Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Paraguay Opens Doors to Unregulated Foreign Investment

By Natalia Ruiz Diaz, July 27, 2012

In his first month as president of Paraguay, Federico Franco has thrown open the doors of his country to foreign investments that have raised questions about environmental safety.

Among the measures taken by the new government were fast-track approval of the planting of transgenic cotton and authorisation of the construction of an aluminium plant.

Franco was named to replace Fernando Lugo after the centre-left former Catholic bishop was removed as president in a swift impeachment trial on Jun. 22. The government has failed to overcome its international isolation, having only been officially recognised by Taiwan and the Vatican.

“It is concerning that a government that was not elected by popular vote is giving the green light to these foreign investments, without any oversight or control,” Luis Rojas, an economist with BASE Investigaciones Sociales, a local non-governmental organisation, told IPS.

As an example, Rojas cited the government’s authorisation to plant Bollgard genetically modified cotton developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, without waiting for the preliminary studies required by law.

Franco named Jaime Ayala, the president of an agrochemical company, to head the National Service for Plant and Seed Quality and Health (SENAVE). Ayala immediately included Bollgard in the national registry of commercial plant varieties (RNCC), which had rejected the genetically modified cotton a few weeks earlier on the grounds that the company had not met the requisites.

Rojas said the approval was illegal because the environment and health ministries had not yet issued their technical opinion, as required by law.

Civil society groups are also criticising plans for the construction of a 3.5 billion dollar aluminium plant by the Montreal-based mining and metals major Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA).

“The negotiations began practically the day after the change of government, indicating a total openness for the company to set up shop in Paraguay,” analyst José Carlos Rodríguez told IPS.

Lugo had set up a technical team to study the project. But after the impeachment trial, Franco immediately gave his consent for the start of negotiations, without waiting for the results of the study.

Rodríguez said the new government is not carrying out any cost-benefit analysis or studies of the economic and environmental implications of the installation in Paraguay of a potentially polluting operation like an aluminium plant.

The Franco administration defends the decision by arguing that the factory would generate some 4,000 direct jobs. But in December, then minister of public works Cecilio Pérez Bordón said the plant would only need 1,250 workers.

In a report presented at a public hearing, Pérez Bordón explained that all of the company’s raw materials and supplies would be imported. He also said RTA would use 9,000 gigawatt/hours (GWh) of electricity a year, and was seeking a power consumption contract that would last from 2016 to 2045, and which could be renewed.

Paraguay currently needs 11,000 GWh a year of energy, and produces 56,000, with a potential of around 7,500 megawatts (one gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts), including the Acaray hydroelectric dam and the 50 percent of output of the Itaipú and Yacyretá dams – shared with Brazil and Argentina, respectively – which corresponds to Paraguay.

That means the installation of the RTA plant would require more than twice the energy that this South American country currently consumes.

The then minister said it was important not to subsidise the cost of energy, and recommended that the firm pay the real cost of electrical service: 60 dollars per MW/hour.

“If energy is sold to RTA at 38 dollars per MWh for 30 years or more, Paraguay will lose between 195 million and one billion dollars annually, which means it will have to raise the rates for other users – including households, raise taxes, or cut public spending,” said Pérez Bordón.

Social organisations, which have stepped up their opposition to the Franco government, say that one of the underlying reasons for the impeachment of Lugo was to facilitate the entry of transnational corporations.

Rojas said: “The government is not a valid interlocutor because it is not interested in a dialogue with civil society; it only talks to business.”

Politician Bernardino Cano Radil said his party, the right-wing Colorado Party, has not discussed the case in enough depth to reach a position on the question.

Foreign investment is generally a positive thing, but a detailed study of the benefits for local companies and workers is needed, said Cano Radil, whose party first sought impeachment of Lugo at the start of his term in 2008, when the former bishop put an end to 60 years of government by the Colorado Party.

The new government has not been successful in its bid to get Mercosur (Southern Common Market) to lift its suspension of Paraguay from the bloc, a measure adopted by the three other members – Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – at a summit in late June.

The government’s hopes are now set on the Organisation of American States (OAS), whose observers’ mission recommended that Paraguay not be suspended. But the decision has not yet been reached.

Analysts say Franco took over an economy that was in good shape. And now investment projects, donations and other initiatives for a combined total of at least 500 million dollars that were blocked during the Lugo administration have been approved.

In addition, personal income tax (IRP), with a fixed rate of 10 percent for people who earn more than 120 minimum monthly salaries a year – equivalent to some 45,000 dollars – has finally gone into effect after years of delays.

The bill to implement the IRP was blocked in Congress during the Lugo administration, and was not scheduled for debate until 2015. But it passed on Jul. 5 and was signed into law by Franco this week.

“This is only 10 percent of the surplus income of people who earn a lot of money” – a very small minority in this country, Rodríguez said.

In the initial stage, the tax will apply to 12,000 taxpayers in this country of 6.4 million people, where between one-third and two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line, depending on the source of the statistic.


Monday, July 30, 2012

A Pre-Fabricated Sustainable Village To Create Smart Growth

By Co.Exist

The world’s population is growing rapidly, especially in the developing world. With that growing population comes a need to figure out where to put all the new people. As we build more houses, it’s important to create sustainable development. If only there was some sort of simple blueprint to follow.

That’s why, in a collaborative effort to create a village that redefines rural poverty relief, researchers from the U.S. and Malaysia have come together to build a high-tech, self-sustaining community northeast of Kuala Lumpur. With 100 energy-efficient homes and a closed-loop agricultural system that provides not only food for its residents but a surplus for them to sell, the project architects believe the village could be a model for villages around the world.

The community, Rimbunan Kaseh, is in the Malaysian state of Pahang and it runs off energy supplies that are largely solar-generated, supplemented by biomass and hydropower. Its agriculture system grows both animals and crops: A four-level aquaculture system nurtures farmed tilapia--a high-protein fish--and then the wastewater is filtered and put to use to irrigate grain fields, trees, and other crops. The system has proven robust enough to create food to feed the residents and then some, providing villagers with an additional $400 to $650 of income each month.

“This model offers a great opportunity to create holistic change for people in the worse circumstances in Malaysia and other nations,” Ellis Rubenstein, president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences said to the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council meeting in San Jose, California.

Houses in Rimbunan Kaseh came from Australia-based Koto Corp: They’re modular, constructed from pre-fabricated pieces that fit together like a puzzle, take just seven to 10 days to build, and cost about $16,000 to $20,000. Beyond the houses themselves, the 12-hectare (nearly 30-acre) village holds a community center, education and recreational facilities, and 4G Internet equipped for use in both e-learning and e-health.

The country plans to build as many as 12 more villages like Rimbunan Kaseh in the near future with the hope that their initiative will spur economic growth, provide education and jobs, and improve the quality of life for some of Malaysia’s poorest communities.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Centre launches bio-toilets to curb open defecation

By Ankur Paliwal, DownToEarth, July 26, 2012

In a major step meant to eliminate open defecation, the Central government has decided to build 100,000 bio-digester toilets in the country in the next two years. The initiative will be part of the Centre’s flagship programme, total sanitation mission. The target is to be achieved through collaboration between the department of drinking water and sanitation under Union ministry of rural development and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

A bio-digester toilet developed by DRDO degrades human waste through an anaerobic process into usable water and gas. The water can be used for irrigation and methane gas as cooking fuel.

Of the 240,000 gram panchayats in the country, only a dismal number have sanitation facilities. Under the first phase of the initiative, 100,000 toilets will be set in 300 gram panchayats of the country for which the ministry will spend Rs 150 crore. The implementation will be done by DRDO. The scheme will be scaled up further based on the learning from the first phase. Currently, only one state in India, Sikkim, is free of open-defecation.

“The MoU has been signed to demonstrate the effect of these toilets,” says V Ramachandran, secretary with department of drinking water and sanitation. One bio-digester toilet costs Rs 15,000. “The cost is expected to come down with the scaling up of the toilets,” he adds.

Though initially the toilets will be set up in panchayats across the country, Indian Railways has also shown keen interest in the initiative. “To start with, 436 coaches in nine trains will be retrofitted with these toilets between 2012 and 2013,” says W Selvmurthy, secretary with DRDO. “In the next five years, 50,000 coaches will be retrofitted with these toilets,” he adds.

On the benefits of such toilets, Selvmurthy says that the bio-digester technology does not have any geographical or temperature limitation. It can be set up in any high, low or plain area. “We got the bacteria from Antarctica, cultured it and acclimatised it at different altitudes and weather conditions to see its performance,” he adds.

