Interpress News Service

A Long Way to Go on Climate Change Adaptation

3 hours 10 min ago

By Saleemul Huq
Mar 23 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In the historic Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all countries agreed to collectively achieve two global goals. The first was to keep the long-term global temperature increase well below 2 degrees centigrade, or if possible, below 1.5 degrees. The second was to try to achieve a Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA).

Countries also agreed to track the progress towards achieving both these goals through a periodic process of global stocktaking. Such periodic stocktaking would be done by adding up the mitigation and adaptation actions by each country as provided in their respective National Determined Contribution (NDC) and National Adaptation Plan (NAP) reports.

This will require being able to measure global progress towards achieving the two goals. It is relatively easy to measure the total amount of emissions of the different greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause global warming and to calculate the total Global Warming Potential (GWP) of each of the different GHGs (for example, each molecule of methane causes as much warming as twenty molecules of carbon dioxide) and aggregate all of the emission globally to see where we are headed in achieving the long-term temperature goal. At the moment, the globally aggregated emissions from all NDCs submitted so far is taking the world to nearly 3 degrees of temperature rise so we are not on track to achieve the goal, but we have time to enhance the mitigation activities and reduce the emissions of GHGs even faster in future.

When it comes to agreeing on the adaptation goal, and also how to measure progress, it is not as easy as it is for mitigation.

Whereas measuring mitigation has a common GWP to aggregate all the GHGs and a long-term temperature goal for adaptation, there is no agreed long term goal for achieving adaptation at the global level, nor are there agreed metrics or indicators which can be measured in each country and then aggregated to the global level.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based in Paris, France, convened a Climate Change Experts Group Forum earlier this month to bring together experts and negotiators from the key negotiating groups to try to get some consensus at the technical level on measuring mitigation and adaptation for the first Global Stock take.

I was invited to facilitate the discussion on the adaption goal. The interesting debate offered varied outlooks of individuals and groups who had differing views on what should be measured and aggregated.

The result was that there is no agreement on what the global goal on adaptation should look like. This is because adaptation is very location-specific and almost unique in each place on the globe. Hence, even aggregating from the local to the national level, let alone from the national to the global level, is a challenge.

The net result of the expert dialogue was to agree that a lot more work needs to be done at the scientific and technical level amongst adaptation scientists and practitioners in order to find some potential proxy indicators that could be used for the first global stocktaking while better ones are developed over time.

However, in the end there was one aspect of the global adaptation goal that was relatively easy to be agreed upon, namely how much of the global funds for tackling climate change should go to adaptation and mitigation.

Here the agreed goal is to achieve a balance of 50/50 out of the total amount of USD 100 billion a year, starting from 2020 onwards. On this measure, the current ratio is less than 20 percent of global funds going towards adaptation and more than 80 percent to mitigation. Hence, there is still a long way to go towards the global goal on adaptation.

The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.
E-mail: Saleem.icccad@iub.edu.bd

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Mutual Discontent

3 hours 18 min ago

By Owen Bennett-Jones
Mar 23 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Western countries Britain amongst them have a tendency to tell Pakistan what to do. For years the cry was `do more! against the Taliban. And when Pakistan did eventually do more, there came `more still! It sometimes seems as if the West has a view on each and every area of Pakistani life. `Close down radical madressahs! `Dismantle the hawala system!` `Build more schools!` `Introduce family planning! `Chuck the Afghan Taliban leadership out of Quetta!` And so on. Many of these ideas have merit. But what would happen if Pakistan responded in kind. What would it tell the British to do? For many Pakistanis, the most pressing demand would be for British action on the MQM. For years now, they complain, the MQM leader Altaf Hussain, secure in his London home, has yelled threats down the phone line to rallies and other events in Karachi.After decadesof Britishinactivity, the rising number of complaints from Pakistanis, many of whom directly contacted Scotland Yard, has resulted in a longrunning hate speech investigation as well as another into possible incitement to violence.

Owen Bennet-Jones

But, as many Pakistanis point out, the speeches still come thick and f ast.

But the MQM is just one of many issues.

There are other people making threatening speeches from the UK. Last year, Tanveer Ahmed was jailed for at least 27 years for the murder of Glasgow-based Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah. Despite his incarceration, Tanveer has sent a series of audio messages from his cell in Barlinnie prison in Scotland, some of which have been distributed byclericsin Lahore.

In one message, Tanveer Ahmed told cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi that people should eliminate all the enemies of Islam.

He also spoke in defence of Salmaan Taseer`s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri. `Anyone who disregards the respect and honour of Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri he is the one who announced his enmity with Islam openly,` Tanveer was heard saying. `Whoever calls the martyr an assassin, he is vicious, unclean and f alse.

And then, some Pakistanis grumble, there are the schools in Britain that teach extremist or, more often, isolationist ideas to their pupils. Although there has been a shif t in of ficial attitudes in the UK in recent months, some schools are still teaching children that it is best not to become too friendly with Christians.

To take a specific example, one school in Nottingham has a history of isolating children from mainstream British life and of enforcing strict rules such as no make-up, no radios, no music with instruments, no mobile phones, no newspapers and no TV. EvenHarry Potter being devoured by other children in the UK was banned. Even though the British authorities have now started taking measures against the school, for the moment, it is still functioning.

Next up: British visa policy. Even as middle-class Pakistani students wanting to study at leading British universities find their visas subject to long delays and in some cases rejection, many Pakistanis, including senior officials, complain that hard-line clerics from extremist madressahs seem to have no such problems.

In December last year, to take just one of many examples, Syed Muzaf f ar Shah Qadri.

described by the Pakistani authorities as `prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of public order` and banned from preaching in Pakistan, was allowed into the UK to speak at a number of English mosques.

There are also cases of the British state rewarding hard-line members of the antiAhmadi Khatm-i-Nabuwat. In 2009, ToahaQureshi a trustee of Stockwell Mosque in London was given an MBE Member of the British Empire for services to community relations. Yet leaflets found in Stockwell mosque last year called for Ahmadis to be killed.

It is not just in matters of religion thatthe UK is perceived by some to play an unhelpfulroleinPakistan.Indeed,London`s most effective way of undermining good governance in Pakistan is, in the view of many Pakistanis, the way it accepts the illgotten gains of businessman and politicians who want to park their money in a place where it will be safe and sound and beyond the reach of Pakistani law.

There is a saying the Bible. `First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother`s eye.` It is perhaps a little unf air to quote that in this context many Pakistanis, af ter all, might now agree that the West was right to urge Pakistan to confront the TTP. Some other pieces of Western advice might also serve Pakistan`s long-term interests. But perhaps a little more willingness to acknowledge the West`s own specks would help reassure those in Pakistan who wonder if the UK and others really practise what they preach.• The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The Davao Gulf Megalopolis

3 hours 34 min ago

By Felino A. Palafox, JR.
Mar 23 2017 (Manila Times)

Metropolitan Davao is one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines. According to the 2013 economic research of the Urban Strategies Group of the University of Asia and the Pacific, Davao City ranks second in the index of market potential for cities. The index has three dimensions, namely market growth, market spending capacity, and business and commercial support.

FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

But Metropolitan Davao is only a part of a grander vision for the region of Davao. It is but a centerpiece for the emergence of the Davao Gulf megalopolis.

I believe that the realization of the full development potential of the Davao Gulf megalopolis is one of the missing pieces that will bring the Philippines to the top 20 economies of the world.

Emergence of Davao Gulf megalopolis
Geographically, the Davao Gulf area (more than 300,000 hectares) is much bigger than Manila Bay (over 200,000 hectares). The Davao Gulf can house the biggest seaport of the country and become the trading gateway to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and to the Oceania continent, especially with Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The total land area of all the cities and municipalities around the Davao Gulf is 868, 598 hectares. This includes the municipalities of Panabo, Carmen, Tagum, Island Garden of Samal, Mabini, Maco, Pantukan, Banaybay, Lupon, San Isidro, Governor Generoso, Davao City, Sta. Cruz, Digos, Hagonoy, Padada, Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, and Jose Abad Santos.

The Davao Gulf megalopolis is 16 times the size of Singapore, four times the size of Hong Kong, and twice the size of Dubai. We need to realize that there is more to our country beyond Metro Manila and start considering what other regions have to offer.

Metro Davao as an integrator
Metropolitan Davao plays a unique role in Mindanao. It has the influence to jump-start in integrating key cities of Mindanao, as far as Cagayan de Oro. Apart from being one of the key proponent of the Mindanao Rail, it has the capacity to become a center for value-added and post-production, especially for agri-industrial produce. It is ideal for Metro Davao to be the center for value-adding services because of its fully functioning seaport, its seaport’s capacity to expand, and because of the Metro’s capacity to give high-quality education.

It can spearhead Mindanao, along with key cities such as Cagayan De Oro, General Santos City, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Surigao, and Butuan, among others, in developing new agri-industrial business and economic value-chains.

With the expected improvement of the Davao International Airport, it can expect a drastic increase in domestic and foreign arrivals. Davao offers a lot more than her famous durian and banana plantations. One cannot miss going to the Samal Islands, and visiting the indigenous communities such as the Manobos and Bagobos. Moreover, Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental was named a UNESCO world heritage site. It can be expected that the 8.3 percent gross domestic output during 2016 will steadily increase, as foreign direct investments and new economic opportunities would soon emerge.

A more walkable and bikeable Metro Davao
In last week’s column, I wrote that in 1905, visionary architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham designed Manila according to the principle of the City Beautiful and City Efficient, taking inspiration from the bay of Naples, the canals of Venice, and the rivers and wide walkable boulevards of Paris. During that time, Manila was one of the best planned cities and other countries looked up to it. However, after World War II, it seems that Burnham’s plan was forgotten, and Manila has instead taken inspiration from the 70-year-old mistake that is the car-centric planning of Los Angeles.

Metropolitan Davao needs to act fast before it transforms into the next Metro Manila. No metropolis should copy the urban design of Metro Manila. Whenever I visit cities and municipalities around the country and ask the locals what is their dream and vision for their community, the response that I often receive are these: we want to be the next Makati; we want to be like Manila with all of its business opportunities. With this I respond by asking them if they want to have the “traffic grabe” of Metro Manila, as well as three-hour commutes, less family time, rising housing costs, un-walkable streets, poorly lit neighborhoods, and smog-filled air? I go as far as asking them if they want to have their own EDSA.

Metro Davao needs to develop a comprehensive transportation and mobility plan, widen sidewalks, and avoid developing more gated subdivisions in the central business district to avoid strangulating traffic, which is now happening in Makati.

