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Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in climate change (19)

Thursday
Nov012012

Superstorm Sandy Is ‘What Global Warming Looks Like’ (REPORT) 

(Video: Global Climate News)

(November 1, 2012) - Many environmentalists are blaming climate change for the appearance of superstorm Sandy that has wreaked such devastation on New York, New Jersey and 15 other states along the United States Atlantic Seaboard up through New England. Some meteorologists disagree, contending that Sandy would have occurred even without a warming climate.

Fred Krupp, who heads the Manhattan-based nonprofit group Environmental Defense Fund, said today, “Sandy is not just a weather disaster but also a climate disaster.”

“As a consequence of global climate change caused by human activities, sea levels are higher, the Atlantic waters are warmer, and there’s more moisture in the atmosphere – three of the reasons this storm packed such destructive force,” said Krupp.

The death toll due to Sandy is up to at least 50 people, and the number could still increase as search and rescue workers complete their grim tasks.

More than 8.2 million households lost power in 17 states as far west as Michigan after the superstorm made landfall near Atlantic City Monday night.

(PHOTO: Half of NYC is dark after superstorm Sandy/Andrew Burton) Nearly two million of those households are in New York City, where Con Edison shut off the power and steam, used to heat high-rise buildings, to lower Manhattan.

Four nuclear power plants in New York and New Jersey were affected – three shut down and one on Alert status due to flood waters and power outages.

Consolidated Edison said electricity in and around New York could take a week to restore.

For two days, the New York Stock Exchange was closed but finally reopened on Wednesday. In a sign that some semblance of normalcy is returning to New York, the Stock Exchange plans to open tomorrow with Mayor Bloomberg ringing the opening bell.

Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE Euronext said, “We are pleased to be able to return to normal trading. Our building and systems were not damaged and our people have been working diligently to ensure that we have a smooth opening tomorrow. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities suffering in the wake of this terrible natural disaster.”

The complete shutdown of mass transit brought the city to a standstill. Buses began running again on some routes Tuesday afternoon, the first move towards in restoring New York City’s public-transit system. Officials said restoration of full service, including the flood-damaged subways, could take days.

All four major airports in the New York-New Jersey area were closed for two days, but JFK and Newark airports reopened on Wednesday at noon. Laguardia and Teterboro airports are still closed until further notice.

(PHOTO: Laguardia airport's runway underwater after Sandy strikes/JetBlue)All this is the result of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, which burdens Earth’s atmosphere with megatonnes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, environmentalists contend.

Bill McKibben, who heads the healthy climate advocacy group 350.org said today, “The fossil fuel industry is causing the climate crisis, leading to more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. We’re calling on Big Oil to stop spending millions to influence this election and donate the money to disaster relief instead. Instead of funding climate silence, they should be funding climate relief.”

“The fossil fuel industry has spent over $150 million to influence this year’s election,” said McKibben. “Last week, Chevron made the single biggest corporate political donation since the Citizens United decision. This industry warps our democracy just as it pollutes our atmosphere. And we’ve had enough. In the coming year, we’re going to fight both forms of this pollution. Our biggest organizing effort ever begins one week from tomorrow, the Do the Math tour that will, we hope, ignite a long-lasting campaign to force the fossil fuel industry to change.”

(PHOTO: Sandy from space on Monday/NASA)“Sandy is what happens when the temperature goes up a degree. The scientists who predicted this kind of megastorm have issued another stark warning: if we stay on our current path, our children will live on a super-heated planet that’s four or five degrees warmer than it is right now. We can’t let that happen,” said McKibben. “So let’s get to work.”

But Dan Kottlowski, an expert senior meteorologist with Accuweather, is not convinced that the destructive storm is the result of a warming climate. He says it was so damaging not because of its strength, but because of its track.

“The storm track for Sandy was pretty common for an October storm,” Kottlowski told ENS. “But most hightail it out to the east. We’ve never seen it turn to the northwest before, and that’s why it struck New Jersey and New York Harbor. Climate change would not explain that.”

“I don’t think you can say one storm is the result of the impact of climate change,” Kottlowski said. “If we didn’t have a warming climate would this have happened? My answer is yes, it still would have happened.”

He explained that hurricanes are more likely to form over warm oceans and the Atlantic Ocean goes through a cycle of warming every 40 years. “We’re in the middle of that cycle right now,” Kottlowski said. “Most climatologists think we’ll have a warm part of the cycle for the next 15 years. The same thing happened in the 1950s and the 1930s. It’s not related to climate change.”

Kottlowski said to determine if Sandy was in fact caused by climate change, we will have to wait another 15 years to find out if the Atlantic Ocean cools down when the cooling part of its cycle would normally come around.