According to the government’s statistics, 50 per cent of the population in India does not have a toilet in their premises. Of this, 67 per cent exist in rural areas. Under the total sanitation mission, the government aims to eliminate the problem of open defecation by 2022. “The launch of these bio-digester toilets is a step in that direction,” says Jairam Ramesh, Union minster for rural development. Open defecation is not just a social and aesthetic nuisance, it also results in a lot of water-borne diseases, he adds. The technology can also help in rooting out the challenge of manual scavenging. “There are around 1.5 million insanitary latrines in the country where manual scavenging happens,” he adds

DRDO had launched its bio-digester toilets a month ago in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in Dhamra district of Odisha. Six bio-digester toilets were constructed along the Jhamjhadi-Dhamra highway. Impressed by these toilets, it was at Odisha launch that Ramesh had announced that his ministry will soon sign an MoU with DRDO to set up these toilets across the country.


Friday, July 27, 2012

1 Liter of Light Project Illuminates Thousands of Filipino Homes With Recycled Bottles

By Elliot Chang,Inhabitat, July 26, 2012

While it may seem unfathomable to those of us who take having a readily available light source for granted, millions of Filipinos in impoverished villages and slums go about their daily lives without any kind of indoor light at all. And many of those lucky enough to be able to access the electrical grid run the risk of fire-related incidents involving faulty electrical connections (according to the country’s Bureau of Fire Protection). Not having indoor lighting often means not being able to work or study effectively – which limits productivity and a chance to better your life. Taking this widespread problem as a challenge, 1 Liter of Light has begun installing its recycled solar lights and upgrading people’s lives, one home at a time. The initiative, part of the My Shelter Foundation group spearheaded by Illac Diaz, has already mobilized its army of volunteers, students and homeowners to install 10,000 of these incredibly basic but ridiculously powerful solar lamps throughout Manila.

So how do the lights work? Using an idea originally conceived by Alfredo Moser, a band of resourceful students from MIT working with My Shelter Foundation found that they could mimic a light bulb by filling recycled one liter plastic bottles with just two common substances – water and bleach. The lamps can then be installed into a home’s roof in just an hour by cutting a small hole, plugging the bottles in and then sealing it off. The students found that despite not being connected to any type of electricity, the plastic and water can defract natural light and push it to every corner of a small house. Just one liter of the water and bleach mixture in a plastic bottle can give off the same amount of light as a standard incandescent 60 watt light bulb! The bleach keeps the water free of germs and one solar lamp can keeping working for as long as five years.

If the idea that person’s life can be made drastically better through an object that is so affordable and easy to make inspires you, you’re not the only one. 1 Liter of Light has ignited the passion of volunteers and sponsors from all around the world as well as Filipinos in the communities where the solar bulbs are being installed. It seems everyone from the city’s smallest children to even the local penitentiary’s inmates are getting involved and helping produce recycled bottle lights!

And even though they’ve touched and brightened the lives of so many already, Isang Litrong Liwanag has no intention of stopping. They’re aiming to install their solar lamps in one million homes in the Philippines and around the world by the end 2012.

If the story of 1 Liter of Light has sparked your desire to make a difference, see how you can donate or volunteer with them here, and help them meet their aim of lighting up four million homes on four continents by the end of 2013.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Voracious Lionfish on Caribbean’s Menu

By Desmond Brown, IPS News, July 25, 2012

In a case of “if you can’t beat them, eat them,” Caribbean countries have embarked on a new strategy to deal with the invasive lionfish, whose voracious appetite is wiping out fish stocks from Bermuda to Barbados in what scientists believe to be the worst marine invasion in history.

Regional authorities are promoting a rather unusual solution – incorporate this “beautiful menace” into their diet.

Matt Strong, who heads the Bermuda-based environmental charity, Groundswell believes that a solution to the problem would be to incorporate lionfish into local menus and have it targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen.

“We can essentially eat them to reduce their numbers. It’s worked before — we ate the Nassau grouper in such large numbers that they no longer exist in Bermuda’s waters,” Strong said.

“Every time you are at a restaurant, grocery store or buying fish from your roadside fisherman, ask for lionfish. If we build up enough demand, the fishermen will target them,” he urged islanders.

The environment official noted that every day, authorities are getting more and more reports of lionfish on the country’s reefs.

“They are in great numbers on our deeper reef and now they are showing up inshore in the fish nursery grounds and relentlessly eating our juvenile fish,” Strong said.

“Lionfish are eating important commercial species but even more importantly, they could potentially decimate the herbivorous fish populations such as parrotfish. This is a huge problem as the herbivores keep the algae in check. Without them, the algae outcompetes the corals and the reef, as we know it, dies.”

The lionfish explosion occurred in Bahamian waters in 2010 and was described then as “a plague of biblical proportions stalking the Bahamian economy”.

Today, 97 percent of the reef fish endemic to the Bahamas have been eaten.

In 2011, the country created an annual bash to raise awareness about the lionfish. The family event, which was held Jul. 13-15 this year, saw a total of 345 lionfish being caught.

A similar event held in Dominica in July each year – the annual Dive Festival – organised by the Dominica Watersports Association, was used to appeal to citizens to assist in controlling the lionfish.

The theme for the 2012 festival was “Save the reef; eat a lionfish.”

The association’s president Simon Walsh said the festival this year “reflected that although this is a species that needs to be controlled in order to protect the dive sector and coastal fisheries, it is looked at as a sustainable food source”.

British Marine Biologist Arun Madisetti is on a mission to encourage the people of the Caribbean to put the lionfish to their diet.

“These things have no natural predator in our region,” he told IPS.

“We are never ever going to win this war, we can take on certain battles and control certain reefs but it’s a problem that is not going to go away.”

Madisetti, who now resides in Dominica (which saw its first lionfish in December 2010), was on a visit to Antigua at the invitation of the local Environmental Awareness Group to give a lecture on the lionfish.

Already, at least one player in the dive industry in Antigua has begun promoting the idea of eating the troublesome lionfish in a bid to control its fast growing population.

“We should encourage the community to eat them because they taste really good,” said Shawn Clarke, who runs a recreation dive business here.

Clarke and others who make their living from marine resources say the lionfish population has drastically increased since being first spotted here early last year.

In recent times there has been concern about the fish’s venomous nature and Clarke believe this is what has kept it from most dinner plates.

But he said “they are free of fish poisoning when prepared. Once you have people hunting and wanting to eat them we don’t have to worry about it so much because we want to get rid of them.

“If fishermen go out there and they know people are buying them they will catch them. If you don’t catch them in the next 20 years, all there will be is lionfish.”

The lionfish, which is native to the Pacific Ocean, is believed to have entered Atlantic and Caribbean waters during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when a Florida aquarium broke. They rapidly consume small fishes on coral reefs and can produce up to 30,000 eggs every four days.

The lionfish’s arrival has sent shock waves of fear among members of the marine community in Barbados.

To date, six of the voracious feeders have been killed by divers or caught by fishermen.

“As part of our public awareness campaign, we have roped in the divers and the dive association and all the dive shops because, frankly, they are the ones that are out there the most,” said marine biologist Caroline Bissada-Gooding, whose company East Coast Conservation Organization Inc. runs the Lionfish Barbados Hotline.

“It’s in their own interest to get involved because as the lionfish population grows, the reef fish communities will shrink and that’s their livelihood at stake, so it’s really up to the divers, dive shops and fishermen to get involved.”

She said the island’s lionfish population is still small and those caught are being collected by members of the Lionfish hotline and taken to the Fisheries Division to be examined.

She too has assured the public that the lionfish are quite tasty, especially when prepared in a fillet.

“It’s very nice, like white meat, like a snapper. It’s not raw at all,” she said.

Madisetti said the lionfish invasion will impact the region’s fisheries and tourism industries and “something has to be done.”


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Faced with drought, Peru's highlanders revive ancient water harvesting

Erik Struyf Palacios, ALertNet, July 25, 2012

From the air above the town of Puno, the Peruvian Altiplano appears an endless plain where only clumps of ichu grass withstand the harshness of the sun and lack of water.

But looks deceive: these parched lands in the country’s southeast, located at 4,000 metres altitude (13,000 feet), are home to thousands of poor farmers who for centuries have managed to grow potatoes and grain in this rugged environment.

Today, as droughts become longer, Puno’s inhabitants are relearning ancestral practices of cooperative farming and water harvesting to cope with the challenges associated with climate change.

“We cannot wait for the regional or national government to help us solve our problems,” says Zenon Gomel Apaza, an agronomist and farmer. “The consequences of climate change are occurring now. We have to cope with what we know and have.”

The agronomist won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006 for helping 500 families in Pucara, 60 km (38 miles) north of Lake Titicaca, to widen the genetic variety of their crops to increase food security.