The Metro can also develop its water transportation by inter-connecting cities across the Davao Gulf and entry to downtown Davao through the Davao River. The Metro should utilize all possible modes of transportation that are people-centric. In this manner, the Metro can develop a mass-transit system with the likes of South Korea and Japan.

The leaders of the Davao Gulf megalopolis area should also realize that waterfronts have amenity value and are considered as prime real estate in developed nations. The waterfront should not be treated as back of the house but as areas of value and social space.

I believe that the next six years will give our country an opportunity for genuine reform and change. Mindanao is taking a major step in the right direction by prioritizing projects that will improve connectivity, convergence, context, corridors, and networks. Instead of putting up walls, the Philippines is building more bridges. Improving peace and order as well as promoting unity in diversity will also be crucial for growth to be inclusive. With this, bringing the Philippines well into the 21st century—a globally competitive country—will soon be in the horizon.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Where Do We Stand Today?

3 hours 46 min ago

By Shamsul Alam
Mar 23 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The 17 Sustain-able Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted on September 25, 2015 at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The 2030 Agenda is a plan of action emphasising on the core principles of peace, people, planet, prosperity and partnership, which seeks to strengthen universal peace, prosperity and freedom. Eradicating poverty, including extreme poverty, has been recognised as the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. During the coming fifteen years, with these new goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilise efforts to end all forms of poverty through accelerated growth, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

In Bangladesh, the implementation of the 7th Five Year Plan (FYP) 2016-2020 and SDGs have started concomitantly. Both the documents share the same core objectives like empowering people, ensuring prosperity, encouraging innovation, advancing peace, strengthening partnership, protecting the planet. The 7th FYP (2016-2020) has targeted an average of 7.4 percent annual GDP growth per year, which is higher than the targeted 7 percent for least developed countries under the SDGs. A total of 15 goals (88 percent) are found to be fully aligned, thematically, with the 7th FYP (National Planning Tool for socio-economic development), while only Goal 16 and 17 (12 percent) are partially aligned. A total of 58 SDG targets (34 percent) are fully aligned with the 7th FYP targets, while 11 SDG targets (7 percent) have no relevance to Bangladesh.

The government of Bangladesh has formed a high-level inter-ministerial SDG Implementation and Monitoring Committee. An office of Principal Coordinator for SDG Affairs has been established in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to coordinate and facilitate the overall implementation and monitoring of SDGs. Secretaries of 16 key ministries are members of the committee and are working closely with the Principal Coordinator. The General Economics Division (GED) of Bangladesh Planning Commission is the secretariat for the committee to coordinate the implementation at policy level, along with monitoring and reporting the SDG attainment status of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has done the mapping of ministries/divisions by SDG targets (who is to do what in terms of targets) identifying 40 ministries/divisions, including the PMO and Cabinet Division as the lead entity to implement 162 targets of SDGs (7 not relevant for Bangladesh). Line ministries have been asked to prepare their SDG Implementation Action Plan by March 2027. Ministries/divisions will identify the actions or interventions to achieve the SDG targets in conformity with the 7th FYP. Further, ministries/divisions will comply with the Action Plans by preparing possible actions/interventions during and beyond the 7th FYP until 2030.

Finally, GED is preparing the Action Plan to Implement SDGs through Five Year Plans, in consultation with all the relevant ministries and divisions. This will come out as a published document by mid-May this year.

A preliminary data gap analysis for monitoring SDGs has already been conducted by the General Economics Division (GED) in cooperation with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Data Gap Analysis found that data on only 70 indicators are available (out of 230) in the existing data generating system of Bangladesh and 108 can be generated by modifying the existing census (from aggregation to disaggregation), survey, MIS, etc. Some of these 70 indicators for which data is available are also lagging behind, in cases by even up to five years. A handbook on data gap analysis has already been published by GED, identifying areas of data gap. On the basis of the findings of SDG Data Gap Analysis, the SDG Monitoring Framework is being prepared. Bangladesh National Statistical Agency (BBS) has started data mining/generating for some important indicators.

NGOs, CSOs, Development Partners (DPs), private sectors and the media have been consulted to ensure their involvement in SDG implementation. Thematic and goal-wise consultations with stakeholders from private sector along with DPs have been carried out regarding the action plan and monitoring framework. The development partners of Bangladesh have also been requested to align their country strategies within the framework of the SDG targets relevant for Bangladesh. SDGs and their associated targets would be reflected in ministries’ annual work plans as well as in Annual Performance Agreement (APA) within ministries.

To facilitate the results based monitoring system within the government, a macro-level data repository system (SDG Tracker) is being developed by Access to Information (a2i) Project at PMO to facilitate GED. An SDG tracker will be established with the help of a2i of PMO to analyse the data for tracking and evaluating the status of SDG attainment. GED has also started to prepare the SDGs Needs Assessment and Costing exercise for Bangladesh, to estimate the resources needed for achieving SDGs in Bangladesh by 2030 (USD 3-5 trillion would be required annually throughout the world). The study is underway and is expected to be finalised in April and will also be published by mid-May this year.

All-out efforts for implementing SDGs are underway. We aspire to be an outstanding performer to attain the SDGs, as we did in the case of MDGs.

Bangladesh will participate in submitting the upcoming report, where the focus will be on where we are in terms of implementing Agenda 2030, to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) of UN in July 2017. Forty countries in the world have expressed their willingness to present the voluntary National Reviews in 2017 — Bangladesh being one of them.

The writer is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission.
E-mail: sambau23@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Central African Republic’s Lost Generation

4 hours 17 min ago

Seleka MPC fighters at a roadblock in Bojomo, Ouham province, with a desk they removed from the local school. © 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch

By Human Rights Watch
Mar 23 2017 (Human Rights Watch)

Soldiers camping out in schools and breaking up desks for firewood is common in parts of the Central African Republic.  According to a United Nations report from November, 20 percent of the country’s schools are not operational, many because of misuse by armed groups. Some students were forced out of school four years ago, when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels cut a bloody swath through the country and seized the capital. Thousands more children stopped going to school in the ensuing years, as Christian-animist anti-balaka fighters ousted the Seleka, torching whole Muslim communities and displacing more than 860,000 people. Many of these children may never resume their studies, despite hopes kindled when a new government took over a year ago. Researcher Lewis Mudge talks to Amy Braunschweiger about his latest research and what a lost generation could mean for the future of one of the world’s poorest countries.

What did you find through your research about the state of the country’s schools?

We found armed groups living at schools and right next to schools. In some cases fighters are just meters away, and for all intents and purposes, occupying it. And in two cases, UN peacekeepers were in schools. We did much of our research in in Central African Republic, where it’s mostly the Seleka occupying towns and looting and occupying schools. But anti-balaka fighters and other groups have repeatedly done so as well.

A 15-year-old girl from Nana-Grébizi province, who has not attended school since 2013. “I want to be a teacher because they are important for the community and because they are respected,” she told Human Rights Watch. “But now, I don’t know what I can do, I just stay at home all day.”
© 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch

Their very presence was keeping students away from the school. Kids can’t study when soldiers are sleeping there. Students and their parents were afraid there could be fighting by the school, or that fighters would assault students on their way to class.

When I asked the fighters why they were in the schools, or why they may occupy them again, they’d say because the schools have good concrete floors, metal roofs, and they’re the best buildings in town.

So armed groups damaged schools?

Seleka groups left the schools in bad shape. Both the Seleka and anti-balaka would burn desks and chairs as firewood to cook. Now, there’s no place for students to sit. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. These schools can have up to 150 kids in one room, and they need to write on something. The groups burn textbooks. These are rural schools, and a textbook is really valuable. In a crisis, communities store books in the school to safeguard them, and the fighters would destroy them.

And you found UN peacekeepers in schools?

We found two schools occupied by UN troops. They had set up their camps and tents under the blackboard. It was surprising, because the UN put out a directive saying don’t occupy schools. So our findings demonstrated a disconnect between orders given in the capital and troops in the field. When I asked them why they were in the schools, it was the same as the Seleka: “It’s a good building.” The good news is that, when we reported it to the UN, they acted immediately. UN command was very shocked and not happy. The forces quickly vacated both schools.

United Nations peacekeepers from Pakistan using a school building in Mourouba, Ouaka province, as their base in violation of UN guidelines and regulations. The forces left the school in January 2017 after Human Rights Watch informed UN authorities.
© 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch

 

What kind of stories did you hear from the people you interviewed?

We talked with a lot of school-age kids. I asked each one what they wanted to be and why school is important. They’re all farming now, and none of them want to be farmers. They want to be teachers or doctors or engineers. That was quite startling. There’s almost this sense of acceptance that they aren’t going back to school, that they can’t make up this time. They’d lost 2 or 3 years, and this is it. Their thoughts were, I’m going to be a farmer now. The one chance I had for myself and my family is gone now.

I met a dad who said school taught him how to read and do math and that allowed him to start a little business. He spoke French – the language business is conducted in there. Along with farming, he has a shop in the village, selling soap, oil, salt, pens, and other goods. And he thinks it’s a shame his kids won’t have that. Because his kids won’t have schooling, he worries they may not have enough money to send his grandkids to school.

The ability to read, write and do math makes a huge difference. Schools also give kids a basic level of French. The center of in Central African Republic literally has no state services. There’s a hospital in main towns, but that’s it, and if you can get there good for you, if you can’t then you are on your own. They’re some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The ability to get some education would be a huge step up.

Were there schools that were open but students couldn’t attend?

Yes, and those were the students who seemed the most affected. They stopped going to school because of fighters who harassed or threatened students. One woman said she was sending her two kids to school past fighters who had killed her husband, and that traumatized her. Understandably.

We were at a school with fighters right next to it, and they’d fire their guns into the air all the time, just to test them. The students said it was terrifying. The village had been attacked and taken over, and they associated the shooting with the fighting. It’s 9 a.m., they’re trying to study, and a fighter a few yards away is pulling off a few rounds on his Kalashnikov. “When that happens, we all just dive to the floor,” they said. It must be very, very difficult to concentrate on school.

Did you speak with any teachers?

There was a teacher in the southwest, at a school previously occupied by anti-balaka. Last year a fighter stabbed this teacher in the head when he tried to stop the fighter from burning a school desk. There were 300 anti-balaka fighters occupying the school then, and I asked why he tried to stop the fighter. The teacher said it was one of the last desks. And he’d had enough. He wanted some vestige of the school left to be able to restart it. I was stuck by his courage. He laughed, acknowledging it wasn’t the smartest thing. He showed me his scars. The soldier’s commanders apologized to the teacher, which surprised me. They probably realized the fighter – who was never punished – went too far.

