Around the world, the IFC advises governments, conducts corporate bidding processes, designs complex and lopsided water privatisation contracts, dictates arbitration terms, and is part-owner of water corporations that win the contracts it designs and recommends, all while aggressively marketing the model to be replicated around the world,” Akinbode Oluwafemi, with Environmental Rights Action, a Nigerian advocacy group, told reporters Wednesday in Lagos, according to prepared remarks.

“Not only do these activities undermine democratic water governance, but they constitute an inherent conflict of interest within the IFC’s activities in the water sector, an alarming pattern seen from Eastern Europe to India to Southeast Asia.”

According to World Bank estimates, public money makes up some two-thirds of PPP financing around the world today. Watchdog groups say this underscores the heavy government subsidies that these projects have typically required, especially for important improvements.

“The GIF is part of a larger, renewed push for big infrastructure, which is troubling in part because of the history of human rights and environmental abuses associated with these projects,” Shayda Naficy, director of the International Water Campaign at  Corporate Accountability International, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“But it is also troubling because even where infrastructure is a dire need, as it is in the water sector, the emphasis being placed on the private sector is leading us in pursuit of illusory solutions. At least in the case of water, the private sector is not interested in making these investments in infrastructure.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Fracking Fractures Argentina’s Energy Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 22:19:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137074 Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Unconventional oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina hold out the promise of energy self-sufficiency and development for the country. But the fracking technique used to extract this treasure from underground rocks could be used at a huge cost.

The landscape begins to change when you get about 100 km from Neuquén, the capital of the province of the same name, in southwest Argentina. In this area, dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of Patagonia”, fruit trees are in bloom and vineyards stretch out green towards the horizon, in the early southern hemisphere springtime.

But along the roads, where there is intense traffic of trucks hauling water, sand, chemicals and metallic structures, oil derricks and pump stations have begun to replace the neat rows of poplars which form windbreaks protecting crops in the southern region of Patagonia.

“Now there’s money, there’s work – we’re better off,” truck driver Jorge Maldonado told Tierramérica. On a daily basis he transports drill pipes to Loma Campana, the shale oil and gas field that has become the second-largest producer in Argentina in just three years.“That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.” -- Carolina García

It is located in Vaca Muerta, a geological formation in the Neuquén basin which is spread out over the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Mendoza. Of the 30,000 sq km area, the state-run YPF oil company has been assigned 12,000 sq km in concession, including some 300 sq km operated together with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

Vaca Muerta has some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale oil and gas, found at depths of up to 3,000 metres.

A new well is drilled here every three days, and the demand for labour power, equipment, inputs, transportation and services is growing fast, changing life in the surrounding towns, the closest of which is Añelo, eight km away.

“Now I can provide better for my children, and pay for my wife’s studies,” said forklift operator Walter Troncoso.

According to YPF, Vaca Muerta increased Argentina’s oil reserves ten-fold and its gas reserves forty-fold, which means this country will become a net exporter of fossil fuels.

But tapping into unconventional shale oil and gas deposits requires the use of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which YPF prefers to refer to as “hydraulic stimulation”.

According to the company, the technique involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and “a small quantity of additives” into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Víctor Bravo, an engineer, says in a study published by the Third Millennium Patagonia Foundation, that some 15 fractures are made in each well, with 20,000 cubic metres of water and some 400 tons of diluted chemicals.

The formula is a trade secret, but the estimate is that it involves “some 500 chemical substances, 17 of which are toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 of which have acute toxic effects, and eight of which are proven to be carcinogenic,” he writes. He adds that fracking fluids and the gas itself can contaminate aquifers.

Neuquén province lawmaker Raúl Dobrusin of the opposition Popular Union bloc told Tierrámerica: “The effect of this contamination won’t be seen now, but in 15 or 20 years.”

During Tierramérica’s visit to Loma Campana, Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional resources, played down these fears, saying the parent-rock formations are 3,000 metres below the surface while the groundwater is 200 to 300 metres down.

“The water would have to leak thousands of metres up. It can’t do that,” he said.

Besides, the “flowback water”, which is separated from the oil or gas, is reused in further “hydraulic stimulation” operations, while the rest is dumped into “perfectly isolated sink wells,” he argued. “The aquifers do not run any risk at all,” he said.

But Dobrusin asked “What will they do with the water once the well is full? No one mentions that.”

According to Bizzotto, the seismic intensity of the hydraulic stimulation does not compromise the aquifers either, because the fissures are produced deep down in the earth. Furthermore, he said, the wells are layered with several coatings of cement and steel.

“We want to draw investment, generate work, but while safeguarding nature at the same time,” Neuquén’s secretary of the environment, Ricardo Esquivel, told Tierramérica.