For the past two years, the Asociacion Savia Andina Pucara (ASAP), a nongovernmental organisation focused on agriculture and food security and founded by Gomel Apaza, also has been working to improve water security in Peru’s highlands. In April, the new venture garnered him an Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Conservation Fellowship from the US-based NGO Conservation International.


In the village of Quenauni Alto, 20 km (13 miles) from Pucara, Mario Arapa has constructed several cochas (small ponds) on his land under the guidance of ASAP.

Each cocha is no more than two metres by four metres in size (6.5 feet by 13 feet) and only one metre (3.25 feet) deep, but for Arapa and his eight children these traditional reservoirs make the difference between surviving in a harsh environment and capitulation to worsening conditions.

“Frosts are (now) more frequent and last longer. The sun burns harder,” says Arapa. “Before (washed) clothes took two days to dry, now just one day.”

Eddy Wilber Ramos, an agronomist and Gomel Apaza’s assistant, says tougher times mean “there are dozens of families who are migrating from these areas because they are no longer able to tolerate the climate conditions in which they must work.”

According to Arapa, his crops of quinoa – an Andean highland grain - are threatened not only by flocks of birds but by new, previously unknown pests. But the biggest problem is the scarcity of water.

“Before, it began to rain in October. Nowadays we must wait almost until December for rain,” he says.

To deal with the problem, Arapa has dug a narrow trench in the ground to supply his reservoir with water. It channels a small spring welling from the hillside.

Gomel Apaza explains that the redirected water accumulates in the cochas. As these have no lining, water slowly seeps into the earth, recharging the aquifers. The cochas also serve as water reservoirs for the dry season.

Collecting and harvesting water allows Arapa to have a permanent supply for his cattle and has enabled him to double his production of fodder by irrigating more than three-quarters of a hectare (nearly two acres) of his land in the dry season.

Projects like ASAP seek to remedy some of the damage caused by the “Green Revolution” that began in the 1960s. The revolution – which focused on introducing high-yielding seeds and introducing more use of farm chemicals and other technology – dramatically raised crop yields in many places around the world.

But the revolution also reduced the once dramatic genetic diversity of crop species available in the Andes. As climate change worsens, this lack of choices has made farmers in the Andes more vulnerable to shifting conditions and less able to respond.

Some farmers also argue that the Green Revolution brought with it a competitive, individualist model for farming which weakened cooperation among farmers.

Gomel Apaza is quick to point out that ASAP’s project addresses these social consequences too.

“We are encouraging the farmers to recover old forms of cooperation between families – like ayni and minka,” he says, referring to practices of reciprocity dating back to the Inca period. Ayni means that one person helps another with agricultural work or construction, with the understanding that the favour will be returned in the future. Minka refers to the help that someone gives to another farmer in harvesting, in return for a share of the crops.

ASAP is also seeking to reinstate the rituals of earlier generations, such as thanking the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and asking her to be propitious.

“In this way we help strengthen social ties, and we promote the care and respect of the environment,” Gomel Apaza explains. “Regaining the awareness that we are part of nature and that this is not just a resource, but our mother, changes the feelings and attitudes towards it.”


In Ccochapata, a community near Queñuani Alto, Juan Francisco Idme examines his cochas in the company of 16-year-old John Roma.

“With the help of the engineers (Gomel Apaza and Wilber Ramos) and listening to our grandparents, I am harvesting water where before there was only dry land,” says the 62-year-old. “And this knowledge I try to convey to the young, because I don’t want it to be lost,” he adds, pointing at Roma.

Since schools do not teach the practicalities of water conservation and agriculture, Idme asks teachers informally for time to educate some students.

Gomel Apaza also worries about the intergenerational transmission of knowledge. And he is aware that for water harvesting in the mountains to be work sustainably, the scale of the effort needs to increase – something that often requires the involvement of political authorities.

The president of Puno region, Mauricio Rodriguez, says that he appreciates Gomel Apaza’s efforts and is convinced that Puno is primarily an agricultural area, despite recent attempts by some residents to open unlicensed small-scale mines.

But he sees a different way of bringing water to the region.

“We have great agricultural potential,” he says. “To solve the problem of lack of water we must build a chain of mega-reservoirs throughout the basin. We have over 30 projects needing funding.”

Gomel Apaza is sceptical. “With what money will they build these mega-projects?” he asks. He believes that Peru lacks the resources needed to tackle growing water stress, which is expected to worsen as the region’s remaining glaciers disappear and climate change shifts rainfall patterns.

In the coming weeks, ASAP is organising 10 community forums that will lead to a national forum for representatives of indigenous communities on Nov. 12 this year.

“The goal is to share experiences and take up the proposals of the peasants to face the consequences of climate change,” says Gomel Apaza.

He hopes that these ideas will become part of the proposal that Peru takes to the UN-led international climate talks the same month.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Peru takes its 'first step' in the eradication of child labour

By Mattia Cabitza, The Guardian, July 16, 2012

Manuel is a young boy from Huancavelica, a poor rural area of central Peru. "I get up at four in the morning," he says. "I help my mum to harvest barley. And then I walk for 40 minutes, sometimes an hour, to go to school."

He is one of 215 million children worldwide who face this harsh reality, having to learn to share their responsibilities between a job and an education. Sometimes they don't go to school at all.

In Latin America, one in 10, or 14 million, children and adolescents work like Manuel, mostly in agriculture. The majority live in poverty. And according to the International Labour Organisation, the problem is more serious in Peru.

Almost a third – 28% – of all children and adolescents in the Andean country have a job. They are aged between six and 17, are poor, and often do dangerous work in mining and construction. The government wants to get these boys and girls off work and into full-time education.

At an event last week in the Peruvian capital, Lima, the ministry of employment unveiled the first step in its long-term strategy to reduce child labour and eradicate the worst forms of employment for those under the age of 18.

With $13m from the US government, Peru's labour minister, José Villena, launched a four-year pilot programme aimed at benefiting 6,000 children, 3,000 families and 500 adolescents in Junín, Pasco and Huancavelica, which are among Peru's poorest regions.

"This is the first time that a strategy for the eradication of child labour has been planned with specific objectives, strategic plans and a methodology that will yield results," Villena said. "We must begin to eliminate the habit of sending children to work, because they will be faced with many problems in the future."

Boys and girls who work and don't regularly attend school "put at risk their own development", says Carmen Moreno, the ILO director for the Andean region. "This is human capital that we either lose or don't develop in its full potential," she says. "I think that what helps children to fit in our society and be responsible adults is not work, but education."

The newly launched programme is trying to achieve that. With five core components, it's being executed by the Centre for development and self-management (DyA). This NGO, based in Ecuador, has 30 years of experience in health, education and poverty reduction in its home country, as well as in Bolivia.

Its pilot project in Peru, Semilla (which means "seed" in Spanish), will aim to create and strengthen public policies designed to prevent the exploitation of children. Farmers will be helped to boost their income by improving their crop yields, so that they will no longer need their children to work in the fields. Access to education will also be a priority, so that boys like Manuel, for example, won't have to walk for up to two hours each day to attend school.

Some children and adolescents, however, oppose any plan that aims to fully take away what they say is their right to work. Children have helped out in the fields since Inca times, and Manthoc, a Peruvian organisation representing around 2,500 child workers, believes this tradition should continue as part of the normal development of people growing up in rural areas.

"We demand not to confuse what is a crime with child employment," reads a Manthoc press release. "What is wrong is not the work in itself, but the jobs that are done in exploitative conditions, with abuse, and which violate our dignity as human beings."

DyA thinks that Manthoc has a point in drawing a distinction between what is exploitation and what is a necessity. One million adolescents work in Peru because of poverty and the need to contribute to their families' income. "But if they have to work," says Maró Guerrero, the director of Semilla, "they must do so in fair conditions. So we need to make sure that they do so with proper training, without exceeding working hours, and never in dangerous activities."

Through support and education, the government hopes to persuade rural families not to send their kids to work. But it also knows that eradicating child labour won't be easy unless it can improve the income and employment opportunities for the millions of Peruvians who live in poverty.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Malnutrition Implicated in Child Killer Epidemic

By Vincent MacIsaac, IPS News, July 19, 2012

Health experts are blaming high malnutrition levels for an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) that has killed more than 54 children in impoverished Cambodia since April.

On Wednesday, Cambodia closed all kindergartens and primary schools to stop spread of the Enterovirus-71 (EV-71) believed responsible for the outbreak of HFMD. The closure will affect 121,300 pupils in pre-schools and 2.14 million pupils in primary schools, education officials said.

HFMD typically affects infants and children and is spread through contact with the mucus, saliva, or faeces of an infected person and epidemics are known to break out in the region during the rainy season.

Cambodia first began surveillance for the epidemic last week, but lab tests are yet to determine whether the cause is actually the EV-71 virus, although it was found in most of the children who died.