“The number of tropical cyclones across the world has not changed during the past 100 years, the only place it has changed is over the Atlantic Ocean and that has to do with the ocean’s salinity,” he said.

Dr. William Gray at Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science maintains that “CO2 increases are not responsible for Atlantic SST [sea surface temperature] and hurricane activity increases.”

(DIAGRAM: The atmospheric exchange between oceans and air/NOAA)In his forecast of Atlantic hurricane activity in the second half of the 2012 hurricane season, Dr. Gray says, “We have no plausible physical reasons for believing that Atlantic hurricane frequency or intensity will significantly change if global or Atlantic Ocean temperatures were to rise by 1-2°C. Without corresponding changes in many other basic features, such as vertical wind shear or mid-level moisture, little or no additional TC [tropical cyclone] activity should occur with SST increases.”

“Atlantic SSTs and hurricane activity do not follow global mean temperature trends,” contends Dr. Gray.

But many environmentalists are not persuaded.

Dan Lashof, who heads the Natural Resources Defense Fund, blogged, “This mega-storm is just one more sign of the new normal that will continue as long as we keep avoiding addressing climate change. Just like the unprecedented droughts, flooding and heat we all experienced this year, storms like Hurricane Sandy is what global warming looks like. This is the new normal.”

The Surfrider Foundation today spoke of “the real and devastating effects that are being caused by rising sea levels.”

“While the superstorm is an extremely rare event that cannot be directly blamed on climate change, our warming oceans are creating the latent potential for more frequent and more powerful storms,” the national organization of surfers said in a statement. “When powerful storms combine with increased sea level rise and intense coastal development, they provide the ingredients for massive destruction, loss of life and major economic losses.”

Krupp, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “Today, as we rush to ensure the safety of our loved ones and communities, we should remember that unless we finally get serious about climate solutions there can be no lasting protection from the ferocity of our warming world.”

---This article first appeared on the Environment News Service website.

Tuesday
Sep042012

Guyana, Suriname elected to key UN Committees for upcoming United Nations General Assembly (REPORT) 

(SOURCE: WorldAtlas) (September 4, 2012) - Set to make history, today both Guyana and Suriname were selected to chair two of the most important committees at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Guyana will serve as Chair of the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly for the 67th Session, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced.

In a related development, Ambassador of Suriname to the UN, His Excellency Mr. Henry Mac Donald, was today also elected to chair the Third Committee, making this the first time that two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) representatives will chair Main Committees of the General Assembly during the same session.

The General Assembly body stated:

"The Assembly today elected Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador George Talbot, by acclamation to chair the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee).  Ambassador Talbot is the first Representative of a CARICOM Member State at the United Nations to hold the position."

The Second Committee, which deals with a wide range of development matters, will have a full agenda of issues to consider, among them:  macro-economic policy questions, sustainable development issues, including follow-up to the Rio+20 conference, challenges associated with poverty eradication, globalization, international migration and development, and the situation of countries in special circumstances such as Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

(Video: UN promo for upcoming 67th UNGA meeting, 2012)

Guyana’s priorities for the upcoming session will include a focus on: food security and agriculture, poverty eradication, climate change related issues, and the developmental impact of inequalities both within and across countries as well as on greater effectiveness and efficiency in the conduct of the work of the Committee.

During Guyana's tenure, the Committee will also undertake the first quadrennial comprehensive policy review of the UN's operational activities for development.  Ambassador Talbot was nominated and endorsed for the post by CARICOM and by the Group of the Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC) which include 33 countries, equaling 17% of all UN members.

Additionally, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bangladesh were also elected to the Bureau of the Committee.

Ambassador Talbot, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Modern Languages from the University of Guyana and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a career diplomat with vast experience in multilateral affairs.

This year's gathering of the UN's world body of 193 nations will is set to convene in New York City on September 18, and will run for two weeks. According to earlier voting, Serbia's Vuk Jeremić was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly; and Jamaica was chosen as the first seat in the General Assembly Chamber meaning they will lead the chamber in order of speeches.

(This article first appeared in Demerara Waves.)

Thursday
May242012

Two Worlds, One Climate (PERSPECTIVE) 

 

(Video Modeling Climate/FrontierScientists)

By Peter Passell

Climate change, we are often told, is everyone's problem. And without a lot of help containing greenhouse gas emissions from rapidly growing emerging market countries (not to mention a host of wannabes), the prospects of avoiding disaster are small to nil. Now you tell us, retort policymakers in the have-less countries: How convenient of you to discover virtue only after two centuries of growth and unfettered carbon emissions. Since you were the ones to get us into this mess, it's your job to get us out. (The United States' what-me-worry posture on climate change does not, of course, make the West's efforts to co-opt the moral high ground any more convincing.)