In his view, “there are many myths” surrounding fracking, such as the claim that so much water is needed that water levels in the rivers would go down.

Neuquén, he said, uses five percent of the water in its rivers for irrigation, human consumption and industry, while the rest flows to the sea. Even if 500 wells a year were drilled, only one percent more of the water would be used, he maintained.

But activist Carolina García with the Multisectorial contra el Fracking group told Tierrámerica: “That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.”

She pointed out that fracking is questioned in the European Union and that in August Germany adopted an eight-year moratorium on fracking for shale gas while it studies the risks posed by the technique.

YPF argues that these concerns do not apply to Vaca Muerta because it is a relatively uninhabited area.

“The theory that this is a desert and can be sacrificed because no one’s here is false,” said Silvia Leanza with the Ecosur Foundation.

“There are people, the water runs, and there is air flowing here,” she commented to Tierramérica. “The emissions of gases and suspended dust particles can reach up to 200 km away.”

Nor does the “desert theory” ring true for Allen, a town of 25,000 people in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, which is suffering the effects of the extraction of another form of unconventional gas, tight gas sands, which refers to low permeability sandstone reservoirs that produce primarily dry natural gas.

In that fruit-growing area, 20 km from the provincial capital, the fruit harvest is shrinking as the number of gas wells grows, drilled by the U.S.-based oil company Apache, whose local operations in Argentina were acquired by YPF in March.

Apache leases farms to drill on, the Permanent Comahue Assembly for Water (APCA) complained.

“Going around the farms it’s easy to see how the wells are occupying what was fruit-growing land until just a few years ago. Allen is known as the ‘pear capital’, but now it is losing that status,” lamented Gabriela Sepúlveda, of APCA Allen-Neuquén.

A well exploded in March, shaking the nearby houses. It wasn’t the first time, and it’s not the only problem the locals have had, Rubén Ibáñez, who takes care of a greenhouse next to the well, told Tierramérica. “Since the wells were drilled, people started feeling dizzy and having sore throats, stomach aches, breathing problems, and nausea,” he said.

“They periodically drill wells, a process that lasts around a month, and then they do open-air flaring. I’m no expert, but I feel sick,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink this water even if I was dying of thirst….when I used it to water the plants in the greenhouse they would die.”

The provincial government says there are constant inspections of the gas and oil deposits.

“In 300 wells we did not find any environmental impact that had created a reason for sanctions,” environment secretary Esquivel said.

“We have a clear objective: for Loma Campana, as the first place that unconventional fossil fuels are being developed in Argentina, to be the model to imitate, not only in terms of cost, production and technique, but in environmental questions as well,” Bizzotto said.

“All technology has uncertain consequences,” Leanza said. “Why deny it? Let’s put it up for debate.”

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hotter Caribbean Poses Challenges for Livestock Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:36:57 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137067 These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Livestock farmers in the Caribbean are finding it increasingly difficult and expensive to rear healthy animals because of climate change, a situation that poses a significant threat to a region that is already too dependent on imports to feed its population.

Norman Gibson, a livestock scientist with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), says the effects of climate change mean that farmers must spend more money on feedstock to produce healthy animals, as well as coping with higher mortality rates among their flocks due to heat stress.Once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler.

Gibson was part of a panel discussion at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), being held in Paramaribo, Suriname, Oct. 6–12. The annual event hosted by the CTA focused on promoting policies and practices that will help farmers to adapt to climate change.

Gibson pointed out that decreases in livestock production would have a significant impact on the Caribbean region, where meat forms a major part of the diet. The region imports 40 million dollars worth of meat annually from New Zealand and Australia, he told the audience, and “imports are growing faster than [local] production.”

At the same time, research has shown that climate change is resulting in higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere which “leads to changes in the nutritional status of plants”, he told IPS. He said that tropical grasses are not the most nutritious, and with increases in CO2 they become even less so.

“So animals would have to eat even more to get an acceptable level of nutrition. Because that is often impossible, if you want your animals to produce at a certain level you have to supplement with concentrated feed, which in the Caribbean is imported,” he told IPS, and expensive.

He added that in places like Guyana, that are below sea level and sinking further, salt water intrusion is further compromising the feedstock available for ruminants.

“Once salt water gets into pastures, most of the grass that we currently grow is not adapted to high levels of salts. Most of these grasses have low salt tolerance and therefore will not thrive or grow under those conditions. So scientists will now have to find new breeds of grass that are more tolerant,” he said.

He said a breed of grass from International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia was showing promise in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts.

“A lot of the dairy production in Trinidad and Tobago is based on that particular grass…In St. Kitts, it is now the major grass of choice for small ruminant farmers.”