 

At least 31 civilians, possibly many more, were shot at point-blank range or stabbed to death, or their throats were slit during five days of sectarian violence that gripped Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, between September 25 and October 1, 2015.

 

You had to meet with the Seleka for this report. What was that like?

We’ve been talking to them for years. And it’s the same-old excuses to justify their presence. First, they deny it. And then you say, yes you are there in the schools, I’ve seen it. Then, they insist they’re there to protect communities from another armed group.

What they’re doing is working to control roads to profit from trade, whether it’s illicit minerals, or normal buying and selling. You see it openly. In one town there’s one road, the road where the school is. And the Seleka have the roadblock there. So as they’re saying there’re here to protect people, you can literally watch a shakedown, with fighters holding up a guy on a motorcycle at gunpoint and taking his money.

Did you feel unsafe doing this research?

Yes. Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries for NGO workers. And there’s this inherent risk when you’re in an armed group’s territory and researching what they’re doing. Coupled with the fact that they’re unprofessional fighters, to say the least. There are a lot of kids in the ranks. That adds a layer and dimension to risk analysis.

But on the other hand, we know these groups well. We always operate openly in the sense that we let them know we’re there.

The main risks are on the roads. We are very, very aware of where we’re going and what group is in control. And we’re always in touch with group leaders. We spend a lot of time in the bush, calling leaders, telling them where we are. That way, if we get stopped by some men from a certain group, we can say, “Your guy knows we’re here. We can call him now.” You have to know the state of the roads – we couldn’t do this research in the rainy season.

We also plan a lot before the trip, develop protocols and have daily check-ins to stay safe.

You’ve worked a lot in Central African Republic. How did researching schools stack up against the rest?

In terms of human rights abuses, there’s a difference between committing a massacre and occupying a school. A massacre is worse. But if there’s ever going to be a real peace or stability, it’s critical to get schools running. With tens of thousands of kids out of school, it makes you concerned about the future of the country. Even if the education system is poor. By now, we’re almost looking at a lost generation in certain parts of the country. I worry about how that might affect the future prospects for peace. Unemployment is everywhere. It’s very cheap to get guns. You can see how easy it is for armed groups to recruit people when schools aren’t operating.

But if parents can send their kids to school, their children may have some prospects.

1 in 4 Children Worldwide Facing Extremely Scarce Water by 2040

5 hours 42 min ago

Shown here in this 2016 photo from Siyephi Village, Bullilima District in Matebeland South Province, Zimbabwe, a 17-year-old girl is seen at the drying up dam where she and her family fetch water. Credit: UNICEF/Mukwazhi

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Warning that as many as 600 million children – one in four worldwide – will be living in areas with extremely scare water by 2040, the United Nations children’s agency has called on governments to take immediate measures to curb the impact on the lives of children.

In its report, Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) explores the threats to children’s lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in coming years.

“This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake announcing the report, which was launched on World Water Day on March 22.

“But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water – endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures.”

According to the UN agency, 36 countries around the world are already facing extremely high levels of water stress.

Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water as well as sanitation systems, warns the report.

According to a recent UN-Water report, about two-thirds of the world’s population currently live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month a year. Credit: World Water Development Report 2017


These combined with increasing populations, higher demand of water primarily due to industrialization and urbanization are draining water resources worldwide.

“On top of these, conflicts in many parts of the world are also threatening access to safe water.”

According to a UN-Water: World Water Development Report, about two-thirds of the world’s population currently live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month a year.

All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, exposing them to deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea, UNICEF’s report reminds.

“Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack and sexual violence during these times.”

However, the impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable, noted the report, recommending actions to help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children.

One of the points it raised is for governments to plan for changes in water availability and demand in the coming years and to prioritize the most vulnerable children’s access to safe water above other water needs to maximize social and health outcomes.

It also called on businesses to work with communities to prevent contamination and depletion of safe water sources as well as on communities to diversify water sources and to increase their capacity to store water safely.

“Water is elemental – without it, nothing can grow,” said Lake, urging for efforts to safeguard children’s access to water. “One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water.”

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Menstrual Hygiene Project Keeps Girls in School

7 hours 7 min ago

Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Breaking taboos surrounding menstruation, a project to distribute sanitary napkins to girls in one district of Bangladesh has had a positive impact on school dropout rates – and should be replicated in other parts of the country, experts say.

“In Bangladesh, girls neither get enough support from their families nor their teachers in school during this difficult time, and their problems intensify and multiply as they cannot share anything out of shame,” Dr. Safura Khatun, a consultant at Mithapukur Health Complex in Bangladesh’s northern district of Rangpur, told the IPS on the sidelines of a five-day workshop.“There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.” --Dr Dilara Begum

Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency, in collaboration with News Network, a non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, organised the workshop titled ‘Empowering Girls and Young Women Through Healthcare and Hygiene Support’ in Mithapukur sub-district on March 12-16, 2017.

Fifty teachers and students from 50 schools, colleges and madrasahs in Mithapukur joined the workshop.

“This is simply indescribable what a traumatic situation girls in Bangladesh society undergo for lack of understanding and care by families and schools. A small support during their monthly period may make a big difference in their everyday life, including education. But sharing of this still prevails as a taboo in our society, affecting the girls’ natural flourishing of their bodies and minds,” said Dr. Safura.

She stressed the importance of incorporating healthcare and hygiene issues in school curricula so that girl students may be aware of the necessary actions at the right time and overcome the shyness in sharing those with parents.

“Girls are definitely reluctant to share their physical issues and problems with their parents …this has to be changed,” she said.

Echoing Dr. Safura, another consultant, Dr. Sabiha Nazneen Poppy of Badarganj Health Complex, also in Mithapukur, said prejudice and family-level restrictions complicate girls’ physical problems, which ultimately hamper their education. “So, we need to give  serious attention to the problems girls face during their menstruation.”

If the girls are left on their own at this stage, Dr Sabiha said, they might complicate their physical problems, causing infections and inviting diseases using unhygienic homemade sanitary pads. “Spreading awareness is essential. So is the support.”

Thus was born the organisation ‘Labonya’, which means ‘beautiful’. Launched in 1998, Labonya has been distributing free sanitary napkins among secondary school students in Mithapukur, an initiative that has proven very effective, thanks to Mithapukur parliament member HN Ashequr Rahman.

“I’ve been noticing since the early 1990s that many girls in Mithapukur skip their classes for nearly a week every month during their menstruation,” Rahman said. “This hampers their academic activities and leads to dropout in many cases.”

“In 1998, I collected data about girl students of the schools in my constituency and found an alarming picture that 90 percent female students have virtually no idea about menstrual hygiene and this is the underlying reason why so many girls drop out,” he told IPS.

The lawmaker said they were not only dropping out but also suffering from various diseases stemming from using dirty clothes and other unhealthy means to manage their menstruation.

Rahman said they started providing sanitary napkins among 25,000 students – from 7th to 12th grade – in all schools of Mithapukur. “Though we couldn’t provide the sanitary napkins every month for lack of funds, the project continued intermittently until 2001. It was suspended after the change of government following the national election in that year,” he explained.

When the current government took office in 2009, he said, he put the project back in place again, changing the scenario in Mithapukur, a sub-district which has about 500 educational institutions.

According to Rahman, the dropout rate of female students has been substantially reduced in the area with the growing awareness among students about the menstrual hygiene. “They now don’t skip classes during their menstruation. They’re also doing well in examinations.”

He said they will continue the project for another three years to make female students aware of how to manage menstrual hygiene with dignity.

Currently, ‘Labonno’ is providing around 28,500 students with a packet containing five sanitary napkins every month.

Rehana Ashequr Rahman, the head of ‘Labonya’ project, said, “If women remain sick, they cannot properly carry on their studies and they don’t have confidence to stand on their own feet. To help overcome lack of knowledge and awareness and change poor sanitary conditions prompted us to launch the project.

“Today’s girls are tomorrow’s mothers. If we can’t ensure their good health, the future generation will be at stake,” said Rehana, also the Vice-Chair of the Red Crescent Society. “This hands on and practical project should be scaled up all over Bangladesh.”

Mahmuda Nasrin, 40, a teacher of Balua High School in Mithapukur, impressed by the project, said, “It’s a very good project as it makes girls aware about their health and hygiene and explain how to share things overcoming all the prejudices.”

Mishrat Jahan Mim, 16, a tenth grader of Shalaipur High School, Nur-e-Jannat, 18, a twelfth grader of Balar Haat Adarsha Degree College and Irene Akhter, an eighth grader of Shalaipur High School said the project has changed their mindset about some taboos surrounding girl’s health and hygiene.

Speaking at one session of the workshop on March 15, Dr Dilara Begum, the librarian of East West University in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, told the girls: “There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.”

She urged the teachers to work together to break prejudices that a wife cannot sleep with her husband during her menstruation and touch anyone while praying. “We need to make people aware and share the realities of life and its cycle to build a beautiful society taking women along,” she told the audience.

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Local Solutions to Rebuild Oldest Cuban City in Hurricane Matthew’s Wake

11 hours 29 min ago

The veranda of a house which has been used to provide shelter for four families, including the family of retiree Dania de la Cruz. In the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, 167 people are still living in shelters after Hurricane Matthew destroyed their homes in October 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Clearings with fallen trees in the surrounding forests, houses still covered with tarpaulins and workers repairing the damage on the steep La Farola highway are lingering evidence of the impact of Hurricane Matthew four months ago, in the first city built by the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba.

Baracoa, a 505-year-old world heritage city in eastern Cuba, located in a vulnerable area between the coast, mountains and the rivers that run across it, is showing signs of fast recovery of its infrastructure, thanks in part to the application of its own formulas to overcome the effects of the Oct. 4-5, 2016 natural disaster.

“The ways sought to deal with the situation have been different, innovative. Necessity led us to involve the local population in addressing a phenomenon which affected more than 90 per cent of the homes,” said Esmeralda Cuza, head of the office in charge of the recovery effort in the people’s council of Majubabo, an outlying neighborhood along the coast.

Standing next to a mural announcing the delivery of bottles of water donated to the families affected by the hurricane, the 64-year-old public official, with experience in dealing with disasters since 1982, told IPS that “more local solutions were sought” before, during and after Hurricane Matthew hit the province of Guantánamo.

Internationally renowned for its effectiveness in protecting human lives during climate disasters, Cuba’s disaster management model is also undergoing changes within the current reforms carried out by the government of Raúl Castro, which includes local responses during the evacuation of local residents and the rebuilding process.