This clash of wills is a bit more nuanced than that, but not much. Almost all the net growth in greenhouse gas emissions for the last two decades - and more than half the total emissions today - is coming from the developing world. What's more, most of the cheap opportunities for reducing emissions are to be found in the same countries. But as a matter of equity, it's hard to argue with "you've had your turn, now it's ours." And it's equally hard to see how the stalemate will be resolved before the world goes to hell in a plague of locusts (in some places, literally).

(PHOTO: Trucks carrying waste in China/FP)The carbon emissions stats by country are startling, and would be even more startling if we had comprehensive numbers for years since 2009.  Carbon emissions from OECD countries grew by 8% between 1990 and 2009, while emissions from the rest of the world grew by 73% (albeit from a smaller base). Breaking down the latter by country: China's emissions were up 207%, India's by 173%, Indonesia's by 165%, Vietnam's 563% (!!) and the Middle East's by 171%.

If you have any doubts about where the emissions containment opportunities lie, consider this:  In 2009, non-OECD countries generated four times as much carbon emissions per unit of GDP (at prevailing exchange rates) as OECD countries. Granted, these numbers don't look as bad if GDP is calculated in terms of purchasing power rather than exchange rates. But this is one of the few instances in which GDP comparisons at international exchange rates probably make more sense, because they offer better insight into a future in which consumption patterns across countries are likely to converge; that not-so-distant day when Indians drive cars to work instead of riding bicycles, and virtually everyone who experiences winter in emerging-market countries takes the chill off with central heating.

But those focused on social justice rather than efficiency point to yet another set of numbers. While most developing countries waste fossil fuel because their heating, cooking, lighting and motorized transportation depend on older, fuel-guzzling technologies, they are still too poor to consume enough in total to leave much of a carbon footprint.  Indeed, emissions per person in non-OECD countries are just 30% that of OECD countries.

(GRAPH: Carbon cycle in the atmosphere/WikipediaBolivians, for example, emitted 1,300 kilos of CO2 per person in 2009, compared to 16,900 kilos per person in the United States. Resident of tropical Nigeria emitted a mere 266 kilos each, compared to 9,000 each in tropical Singapore. All told, those living in poor - and middle-income countries do emit more than half of all carbon emissions - but only because there are so many of them.

There's another element here that distinguishes developed from developing countries. If, as expected, climate change brings rising sea levels and more severe weather of every sort -  droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornados - the rich countries will muddle through with dykes, crops redesigned to survive drought, more air conditioning and the like. It will be expensive, but manageable, unless global warming triggers truly destabilizing changes, like the release of vast quantities of methane gas from now-frozen arctic tundra.

But the rich countries' travails may well be poor countries' damnation: the inundation of Pacific islands, catastrophic storm surges on the Bengal plain, the collapse of farm yields in semi-arid parts of Africa, and the spread of insect-vectored disease in the warmer, wetter parts. So, fair or not, poor countries have every reason to make emissions priority-one, right?

Maybe, and maybe not. The iconoclastic, Nobel Prize winning economist Tom Schelling has long argued that our interests diverge from theirs. What poor countries need most, he says, is to invest in economic growth, which will give them the income to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Roads must be paved to prevent the isolation of rural areas in heavy rains; sea walls must be built to protect coastal cities; canals must be dug to irrigate drought-prone land; emergency infrastructure must be created to minimize loss of life in weather-related disasters.

So poor countries would be foolish to divert scarce capital to emissions containment, which has only a "second-order" impact on their own welfare. Spending a dollar would, in effect, generate two cents' worth of benefits for themselves, and 98 cents' worth for the rest of the world.

(PHOTO: A climate demonstration in Oslo, Norway during 2010 global meeting/RNIf all this sounds like a recipe for righteous posturing and diplomatic delay, go to the head of the class. Environmental policymakers and pundits, who once expected to build on the foundation of the Kyoto Treaty to create a truly collective effort to contain emissions, are now thinking smaller. The European Union, for example, is going its own way, investing heavily in emissions reduction in hope that others will be shamed into following its lead.

The containment part is more or less working: European emissions declined by 12% between 1990 and 2009. But the shame part isn't. China is reducing emissions per unit of GDP, mostly as a consequence of adding productive capacity that is far more energy-efficient than "legacy" capacity. But it is nonetheless widening its lead as emitter number one because the GDP is growing so rapidly. And there is no sign that the other big emerging market economies are planning to mend their emitting ways.

Must we then just accept the reality that the developing half of the global economy won't lend a hand in climate change containment? The rich countries might bully where blandishments fail, by imposing tariffs, for example, on imports that are less than green. Might, but probably won't: The United States, in particular, is in no position (geopolitical or financial) to complicate its relationships with either China or India. Besides, it's far from clear that such tariffs would meet the standards of the World Trade Organization.