“We are getting samples (for testing) every day,” Dr. Philippe Buchy, chief of biology at the Pasteur Institute, in Phnom Penh, told IPS. He added that the institute does not receive the complete case record of each patient in order to be able to classify it as ‘mild’ or ‘severe’.

Dr. Sok Touch, director of the Cambodian health ministry’s Communicable Disease Department, said “there were no new severe cases like we saw at Kantha Bopha,” referring to a Swiss-funded hospital in Phnom Penh where the majority of the children died between April and the end of June.

Sok Touch said mild forms of the disease were seen in “several provinces” and there could be hundreds of cases that escaped detection because of the country’s poor public health resources.

Cambodia has no “baseline” for measuring the mortality rate from HFMD because the disease is not on the country’s surveillance list, the health official said.

According to Buchy it is impossible to detect the mortality rate because the severe form “had not been seen here before.” He added that the ratio of deaths to cases was high but it was likely – as in other countries in the region – that the deaths were a small proportion of all cases.

“It’s something we have been expecting for a few years,” he said, adding that the number of cases is probably underreported. His lab had developed the capacity to detect EV-71 about two years ago in response to reports of outbreaks in neighbouring Vietnam.

Sok Touch said it was not until last week that the health ministry began working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to incorporate surveillance for the severe form of HFMD.

A joint-investigation by the health ministry and the WHO found the EV-71 virus – one of the known causes of HFMD – present in the majority of cases reported.

“It was the first time the virus had been detected in a lab in Cambodia,” said Dr. Nima Asgair, team leader of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit in Cambodia.

Most of the children died within one day of hospitalisation and were malnourished or suffering from other chronic conditions prior to contracting the disease, the joint investigation found.

According to Joel Conkle, nutrition specialist with the United Nations Chidren’s Fund (UNICEF), “malnutrition affects 40 percent of Cambodian children, which makes them more susceptible to being severely affected by outbreaks of infectious disease.”

The country has the third highest rate of child malnutrition among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Conkle said, adding that “28 percent of children below five years of age are underweight and 40 percent are too short for their age”.

Hidden hunger, which refers to vitamin or mineral deficiency, was also a concern in Cambodia as more than half of all children under the age of five – the demographic most susceptible to HFMD – are anaemic, primarily due to lack of iron, Conkle said.

“Anaemia is something that affects almost all children in Cambodia; nearly nine out of 10 children in the country are anaemic at one year of age.”

More than 1.27 million cases of mild and severe cases of HFMD have been detected in China in the first six months of this year with 356 deaths, compared to slightly more than 711,300 cases last year, according to the WHO.

It was also reported that the number of cases had tripled in Singapore, from 871 cases last year to more than 26,000 cases in the first six months of this year, but in both countries the numbers had peaked in June and were declining, according to a WHO Jul. 13 update.

Virologists are carrying out molecular studies of the virus to determine if the virus found in Cambodia is a new genotype of EV-71.

Bouchy said it would take another two weeks or so to identify the EV-71 genotype found here, and a few weeks longer to map out its full genome. “At this point it is impossible to know whether the virus detected here is more virulent,” he said.

The emergence of a new, more virulent form would be particularly dangerous in Cambodia where children are vulnerable to infectious diseases due to their poor health, health experts say.

“These children are already not in good shape,” the Pasteur Institute’s Bouchy said. “What we have observed in China and other countries is that the (HFMD) patients were coming from very poor backgrounds,” he added.

Public health experts are taking a two-pronged approach, calling for strengthening of the country’s fragile public health system as well as encouraging enhanced sanitation at households and improving children’s diets.

“Building the capacity of service providers in public health centres and hospitals is an important component of strengthening and improving the health of children in rural Cambodia,” UNICEF’s Conkle said.

“But there are also simple things that can happen at the household level to improve child health. Hand-washing with soap and feeding young children a better diet could help to make children healthier and less susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases,” he added.

About a third of Cambodia’s population of about 15 million people continues to live on less than one dollar a day, which makes improving diets for children a major challenge.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Green Economy: The New Enemy?

Peter Utting, UNRISD, July 11, 2012

This viewpoint reflects on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), known as Rio+20, held in June. It looks at, among other things, the reactions to the idea of green economy, one of the conference’s main themes; the role of corporations; and the positioning of equity and justice in the sustainable development agenda.

Contested pathways
Delegates arriving at RioCentro on the penultimate day of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) were handed a copy of the Rio+20 newspaper, Terraviva (published by Inter Press Service/IPS), which carried the banner headline "Green Economy, the New Enemy". This was a somewhat unsettling statement for a world summit that had identified "green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction" as one of its two main themes for action. In the conference outcome document, The Future We Want, green economy was taken down a few pegs, becoming "one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development…. [I]t could provide options for policymakers but should not be a rigid set of rules."

Meanwhile across town, at the People’s Summit, green economy was being rejected explicitly. Green economy and large corporations were "out", and "in" were alternative concepts and practices, including Buen Vivir (living well in harmony with nature and different cultures), the rights of Mother Earth, decroissance (degrowth), social and solidarity economy, food sovereignty, local economies, non-violence, ethics and spirituality. Feelings were more mixed at the scientific conferences also held around Rio+20. Some scholars and researchers dismissed green economy as "greenwash"; others recognized its potential in contexts where it was possible to significantly adapt valuation, incentives and institutions.

The groundswell of concern about green economy was associated, in particular, with two perspectives. Some Southern governments were worried about the potential for new constraints on growth and Northern conditionalities. Civil society organizations and social movements were concerned about the commodification of nature, privatization of the commons and corporate capture of the green economy agenda, notably their effects in terms of environmental and social injustice and constraints on much-needed structural transformation.

Clearly much had changed since the term green economy had been popularized just a few years earlier as a smart solution not only for climate change (via low-carbon growth), but also for dealing with the triple crises—finance, energy and food. Less than a year ago, UNRISD invited scholars and activists to debate the potential and limits of green economy from the perspective of equity and social justice. While the participants in this inquiry were highly concerned about the social risks of market- and corporate-led green economy transitions, they also highlighted the space that existed for redirecting transition paths through contestation, advocacy and participation of subaltern groups in knowledge and policy processes, as well as in local resource mobilization, and building broad-based coalitions for change.

While the euphoria about green economy may have subsided at Rio, a tour of various parallel and side events organized by mainstream institutions revealed clearly that market-liberal approaches to green economy or inclusive green growth (the preferred term of the World Bank)are here to stay and will receive considerable backing from both North and South. Transnational corporations and business associations were actively positioning themselves as responsible agents for green economy transition, most notably through the high-level "business day" organized by Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), in collaboration with the UN Global Compact and various industry and business associations, and attended by some 800 leaders of business, government, UN and other organizations.

As at previous Earth Summits (in 1992 and 2002), transnational corporations were highly visible at Rio+20. Indeed the "business day" was the culmination of a year-long process "to ensure business input to the Rio conference was heard". If the 1992 Rio conference ushered in a phase of "lite" corporate social responsibility (CSR) that focused on company and industry codes of conduct and stakeholder dialogues, Rio+20 recognized the importance of more recent developments aimed at providing CSR with a few teeth, notably MRV—measurement, reporting and verification (or certification). The "business day" discussions that related to private sector engagement with green economy and sustainable development referred generally to the need to respect and integrate the three environmental, social and economic "pillars" and ensure that sustainability becomes a core business strategy, rather than an add-on. More concrete statements centred on the need for improved measurement, valuation of externalities, sustainability reporting, performance rating, integration of farmers in global value chains, partnerships and multistakeholder collaborations.

While business interests were trying to shape the Rio process, civil society organizations at the People’s Summit were mobilizing against "corporate capture", not only of the green economy agenda but also of the United Nations. In the build-up to Rio+20, over 400 civil society organizations signed a petition to reclaim the UN from corporate power, calling for a series of measures to restrict the influence of big business and enhance transparency related to corporate engagement in the UN system. Many of these same organizations launched, a global campaign to "dismantle corporate power". Indeed, one of the main axes of future struggle identified in the People’s Summit final declaration was simply the struggle "contra as grandes corporações".

Blind spots, equity and justice
The "alternative" perspectives heard at the People’s Summit and other events during Rio+20 highlight both the timidity of the actions agreed upon by governments and corporations, and important blind spots remaining on their agendas. During various forums and side events, considerable store was put in more environmentally friendly production systems, via eco-efficiency and new voluntary regulatory regimes that promote environmental, social and governance standards within corporate structures or value chains and certification. Others pointed to the limited prospects both in theory and in practice of substantive "dematerialization" in contexts of consumerism and profit maximization. Certification schemes have had very mixed results and face serious constraints in terms of scaling up. The corporate responsibility agenda contains blind spots related to concerns about corporate accountability and redistributive justice that were prominent at the People’s Summit and some panels at the conference of ecological economists. Important in this regard are institutional and policy reforms associated with effective remedy for victims of corporate “bad practice”, the redistribution of value within value chains (for example, fair trade and living wages), corporate taxation, executive pay and mandatory regulation of corporations.