“We had some experience in this, but never with the magnitude and organisational level of this one,” said Cuza, referring to what the strongest hurricane in the history of Guantánamo meant for this city.

Workers unload materials for the reconstruction of a building damaged by Hurricane Matthew, on the seaside promenade of the historic city of Baracoa, in the eastern province of Guantánamo, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a city where most houses have lightweight roofs, the hurricane wreaked havoc in 24,104 of the 27,000 houses in the municipality of Baracoa, population of 81,700.

The local government reports that 3,529 homes were totally destroyed, 3,764 were partially destroyed, 10,126 lost their roofs, and 6,685 suffered partial damage to the roofs.

This figure does not include multi-family buildings that were also damaged. One of these, located on the seafront, is waiting to be demolished. In addition, 525 government buildings were affected, as well as the power and communication networks, water pies, roads and bridges.

Authorities say 85 per cent of the city has been restored, including 17, 391 houses that have been repaired.

“At least here all the houses have roofs,” said Cuza, talking about the restoration of the 1,153 damaged houses in Majubabo. In the rest of Baracoa, 90 per cent of the damaged roofs were fixed, and you can still see some houses with no roofs or covered with tarpaulins on a drive through the city.

Like everyone else, the office headed by Cuza is waiting for more materials to finish restoring the damaged interior of the houses.

In the case of homes that were completely destroyed, authorities provided the so-called “temporary housing facility“, which consists of basic construction materials. With this support and salvaged materials, 3,466 families rebuilt part of their homes to be able to leave the shelters and shared houses where they were initially placed.

The remains of boats and bushes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew scattered on a beach in Baracoa bear witness to the violence of the biggest climate disaster ever to hit the province of Guantánamo, in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

This set of measures seems to be the reason for the rapid improvement in the city´s landscape, through which foreign tourists stroll. With painted facades and big signboards, the 283 rental houses and state-run tourist facilities have been operating since early November, when high season started.International aid

Contributions from the rest of the Cuban provinces, Cubans abroad and international cooperation have been arriving since October for the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew in the east of the country.

For example, the United Nations is carrying out a plan that aims to mobilise 26.5 million dollars to address the urgent needs of 637,608 people in Guantánamo and the neighbouring province of Holguín. This UN programme has received contributions from the governments of Canada, Switzerland, Italy and South Korea.

The Cuban government has also received assistance from Japan, Pakistan and Venezuela, as well as from companies in China and the United States and from international cooperation organisations, such as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Some parts of the seafront promenade are still impassable while workers fix the two-kilometre wall, which barely defended the city from the waves. Because of their vulnerability to the sea, 21 coastal communities are to be relocated before 2030, including Baracoa.

“The construction materials programme was launched to respond to the demand,“ said Rodolfo Frómeta, who is in charge of the state-run company that groups 12 small factories of natural rock materials and blocks, which plans to produce earthquake-resistant concrete slabs for roofs this month.

Baracoa has the largest number of these factories, which also operate in the affected neighbouring municipalities of Imías and Maisí. Up to February, the 22 factories in the area had produced 227,500 blocks, using artisanal moulds and rocks collected from the surrounding land and surface quarries.

“We only import the cement and steel,” said Frómeta, referring to the factories, of which three are state-run and the rest are private. “But all of them receive government support, like these mills that grind stones,“ he told IPS in Áridos Viera, a company in Mabujabo.

A psychologist by profession, Amaury Viera founded in 2015 this private enterprise, with the aim of turning it into a cooperative. Eight workers obtain sand, granite, gravel and stone powder. “Our main activity now is making blocks, some 800 a day, although we want to increase that to 1,200,“ said Viera.

With his bag full of tools, the young bricklayer and carpenter Diolnis Silot is heading home for lunch. “I have worked in the construction of 35 houses since Matthew, two were fully rebuilt and the rest involved replacing lightweight roofs. Most of them received state subsidies,” he told IPS.

Rodolfo Frómeta, in charge of the local company that groups 12 small local factories of natural rocky materials and blocks, next to a stone mill, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A few metres away, the owner of a private cafeteria, Yudelmis Navarro, is installing a new window and making other improvements to his house. “The hurricane carried away the roof and some things from indoors. The government replaced the roof for free and now I am doing the smaller-scale repairs at my own expense,“ he said.

“People who expect everything for free will not solve very much,“ Navarro said.

On crutches, retiree Dania de la Cruz, one of the 167 people still living in shelters in the municipality, watches people going home for lunch, from the doorway of the large house where she lives with her daughter and three other families. “I used to live with my daughter along the Duaba river, on a farm, where I lost almost everything. I won’t go back there. We don’t know when or where we will have our new house,” she said.

“The longest-lasting damages were in agriculture and housing,” said Luis Sánchez, the mayor of Baracoa. He stressed that the recovery strategy included modernising the new infrastructure and making it more resistant, for example in communications.

So far, he said, 3,900 low-interest bank loans were approved for people to rebuild their homes, in addition to 700 subsidies, and more than 10,000 allowances for low-income families. Some families paid for the rebuilding out of their own pocket.

“And we have gained experience in evacuation,“ said Sánchez, who mentioned the use of traditional shelters in caves and rural buildings known as “varas en tierra” made of wood and thatched roofs that reach all the way to the ground.

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Disabled Caribbeans Find Freedom in Technology

22 March 2017 - 8:02pm

There is still need for better educational opportunities, housing, medical care, and everything that is extended to other citizens in the Caribbean. Credit: Bigstock

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Visually impaired Kerryn Gunness is excited about the possibilities offered by a new free app that would serve as his eyes and enable people like him to enjoy greater independence.

The Personal Universal Communicator (PUC) app is part of a new generation of cheaper assistive technologies making their way onto the market which allow people with disabilities to use technology that was formerly too expensive, but provided them with greater independence."We want to ensure that our citizens are able to make effective use of technology to transform their lives. People with disabilities are part of that." --CTU Secretary General Bernadette Lewis.

Gunness had the opportunity to do a test run of the app with its accompanying Internet-based Video Assistance Service (VAS) as part of a pilot project being launched by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), under the umbrella of its ICT for People with Disabilities initiative. Regional statistics suggest that about five per cent of the populations in the Caribbean have a disability.

With this app, Gunness said, “I am able to be independent, manage my affairs, feel comfortable just like my sighted peers.”

Consultant to the CTU, Trevor Prevatt, explained to IPS, “The service is a VAS. It is built on the capability of your smart phone. You have medication to take, you can call [the service’s] agent who will tell you ‘Okay, hold up the bottle’. You put your phone on it and the agent will be the eyes for the person.”

“If a hearing person wants to communicate with a deaf person, she calls the agent who will sign or text or transcribe what you are saying to the deaf person.”

Assistive technologies definitely make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, who would otherwise enjoy almost no independence, says Roseanna Tudor, Operations Manager at the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD). She described the cost of those technologies as “prohibitive”.

However, as communications technology continues to evolve, the CTU is seeking to harness the opportunities presented by this new generation of technology to increase the independence of people with disabilities.

“The technical revolution has precipitated convergence of formally distinct disciplines…if we are going to exploit the full potential of technology, we have to deal with all sectors of our national community….We want to ensure that our citizens are able to make effective use of technology to transform their lives. People with disabilities are part of that,” said CTU Secretary General, Bernadette Lewis.

For this reason, the CTU launched its series of ICT for People with Disabilities workshops, beginning in Jamaica in 2013, “to raise awareness of the ICT tools that are readily available for people with disabilities.”

Prevatt said, “The basis of the Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS) is really a video relay service that has existed abroad for quite some time but it has been an expensive proposition; you needed proprietary equipment. The technology has changed so radically that you just download an app now and you access the service.”

Lewis explained that a pilot project will be conducted by the CTU “to collect as much data as we can. Based on the information from the pilot we will determine the best way to roll out the CVAS.” She explained that there is a lot of data available on the service which is based on proprietary equipment, but very little for the free service based on the app.

Among the information the pilot project would seek to capture is whether an agent from one country would be able to interpret correctly what a deaf person from another country is saying so as to relay it correctly, given differences in local vernacular in each island. Because of resource limitations, the service would start with an agent in Trinidad and Tobago, the home base of the CTU.

The cost of the service to the visually or hearing impaired would be the cost of using the Internet, Prevatt said.

However, the CTU is in negotiations with network operators to route the calls from other islands to the VAS centre in such a way that they do not incur international charges, Lewis said. “The network operators are very enthusiastic about the service,” she added.

She described regional governments as being “gung-ho” about the service and expressing an interest in having it implemented in their countries.

The CTU’s members are regional governments. “And governments have obligations to all of their citizens, so we are helping our members to fulfil their obligations to their citizens,” Lewis said.

Barbados, like Trinidad and Tobago, has signed the convention on the rights of the disabled. However, equality in all areas of life remains a work in progress for the disabled community in both countries.

Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, states that: “States Parties to this Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and
their full inclusion and participation in the community…”

Forty-eight-year-old Rose-Ann Foster-Vaughan, Administrative Project Officer with the BCD, said while Barbados is making strides towards those objectives, there was still need for “better educational opportunities, housing, medical care; everything that is extended to other citizens.”

Foster-Vaughan, who lives with cerebral palsy, drew attention to the BCD’s efforts to have legislation passed that would ensure designated parking areas for the disabled. “We had a petition of over 12,000 signatures to take to the Parliament to legislate it. We have not heard anything in over a year.”

Tudor explained that the parking legislation has been awaiting approval by the Barbados Parliament for more than 10 years.

Employment continues to present particular challenges for people with disabilities. The 2012 Social Panorama report, by Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean, states that while “The census data available for 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries show that type of disability has a considerable impact on the economic activity undertaken by persons with disabilities.”

Nevertheless, “In all cases, the percentage of persons aged 15 and over with one or more forms of disability who are economically active is much lower than the percentage for persons without any disabilities.”

Gunness thinks the CVAS would greatly enhance the job prospects of people with disabilities. “The service would put you on a par with your sighted counterparts. It would add and enhance what we are hoping for,” he said.

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Together We are Stronger Against Police Violence

22 March 2017 - 3:41pm

Shackelia Jackson's brother Nakeia was murdered by police in Jamaica. Credit: Amnesty International

By Shackelia Jackson
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

As a relative of a young man killed by the police in Kingston, Jamaica, many people have asked me how my family copes with the pain, with having lost a part of us, with the immense frustration of not having found justice for Nakiea.