(PHOTO: Drought/GreenguideA more plausible option - one that appeals in terms of both economic efficiency and social justice - would be to buy their cooperation. Europe already has in place incentives for businesses to invest in emissions-sparing activities in developing countries: For example, paying landowners in Africa to sequester carbon by growing trees on scrubland. By the same token, one could imagine western governments paying their counterparts in the tropics to lock up forest land that would otherwise give way to logging and grazing.

But the scale of such initiatives is probably limited by the inherent accounting ambiguities. How would you know, for example, that the forest wouldn't be preserved, anyway? Even more to the point, how would one verify that a government, paid to build natural-gas-fired power plants rather than coal ones, would have gone that way without the incentive?

Arguably, the most promising approach to gaining the cooperation of emerging market countries lies in innovation. It wouldn't take much persuasion to get developing countries to adopt technologies that are climate-friendlier if they are also cheaper than emissions-as-usual.

(PHOTO: Floods in Dhaka, Bangladesh/B24One could certainly imagine government-subsidized R&D that cut the cost of solar panels by 90%, or transformed the hydrogen-producing artificial leaf into a viable source of fuel.

The idea of a global grand bargain in which emerging market countries would join the west in an ambitious, cost-minimizing containment program is dead. The best hope, at least for now, is a pragmatic search for common ground, one that appeals to the angels but relies on self-interest.

A decade late and a trillion dollars short, you say? To paraphrase a former secretary of defense, you go to war with the army you've got, not the one you'd like to have.

- This Commentary originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

Saturday
Mar312012

Fiji Floods Wreck Havoc: Cause Travel, Health Concerns (NEWS)

(Video: TV1, Fiji)

(HN, March 31, 2012) - One person has died and five others are missing in Fiji as sudden widespread flooding is causing havoc on the main island of Viti Levu.  Flash floods have cut highways in half and forced evacuations along the island's west coast, with some residents waiting out the rising water on rooftops.

The first victim was a woman from Lomolomo and the five missing were in a vehicle swept away by raging floodwaters along the Nadi Back Road.

Since Thursday, continuous heavy rainfall has resulted in towns, settlements and villages in the Western Division being submerged for the second time this year.  What's made the current situation different is the influx of calls for assistance from people stranded in their homes and businesses.

(PHOTO: Flooding in Nadi/FijiTimes) Workers at a Nadi resort frantically called The Fiji Times office in Lautoka after calls for assistance went unanswered for more than six hours as close to a dozen hotel staff - including a 2 year old baby - were left stranded on the property situated near Martintar in Nadi. 

The National Fire Authority said 11 evacuation centers have opened, although no figures detailing how many people were sheltering were immediately available. The country's rescue units were heavily engaged, speeding through rising floodwaters to help people tho itself asking for boats to help with the rescue efforts.  Emergency services were stretched in what has been described as the worst floods ever.

Strong winds blew roofs off of structures and heavy rains as rivers, creeks and waterways spilled as closing roads and washing away bridges and walkways.  

The worst hit villages Ba, Nadi and Rakiraki towns were overcome by surging torrents of floodwaters on Thursday night, the likes of which have never been seen before.

At 9.30am yesterday District Officer Nadi Peni Koro said his office and the Nadi Police Station were surrounded by water with swift currents making it difficult for his team to venture out and gauge the situation in the central business district area.

"Nadi Town is closed to all vehicular and foot traffic and people will not be allowed into town", he said.

In Ba, the special administrator Arun Prasad said his town had just started to recover from the January floods when the Ba River broke its banks again sending sludge, mud and sewage into the streets.

"The town area, FSC and Yaladro flats are heavily under water. This is worse than the floods that happened in January," he said.

Authorities say there are serious concerns of further flooding with the onset of high tides and a forecast of rain continuing for another 24 hours.

CAUGHT UNPREPARED

A complaint by many has been that a disaster plan was not in place and business owners in the Western Division say the lack of warning by authorities could result in extensive damage.  Ratish Kamal Roy, the managing director of Bargain Box Fiji Limited, which employs close to 50 people at three different stores affected, said that had warnings been given earlier, he would have instructed staff to move merchandise to a safer area.

"The water level is significantly higher than the floods in January and this could result in a lot of damage to stock," he said.

TRAVEL HAVOC

(PHOTO: Ba town, Fiji/News.com.au) City markets and bus stations were empty as bus companies stop services and vendors were caught without any means of transport. 

On Friday, Air New Zealand cancelled flights to Fiji's only international airport, in Nadi; and an advisory by Air Pacific cancelled all domestic flights in country and diverted flights to Apia, Samoa until further notice.