While cooperatives and microenterprises get a mention in the Outcome Document, there is no explicit acknowledgement of "social economy", as called for by some governments and networks. This refers to the arena of community groups, cooperatives, social enterprises and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose productive and service provisioning activities simultaneously address economic, social and environmental objectives, and often involve associative and solidarity relations. The potential of such forms of organization and the need for them to be enabled through policy, law and institutional support was emphasized in various events. These included not only the People’s Summit but also the presidential address at the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE) conference and a prominent side event at the official venue on Social and Solidarity Economy, where the new French Minister of Social Economy, the Brazilian government’s National Secretary of the Social and Solidarity Economy and others called for far greater institutional and political support for this sector.

As may be expected in an aspirational intergovernmental document, The Future We Want largely sidesteps many of the values, institutions, processes and structures, identified in other forums as key drivers of unsustainable development—to name a few: growth, greed, short-termism, consumerism, competition, privatization, financialization, patriarchy, the concentration of capital and corporate power. Structural and macroeconomic issues do get a look in—the Outcome Document refers to the need for "urgent action on unsustainable patterns of production and consumption". But how this is to be done remains unclear, as do the means for addressing "the root causes of excessive food price volatility" and promoting "meaningful trade liberalization".

Concerns emanating from both developing countries and social movements point to the need to place equity and justice at the centre of discussions of green economy. These include issues of both distributional justice—how ends or outcomes impact different groups (for example, related to income, ethnicity and gender), winners and losers, and the perpetuation or reinforcement of inequalities; and procedural justice—whose values, knowledge, voice, bargaining power and vote is shaping policy and other decision-making processes. The findings of the UNRISD inquiry on social dimensions of green economy, which were presented at six events during Rio+20, emphasized the key role of social protection, redistribution and rights, as well as the need to build countervailing power through collective organization and mobilization of disadvantaged groups, and broad-based coalitions. Social policy and participation are crucial in this regard.

Some of these elements feature quite prominently in The Future We Want, although in a truncated version. From the perspective of equity and justice, noteworthy innovations or statements include references to the rights of—and harmony with—nature or "Mother Earth" (albeit with the caveat that "only some countries" recognize these rights), the right to food, standards for land governance and agricultural investment, the right to information, women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health, universal access to social services and social protection floors, the role of cooperatives and microenterprises, decent work, and recognition of the substantial contribution to well-being and sustainable development of informal unpaid work, particularly of women.

The language of rights is toned down vis-à-vis the analysis and recommendations of the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability, Resilient People, Resilient Planet, published in January 2012. In The Future We Want, social policy is framed as relating primarily to social protection, not to redistributive policies associated with income, wealth or land. Considerable emphasis is put on "effective participation" to be achieved through dialogue and consultation with relevant stakeholders, as well as the empowerment of women, small farmers and others, largely through the right to information, training, capacity building, promotion of entrepreneurship and market access. Missing here is the notion of participation coined by UNRISD over 30 years ago: the organized efforts of the disadvantaged to gain control over resources and regulatory institutions that affect their lives.

The UNRISD inquiry on social dimensions of green economy revealed that such efforts are occurring and need to be enabled at various levels. These include the organized efforts of:

- communities to defend their livelihood and natural resource management systems, as well as gain control over resources at the local level;
- disadvantaged groups to have both voice and influence within governance or policy processes; and
- social movements to contest, advocate for change, and reframe policy agendas and common sense understandings of what we actually mean by "development".

As attention now shifts from 2012 to 2015 as the key year in the global sustainable development agenda, it is crucial that policy makers address the blind spots that characterize mainstream thinking and analysis, and reposition issues of equity and justice more centrally. Both the Rio+20 and the People’s Summit intended, in their own ways, to re-energize the political momentum for action to craft a more sustainable future. The Future We Want (like the Durban climate conference) authorizes a number of processes aimed at strengthening the global institutional architecture for sustainable development, as well as designing a revised set of development targets as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As seen during the Rio+20 negotiating process, the risk is that contexts of ongoing economic crisis, the proliferation of geopolitical power, and the influence of corporations and market forces over policy making, will severely limit the scope and depth of action. In such contexts, many commentators are pointing to the need for visionary and bold leadership. Historical analysis of how progressive change actually happens suggests that pressures from social movements and an active citizenry are also key. The People’s Summit clearly honed the capacity of disparate social movements to connect, forge alliances, launch advocacy campaigns and craft a strategy for action. Their challenge now is to sustain that momentum.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I beg to differ on Rio+20

By Gonzalo Pizarro, Blog Humanum, July 18, 2012

I have two confessions to make. I was in Rio+20. I am also a cynic by nature. My motto in life is “always suspect the worse in others and you’ll rarely be disappointed”.

I was a part of UNDP’s team preparing for, and then part of our delegation. I have been following what the expectations have been about the Convention, as well as what it was really going to be about.

From the beginning, there was a strong push to paint Rio+20 as the most important environmental gathering in history. Also, given the strong outcomes of Rio 92 nothing less than a meeting that would transform multilateralism would be acceptable.

My cynical self was being fed with an endless series of early reports indicating that the different venues would not be ready on time; that Heads of States would not attend; that the Outcome Document had no ambition. In other words, all was going as expected.

It was against this background that several voices, including the host, Brazil, and UNDP, reminded the world that sustainable development is about integrating the social, economic and environmental strands of development. After all, intergenerational issues are not being properly addressed if we do not address the needs of those who are living in extreme poverty today as well.

As usual, the devil was on the details. How to go from rhetoric to action? Here, the second wave of bad press was relentless. It was the portrait of a doomed meeting. While negotiations where still ongoing, everyone was happily hammering the nails in the coffin of Rio+20, and multilateralism at large.

With just a few days left before the Heads of State arrived to Rio and only a bit more than 30% of the paragraphs of the Outcome Document agreed, everything seemed to indicate that the doom camp was right.

Only that they were terribly wrong. With the Brazilian negotiators taking the lead, the Outcome Document was agreed on time. In it, the world clearly commits to sustainable development as the only viable path to development. It clearly spells that sustainable development is to be understood as the integration of the environmental, social and economic strands. It sets up an inclusive process for achieving a post 2015 framework, including a new set of Goals, which need to be universal. It commits to Sustainable Energy For All, it addresses biodiversity in the oceans, water and sanitation. It gives the UN System a strong mandate to continue supporting MDG acceleration in the remaining years.

Paragraph 106 is a key one for UNDP in my opinion: “We also emphasize the need to accord the highest priority to poverty eradication within the United Nations development agenda, addressing the root causes and challenges of poverty through integrated, coordinated and coherent strategies at all levels.”

Not everything was good, though. The lowest point in the Outcome Document comes as women’s reproductive rights were omitted from the text. The far reaching negative consequences of such an omission have already been pointed out by the Administrator.

Summits such as Copenhagen, Johannesburg and now Rio have increasingly become relevant as well for what happens outside the negotiations. I believe we need to start looking, and recording them, as “Development Trade Fairs” of sorts.

There were over 700 concrete commitments registered at the Conference from governments, business, industry, financial institutions and civil society. These amounted to $513 billion in funding, making Rio the most successful “Development Trade Fair” in history.

Rio also marked a tectonic shift regarding civil society participation and transparency in the process. With the introduction of the RioDialogues, citizens from around the world had the opportunity to discuss and concretely influence the outcome for the first time in global summits of this kind.

These two last features of Rio are, in my view, game changers that will mark Global Summits to come as much if not much more than the Outcome Document.

Finally, when Rio was being close to being wrapped up, came the big announcement. The new Rio+ Global Centre On Sustainable Development. This groundbreaking initiative, a partnership of the Government of Brazil and UNDP, will be the first center for research and facilitate exchange of knowledge and promoter of international discussions on sustainable development, explicitly understood as the integration of the social, economic and environmental strands.

Maybe I should reconsider my motto after all.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Natural Resources: Time for Accountability

By Kishan Khoday, July 18, 2012, Blog Humanum

Among the important elements of the recently issued Rio+20 Outcome Document was a focus on the state of the world’s natural resources and the important implications for achieving social equity and sustainable development. 2012 marks 50 years since the passage of the UN Declaration on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources (1962), and as emphasized in Rio+20 and other major global forum, natural resources are again shaping the nature of development around the world.