The answer is not easy. Some days, the strength to continue fighting for justice comes from within, others, from the support we have received from so many people from around the world.

Some days feel lonely, as if we were the only ones going through this pain.

But a recent visit to Brazil with Amnesty International showed me that we are not alone. We are not alone in our pain, nor in the seemingly endless struggle for justice.

Unlawful police killings and impunity is a tragic phenomenon that crosses borders across this continent. From the USA to Brazil, hundreds of young men – most of them black, most of them poor – are killed by the police. Hardly any officers are taken to justice to respond for their actions, for the immeasurable suffering they cause to families like mine.

Unlawful police killings and impunity is a tragic phenomenon that crosses borders across this continent.

I had never been to Brazil before. I had never expected to feel so close to home.

While in Rio de Janeiro, a city where police officers killed two people every day in the run up to the 2016 Olympic Games, I met with some of the many relatives with whom I share the same struggle for justice.

Zé Luis is one of them. He lost his son Maicon, after police shot him dead in 1996. Police said it was in self-defense. Maicon was two years old. No one was ever held responsible for this killing. In 2016 the statute of limitation expired which means the case will now never be brought to a national court.

My heart broke with the families I met in Brazil.

But these stories, and my story, although immeasurably tragic are the catalysts augmenting my drive to never stop. To not only engage the Jamaican authorities in a conversation but to ensure that we work towards preventing what happened to my brother from happening to others. The only way for impunity to flourish, is for good people to be silent and to fight alone.

Our strength comes from working together.

I fight for me, for my brother and for all those around me, in Jamaica and beyond.

So their fight becomes my fight. Their world becomes mine. We become stronger together and the memories of their love ones and desire to save those who remain are our collective impetus.

And this fight is also yours because Nakiea was my brother but tomorrow this tragedy could happen to you, to your brother, to your father, to your friend. And as long as justice is not done, we are all in danger.

But together, we are stronger.

I fight because I have no other choice, to stop would mean I am giving another police officer permission to kill another of my brothers.

New Approach Needed for Peace in Afghanistan

22 March 2017 - 3:41pm

Afghan women. Credit: IPS

By Jessica Neuwirth
NEW YORK, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

When the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban’s despicable treatment of women was cited by First Lady Laura Bush as one of the main reasons for going to war. Yet, since that regime fell 15 years ago, the Afghan government has neither included women in the peacebuilding process, nor has it stemmed the endemic rate of violence against them.

2016 was the bloodiest year since the year of the US invasion. While the Taliban has lost power, it continues to operate and other terrorist groups including Daesh have gotten bigger. Afghan women continue to endure “parallel justice” for supposedly “immoral activities”.

Rape, acid attacks, cutting of body parts, stoning, sexual assault, domestic battery, killings and sex trafficking are becoming more common – a situation which Donor Direct Action’s front-line partner, the Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children (HAWCA), deals with on a daily basis.

Afghanistan, the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman educates only 15% of its girls. 60% are married off by age 16. Fatwas have been issued for girls not to attend school and even the small handful of women who managed to enter politics has been targeted. Assassination attempts have been made on women in public service. Political leaders, directors of women’s affairs and police chiefs have been killed in recent years.

The fallacy of liberating women as part of the war cry has turned out to be yet another illegitimate reason for this seemingly never-ending conflict. Afghan women are now dealing with not only an epidemic of violence inside their homes – but also in society in general. The prolonged war has exacerbated this. Overall deaths and injuries of women in conflict have increased over 400% from 285 in 2009 to 1,218 last year.

There was a road less travelled, which may have ensured a different outcome, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Five weeks after 9/11, Jan Goodwin and I wrote an opinion editorial for the New York Times on how the Taliban’s repression of women in Afghanistan was a political tool for achieving and consolidating power (i.e. much more political than violence which they needed to be liberated from).

We concluded the piece with a warning that “any political process that moves forward without the representation and participation of women will undermine any chances that the principles of democracy and human rights will take hold in Afghanistan. It will be the first clue that little has changed.”

Sadly, women were left out of almost all political participation and little has changed. Their calls for disarmament were ignored, and the efforts of brave women such as Malalai Joya to prevent warlords from taking power were unsuccessful. She was instead removed from her governmental position. This exclusion of women has taken place despite the UN passing Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 and much research including that from the International Peace Institute, which showed that when women were included in peace-building, there was a 35% increase in the probability of it lasting for more than 15 years.

In 2001, we had hoped that the international community would listen to the voices of Afghan women, but the failure to do so and the dire situation of Afghanistan today shows that few lessons have been learned. Discussions on including women in decision-making related to ending conflict and ensuring peace have not been acted upon. Transitional governments supported by the UN were almost entirely male in Afghanistan. And a decade later, exactly the same mistake was made in Libya.

Both countries are now in a virtually impossible positions of political stalemate. In Libya, on the day of elections, a brilliant constitutional lawyer and political activist Salwa Bugaighis was murdered – her political platform was simply to build peace. The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), which she co-founded, carries on her work, with major obstacles to overcome. More recently still, while pledges were made to ensure that women in Syria were part of the peace-building process, a secondary “advisory” role has been given to them instead.

Meaningfully including women in rebuilding peace in war-torn countries seems like an obvious solution to all of this. Enabling women to be part of processes which secure their future and those of their families and the societies they live in is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the most effective thing to do politically and economically.

As long as the same failed approach is used over and over again, but different results are expected, it is unlikely that we will see any lasting peace in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else, anytime soon. In the meanwhile, women will continue to lose their lives for daring to follow a path of political leadership, or even of personal freedom.

Civil Society Representatives: “Water is the Foundation of our Life”

22 March 2017 - 3:14pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

“Water is life”—a slogan that arose from the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline movement is one that resonates not only in the U.S., but around the world as millions still lack access to clean, safe water.

At the UN, representatives across sectors gathered to discuss and raise awareness of such issues for World Water Day.

“Water is the foundation of our life…if we don’t have clean water, we will not be healthy,” said Founder of Water for South Sudan Salva Dutt to IPS.

According to the UN, approximately 1.8 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and instead use contaminated water sources. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

Dutt created his organisation after his father became ill from unclean drinking water. Upon drilling the first well in his father’s village, Dutt found a trickle down effect.

“I put a well down—now we have a school, a clinic, a market,” he said.

Dutt particularly noted its impact on women and girls who are often tasked with collecting and carrying water over long distances.

“Seeing these young girls whose jobs are to go long distances to collect water, now they have the opportunity to go to school,” he told IPS.

Oyun Sanjaasuren

Global Water Partnership (GWP) Chair Oyun Sanjaasuren echoed similar sentiments, telling IPS of the interconnectedness between population growth, food, and water.

“With population growth, people will need more food. With needing more food, one will need more agricultural products, and 70 percent of all the freshwater used is used for making food,” she told IPS.

Sanjaasuren and Dutt both highlighted the need to recycle and save water.

“There is probably enough water resources in the world, but only if it is managed well,” Sanjaasuren said.

She pointed to the need to not only develop innovative, modern technologies to address the issue, but also to identify “simple” places to implement small interventions that can lead to change including food loss and waste.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), approximately one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the U.S. and China. Due to the significant amount of water used in food production, food loss also leads to a loss of one-fourth of all water used to produce food.

Sanjaasuren said the loss of such precious resources must be addressed, and reducing food loss and waste is one path to good water governance and sustainable development.

“The most important thing is to not take water for granted as an unreplenishable resource,” she continued.

Through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, governments committed to achieving goals on various water issues including universal and equitable access to safe water; access to adequate sanitation and hygiene; and expanding international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries.

Dutt stressed the need for the international community to continue supporting South Sudan despite its ongoing conflict.

“South Sudan today is the youngest nation in the world—it is a baby. And when you see your baby walk into the fire, you always run and stop it so it doesn’t get hurt. Whatever is going on in South Sudan today, we still need to support them,” he told IPS.

Half of the population in South Sudan does not have access to safe drinking water while more than 70 percent lack access to sanitary latrines. In displacement camps, hygiene and sanitation are inadequate. Mercy Corps found that flooding has collapsed latrines in some camps, forcing people to walk through knee-high, contaminated water.

Dutt said that the international community must continue to provide aid not only for relief, but for development as well.

“In some parts of the country, they are stable. We don’t pay enough attention to what part we should support with development [aid] and what part we should support with relief,” he told IPS.

“If we support these people, they will be able to stand up by themselves,” Dutt continued.

Sanjaasuren and Dutt particularly pointed to the need to stop water contamination and to reduce or reuse waterwaste, the theme for this year’s World Water Day.

Globally, over 80% of generated wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. Polluted environments, including unsafe water, cause one-fourth of the global burden of disease, particularly affecting children under the age of five.

Most recently, Bangalore’s Bellandur Lake caught on fire due to illegal waste dumping and mass untreated sewage. The pollution has threatened residents’ health and caused a chronic shortage of clean water. Experts have predicted that the health and water crisis may make Bangalore uninhabitable by 2025.

“It is a very crucial time to change the way we deal with things and how we solve problems,” Sanjaasuren told IPS. The use of treated wastewater in agriculture is one such solution, contributing to water, food, health and environmental security.

In order to achieve this, Sanjaasuren called for an integrated water resource management in which actors at all levels gather at the discussion table. Dutt highlighted the role that World Water Day plays in bringing such discussions.

“Thanks to the UN for this World Water Day to really pay attention and let the world to be aware that water is very important in our lives,” Dutt told IPS.

World Water Day, which is held on 22 March every year, aims to raise awareness and take action on water issues.

Climate Breaks All Records: Hottest Year, Lowest Ice, Highest Sea Level

22 March 2017 - 2:30pm

Extreme and unusual trends continue in 2017. Credit: WMO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Climate has, once more, broken all records, with the year 2016 making history-highest-ever global temperature, exceptionally low sea ice, unabated sea level rise and ocean heat. And what is even worse– extreme and unusual trends continue in 2017.

In its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate, issued ahead of World Meteorological Day on 23 March, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial periood, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015.

“This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas. “Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”

With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident, said Taalas.

“The increased power of computing tools and the availability of long term climate data have made it possible today, through attribution studies, to demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high impact extreme events in particular heat-waves.”

Each of the 16 years since 2001 has been at least 0.4 °C above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period, used by WMO as a reference for climate change monitoring. Global temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C per decade, according to the WMO’s report.

The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event boosted warming in 2016, on top of long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures in strong El Niño years, such as 1973, 1983 and 1998, are typically 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C warmer than background levels, and 2016’s temperatures are consistent with that pattern.