CONCERN FOR HEALTH

A warning issued by the Fiji Health Ministry urged residents and tourists to take extra care of their health due  to the cold, wet weather and rising floodwaters, saying the increased moisture could lead to respiratory illnesses like Dengue fever, influenza, typhoid, and leptospirosis. 

Worries that standing water after the flooding would increase mosquitoe production and therefore disease caused authorities to advise using rubber gloves outside, and the Ministry told everyone to boil drinking water as it would likely be contaminated, and could produce diarrhea like illness.

---HUMNEWS

Wednesday
Dec072011

If the Corporate-Political Nexus Cannot Deal with Climate Change, the People Will (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Glenn Ashton 

The World Revs its Heat Engine - photo: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center CollectionThere is deep scepticism as to whether the COP 17 meeting in Durban will achieve much at all. Why is it that such an urgent matter has taken so long to achieve so little at such great cost? Despite constant refrains from the global public, backed by scientific experts, there appears neither inclination nor momentum to solve this problem.

The biggest reason that resolution of this essentially straightforward problem is stalled is because the economic forces of private capital have usurped and over-ridden democratic political structures and power. In short, politics has been trumped by the capital markets.

This has been exacerbated by the polarised dynamic at play between the developed and developing world, which are gradually becoming better defined. On the one side, the developed world is broadly represented by political and business interests within the US and other western, industrialised nations; on the other are Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) and the G77 developing nations. The North/ South, developed/developing polarisation has made it extremely difficult to reach consensus around climate change.

The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was the first time the issue of human damage to the environment was broadly acknowledged and that action was resolved by political leadership. The Earth Summit was so successful because concerns were openly articulated and reinforced by scientific opinion. Because the message was unambiguously communicated to political decision makers, without negative lobbying by vested interests, it was taken on board.

Several important environmental initiatives arose out of the Earth Summit, run under the auspices of the United Nations. Among these was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, of which the Durban meeting is the 17th, hence COP 17.

What is remarkable is that 19 years of negotiations since the Earth Summit have failed to deliver any meaningful commitment to address the urgent risks of climate change.

The primary reason for this is the constant doubt cast on the realities of climate change debate by industry, at popular media level, but more instrumentally at the political level. That the world’s major historical polluter, the USA, has failed to come to the party has fundamentally undermined the entire process.

The only compromise agreement in this whole, drawn-out process, the Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997, was itself fundamentally flawed and will expire in 2012. This agreement has utterly failed to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Its associated carbon trading mechanisms, dismissed by many as a scam, are approaching collapse.

The COP 17 meeting sits in parallel with the CMP 7, which is the 7th meeting to the parties to the Kyoto Protocol. In light of the protocol’s expiry, there is urgent need for an upgrade and replacement. This appears to have fallen victim to the fossil fuel industry and its political fellow travellers, again misled by the USA, which never adopted the Kyoto protocol in the first place. It is perhaps unsurprising that for each elected politician in Washington, there are four fossil fuel lobbyists.

The influence of industry over international policy and agendas has shifted significantly since the time of the Earth Summit. Increased wealth concentration among a smaller, richer elite, who benefit from environmentally exploitative practices, has increased the influence of these forces on national and international policies.

Just as corporations are profit obsessed, equally GDP is the touchstone of desirable policy outcomes in capitalist-driven economies. A financially compromised nation is judged as harshly as a failing company by rating agencies, those ruthless gods of the financial markets. The implication, that failure to achieve will increase capital costs, further restricts an already rigid market model.

The impacts of this fiscally and politically conservative financial/political concord were felt long before the COP17 meeting, with Japan and Russia indicating reluctance to renew or renegotiate the Kyoto Accord. Canada now echoes this sentiment, driven by the promise of riches from the dirtiest fuel on earth, the tar sands which underlie huge swaths of its territory. Canada’s conservative government effectively holds equity in this filthy fuel.

The failure to arrive at any negotiated global agreements is the direct result of the lack of political will to rock the boat. The real question is whether securing a firm agreement is really the sort of economic threat it is projected to be. There are certainly huge opportunities for growth in the sustainable energy field but the fossil fuel industry prefers the certainty of business as usual.

The projection is that economically viable oil will disappear by mid-century. Yet instead of co-operation with the rest of the world, the fossil fools prefer to stick to their dirty but extremely profitable tricks.

This is why we are stuck with sideshows like carbon trading markets and offsets. These displace the costs and impacts of pollution onto poor and developing people and regions.

False solutions like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) instead of reducing the destruction of forests, reward those planting massive monoculture plantations of oil palms and eucalyptus, destroying biodiversity. Each purported solution to increasing emissions instead benefit the elite at the collective cost of the majority.