The world is experiencing a convergence of increasing demand for natural resources from emerging economies, historic prices across commodity groups, a downward trend in resource supply and ecological stability, and the rise of inequality between those who develop and profit from such resources and the communities that host them. Much of the planet’s resources are located in rural areas where more than two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty reside. Amidst record high commodity prices and corporate profits, the gap is growing between urban industrialists and market speculators on the one hand, and rural communities who live on a treasure of natural assets but are often excluded from benefit-sharing, while also suffering the impacts of extractive industry and ecological change.

As a result of these trends recent years have seen a surge of social movements calling for more transparent, accountable and participatory governance of natural assets, and new models of growth that address concerns of justice, equity and sustainability in use of resources. A new area of interest-based social-accountability politics is moving the pendulum sharply, swinging towards rights-based, accountability-driven mechanisms, and posing questions on the nature of wealth and power in society. As we advance the post-Rio+20 agenda, progress in four areas will, I believe, prove critical:

Natural resource governance. Countries around the world are adapting to calls for social accountability. This includes new fiscal measures to better account for extractive-sector revenue, institutional frameworks to secure long-term value of ecosystems, and increasing equity in access and benefit sharing to sustain poverty reduction and prevent conflict. Reforms in the governance of energy, mineral, food and water resources, and the increasing engagement of civil society through reforms tailored to rights-based approaches and more inclusive growth, are encouraging and need to be rapidly expanded and mainstreamed.

Indigenous rights. Indigenous autonomy regimes are emerging in many countries, legal frameworks specially-tailored to recognize the unique history of indigenous peoples, customary rights of ownership, use and access to resources, and the need for prior and informed consent. Some local efforts are yielding tangible results for equity and sustainability. Beyond participation, regimes also do more by recognizing historic injustices towards indigenous communities, indigenous paradigms of nature and society, and customary law related to access to and use of natural resources.

Corporate citizenship. Many multinational and local businesses are trying to engage inclusive, green growth in energy, food, water and mineral sectors, and scope exists to scale up clean technology for less resource-intensive and toxic growth. Key multilateral platforms include the Ruggie Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment to integrate environmental, social and governance principles into investments, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.

South-south cooperation. A marked shift from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to the recent 2012 Rio+20 Summit is the role of emerging economies in terms of new challenges and solutions to the world’s sustainability goals. In recent years, we have seen a dramatic surge of outward investments and official development assistance from emerging economies into resource-rich but less developed countries. Emerging economies are leading new clean technology solutions to overcome resource scarcity and create foundations for a future green economy. South-south opportunities exist to integrate these trends into outward investments, with an important role for multilateral partners to exchange knowledge and best practices.

As we move beyond Rio+20, new institutional frameworks for sustainability need to arise that not only make development greener but also more inclusive, fair and just. Achieving a green economy will be about more than market mechanisms and technology transfer; it will also crucially be about issues of governance, justice and accountability.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rainwater harvesting can reduce waterlogging: Experts

By The Times of India, July 18, 2012

There are many who love rainfall but few who think about conservation of rainwater. The scientists of Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture and Technology had advised the people, particularly farmers to conserve rainwater through harvesting techniques to increase agriculture production. It can also reduce waterlogging and chances of reboring in residential areas and fields.

It is a technique to conserve rainwater in agricultural fields and also at residential houses. Farmers can conserve moisture level in soil. Rainwater harvesting at homes can help reducing waterlogging on terraces and roads. People can conserve rainwater in the kitchen gardens or store it for household uses. Rainwater harvesting can be done by making puddles and ponds in agricultural fields. At homes, this can be done by making soak pits, storage tanks and terrace water harvesting methods.

"This year winters were very cold, summers very hot and so do the rainy season likely to be good. Though this cannot be explained scientifically now as predictions can be made only for coming seven days," CSA meteorologist C B Singh said.

Munish Gangwar, professor of soil and water conservation, CSA, said that rainwater harvesting is the accumulation and storing of water for reuse, before it reaches the aquifer. Rainwater collection can be very beneficial in various ways. Proper rainwater harvesting channels and systems require quite good amount of money. But water harvesting channels can also be constructed from inexpensive cheap raw material. These methods could be successful in most of the residential localities.

"Digging ponds and puddles in field is the old and prominent rainwater harvesting method used by farmers in UP. Apart from this, 'three-tier system of rainwater harvesting' created for slowing the momentum of water to reach the fields, is also a beneficial harvesting system," Gangwar added.

He said that excess water can be stored in the ponds in farms which can be used to recharge the moisture later. If farmers wisely use the rainwater in the fields there will be no need to rebore the tubewells every year as it will self recharge the underground water table.

Rainwater harvesting can also be beneficial in the urban areas. The urban people can make soak pits and water collection tanks on the terrace and collect rainwater in it. The pipeline of the terrace can be ended to the borewell as it will recharge the groundwater. "If we put small stones, pebbles, coal particles and sand in the soak pit, it will clear the water and reduce its impurities. It and can even be used for drinking after boiling," he said.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Waste-to-Energy Facility Helps Barbados Toward Greener Economy

By Desmond Brown, July 18, 2012

When it comes to pursuing a greener path to economic development, the tiny Caribbean island of Barbados is not about to allow its small size and limited resources to get in its way.

The island has opened the first phase of a multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art facility that will create energy from the tonnes of waste produced by households across the country.

Opening the facility, known as “Cell Four”, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said Barbados has no choice but to diversify its energy resources to include more renewable and sustainable ones.

“Our fuel bill represents the heaviest demand on our foreign exchange. Fuel is of course, essential for the generation of electricity, the manufacture of goods, and for the transportation of goods and people.”

“These three development-oriented activities account for over 80 percent of our fuel consumption,” Stuart said.

With a population of 285,000, Barbados has a mammoth annual fossil fuel bill. According to Environment Minister Dr. Denis Lowe, it makes economic sense to convert waste to energy rather than simply burying it.

“We have a gluttonous appetite for energy,” he said. “It is in our best interest to ensure that we find alternative methods of generating energy to save our energy costs.”

The small island challenge

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently appealed to Barbados and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to free themselves from dependence on fossil fuel imports and transform their energy sectors to encompass modern, efficient, clean and renewable sources of energy.

Stuart said he agrees wholeheartedly with the Secretary-General, pointing out that last year, his country spent just under 4 million U.S. dollars on oil imports, or six percent of its gross domestic product. This spending has hurt direct production costs and the overall competitiveness of the Barbadian economy.

“Although many SIDS are energy deficient in conventional energy, limitless potential for renewable energy and energy efficiency resides in our countries,” Stuart said.

“The fundamental issue then is how, do we, as Small Island Developing States with inherent structural problems and limited resources, convert this renewable energy potential into a tangible product that is accessible, affordable and adaptable?”

Barbados has been actively promoting sustainable energy practices both on the supply side – mainly using renewable energy sources – and on the demand side, encouraging energy efficiency and energy conservation, in an effort to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, enhance energy security and stability, improve the economy’s competitiveness and foster greater environmental sustainability.

Over 40,000 solar water heaters have installed on domestic and commercial buildings in Barbados, according to Stuart. At more than 45 percent, it is the fifth highest penetration of solar water heaters in the world. “We are using the country’s success in this industry as a platform for renewable energy development,” he added.

These solar water heaters save consumers over 12.95 million U.S. dollars in energy costs annually, Stuart said, noting that these results demonstrate how “a combination of local entrepreneurial spirit, consumer advocacy, and government support through the medium of fiscal incentives can lead to a change in the energy use paradigm”.

At the wider Caribbean level, Stuart said plans are being developed for a coordinated approach to renewable energy based on an abundance of renewable energy resources.

Expanding Barbados’s options

Cell Four is part of the Mangrove Pond Landfill at Vaucluse, St. Thomas in the centre of the island. The 12.5-million-dollar sanitary engineered facility forms part of the government’s 188.5-million-dollar integrated solid waste management programme.

Shawn Phillips, an assistant manager with the Sanitation Service Authority (SAA), outlined some of the features of the new Integrated Solid Waste Management Programme, of which Cell Four is a part. He said power generated by the waste-to-energy plant would be fed back to the national grid.

“Cell Four will be receiving waste residue from the proposed waste-to-energy plant which will provide thermal treatment to solid waste,” he said. It will produce an estimated “10 to 14 megawatt hours of electricity”.

In addition to Cell Four, Stuart announced plans for the construction of a green energy, mass burn complex at Vaucluse that would generate electricity by converting the bulk of the waste from the Mangrove Pond Landfill into energy.

He explained that it would utilise wind and solar energy resources and would have a gas-to-energy component that would harness many of the harmful greenhouse gases produced by the landfill.