Global sea levels rose very strongly during the El Niño event, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs, informs WMO, adding that global sea ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average in November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

“The very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and mortality was reported in many tropical waters, with important impacts on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.”

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per millions in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO globbal figures are available – and will not fall below that level for many generattions to come because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Noteworthy extreme events in 2016 included severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America, according to the report.

Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963, and inflicted significant economic losses in the United States of America, while heavy rains and floods affected eastern and southern Asia.

WMO has issued annual climate reports for more than 20 years and submits them to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The annual statements complement the assessments reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces every six to seven years.

It is presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in New York on 23 March.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on 4 November 2016 represents a historic landmark. It is vital that its implementation becomes a reality and that the Agreement guides the global community in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, fostering climate resilience and mainstreaming climate adaptation into national development policies,” said Taalas.

“Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change.”

Extremes Continue in 2017

Newly released studies, which are not included in WMO’s report, indicate that ocean heat content may have increased even more than previously reported. Provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson.

At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air.

“This meant that at the height of the Arctic winter and the sea ice refreezing period, there were days which were actually close to melting point. Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low, in contrast to the trend in recent years.”

According to WMO, scientific research indicates that changes in the Arctic and melting sea ice is leading to a shift in wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns. This is affecting weather in other parts of the world because of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air whhich helps regulate temperatures.

Thus, some areas, including Canada and much of the USA, were unusually balmy, whilst others, including parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, were unusually cold in early 2017.

In the US alone, 11,743 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sanitation ‘Revolution': A New Pay-Monthly Poop Removal System

22 March 2017 - 11:50am

By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Developing countries struggling to cope with huge volumes of human waste may finally get some relief, and a new business opportunity.

Dhaka grew into a metropolitan area with a population of more than 15 million and the world’s 3rd most densely populated city. Credit: Ahnaf Saber. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) study has found that spreading the cost of waste removal over a series of monthly payments could make costs more affordable for poor households and also help kick-start the conversion of this waste, or fecal sludge, into profitable by-products, like fertilisers and bioenergy.

Published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the study focuses on the rural sub-district Bhaluka in Bangladesh, where the government is looking to pilot an innovative local service for sludge management.

Currently, households struggle to pay a large lump sum of 13 dollars every 3-4 years to empty their pit latrines, which is approximately 14 per cent of their monthly income.

Instead, the study has found that they could pay small monthly payments of as little as 0.31 dollars per month, or about what they spend monthly on a mobile phone service, over the same period.

“The way that sludge is currently collected is both inefficient and unsafe,” says the study’s first author Soumya Balasubramanya, a scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which leads the CGIAR ResearchProgram on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

“Our study reimagines the economics of waste collection, disposal and reuse from the ground up. Rather than collecting waste on an ad hoc basis, our system would build a strong, guaranteed consumer base and a steady flow of capital, which would allow waste collection businesses to invest in improving their equipment and services.”

Despite Bangladesh making rapid progress in rural sanitation, having built about 40 million pit latrines, a financially viable solution for emptying these pits, and transporting the sludge to a central location for treatment has not yet been found, adds Balasubramanya.

“When pits fill up, households currently hire someone to empty them, but this service creates health and environmental problems by dumping the sludge close by, as no central treatment plants exist yet,” comments Rizwan Ahmed, a co-author of the study with Bangladesh’s NGO Forum for Public Health.

“If sludge removal could be offered on a subscription basis, the cost would be more manageable for households, and critically it would help streamline the logistics of taking the sludge safely away for treatment, preventing contamination of groundwater and the spread of infections.”

The study concludes that households are willing to cover at least half the costs of the proposed system, while the remainder may initially need to be funded by the government.

However, revenue from the sale of waste by-products like fertiliser and energy may offer another potential source of funds in the future.

Early experiments into producing compost is already showing promise, especially for large-scale plantations growing non-edible commodities like rubber or cotton.

The study’s results have already helped bring this issue to the attention of top policymakers and influenced the development of Bangladesh’s first regulatory framework for fecal sludge management.

“It’s very encouraging to see the government now turning its attention to the challenge of managing the fecal sludge that on-site sanitation generates” said Jeremy Bird, director general of IWMI.

“Our research has shown that a very simple concept like cost-spreading can put the critical transportation link in the sanitation chain on a firm financial footing.”

“Until this study, we knew next to nothing about those costs and people’s willingness to pay them in rural areas,” said Balasubramanya.

“This information will help governments and entrepreneurs design financially viable systems to manage sludge from on-site latrines, not only in Bangladesh but elsewhere around the world.”

“The proposed system would offer clear benefits for individuals – convennience, privacy and better health – and that’s why they’re willing to pay,” explains Ahmed. “But the benefits to society – reduced health risks and less environmental pollution – would be even greater.”

The release of the study coincided with World Water Day on 22nd March, which this year will focus on the pressing issue of wastewater management.

According to UN-Water 80 per cent of all wastewater, including fecal sludge, gets dumped without treatment, leading to a range of health and environmental risks.

The problem is especially grave in the expanding cities and overpopulated rural areas of low-income countries, where only 8 per cent of wastewater is treated.

Don’t Understand Clouds? But You Should!

22 March 2017 - 10:40am

Credit: World Meteorological Organization

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Obviously, there are so many issues and phenomena that have been brought up by growing impact of climate change that one would likely not think about. Some of them, however, are essential and would be good to learn about. For instance, the fact that clouds play a “pivotal role” in weather forecasts and warnings.

Today scientists understand that clouds play a vital role in regulating the Earth’s energy balance, climate and weather, says the leading UN organisation dealing with meteorology.

They help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) tells. And assures that understanding clouds is essential for forecasting weather conditions, modelling the impacts of future climate change and predicting the availability of water resources.

Throughout history, clouds have inspired artists, poets, musicians, photographers and countless other enthusiasts, WMO rightly says. However, they are much more than that: clouds help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system, it explains ahead of the World Meteorological Day on March 23.

On this, the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas, emphasise that clouds play a vital role in regulating the Earth’s energy balance, climate and weather. They help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system.

In short, understanding clouds is essential for forecasting weather conditions, modelling the impacts of future climate change and predicting the availability of water resources, he adds while reminding that throughout the centuries, few natural phenomena have inspired as much scientific thought and artistic reflection as clouds.

Consequently, the international body has opted for “Understanding Clouds” as the theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day. The purpose is to highlight the enormous importance of clouds for weather climate and water.

See what it says: “Clouds are central to weather observations and forecasts. Clouds are one of the key uncertainties in the study of climate change: we need to better understand how clouds affect the climate and how a changing climate will affect clouds. Clouds play a critical role in the water cycle and shaping the global distribution of water resources.”

Anyway, on the lighter side, the World Meteorological Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the inherent beauty and aesthetic appeal of clouds, which has inspired artists, poets, musicians, photographers and countless other enthusiasts throughout history.

Credit: World Meteorological Organization


An International Clouds Atlas

Most notably: the Day marks the launch of a new edition of the International Cloud Atlas after the most thorough and far-reaching revision in its long and distinguished history.

The new Atlas is “a treasure trove of hundreds of images of clouds, including a few newly classified cloud types. It also features other meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones.”

For the first time ever, the Atlas has been produced in a digital format and is accessible via both computers and mobile devices.

The International Cloud Atlas is the single authoritative and most comprehensive reference for identifying clouds, WMO continues. “It is an essential training tool for professionals in the meteorological community and those working in aviation and shipping. Its reputation is legendary among cloud enthusiasts.”

The Atlas has its roots in the late 19th century, and it was revised on several occasions in the 20th century, most recently in 1987, as a hard copy book, before the advent of the Internet.

Advances in science, technology and photography prompted WMO to undertake the ambitious and exhaustive task of revising and updating the Atlas with images contributed by meteorologists, cloud watchers and photographers from around the world.

Classifying Clouds

The present international system of Latin-based cloud classification dates back to 1803, when amateur meteorologist Luc Howard wrote The Essay on the Modification of Clouds.

Credit: World Meteorological Organization


The International Cloud Atlas currently recognises ten basic cloud “genera,” which are defined according to where in the sky they form and their approximate appearance. Read more about Classifying clouds

As one of the main modulators of heating in the atmosphere, WMO informs, clouds control many other aspects of the climate system. “Limited understanding of clouds is the major source of uncertainty in climate sensitivity, but it also contributes substantially to persistent biases in modelled circulation systems.”

“Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity” is one of seven Grand Challenges of the WMO World Climate Research Programme. Read more about Clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity

Learn how to identify cloud types by using this flow chart from the International Cloud Atlas. Clouds are divided into 10 fundamental types known as genera, depending on their general form.

The genera are then further subdivided based on a cloud’s particular shape, structure and transparency; the arrangement of its elements; the presence of any accessory or dependent clouds; and how it was formed. Read more about Resources.

Convinced? Then watch the sky… read the clouds!

Investing in Zimbabwe’s Smallholder Farmers

22 March 2017 - 8:24am

Women do demonstrations during a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Farmer Field Schools training in Zimbabwe. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

To take his mangoes to Shurugwi, 230 kms south of Harare, requires Edward Madzokere to hire a cart and wake up at dawn. The fruit farmer sells his produce at the nearest “growth point” at Tongogara (the term for areas targeted for development) where the prices are not stable.

“As a fruit grower, I have been forced to sell the fruits for very little rather than let them rot,” he told IPS.“LFSP is improving farmers’ ability to buy inputs and sell their products by strengthening farmer groups, improving farmers’ access to financial services, connecting farmers to national and regional markets.” -- FAO's Ali Said Yesuf

The poor performance of the economy has not made life easier for Madzokere, who struggles to provide for his family’s basic needs.

“I wish to have knowledge to make mango fruit jam or to be able to dry fruits for selling,” he said. Madzokere believes with better information and the creation of links to outside markets for his produce, he can go a long way in this sector.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has highlighted the concentration of smallholder farmers in subsistence farming rather than farming as a business, which means they have low demand for inputs, resulting in few incentives for input suppliers to reach the farmers.

For Elias Matongo, an agribusiness dealer in Shurugwi, it’s the same story. Matongo has been struggling to convince financial institutions to give him enough capital to expand his business. So far he has only managed to raise 2,500 dollars, which isn’t enough.

“Agricultural inputs are very expensive, I need to get a loan for 5,000 dollars and more to be able to make farming inputs available and closer to farmers,” Matongo told IPS.