He also pointed out that temperatures were for a certainty increasing, though there was less certainty about increased precipitation. These higher temperatures lead to heat stress in animals that reduces their ability to reproduce.

Heat stress is leading to levels of mortality of up to 15 per cent among ruminants, the FAO’s Cedric Lazarus told IPS. Lazarus was also at the CWA and spoke of efforts being made around the region to reduce the heat stress being suffered by animals.

He explained that once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler, he said.

“It’s the only way you can keep those high-producing breeds of cattle and ensure they survive.” He said the use of ventilation systems was seen particularly in Barbados.

Planting more trees was also a viable—and simple—way of providing more shade for animals, he added.

He said studies showed heat stress also led to a precipitous decrease in milk yields, sometimes by as much as 33 percent, thus reducing the animal’s profitability.

Gibson added that because of the extreme heat the region has been experiencing and the resulting discomfort felt by animals, there were abnormalities in their sperm and a fall-off in vigour resulting in reduced conception rates.

“A livestock farmer’s success depends on how many animals he can get to the market each year, which is a function of how well his animals reproduce,” he told IPS.

Both Gibson and Lazarus said the impact of climate change meant that farmers would have to rely more on local breeds of ruminants to ensure they have hardy stock that can cope with the region’s increasingly intense heat, though there has been a tendency over the past 15 to 20 years to bring in foreign breeds to “improve” local livestock.

Farmers often see foreign livestock as a chance to improve their herd because it means introducing fresh blood without the problems that traditionally come with inbreeding, said Rommel Parris, a black belly sheep farmer and president of the Barbados Sheep and Goat Farmers Association.

However, Parris said, the benefits of a new genetic pool do not outweigh the disadvantages of the foreign stock in the hot Caribbean climate.

“Your cost goes up because you have to keep them in air-conditioned rooms or use fans to cool them down. You have to feed them with special feeds. You have to adjust to the diet they were receiving before. Caring for these animals is tougher than caring for those animals that are adapted to this region for years,” he told IPS.

He added that foreign stock tend to produce fewer offspring, as well, than the local breeds, and are more susceptible to the parasites in the region.

Though inbreeding of local stocks does bring a somewhat weaker herd, “farmers know how to treat their own animals. A lot of them are proactive and know what the signs are and how to prevent sickness in advance…They can pick up on them fairly quickly,” he said, thus reducing mortality rates and losses.

The majority of ruminants in the region are still the local, creole animals, Lazarus said, but the Caribbean needs to guard against the mistake made in other parts of the world, where the introduction of foreign breeds led to the extinction of local, more sustainable animals.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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When Helping Hands Make a Disaster Worsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 18:35:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137058 Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

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

Relief work done by emergency responders during natural disasters may inadvertently exacerbate problems caused by climate change and lead to further disasters, recent reports suggest.

When heavy rains caused nearly 20 million dollars in losses in Diego Martin, western Trinidad, in 2012, emergency responders moved rapidly to provide relief to affected residents, some of whom lost their homes.An estimated 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from Haiti's discarded tents if they were left in landfills.

However, just under two weeks later, Diego Martin was again inundated, this time due to a tropical storm.

A newly released report by the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society (TTRCS) raises the possibility that the second flooding may have partly been due to the relief work done by the emergency responders.

The report states “after the first flooding incident water supplies were distributed in individual disposable, non-biodegradable vessels such as plastic bottles and food supplies were distributed with plastic utensils.

“In addition to the intense rainfall, one of the major contributing factors to the Diego Martin flooding was the clogging of waterways. Waste collection services immediately following the disaster were restricted… Use of [eco-friendly, biodegradable] materials could have helped negate the possibility of flooding.”

The TTRCS’ report, entitled “Green Response: A Country Study”, was presented by the head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to a recent meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

It was prepared following a feasibility study “on how to reduce, in a sustainable way, the environmental impact of the products and technologies used in response to and recovery from disasters.”

Trinidad and Tobago decided to undertake the study following an ACS meeting in 2011 where the issue of greening the region’s responses to natural disasters was raised for consideration.

Greening disaster relief efforts has become a major concern internationally, since as the Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit notes, while “DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) seeks to reduce the risk of harm from disasters… the implementation of activities defined by disaster risk assessments, or by interventions presumed to reduce risk, itself has a risk of doing harm if the activities do not address environmental sustainability.”

Hence, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report notes that organisations heavily involved in such work are “considering both current and future disaster and climate change risks and including various measures to address them, in recovery programming.”

The need for such considerations was particularly evident in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that took more than 200,000 lives.

Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers who were deployed to help in recovery efforts following the earthquake, there was also the environmental problem created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months.