Because energy companies are the most profitable sector of the global economy, they benefit directly from actively undermining meaningful action against climate change, while constantly attacking any perception that climate change is either real or a threat.

The fossil fuel industry works both directly and indirectly through various front groups, waging a virtual war. Besides organisations like the American Petroleum Institute, with obvious agendas, there are literally dozens of false front organisations with misleading names like the International Climate Science Coalition, the American Council on Science and Health and the Environmental Conservation Organisation. Funded heavily by big oil, the aim of these groups is to consistently muddy the waters around environmental conservation and climate change policy.

Big Oil has uncompromisingly pursued its business as usual agenda. Their success is obvious. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen, year on year, to record levels. In 2010, CO2 emissions hit a new record of 30.6 billion metric tonnes. Other greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise equally rapidly. The results are evident in examples like the shrinking of Arctic sea ice to record levels in 2010.

Two decades have been wasted in attempting to deal with this pressing matter. We cannot afford the luxury of endlessly placating the richest, most powerful corporate interests. The time has come for negotiations to be wrested from the control of the dirty fuel, dirty tricks-led corporate-political nexus.

There are political tools to rectify this apparently hopeless situation. Just as the Arab Spring inspired Occupy Wall Street protests across the world, there are equal incentives to re-occupy the moral high ground in the international fight for environmental and climate justice. The need for direct action to protect the global commons has never been as great or as urgent.

This does not preclude simultaneously operating within the existing system to maintain pressure. Both inside and outside approaches are required to implement a participatory democracy. This can include involvement with NGO’s active in the field, as well as with voluntary and educational work to not only inform leadership but to involve all levels of society to demand social and environmental justice against the tyranny of the few.

The time has come to urgently reassert the democratic imperative. People must push demands for climate justice, including both historical and future impacts of this exploitation. Just as the overthrow of slavery was once considered impossible, it is equally possible and critical that the people of the world overthrow the tyrannical exploitation of our collective life support system by the few.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org.

Originally published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (sacsis.org.za) under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 South Africa License.

Tuesday
Nov292011

Climate Change: The North Must Pay for Mitigation Strategies (PERSPECTIVE)

By Imraan Baccus

(HN, November 29, 2011) - As Durban welcomes the world for the COP 17 meeting, the air is filled with some of the excitement that we all felt during the World Cup last year.

But the debates around environmentalism and the need to take serious action against climate change are often tending to the superficial. There is a lot of self-righteousness and Hallmark style sentimentality around, when what we need is a clear look at the realities of the situation.

Climate change is a reality and for a low-lying country like Bangladesh, it could be a very serious problem. There is no doubt that serious action needs to be taken and that it needs to be taken quickly. But when the debate slips, as it often does, into a sort of 'We are the World' sentimentality it forgets some essential facts. One of these facts is that it is North America and Western Europe that have caused this problem. They industrialised first and they became rich countries. 

Here in Durban this morning, a debate around the North, civil society and who should be paying for clean energy alternatives emerged in a civil society discussion. What is clear is that the current crisis was caused by the North's industrialisation over the last two hundred years and they are therefore the ones with the moral responsibility to sort it out. They are also the ones with the resources to be able to afford clean alternatives to fossil fuels. When it is suggested that we must all sacrifice in the fight against climate change there is a slippage into the assumption that we are all equally responsible when that is clearly not the case. We are not all equally responsible and the industrialised North needs to pay climate reparations along with reparations for colonialism and slavery.

When green technologies and energy sources are more expensive, countries in the global South must not be forced to use them. Venezuela has a right to use its oil to meet the needs of its people. The rich countries in the North can afford to shift to clean energy and if it is necessary for the global South to follow suit, then this must be subsidised by the North. Some governments in Latin America have made this point very strongly and the logic of their argument is clear. But countries in the South cannot allow themselves to be bullied into shifting towards technologies that they cannot afford when the masses of their people remain in poverty.

There is also a longstanding colonial tendency to assume that modern civilisation rightly belongs in the white West but should not corrupt the rest of the world. This romantic nonsense is just a ploy to keep the people in the global South in their place, and their countries attractive playgrounds for the global elite. All countries have the same right to modernise and to meet their people's needs.

When environmentalists in the global South echo this colonial language that says that the natives are best left to their traditional ways they are often feted in the North. The Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva is a good example of this. But we should not forget that many progressive Indian academics and activists are extremely critical of her romantic anti-modernism, which they see as being deeply complicit with colonial ideas about the noble savage. Marxists, who are committed to modern forms of economic development, are often appalled by her ideas.

The fact that China and India are now rapidly industrialising is sending all kinds of shock waves through the West, which is rapidly losing its position of dominance over the rest of the world. When the language of environmentalism is used in the North to question the rapid advance of India and China it often masks a desire to reserve industrialisation, and the economic power it brings, to the West.