“The facilities will complement the already existing Mangrove Pond Landfill and the waste management facility known as Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre,” he said. It will help to offset the country’s “dependence on fossil fuel and reduce our foreign exchange risks” even as it offers “an environmentally sound alternative that would…reduce our potential contribution to the causes of climate change”.

The prime minister said that although Barbados depends on such traditional sectors as tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and international business for its foreign exchange earnings, the country did need to diversify.

He noted that there was an emerging recycling sector that had enabled the country to not only eliminate various items from the waste stream, but also to earn valuable foreign exchange from exports.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Namibia: Ezystove Scoops International Award

By Allafrica news, July 11, 2012

The EzyStove - a Namibia/Swedish energy efficient cooking stove - has scooped the international Red Dot Best of the Best 2012 design award.

EzyStove is a revolutionary wood-burning stove, developed with local users and produced locally for developing countries in need of a solution that replaces cooking over an open fire. It reduces harmful smoke, decreases deforestation, creates local jobs and drastically reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Red Dot is the largest design competition in the world and has established itself internationally as one of the most appreciated quality seals for outstanding designs. The mark Best of the Best is the highest award of the Red Dot design competition.

The EzyStove is a direct outcome from a collaborative initiative between Namibian NGO Creative Entrepreneurs Solutions (CES), Swedish company Ergonomidesign and rural/urban Namibian women participating in the UNDP GEF-SGP Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change programme.

The initiative is essentially a response to communities' concerns over alarmingly high rates of deforestation and increasing respiratory illnesses due to the widespread practice of cooking over open fires.

Tuhafeni Nghilunanye (EzyStove project coordinator, CES) and Elisabeth Ramel-Wåhrberg (designer, Ergonomidesign) received the award at the handing over ceremony in Essen, Germany, July 2, 2012.

The EzyStove will be on exhibition at the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen over a period of four weeks in a special setting before being integrated into the permanent exhibition.

Air Namibia sponsored CES' participation at the award ceremony in Essen with a discounted ticket.

The EzyStove is designed according to the wishes of Namibian women and is user-friendly and easily assembled. Since it is fuel-efficient it will lessen women's burdens by reducing fuel wood consumption by two thirds, while it will also cut back toxic emissions by between 60 and 80 percent.

Users also report on a cleaner cooking environment when using the EzyStove since it vastly reduces smoke and soot emissions, thus creating less indoor air pollution.

The EzyStove is welded together from metal sheets and costs around N$150 to produce.

For now, CES has donated 125 EzyStoves to communities around Namibia with the aim of making the product known and getting communities to commit to producing the stove independently.

Until then, the EzyStove is available in informal settlements for only N$30 from CES until such time as the communities take over the production themselves.

For women, the EzyStove greatly contributes to and enhances women's roles in the community since they will now have more time to attend to other daily and more urgent matters.

It is the aim of Creative Entrepreneurs Solutions to develop the EzyStove into a carbon dioxide offsetting project in order to make 400 000 subsidized and affordable stoves available to 200 000 Namibian households.

The project aims to create up to 300 local long-term stove assembly jobs and to reduce deforestation and annual carbon dioxide emissions.


Global fight for natural resources 'has only just begun'

By Fiona Harvey,The Guardian, July 12, 2012

Academics and business figures gave a grim warning at the Resource 2012 conference, but defended the Rio+20 outcomes

The global battle for natural resources – from food and water to energy and precious metals – is only beginning, and will intensify to proportions that could mean enormous upheavals for every country, leading academics and business figures told a conference in Oxford on Thursday.

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, who convened the two-day Resource 2012 conference, told the Guardian: "We are nowhere near realising the full impact of this yet. We have seen the first indications – rising food prices, pressure on water supplies, a land grab by some countries for mining rights and fertile agricultural land, and rising prices for energy and for key resources [such as] metals. But we need to do far more to deal with these problems before they become even more acute, and we are not doing enough yet."

Countries that are not prepared for this rapid change will soon – perhaps irrevocably – lose out, with serious damage to their economies and way of life, the conference was told.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, said that the free market would not necessarily provide the best solution to sharing out the world's resources. Governments would need to step in, he said, to ensure that people had access to the basics of life, and that the interests of businesses and the financial markets did not win out over more fundamental human needs.

Sen has played a key role as an academic in showing how the way resources are distributed can impact famine and surplus more than the actual amount of resources, that are available, particularly food.

David Nabarro, special representative for food security and nutrition at the United Nations Special, defended the outcomes of last month's Rio+20 conference – a global summit that was intended to address resource issues and other environmental problems, including pollution, climate change and the loss of biodiversity, all of which are likely to have knock-on effects that will exacerbate resource shortages.

Many observers criticised the governments represented at Rio+20 for failing to adopt any clear targets and initiatives on key environmental problems, saying it was a wasted opportunity.

But Nabarro said there had been important successes – that governments had agreed to strive for the elimination of hunger and more sustainable agriculture, including an emphasis on small farmers, improvements in nutrition (in both developed and developing countries), and cutting the harmful waste of resources that is currently plaguing economies.

Several speakers joined him in highlighting the problems of waste and inefficiency – the developed world tends to be profligate in its use of natural resources, because most western companies have in the last century experienced few limits on their ability to access raw materials in peacetime, thanks to the opening up of global trade.

But this is rapidly changing. One of the first indications has been the soaring price of fossil fuel energy in the past decade, which has had severe economic impacts but which could easily be lessened if countries and companies took simple measures to be more energy-efficient. The failure of businesses, individuals and governments to improve their efficiency, even by relatively small amounts, has been one of the conundrums for resource economists in recent years. According to standard economic thinking, rising prices should prompt more efficiency, but this has happened at a much slower rate than should have been the case.

If price signals are not enough to change behaviour, then other methods such as government intervention may be needed.

Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, urged rich countries to work together with poor developing nations to ensure that the best was made of the natural resources, and to remedy situations where scarcity leads to human suffering.

Businesses also joined in to discuss their efforts to use resources more sustainably. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, outlined his company's programme to use water more efficiently. He said water was often overlooked, and considered as a free resource, but that this was a mistake – he reminded listeners that the increasing availability of clean drinking water, accompanied by better sanitation and hygiene, had been the biggest single factor behind the enormous increases in longevity of people in developed countries in the past 150 years, and the GDP growth that followed.

Camilla Toulmin, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, said the conference should act as a primer to policymakers and politicians who have been insufficiently aware of the real issues surrounding resource constraints and the economics of waste and distribution. "This is like an Open University course that is educating people on the problems here. I hope the financiers and businesspeople go home with a clearer understanding of how important this is, and of the role they can play."


Monday, July 16, 2012

Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction in Africa

By François Nkankeu, RoadtoRioPlus20, July 12, 2012

There is a lot of talk these days about Sustainable Development and Poverty reduction. A component of the developing process in Africa is to help leaders stand on the right path to sustainability in various domains, so that they can feel confident about what they themselves are able to achieve. Many Africans, including leaders and high ranked personalities can’t feel they can achieve development entirely on their own. They keep counting on others.

Colonization in Africa had long favored an education that did not reflect the realities of the environment. With the independence that occurred a little over fifty years ago in most cases; education was mainly intended to form essentially bureaucratic elite supporting the cause of the master, the colonial, with little concern about effective development of the continent. This situation forced many African states to depend almost entirely on outside influence. Soon an unparalleled economic and social crisis occurred.

The international community took the opportunity to aid countries with high requirements from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund who imposed SAP as a solution. Employees have experienced declines in wages and compression; youth unemployment has skyrocketed, forcing them to survive on resourcefulness. This is an ongoing crisis that still affects Africa and hinders its development efforts.

Many states have been forced to accept the dishonorable status HIPC (highly indebted poor country) from the International Community. They remain in that status, without recourse and without assistance. This acts as a paradox, when one refers to the very high potential of raw materials coveted and exploited by northern neighbors. Add to that the wealth of Africa's natural resources of all kinds, it is difficult to understand why the vast majority of people in Africa live on less than 1000 Francs CFA ($ 2) per day.

To try to get by, several countries have tried for some years to propose solutions to the situation. The Action Plan of Cameroon for Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction will illustrate this.

The Government of the Republic of Cameroon has adapted steps directed towards the recovery of the national economy by the Sustainable Development in order to better cope with the situation. Many projects were established to help young people create jobs to fight against poverty. These include among others:

- The National Employment Fund (FNE) that guides and trains young people of all categories for their insertion into the circuit of employment.
- The PIASSI that funds with very low interest projects soon to start activities.
- The Formalities Centre and Business Creation that promotes entrepreneurship in 72 hours listening to administration.
- The effort PAJER U Department of Employment and Vocational Training and Youth

Private sector plays an important role as well; some Microfinance Enterprises have facilitated the transfer of money and people in the region. Some like, Express Union have created broad coverage of the territory, facilitating the transfer of money between people, significantly benefiting rural communities. Since 2006, Express Union has offered a significant microfinance service, helping farmers obtain small loans and for youth to start their own businesses. Some other private efforts have been Crédit Communautaire d’Afrique (CCA) and Groupement des Industriels du Cameroun (GICAM), which have helped finance sustainable development and establish small businesses.