The IFRC Practice Note Report on Haiti notes that 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from the discarded tents if these were left in landfills.

“The key issue,” said ACS’s director of Transport and Disaster Risk Reduction, George Nicholson, “is having to find a way to ensure that regardless of the things we do, whether work activities or specific activities for disaster response, to ensure that the things have the least impact on the environment.”

The Trinidad and Tobago government is committed to incorporating climate change and  environmental considerations into all its programmes. So when the question of a green response to disaster management came up for consideration at the ACS, the country offered to do the feasibility study for what has been dubbed the Green Response.

The ACS has worked with the ODPM, which has lead responsibility for the initiative in the country, the IFRC, and the TTRCS on the study.

Nicholson said that pursuant to the study’s findings, other ACS member countries “may look to see what was done by Trinidad and Tobago and then adapt or adopt their mechanisms.”

TTRCS’ Stephan Kishore said greening disaster relief efforts would involve activities such as locally manufacturing and pre-positioning relief supplies, so as to reduce the carbon footprint involved in shipping items from China, where most of the country’s relief supplies now come from.

It would also involve simple procedures such as using paper, cloth, or buckets rather than plastic to wrap relief supplies, and wrapping items, like soap, in bulk rather than in individual wrappings. Further, green relief efforts would encourage recycling of items and use of solar energy rather than fossil fuels.

However, a major consideration in greening disaster relief efforts is the legislative framework governing disaster relief organisations. Nicholson said the feasibility study looks at Trinidad and Tobago’s “legislative processes, its operational systems to see where you can get benefits out of being more green in your approach.”

But introducing legislation that would green disaster relief efforts will not be easy, Kishore said. “To get legislation passed for any response is very difficult. The whole process of getting legislation is very difficult,” he said.

Further complicating matters, Nicholson said, is that the ACS’ members states operate under several different legislative frameworks since the countries include Dutch, French, Spanish, and English-speaking countries with different legal traditions.

“All of them have totally different legislative environments, so you cannot write one thing and say we can establish best practices. Countries will look at that checklist of best practices [from the study] and see how best they can adopt their own environment to suit.”

With the feasibility study phase complete, the next stage of the Green Response is to identify or develop green disaster response processes and products from the region, which may include encouraging local manufacturers to begin producing recyclable items that can be used during a natural disaster.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Harper Playing Defence in Canada’s Pipeline Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/harper-playing-defence-in-canadas-pipeline-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harper-playing-defence-in-canadas-pipeline-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/harper-playing-defence-in-canadas-pipeline-politics/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 14:13:29 +0000 Paul Weinberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137015 Mining tar sands oil at Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

Mining tar sands oil at Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

By Paul Weinberg
TORONTO, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

Canada’s tar sands oil boom may be in jeopardy and it appears the ruling Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not have any plan B in its ambition to remake this resource-rich country into “an energy superpower.”

“This is one of the sectors that creates some of the most jobs, not just in the oil patch, but around the country in terms of manufacturing and support services, and this government will continue to do everything to promote the Canadian energy sector,” Harper told reporters in December 2011.“The game changer in all of this is that the world’s governments are supposed to negotiate a new agreement to constrain fossil fuel emissions for 2015. [And] Canada may be forced kicking and screaming to stay within reasonable limits." -- economist Marc Lee

But now, in the fall of 2014, Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert blames a hardnosed approach in Ottawa which she suggests jeopardised what might have garnered greater political support for its energy strategy from Canadians.

“It is playing out in the courts, in the provinces and in public opinion, with the Harper government almost always on the losing side of the argument,” she wrote in a Sep. 27 column.

Hebert was referring to efforts by the Harper government to loosen environment assessment rules, speeding up pipeline projects by gutting scientific research funding to investigate the climate change impact of fossil fuel emissions (including tar sands oil) on domestic regions like the Canadian Arctic, and to question the loyalty of environmental NGOs.

“While the majority of Canadian voters support the development of Canada’s energy potential, most continue to expect their governments to act as honest brokers in the search for a balance between the economy and the environment,” she added.

All the major pipeline projects designed to carry tar sands crude oil, which is extracted from the bitumen tar underneath the boreal forest and wetlands of northern Alberta, to markets in the U.S. and Asia (the later via British Columbia’s Pacific coast) are experiencing delays due to local and vocal opposition.

These projects are all slated to be built by either Enbridge or TransCanada Pipeline, both major Canadian pipeline construction companies.

“Right now there are 2.2 million barrels per day of capacity, production from the tar sands. And the federal and provincial governments have jointly handed out permits to take that to five million barrels per day. That is a huge increase, even if they never approve another project, which they will, and the limiting factor in all of this is pipelines,” says Keith Stewart, climate change and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada.