But the discomfort that many of us feel with the green agenda on the global scale is also replicated at home.

Many black South Africans are deeply suspicious of the green agenda and there is good reason for this. Conservation was historically used to evict Africans from their land and the practise of evicting people in the name of 'eco-tourism' has continued after apartheid. So called 'eco-estates', in rural areas and in cities', are very often nothing other than zones in which the more extreme edge of white privilege uses a green language to make its exclusionary privilege seem like some sort of ethical commitment. 

It's not unusual for middle class environmentalists that want to get rid of unsightly pollution, rubbish dumps or industrialisation in their areas to also want to get rid of poor African people from these areas. There is often a clear connection between environmentalism and racism in South Africa and its quite unusual for the green agenda to take questions of social justice seriously. In fact its quite clear that for many white people, and some wealthy black people too, the language of environmentalism is attractive because its gives its users the appearance of holding the ethical high ground without them having to question their own privilege with regard to other South Africans – most of whom are black and poor.

Of course there are some real attempts to link environmental questions to social questions. Here in Durban the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and the work of people like Des D'sa and Bobby Peek is deservedly famous. The struggle against pollution in South Durban is a struggle lead by working class black people and it demands a clean environment for the people of Wentworth, Merebank and the Bluff. It does not see poor or working class black people as 'pollution', which is often a key assumption in much white environmentalism and much middle class black environmentalism.

If the green agenda is to have a future in South Africa it must face up to the historical responsibility of the North when it comes to climate change and it must find ways to, as has been done in South Durban, link environmental questions to social questions. In Latin America mass movements have been built that successfully link environmental questions to social questions but there in South Africa it remains a field that is dominated by white and middle class interests and often carries a deep hostility to poor black people.

Buccus is Research Fellow in the School of Politics and at the Democracy Development Programme. The views expressed are his own and should not be attributed to any of his institutional affiliations. This commentary first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).

Friday
Oct072011

Africa Must Lead: COP 17 Must Deliver Climate Justice to Developing Nations (PERSPECTIVE) 

Artist: Rose Fyson/ Photo Credit: Piotr Fajfer-Oxfam International Climate change predominantly impacts those who have benefited least from fossil fuelled industrialisation. The poor have less social, economic and political capacity to adapt to climate change than the rich. The arrival of the global climate negotiating lobby on African shores must focus the minds of the world on how climate change impacts developing nations and how we propose to solve this problem.

When the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets in Durban in late November this year it is important to raise global awareness of the implications for the global South – the poor and developing nations of the world. The matter of climate justice is central to any fair and binding solution.

The UN climate change framework arose from agreements made during the first earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which destabilise global climatic systems. The best-known outcome from the many subsequent meetings was the agreement made in 1997 at COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, with the so-called Kyoto protocol to reduce CO2 emissions.

This was the first time any sort of international accord was reached to address and reduce the threat of human induced (anthropogenic) climate change. The Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of 2012 and it is critical that the Durban COP 17 meeting cements further agreement on frameworks to prevent runaway climate change this century. Time is not on our side.

The Kyoto protocol had extremely limited goals, far below what is now recognised as necessary. Importantly it was not ratified by the world’s biggest polluter, the United States, which rendered its outcomes largely academic.

It is known that human induced climate change is no longer theoretical – the impacts are real and appear to be both more serious and rapid than the rather conservative scientific opinions expressed by the International Panel on Climate Change. These changes will predominantly affect those in the South who lack sufficient resilience to meet these multifaceted challenges.

Regions, like Pakistan and the Sahel in Africa, wedged between tropics and deserts, are far more sensitive to climatic disturbances than more temperate climates. Over the past two years Pakistan has experienced unprecedented monsoon flooding pushing this already marginal economy to the brink. The climate induced social and political consequences are profound.

The Sahel has experienced fairly regular drought cycles over the past millennium, influenced by various climatic cycles. However seriously disruptive droughts in that region between the 1960’s and ‘80’s are now known to be linked to fossil fuel related aerosols and particulates.

These influences, compounded by global warming, have worsened these drought cycles across the region, causing protracted hunger and social dislocation. It is notable that as cleaner fuels and improved emission standards have reduced the levels of man-made particles in the atmosphere, the severity of the Sahel droughts have diminished.

Those who deny the influence of human activity on the global climate are either incapable of internalising the realities or repudiate them in order to continue business as normal. This powerful lobby which continues to benefit from cheap access to fossil fuel technology has actively undermined meaningful political negotiations toward a meaningful resolution to the real problem – increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

This self-indulgence perpetuates the historical economic inequality visited upon the global South by the developed North. This exposes the failure to achieve any sort of meaningful, ambitious and binding climate change treaty. The most powerful vested interests – the G8, the OECD, the developed North – are so profoundly politically compromised that they cannot see their way clear to make the needed changes. These dominant powers have more than hinted that there is little chance that agreement will be reached in Durban. Self interest remains writ large.