FAO notes that 68 percent of Zimbabweans live in rural areas, where the economy is dominated by agriculture. In 2012, 76 percent of rural households were found to be poor. The agency further states that smallholder farmers often live in remote locations where infrastructure is poor and where input suppliers and buyers do not travel.

Ali Said Yesuf, FAO’s Chief Technical Advisor, told IPS that his organization, with financial support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) of 72 million dollars, has launched the Livelihood and Food Security Program (LFSP) to increase agricultural productivity, increase incomes, improve food and nutrition security, and reduce poverty in rural Zimbabwe. The project, which commenced in 2015, will ultimately be implemented in eight districts in the country.

“LFSP will actively address the specific constraints that smallholder farmers face in raising the productivity of their farms and creating markets for their farming produce,” says Yesuf.

More than 349,000 Zimbabweans are expected to be reached by 2018, selected based on poverty levels, food uncertainty and potential for market development.

“LFSP is improving farmers’ ability to buy inputs and sell their products by strengthening farmer groups, improving farmers’ access to financial services, connecting farmers to national and regional markets,” Yesuf said.

Another key player, the World Food Program (WFP), is also working with FAO to support 5,389 smallholder farmers with the production of drought tolerant small grains, in order to strengthen their resilience. Last December, 93 percent of the planned 646 hectares were planted in selected areas in the country, including extension services, as WFP and FAO provide farming inputs such as seeds and fertilizers to small-scale farmers.

Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director, said integrated strategies for reducing and mitigating risks are essential to overcome hunger, achieve food security and enhance resilience.

“Building resilience before, during and after disasters is necessary for supporting the government of Zimbabwe to achieve food security and adequate nutrition for all people by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals,” Rowe told IPS.

FAO believes smallholder farmers play a critical role in food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe as they account for the bulk of the food that is produced in the country. Zimbabwe’s has since put in place its Country Strategic Plan (2017-2021) to enable smallholder farmers to have increased access to well-functioning markets by 2030 supporting initiatives that promote efficient and profitable marketing.

In Manicaland Province, the Extended Nutrition Impact for Positive Practice (ENIPA) has been introduced. The program is a nutrition behaviour change methodology for promoting identified good nutrition and health practices. The approach encourages the participation of men to so that they become the change agents and champions in the communities.

“Men’s participation is transformative as it transforms the household decision-making dynamics. It’s turning out that a man who understand the importance of consuming nutritious food will support his wife to purchase/grow the same,” Yesuf said.

The project is providing training in nutrition-sensitive agriculture through modules such as healthy harvest where there is selection, production, processing and preparation of diversified food types.

Supporting small holder farmers in the country is a certain path to sustainable production, with farmers like Madzokere already learning new concepts, broadening their horizons and focusing on outside markets. In this context, investing in agriculture simply makes good business sense.

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Is Wastewater the New Black Gold?

22 March 2017 - 5:42am

Credit: BigStock

By UNESCO
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2017 (UNESCO)

What if we were to consider the vast quantities of domestic, agricultural and industrial wastewater discharged into the environment everyday as a valuable resource rather than costly problem? This is the paradigm shift advocated in the United Nations World Water Development Report, Wastewater: the Untapped Resource, launched today in Durban on the occasion of World Water Day.

The United Nations World Water Development Report is a UN-Water Report coordinated by the UN World Water Assessment Programme of UNESCO. It argues that once treated, wastewater could prove invaluable in meeting the growing demand for freshwater and other raw materials.

“Wastewater is a valuable resource in a world where water is finite and demand is growing,” says Guy Ryder, Chair of UN-Water and Director-General of the International Labour Organization. “Everyone can do their bit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030. It’s all about carefully managing and recycling the water that runs through our homes, factories, farms and cities. Let’s all reduce and safely reuse more wastewater so that this precious resource serves the needs of increasing populations and a fragile ecosystem.”

“The 2017 World Water Development Report shows that improved wastewater management is as much about reducing pollution at the source, as removing contaminants from wastewater flows, reusing reclaimed water and recovering useful by-products. […] Raising social acceptance of the use of wastewater is essential to moving forward”, argues UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in her foreword to the Report.

A health and environmental concern

A large proportion of wastewater is still released into the environment without being either collected or treated. This is particularly true in low-income countries, which on average only treat 8 % of domestic and industrial wastewater, compared to 70% in high-income countries. As a result, in many regions of the world, water contaminated by bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and solvents is discharged into rivers and lakes ending up in the oceans, with negative consequences for the environment and public health.

The volume of wastewater to be treated will rise considerably in the near future especially in cities in developing countries with rapidly growing populations. “Wastewater generation is one of the biggest challenges associated with the growth of informal settlements (slums) in the developing world,” say the report’s authors. A city like Lagos (Nigeria) generates 1.5 million m3 of wastewater every day, most of which ends up untreated in the Lagos Lagoon. Unless action is taken now, this situation is likely to deteriorate further as the city’s population rises to over 23 million by 2020.

Pollution from pathogens from human and animal excreta affects almost one third of rivers in Latin America, Asia and Africa, endangering the lives of millions of people. In 2012, 842,000 deaths in low- and middle-income countries were linked to contaminated water and inadequate sanitation services. The lack of treatment also contributes to the spread of some  tropical diseases such as dengue and cholera.

A large proportion of wastewater is still released into the environment without being either collected or treated. This is particularly true in low-income countries, which on average only treat 8 % of domestic and industrial wastewater, compared to 70% in high-income countries
Solvents and hydrocarbons produced by industrial and mining activities, as well as the discharge of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) from intensive farming accelerate the eutrophication of freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems. An estimated 245,000 km2 of marine ecosystems—roughly the size of the United Kingdom—are currently affected by this phenomenon. The discharge of untreated wastewater also stimulates the proliferation of toxic algae blooms and contributes to the decline in biodiversity.

Growing awareness of the presence of pollutants such as hormones, antibiotics, steroids and endocrine disruptors in wastewater poses a new set of challenges as their impact on the environment and health have yet to be fully understood.

Pollution reduces the availability of freshwater supplies, which are already under stress not least because of climate change. Nevertheless, most governments and decision-makers have been primarily concerned by the challenges of water supply, notably when it is scarce, while overlooking the need to manage water after it has been used. Yet these two issues are intrinsically related. The collection, treatment and safe use of wastewater are at the very foundation of a circular economy, balancing economic development with the sustainable use of resources. Reclaimed water is a largely underexploited resource, which can be reused many times.

From sewer to tap

Wastewater is most commonly used for agricultural irrigation and at least 50 countries worldwide are known to use wastewater for this purpose, accounting for an estimated 10 % of all irrigated land. However, data remains incomplete for many regions, notably Africa.

But this practice raises health concerns when the water contains pathogens that can contaminate crops. The challenge, then, is to move from informal irrigation towards planned and safe use, as Jordan, where 90% of treated wastewater is used for irrigation, has been doing since 1977. In Israel, treated wastewater already accounts for nearly half of all water used for irrigation.

In industry, large quantities of water can be reused, for example for heating and cooling, instead of being discharged into the environment. By 2020, the market for industrial wastewater treatment is expected to increase by 50 %.

Treated wastewater can also serve to augment drinking water supplies, although this is still a marginal practice. Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, has been doing this since 1969.  To counter recurrent freshwater shortages, the city has installed infrastructure to treat up to 35% of wastewater, which is then used to supplement drinking water reserves. Residents of Singapore and San Diego (USA) also safely drink water that has been recycled.

This practice can meet with resistance from the public, who may be uncomfortable with the idea of drinking or using water they consider to have once been dirty. Lack of public support led to the failure of a project to reuse water for irrigation and fish farming in Egypt in the 1990s. Awareness-raising campaigns can help gain public acceptance for this type of practice by referring to successful examples, such as that of the astronauts on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years.

Wastewater and sludge as a source of raw materials

As well as providing a safe alternative source for freshwater, wastewater can also be seen as a potential source of raw materials. Thanks to developments in treatment techniques, certain nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrates, can now be recovered from sewage and sludge and turned into fertilizer. An estimated 22% of global demand for phosphorus, a finite and depleting mineral resource, could be met by treating human urine and excrement. Some countries, like Switzerland, have already passed legislation calling for the mandatory recovery of certain nutrients such as phosphorus.

The organic substances contained in wastewater could be used to produce biogas, which could help power wastewater treatment facilities, helping them transition from major consumers to becoming energy neutral or even net energy producers. In Japan, the government has set itself the target of recovering 30% of the biomass energy in wastewater by 2020. Every year, the city of Osaka produces 6,500 tonnes of biosolid fuels from 43,000 tonnes of sewage sludge.

Such technologies need not be out of reach for developing countries as low-cost treatment solutions already allow for the extraction of energy and nutrients. They may not yet allow for the direct recovery of potable water, but they can produce viable and safe water for other uses, such as irrigation. And sales of raw materials derived from wastewater can provide additional revenue to help cover the investment and operational costs of wastewater treatment.

Today, 2.4 billion people still do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. Reducing this figure, in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation of the UN 2030 Agenda, will mean discharging even more wastewater, which will then need to be treated affordably.

Some progress has already been made. In Latin America, for example, the treatment of wastewater has almost doubled since the late 1990s and covers between 20% and 30% of wastewater collected in urban sewer networks. But that also means that between 70% and 80% is released without treatment, so there is still a long way to go. An essential step on that road will have been taken with the widespread recognition of the value of safely using treated wastewater and its valuable by-products as an alternative to raw freshwater.

Sweetened Research, Sugared Recommendations

22 March 2017 - 2:54am

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

In 2015, Coca Cola’s chief scientist was forced to resign after revelations that the company had funded researchers to present academic papers recommending exercise to address obesity and ill health, while marginalizing the role of dietary consumption. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars to fund researchers to downplay the links between sugar and obesity, tooth decay and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Corrupt research
This was not new. In September 2016, a New York Times article highlighted a JAMA Internal Medicine research article showing that sugar industry interests had paid scientists in the 1960s to do likewise for sugar.

The Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists to publish a 1967 review of research chosen by the Foundation on sugar, fat and heart disease in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). A total of $6500 ($48 900 in 2016 dollars) was paid to the Nutrition Department head and two colleagues including one who went on to draft the first ever US dietary guidelines.

The review article downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease while implicating saturated fats instead. Until recently, subsequent US dietary guidelines reflected these studies’ findings and policy conclusions. As other countries followed, millions have shifted to more low fat, but ‘high-energy (sugar)’ food.

The practice continues. In June 2016, the Associated Press reported that confectionary producers had similarly funded studies claiming that children who eat what Americans call ‘candy’ tend to weigh less than those who do not.