Despite occasional prodding from the Harper government, U.S. President Barack Obama appears loath to make a quick decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico because of stiff opposition from environmentalists, including some who are his supporters.

Keith Stewart notes that the Conservatives face the prospect of losing parliamentary seats in the vote-rich Pacific coast province of British Columbia in the national federal election in 2015 because of concerns about potential oil spills from either of the two planned pipelines in the pristine wilderness environment.

Northern Gateway, which has received formal regulatory approval coupled with 209 conditions, would travel across various First Nations indigenous territories in the BC interior to the coastal port of Kitimat. Supertankers would then load up the tar sands oil and navigate the narrow waters of the Douglas Channel for the open sea.

Many commentators, including Stewart, are doubtful that the project will ever get built because of the legal challenges from the First Nations, whose lands claims were given further reinforcement in recent Canadian court decisions.

The second project, by Kinder Morgan, is an extension of an existing pipeline in British Columbia that would slice through both wealthy suburban communities in the province’s lower mainland and First Nations territory.

Then there is Energy East, which is currently at an earlier stage of regulatory approval than the other two pipeline projects. It would transmit Alberta tar sands crude oil from the west to eastern Canada, which currently imports foreign oil, and is supported to various degrees by all the three major federal political parties.

But its route through Quebec has also ignited opposition because of climate change concerns. This is a province that prides itself on being green due to its reliance almost exclusively on hydroelectric power, “resulting in very low greenhouse emissions per capita,” adds Stewart.

“There is not a lot in [Energy East] for Quebec. It is all risk and low reward. You are taking the risk of spills into the St. Lawrence River and into the drinking water,” he notes.

Meanwhile, Jim Stanford, an economist with the UNIFOR union, warns of a boom-bust syndrome that is intrinsic to resource commodity investment. He says that tar sands oil is no exception to the trend.

Stanford points to the slide downward in the world price of oil from the 100-dollar a barrel level – the minimum required by energy producers to justify ploughing money into the expensive extraction process of applying chemicals, water and machinery to dig the bitumen out of the ground.

“Commodity prices go up and they always come down. And getting excited in a period of relatively high prices usually ends in tears [among the investors] when the prices come back down the other way,” Stanford says.

Another economist, the Vancouver-based Marc Lee, observes that the Harper government is keen to extract as much tar sands oil as possible over a short period of time before renewable energies like solar and wind, with fewer consequences for the warming of the planet, come on stream at more affordable pricing.

“The game changer in all of this is that the world’s governments are supposed to negotiate a new agreement to constrain fossil fuel emissions for 2015. [And] Canada may be forced kicking and screaming to stay within reasonable limits,” says Lee.

Looming over all of this is Canada’s historical dependence on the development and export of raw resource staples, starting with trade in fur and fish from the New World to Europe under French and British colonisation in the 1500 and 1600s, says Mel Watkins, a retired University of Toronto political economist and the author of various books and articles on what he and others call the “staples theory,” to explain this country’s evolution.

Other important resources for Canada have been lumber, minerals and petroleum. Watkins speaks favourably of the wheat boom which began in the 1890s and provided, he recounts, positive spinoffs for the Canadian prairies, including the spread of family farms, expansion of agricultural, railway construction and settling of new communities and towns.

But often, says Watkins, resource-dependent countries – including Canada, Australia and nations in Latin America – get “addicted” to resource exports to the point where other parts of their economies fail to receive the full benefits of the commodity. He calls it “the staple trap.”

Watkins explains how the energy companies in Canada rely on foreign-made machinery to extract the tar sands oil and that once dug up the crude is invariably refined outside Canada.

Furthermore, continues Watkins, the tar sands boom has helped to raise the value of the Canadian dollar and thus upped the price of domestically manufactured products in a competitive world market.

Finally, resource-dependent countries like Canada “are too deferential” when it comes to the multinational energy companies paying sufficient royalties and taxes back to the government, adds Watkins, “which [could] can then be used to seed diversified, greener, development.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Antigua Faces Climate Risks with Ambitious Renewables Targethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:13:45 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137011 By Desmond Brown
HODGES BAY, Antigua, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Spencer is a pioneer in the field of solar energy. She promotes renewable technologies to communities throughout her homeland of Antigua and Barbuda, playing a small but important part in helping the country achieve its goal of a 20-percent reduction in the use of fossil fuels by 2020.

She also believes that small non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a crucial role to play in the bigger projects aimed at tackling the problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.“We are in a small island so we have to build synergies, we have to network, we have to partner to assist each other." -- Ruth Spencer

Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, has been at the forefront of an initiative to bring representatives of civil society, business owners and NGOs together to educate them about the dangers posed by climate change.