Despite these efforts, it is painfully obvious that much effort must be made in human resources. Sensitizing men and women on issues related to sustainable development and poverty reduction requires above all a new array of education and adequate training.

Sustainable development is a project, a purpose, a vision that must emerge from consciousness efforts. It is a trust that one’s actions then will keep the harmony of the environment now and tomorrow. New African leaders will be able to achieve some of the goals expressed by youth during Rio+20 after being properly educated on sustainability in the future of their nations.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Zambia: Renewable Energy Key to Safe Environment

By Sylvia Mweetwa in Berlin, Allafrica, 11 July 2012

A GERMAN consultant Klaus Heidler has challenged developed nations to consider investing in renewable energy technology which has minimal impact on the environment.

Dr Heidler who is Solar Consulting Agency for Sustainable Communication chief executive officer said Germany and other European countries should consider helping developing countries with technology that would assist them adapt to the use of sustainable renewable energy.

In a lecture on renewable energy - potentials and technologies to a group of journalists undergoing Environmental reporting training here, Dr Heidler said supporting of renewable energy projects in African and Asian countries was key to a safer environment considering the climatic conditions the world was faced with.

"I feel that it is time African countries considered investing in technologies as a means of promoting the renewable energy whose study has shown that it has minimal impact on the environment," he said.

He said technologies that could be supported included solar thermal heating, solar thermal power, solar photovoltaic (PV), wind power, small hydro power, geothermal power and biomass.

He said the major advantage with the use of renewable energy was that it was sustainable and would never run out.

Dr Heidler said renewable energy facilities required less maintenance than traditional generators while the fuel being derived from natural and available resources reduced the costs of operation.

"Even more importantly, renewable energy produces little or no waste products such as carbon dioxide or other chemical pollutants.

So renewable energy projects can also bring economic benefits to many regional areas, as most projects are located away from large urban

centres and suburbs of the capital cities," he said.

The economic benefits could be from the increased use of local services as well as tourism.

"It is easier to recognise the environmental advantages of utilising the alternative and renewable forms of energy but we must also be aware of the disadvantages," he said.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rio+20 didn’t go far enough - what now?

By Gro Brundtland, The Elders, 9th July 2012

After spending time with the four of you in Brazil, I know how frustrated you all are with the outcome of Rio+20. I completely understand this feeling.

But we must not let this be the end of the story. Rio+20 may have failed to do what we all believe it should have done – to change the path we are on and ensure we develop in a sustainable and equitable way. This makes our task more difficult now, and more urgent. But I know that far from becoming disillusioned, you and your peers will work harder than ever to drive the change we need.

Not what we had hoped for

Before the conference, you asked me what I wanted to see at Rio+20. I told you that I wanted world leaders to step up, look into each others’ eyes and recognise the urgency, recognise what is at stake.

Did this happen? I don’t think so. In fact, on many issues we saw strong pressure to backslide and undo some of the commitments that had already been agreed in previous years.

As a result, the final ‘The Future we Want’ Outcome Document was unambitious and lacking in tangible commitments to ensure sustainable development and protect the environment. Significant omissions included the failure to include language on reproductive rights - which, let us be clear, is a step backwards. And for those of us who fear that we are racing towards a tipping point, beyond which the damage to our environment and ecosystems is truly irreversible, this document offers little comfort.

There are hopeful signs too, of course. I was encouraged by the last-minute announcement that a ‘special representative for future generations’ is going to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General. This is something that is important, necessary, and furthermore that young people have been calling for very strongly.

The declaration also provides for the creation of Sustainable Development Goals. Now, however, we must make sure that we demand clarity on how exactly this process is going to work. The Goals must have clear, measurable targets and indicators across the economic, social and environmental pillars that encompass the true meaning of sustainable development.

We must build something better

As I said, I understand the frustration. But what encourages me is that this frustration only seems to have strengthened your resolve to do better.

Yes, the UN is a very big beast; it doesn’t move as quickly as we would like. But over the decades I have spent working to bring sustainable development into our global institutions, we have already come a long way. You are the ones who will push us further.

Your impatience is a good thing, because it gives you drive and energy. But in Rio we were not just inspired by your passion, but by your dedication, and your long-term vision. This is what will pay off in the end.

I remember that Sara asked me during our first conversation back in May whether a total failure at Rio+20 would actually be better than a weak outcome, because at least that would spur greater action. Well, we got a weak outcome. But it seems to have had exactly that effect in any case: to motivate you all even further.

The Outcome Document is far from perfect, but it is what we have. Let us take the good parts and run with them – as my fellow Elder Mary Robinson says, the real legacy of Rio+20 will be the mobilisation of civil society to build the future we desire.

I think that you Youngers are to be congratulated. You have showed yourselves over these past months to be more forward-thinking, more progressive and more global in your outlook than many governments. Now, I turn the questions back to you.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Low Indus river flows threaten crops

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio, Alertnet, July 9, 2012

Ali Jamal is still waiting for irrigation water to soak his parched land in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province – and it is now almost too late for him to get a cotton crop this year.

“I have prepared the land, made furrows and broadcast cotton seed in it but there is no irrigation water flowing in the waterways,” the 35-year-old farmer told AlertNet.

The coastal district, some 209 km southeast of Karachi and on the eastern side of the Indus River, normally sees irrigation water flowing by May 15 for the cultivation of summer season crops including rice, cotton, sugarcane, banana, maize and onion.

But this year, unusually cold temperatures in the mountains mean glacier melt has been slow and there is little water. It’s the kind of problem scientists say will become more frequent as climate change brings more extreme weather and as it alters glacier melt and rainfall patterns, bringing both worsening flooding and droughts.

Melt-water irrigation canals on western side of Indus River in the central part of southern Sindh province irrigate nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of rice fields in Larkana, Shikarpur, Qambar-Shahdadkot and Dadu districts. Water from the Sukkur Barrarge on the Indus River normally is released into canals feeding the rice fields on May 15 and flows until July 15.


But, this year, farmers say only about 20 percent of the normal flow of water has arrived, and what has arrived has come late.

“This year we are almost 50 days late (which) means massive economic losses for us because the output of crops will be down by over 40 percent and will be susceptible to insect and pest attacks,” said Noor Ahmed, a rice farmer in Larkana district, some 319 kms (198 miles) northwest of Karachi.

As a result of the water shortages, less than 60 percent of the normal crop of rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize and chilies is being cultivated this season in Sindh.

Other provinces including Punjag, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa similarly have seen their areas under cultivation fall by at least half.

According to the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord signed among Pakistan’s provinces to govern distribution of water from the Indus River, the country needs 77 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the river for the sowing of summer crops each year on 7 to 8 million hectares.

But the flow of the river has fallen by 60 percent compared to last year, according to Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA).

Attaullah Malokani, general secretary of the non-governmental Sindh Growers Organisation said the water shortage was particularly problematic because the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) had earlier predicted only a 20 percent shortage in water for the season.

But in its recent estimate, IRSA officials said low water levels in the Indus had forced it to reduce its share of water to Punjab and Sindh provinces by 45 percent.

The lower water flow has hit drinking water supplies as well. Indus water normally recharges underground aquifers and meets the water needs of livestock.

Water and weather experts have blamed the low Indus flows on delayed melting of glaciers in northern parts of the country. Glaciers usually begin to melt in March, but an unusual cold wave that continued until the end of April delayed melting, said Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department in Islamabad.

Rasul said it was the first time he had ever seen the problem.

Pervaiz Amir, an water expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change says crop yields and sowing and harvesting patterns have been undergoing significant changes in Pakistan over the last 20 to 30 years as a result of rising average temperatures and declines in fresh water reserves.

In Punjab and Sindh provinces, droughts are becoming more intense and the yield of summer crops as well as fruits and vegetables is expected to fall as temperatures rise.


On the other hand, in northern areas including Swat, Malakand, Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza and parts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, wheat, maize and rice production is expected to increase as summer seasons grow longer and hotter, Amir said.

Water-intensive crops like sugarcane and cotton will be the worst affected by climate change, he warned.

Rana Farooz Saeed, Pakistan’s minister of climate change, urged farmers to adopt water-smart farming techniques to adapt to the changing conditions, including turning to drought-resistant crop varieties and irrigation techniques more efficient than simply flooding fields with water.

“Raising awareness among farmers about the smart farming methods is key,” he said.