A December 2016 review article in the highly respected Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers linked to the sugar industry claimed that the studies justifying recent reduced sugar intake guidelines are of poor quality. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world have begun to promote and implement guidelines on sugar intake, the article claimed there is little scientific basis to expect improved health from lowering sugar intake.

Mars Inc., one of the world’s leading confectioners, has broken ranks with its rivals to denounce the industry funded paper. Top researchers in the field have denounced the article for ignoring the numerous rigorous and high-quality studies finding otherwise, but doubt has been sown to good effect that perhaps sugar is not that bad after all as there is no ‘scientific consensus’ on the issue. Similar arguments have been invoked to try to discredit the near consensus on the human caused acceleration of global warming.

Sugar causes obesity
Sugar, corn syrup and most sweeteners are minor sources of an essential category of nutrients or dietary energy called carbohydrates, measured in terms of calories or joules. Most of our carbohydrate intake comes from food staples such as rice, potatoes and wheat. Sugars are simpler carbohydrates, absorbed by the body at faster and higher rates.

When we consume too much carbohydrate-rich food, the excess carbohydrates not used by the body, e.g., for physical activity, is converted and transported by the blood vessels as glucose (known as blood sugar), and then transformed into fats. Hence, too much carbohydrate – including sugar – in our diets can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The best way to avoid obesity is by limiting calorie intake, i.e., the amount of food we eat, and increasing energy expenditure through physical activity. The publicity given to such research sponsored by the food and beverages industry to absolve sugar is part of a larger public relations effort to mislead the public around the world.

Diets are important in determining the quality of life, especially health. Good health reduces health costs and also raises productivity. Balanced food intake in moderation, dietary diversity and physical activity all contribute to health and wellness.

Developing country menace

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, these were popularly associated with affluence and the US.

Since the turn of the century, the problem has spread to many other ‘middle income countries’, initially especially in Mexico and Central America. These changes are increasingly associated with lifestyle, behavioural and cultural changes associated with urbanization, mechanization and changes in the nature of work.

In Asia, Malaysia has the highest share of overweight and obese people. In 2014, 43.8% of men and 48.6% of women over 20 years of age were overweight, of whom many were obese. Diabetes rates among adults have also increased from 11.6% in 2006 to 15.2% in 2011 and 17.9% in 2015. Recent removal of the sugar subsidy seems to have had little impact on sugar consumption, underscoring the need for non-market interventions.

Discrimination Compounds Global Inequality: UN Report

22 March 2017 - 12:34am

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Despite 25 years of impressive global development, many people are not benefiting from progress due to persistent discrimination, according to a UN report released Tuesday.

The 2017 Human Development Report found that overall human development has improved significantly across all regions of the world since 1990. Yet despite these general improvements, poverty and inequality have persisted.

“The world has come a long way in rolling back extreme poverty, in improving access to education, health and sanitation, and in expanding possibilities for women and girls,” said UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark at the report’s launch. “But those gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge, to ensure the benefits of global progress reach everyone.”

The report described how poverty and exclusion have remained, even in developed countries, where over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – live in relative poverty.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” -- Selim Jahan

The reasons for poverty and exclusion are often related to discrimination based on race, gender or migration status, the report found. Some of those most likely to live in poverty include indigenous people and people with disabilities. Meanwhile, more than 250 million people worldwide face discrimination solely on the basis of caste or another similar inherited lower status within society.

“By eliminating deep, persistent, discriminatory social norms and laws, and addressing the unequal access to political participation, which have hindered progress for so many, poverty can be eradicated and a peaceful, just, and sustainable development can be achieved for all,” Helen Clark said.

The largest group to be discriminated against globally is women and girls. Women are still poorer and earn less than men in every country globally and in 18 countries, women need their husband’s approval to work, the report found. Women now make up slightly less than half of the world’s population due to discrimination before and at birth through sex-selective abortion and infanticide.

“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” said Selim Jahan. “In order to advance, we need to examine more closely not just what has been achieved, but also who has been excluded and why.”

Other examples in this years report include the indigenous Parakanã, Asurini and Parkatêjê peoples of Brazil who were among more than 25,000 people forced to relocated due to the construction of the Tucuruí Dam in Brazil.

“Poor resettlement planning split up communities and forced them to relocate several times,” the report found.

Norway, Australia and Switzerland again topped the annual report as the world’s three most developed countries. Those countries with the lowest levels of human development were mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. Syria was ranked at 149 of 188 countries, a sharp fall from 107 in 2009 before the Syrian conflict began.

The vital link between forests and energy

21 March 2017 - 3:11pm

By Dr Sue Lautze, Ph.D
Mar 21 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Because forests are crucial for the survival and wellbeing of current and future generations, the United Nations General Assembly decreed every 21 March to be the International Day of Forests (IDF). For the 5th IDF, on 21 March 2017, the theme is “Forests and Energy”.

This theme resonates deeply. Trees have always been central to my life, from camping in California’s redwood forests, to chopping wood for cooking and heating (and cold smoking freshly caught trout!), to caring for the walnut, cherry, apple, pear, plum and peach trees that populated my parents and siblings’ homes and orchards. In my secondary school agriculture classes, I was trained to prune fruit trees and to safely handle chainsaws. As children, we were trained to identify – and enjoy! – edible wood products. A scholarship from a US timber company partly funded my first degree in agriculture economics. Forests have been a source of so much energy in my life – warmth, nutrition, beauty, friendship, personal development, income and social action.

Forests in Bangladesh, like elsewhere in the world, provide four important types of services: “provisioning services” (e.g., fuelwood, timber, food, medicine and freshwater); “regulating services” (e.g., moderation of climatic events, erosion control and carbon sequestration); “supporting services” (e.g., biodiversity conservation); and (my personal favorite), “cultural services” such as recreation, tourism and spiritual services.

Worldwide, some 2.4 billion people rely on wood for cooking and heating. Most rural and many urban dwellers are dependent on wood for energy.
Wood was the world’s very first source of energy. Today, it remains the most important single source of renewable energy used for cooking, heating and generating electricity, not only in Bangladesh but also in many other countries. Globally, about one-half of all wood that is produced generates nearly 40% of the world’s total renewable energy. In Bangladesh, where reliance on wood energy is above global averages, the country produced some 27 million m3 of roundwood in 2015. With 7 million m3 of industrial roundwood produced annually, up to 20 million m3 of roundwood – or two-thirds of national production – was used for energy in 2015.

Forests contribute to the wellbeing of all us. FAO encourages you to go to your local forest, park or rooftop garden and take part in the International Day of Forests (#LoveForests video campaign). We encourage you to take pictures and make videos that tell the story of how forests and trees energise you. For more information about the video campaign, visit: http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/video-campaign.

Worldwide, some 2.4 billion people rely on wood for cooking and heating. Most rural and many urban dwellers are dependent on wood for energy. Current research estimates that between 85 percent and 92 percent households in rural Bangladesh use biomass as an energy source, predominantly from forests and trees. The average annual fuelwood consumed for cooking by rural households is approximately 4 tonnes. In line with global averages, 35 percent of Bangladesh’s population is primarily dependent on wood for cooking.

The development of Bangladesh represents both an opportunity and a threat to the nation’s forests; looking ahead, forests are key to the nation’s realisation of the ambitions of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Forest Department estimates that the combined value of timber and fuelwood produced is a minimum of USD 2.4 billion per annum, of which 30 percent (USD 751 million) is attributable to fuelwood. The forest sector formally employs nearly 1.5 million people in Bangladesh including 6 lakh women (i.e., 40 percent of total employment in the sector). Many more work in the informal and private sectors; Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) estimated that nearly 6 million people were employed in operations related to homestead forestry and private plantations in 2014.

Bangladesh is characterised as a low forest cover country, with cover well below the global average of 30.6 percent. The natural forests are highly degraded and diminishing. According to the latest figures, only 17 percent of the country’s total geographical area is covered by forests. Deforestation averaged 0.2 percent per annum between 1990 and 2015, principally in Government-owned natural forests. The main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Bangladesh include a high dependence by large populations on forest resources for livelihoods, intense land-use competition associated with rapid economic development, population growth and illegal logging are.

There are promising trends as well. Despite high deforestation in natural forests, the area under tree outside forests in Bangladesh is increasing. Homestead forests, i.e. tree gardens around the houses in rural areas, which are privately owned, and strip plantations raised along roads, railway lines and canals under the social forestry program host majority of trees outside forests in the country. A moratorium on timber harvesting in natural forests in the country means that the demand for timber and fuelwood is met by homestead forests and social forestry.

In addition, the increasing availability of alternative energy sources for cooking (gas, electricity) is decreasing per capita fuelwood consumption and reducing the proportion of population primarily reliant on fuelwood for cooking. BBS (2014) reported that this proportion fell by nearly 10 percent between 1991 and 2011. At this rate, only one-quarter of Bangladesh’s population will be reliant on fuelwood as the primary source of energy for cooking by 2030.

Such decreasing fuelwood demand will translate into lower pressure on forests and trees, allowing them to regenerate, regain vigor and restore health. Moreover, if sustainably managed, increasingly larger quantities of wood will become available. This resource can be used for the development of bioenergy and other wood-based industries. This will create new job opportunities, contribute to sustainable economic growth on the pathway to middle income status, and complement Bangladesh’s effort to combat climate change. Moreover, the development of bioenergy and other wood-based industries, in turn, will increase the likelihood of greater investment in sustainable forest management. Strong, visionary leadership and a sound policy and institutional enabling environment are crucial for these aspirations to be translated into realities.

There is immense scope in Bangladesh to plant more trees in large cities and urban areas and exciting opportunities for greater engagements by urban dwellers in the greening of cities. FAO, in partnership with the DAE, is working in Dhaka and Chittagong to increase the number and quality of rooftop gardens. Trees in urban areas, if planted strategically, can cool the air by between two to eight degrees. Thus more trees mean cooler air in cities and urban areas of Bangladesh, healthier living environments, and reduced outlays for energy and health costs for the citizens. The model of social forestry, which has been successful in the rural areas, is the way forward for urban areas.

FAO is providing technical assistance to the forestry sector in three areas: (i) Strengthening the National Forest Inventory and Satellite Land Monitoring System in support of REDD+ in Bangladesh (with USAID support); (ii) Strengthening the Environment, Forestry and Climate Change Capacities of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies (with USAID support), and (iii) UNREDD Project Bangladesh (implemented jointly with UNDP and UNEP).

Best wishes for a beautiful International Day of Forests!

The writer is Representative, UN FAO, Bangladesh

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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