“The GEF/SGP is going to be the delivery mechanism to get to the communities, preparing them well in advance for what is to come,” she told IPS.

The GEF Small Grants Programme in the Eastern Caribbean is administered by the United Nations office in Barbados.

“Since climate change is heavily impacting the twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda, it is important that we bring all the stakeholders together,” said Spencer, a Yale development economist who also coordinates the East Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network funded by the German government.

“The coastal developments are very much at risk and we wanted to share the findings of the IPCC report with them to let them see for themselves what all these scientists are saying,” Spencer told IPS.

“We are in a small island so we have to build synergies, we have to network, we have to partner to assist each other. By providing the information, they can be aware and we are going to continue doing follow up….so together we can tackle the problem in a holistic manner,” she added.

Power lines in Antigua. The Caribbean country is taking steps to achieve energy security through clean technologies. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Power lines in Antigua. The Caribbean country is taking steps to achieve energy security through clean technologies. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which paints a harsh picture of what is causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator for the sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, told IPS there is documented observation of sea level rise which has resulted in coastal erosion and infrastructure destruction on the coastline.

She said there is also evidence of ocean acidification and coral bleaching, an increase in the prevalence of extreme weather events – extreme drought conditions and extreme rainfall events – all of which affect the country’s vital tourism industry.

“The drought and the rainfall events have impacts on the tourism sector because it impacts the ancillary services – the drought affects your productivity of local food products as well as your supply of water to the hotel industry,” she said.

“And then you have the rainfall events impacting the flooding so you have days where you cannot access certain sites and you have flood conditions which affect not only the hotels in terms of the guests but it also affects the staff that work at the hotels. If we get a direct hit from a storm we have significant instant dropoff in the productivity levels in the hotel sector.”

Antigua and Barbuda, which is known for its sandy beaches and luxurious resorts, draws nearly one million visitors each year. Tourism accounts for 60 to 75 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and employs nearly 90 percent of the population.

Like Camacho, Ediniz Norde, an environment officer, believes sea level rise is likely to worsen existing environmental stresses such as a scarcity of freshwater for drinking and other uses.

“Many years ago in St. John’s we had seawater intrusion all the way up to Tanner Street. It cut the street in half. It used to be a whole street and now there is a big gutter running through it, a ship was lodged in Tanner Street,” she recalled.

“Now it only shows if we have these levels of sea water rising that this is going to be a reality here in Antigua and Barbuda,” Norde told IPS. “This is how far the water can get and this is how much of our environment, of our earth space that we can lose in St. John’s. It’s a reality that we won’t be able to shy away from if we don’t act now.”

As the earth’s climate continues to warm, rainfall in Antigua and Barbuda is projected to decrease, and winds and rainfall associated with episodic hurricanes are projected to become more intense. Scientists say these changes would likely amplify the impact of sea level rise on the islands.

But Camacho said climate change presents opportunities for Antigua and Barbuda and the country must do its part to implement mitigation measures.

She explained that early moves towards mitigation and building renewable energy infrastructure can bring long-term economic benefits.

“If we retrain our population early enough in terms of our technical expertise and getting into the renewable market, we can actually lead the way in the Caribbean and we can offer services to other Caribbean countries and that’s a positive economic step,” she said.

“Additionally, the quicker we get into the renewable market, the lower our energy cost will be and if we can get our energy costs down, it opens us for economic productivity in other sectors, not just tourism.

“If we can get our electricity costs down we can have financial resources that would have gone toward your electricity bills freed up for improvement of the [tourism] industry and you can have a better product being offered,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Thirsty Land, Hungry Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thirsty-land-hungry-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 17:53:49 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136983 A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Oct 3 2014 (IPS)

Gazing out over the parched earth of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, one might think these farmlands have not seen water in years. In fact, this is not too far from the truth.

The World Food Programme (WFP) last month allocated 2.5 million dollars to assist hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans in the throes of an 11-month drought that has shown no signs of abating.

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka's largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka’s largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka's staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka’s staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The WFP said on Sep. 1 that 2.3 million dollars worth of supplies, including rice rations, would be provided to the drought victims. The assistance scheme will also provide 277,000 dollars in cash grants to needy families.

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The drought has so far impacted over 1.6 million people, of whom at least 190,000 are in need of urgent food assistance, while there are concerns about the food security of an additional 700,000.

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka’s eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over half of those impacted by the drought are from the northern and eastern provinces of the country, two of the poorest in the nation.

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

While the situation calls for immediate assistance, the WFP also warned that the affected would need long-term help to adapt to the impacts of changing climate patterns.

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka's agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka’s agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the annual risk to Sri Lanka posed by climate-related disasters stands at some 380 million dollars. The worst disaster to date, a severe flood in 2010 and 2011, caused damages to the tune of 50 billion dollars.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin America on a Dangerous Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 11:51:04 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136964 A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 2 2014 (IPS)

“We could be the last Latin American and Caribbean generation living together with hunger.”

The assertion, made by Raúl Benítez, a regional officer for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), shows one side of the coin: only 4.6 percent of the region’s population is undernourished, according to the latest figures.

By 2030, however, most of the countries in the region will face a serious risk situation due to climate change.

With almost 600 million inhabitants, Latin America and the Caribbean has a third of the world’s fresh water and more than a quarter of its medium to high potential farmland, points out a book published this year by the Inter-American Development Bank in partnership with Global Harvest Initiative, a private-sector think-tank.

It is the largest net food-exporting region, while it uses just a fraction of its agricultural potential for both consuming and exporting.

But almost a quarter of the region’s rural people still live on less than two dollars a day, and the region is prone to disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and droughts), some of them exacerbated by climate change.

Global warming poses serious challenges to the international community’s goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. Changes in rainfall patterns, soils and temperatures are already stressing agricultural systems.

Currently, more than 800 million people worldwide are at risk of hunger. Through its devastating impact on crops and livelihoods, climate change is predicted to increase that number by as much as 20 percent by 2050, according to a recent United Nations report.

Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price rises of between three percent and 84 percent by 2050, thereby feeding a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality.

Oxfam reports that in the more extreme scenarios, heat and water stress could reduce crop yields by 25 percent between 2030 and 2049.

Climate change is likely to impact mostly small and family farmers, who produce more than half the food in the region and have inadequate resources with which to deal with unpredictable weather.

Despite this looming threat, strategies for sustainability are far from clear. Regional drivers of growth are export-oriented commodities, and while some sectors have advanced in added value, technology and innovation, natural resources exploitation is still the key of the whole regional boom.

By 2011, raw materials and commodities accounted for 60 percent of regional exports, compared to 40 percent in 2000. At the same time, this growth of commodities exports led to a replacement of domestic manufactures by imported goods, affecting manufacturing industries in the region.

In rural areas, conflicting models of small farming and extensive monocultures based on genetically modified seeds compete for the land in a David versus Goliath fight.

In Paraguay, the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world, 1.6 percent of owners hold 80 percent of the agricultural land. In Guatemala, eight percent of producers own 82 percent of farmlands, while 80 percent of productive land in Colombia is in the hands of 14 percent of landowners, according to Oxfam.

Agriculture and related deforestation are major sources of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in Latin America, though other sources are growing rapidly. Brazil, for example, is joining the club of big polluters, with the burning of fossil fuels accounting for the majority of its GHG emissions in the last five years.

As the extractive industries grow, they demand more highways, railroads and ports, putting pressure on governments to avoid the so-called logistics blackout.

Energy demand is increasing too, not only from industries, but also from millions of people lifted out of poverty, and thus with larger consumption needs. The region’s energy demand for the period 2010-2017 increases at an annual rate of five percent.

The region is poised to cross a new fossil fuel frontier, when Argentina, Brazil and Mexico overcome their own political, financial and technical challenges to exploit substantial reserves of unconventional hydrocarbons, like the Argentinian Vaca Muerta geological formation or the pre-salt layer located in the Brazilian continental shelf.

It is difficult to argue that a region so rich in natural resources has no right to thrive on the demand and supply of commodities, particularly when the resulting fiscal revenues have allowed impoverished countries like Bolivia to drastically reduce extreme poverty numbers (from 38 percent in 2005 to 20 percent in 2013).

However, experts warn this path is unsustainable and climate change impacts, felt across the region, can undermine any social gain.

In Guatemala, the worst drought in 40 years is putting 1.2 million people at risk of suffering hunger in the next months. Those who suffer the worst impacts of unsustainable development models will ironically be those who contribute the least to global warming.

A recent U.N. document summarising actions for the follow-up to the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) found that only about a “third of the world’s population could be considered as having consumption profiles that contribute to emissions.”

Fewer than one billion of them have a significant impact, while “a smaller minority is responsible for an overwhelming share of the damage,” the report added.

Still, it will be the poorest people who will bear the brunt, and Latin America, dubbed ‘the next global breadbasket’, is in desperate need of strong local and global action towards the goal of achieving sustainable development in the next decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Puerto Rico’s Green Crusaders Still Going Stronghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/puerto-ricos-green-crusaders-still-going-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=puerto-ricos-green-crusaders-still-going-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/puerto-ricos-green-crusaders-still-going-strong/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 20:35:00 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136958 Casa Pueblo. Credit: Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Casa Pueblo. Credit: Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

The heart of Puerto Rico’s central mountain range is the site of an extraordinary story of struggle and triumph.

Since the 1960s, the government of this commonwealth of the United States had intended to authorise strip mining for copper in the mountain municipalities of Lares, Adjuntas and Utuado. But a decades-long grassroots environmental campaign forced the government to desist.“We are economically self-sufficient, and because of that our talk of freedom is not mere discourse.” -- Casa Pueblo director Alexis Massol

In 1996, then-governor Pedro Rosselló forbade strip mining in the island and signed into law the designation of the parcel of land where the digging would start as “The People’s Forest” (El Bosque del Pueblo).

The successful opposition to mining was led by Casa Pueblo, a non-governmental organisation based in Adjuntas. The group was founded in 1980 by artists, intellectuals and environmentalists associated with Juan Antonio Corretjer, internationally renowned poet and one of the independence movement’s top figures until his death in 1985.

From 1937 to 1942, Corretjer was imprisoned in the United States for his association with the Nationalist Party, which engaged in armed struggle for independence.

In 1982, a secret source inside La Fortaleza (the governor’s mansion, which houses the executive branch) leaked to Corretjer’s group a mysterious map of Puerto Rico, which showed the island crisscrossed with what seemed like infrastructure projects, highways, petrochemical factories, open pit mines and military bases.

Corretjer tasked Casa Pueblo, back then called the Arts and Culture Workshop, with researching what the map meant. After consulting several sources, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the group uncovered Plan 2020, a secretive resource extraction and militarised economic development scheme which had strip mining at its heart.

Over 30 years after the exposure of Plan 2020, strip mining was stopped before it began, but other elements of the plan, like the construction of superhighways, continue apace in spite of environmentalist protests.

Casa Pueblo has remained vigilant in its protection of Puerto Rico’s environment and active in promoting sustainable development. From 1999 to 2003, the organisation aided protesters who engaged in civil disobedience to shut down a U.S. Navy firing range in the island-municipality of Vieques. Casa Pueblo’s volunteers carried out peer reviewed in situ scientific studies of military pollution in the firing range.

For its work for peace and development, Casa Pueblo won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002.

“This is a project of evolution and re-evolution,” said the organisation’s founder and director, Alexis Massol. “It is a response to the capitalist colonial project that the U.S. empire seeks to impose on us. Our project is dynamic; it is not afraid to face errors or contradictions. And it combines education and action.”

Casa Pueblo is named after its physical home, an old house that was taken and restored by the organisation in the mid-1980s. The house has a community library and a large hall often used for meetings and cultural and artistic activities.

Its second floor is used by an artist in residence programme. In the back there is a butterfly sanctuary and another structure which houses Radio Casa Pueblo. Founded in 2007, it is Puerto Rico’s first ever community radio station.

Independence is very important for Casa Pueblo. Since 1989, it has been funded by sales of its own artisanal brand of coffee, Madre Isla. Much of it is grown in Casa Pueblo’s own Madre Isla farm, which also has an eco-tourism project.

In 1999, the Casa Pueblo building went off the electricity grid and switched to a solar energy system.

“We are economically self-sufficient, and because of that our talk of freedom is not mere discourse,” Massol told IPS. “We speak with our own independent voice and we do not make alliances with political parties.”

The organisation’s most ambitious project is the Model Forest. This proposed forest, which has been signed into law by governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla and is currently being amended and negotiated by the Puerto Rico House and Senate, will cover some 379,000 acres and link 20 existing natural protected areas through ecological corridors.

“The Model Forest is a project of sustainable economic development, ecological preservation and citizen participation,” according to economist Mike Soto-Class, president of the Center for a New Economy, a business think tank based in the capital city of San Juan.

“It promotes conservation while it generates business and jobs, and it contributes to the country’s food security. It is a project that exemplifies a paradigm shift in the use of resources, and in the way development and governance models are conceived.”

“A Model Forest is a territory in which people organise and participate to manage their forests and other natural resources together in search of sustainable development,” according to the Iberoamerican Network of Model Forests (RIABM). “Model Forests contribute to reaching global objectives of poverty reduction, climate change, the struggle against desertification and the Millenium goals.”

There are currently 28 model forests in Latin America.

“In this forest there will be popular participation and shared governance,” explains Massol. “It will be an ecological project but will also include economic development, especially agriculture.”

Casa Pueblo has proposed that the Model Forest be a zone of sustainable agriculture free of genetically modified crops.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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