Besides the Kyoto Framework the next ‘best’ outcome that has emerged from these expensive and time consuming conferences is the so-called REDD+ framework. REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation and is a trading mechanism, which proposes to keep global forests intact in order that climate change is mitigated and hopefully reduced.

REDD is controversial for many reasons, but primarily because of a failure to agree on the definition of a forest. This may appear obvious, but is a forest is a virgin natural resource, or a man made plantation which is harvested and hence has economic value? Because of this sort of intentional ambiguity inherent in “solutions” like REDD, strong opposition has arisen amongst indigenous and environmental groups who are profoundly uneasy with these sorts of agreements.

REDD and other economic carbon trading schemes are essentially devices which enable powerful, vested interests to exploit both the climate change negotiations and its proposed outcomes to ensure the continuation of business as usual. Perpetuating the interests of the privileged is no longer an option. In an increasingly connected world the exploited have gradually evolved a far more coherent position. REDD, like carbon trading, does nothing whatsoever to address the real problem - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are just REDD herrings.

Dealing with solutions to climate change involves more than the authentic threats to the ecological stability of the planet. At its core, climate change involves dealing with issues of social and climate justice. Those who have benefited from decades of exploitation of fossil fuels must make amends. Those who remain excluded from these benefits, be they in Somalia or Pakistan, or in tropical jungles or low lying atolls, cannot be expected to continue to bear these punitive costs of climatic instability on top of their already impossible burdens. Perpetuating this inequity flies in the face of a just outcome to the climate negotiations.

The evolving power of blocs like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) has begun to provide some counterbalance against the old guard of developed nations. These shifts of economic and political power enable a change in the dynamic of negotiations.

This has become evident in how the South has refused the ratification of inherently unfair instruments like the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round, which would have perpetuated unfairness in global trade. Equally, in climate negotiations there needs to be far more negotiating parity between North and South, between rich and poor, between developing and developed, in order that just outcomes become possible.

The fact remains that we cannot continue the historical polarisation and deadlock that have dogged critical negotiations like the UN climate change accords. The Durban COP 17 meeting needs flexible leadership. It requires humility from the powerful to recognise that it is their world, which is under equal threat. Above all cohesion amongst the global South is paramount in order that the vested interests of the wealthy cannot undermine a united message of climate justice for all.

In a globalised world we are increasingly interdependent and connected - the failure of even one nation inevitably creates further instability. It is not an option to have weak leadership by the hosts or to allow ourselves to be pushed around. As Nelson Mandela memorably told Bill Clinton when he visited South Africa in 1998, we must tell the powerful to “jump in a big pool” if they are out of line.

We cannot allow another negotiation failure at our collective expense. We need to wisely and firmly guide our leadership. We must harness creative ways to make the North listen. Civil society must repeat successful campaigns like the Right to Know campaign which has had perceptible political impacts in South Africa.

The mobilisation of the “Climate Justice Now!” network in South Africa hopes to provide one such platform towards achieving a beneficial outcome. We certainly cannot abandon negotiating governments to be bamboozled by the none too tender mercies of the diplomatic and lobbying interests of conservative and corporate stakeholders.

We need a fair, ambitious and binding agreement which does not paper over the cracks. There can be no perpetuation of business as usual with the false promises of carbon trading, where the rich offset their impacts onto the poor, or REDD, where forests are stripped and replaced with monoculture plantations. What is urgently needed is an agreement that goes past symptomatic relief and cuts to the core issue - the introduction of across the board reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate justice is about cutting a deal at the COP meeting that provides just that – climate justice for all, not justice for the rich. It is time to show that Africa can lead. In doing so we, the people of Africa, must collectively hold our leaders responsible.

- Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org.

Originally published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (www.sacsis.org.za)

Wednesday
Sep142011

Poor Response Worsens Pakistan Flood Crises (BLOG/REPORT)

By Kamal Hyder

People in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan face floods again (photo credit: UN) It pours and pours.

There has been no let-up in the torrents across the Badin district - a land that receives less than 60 mm of rain in a year has now seen over 300 mm in just of 48 hours.

But it was a crisis already in the making because of record rains in the country’s southern province of Sind which received an incredible 1,000 mm of rain in less than three weeks and the deluge still continues pounding several districts in the area.

The problem has been exacerbated because the Left Bank Overflow Drain or LBOD has not been working at its optimum. The drain, with a usual capacity to withstand up to 6,000 cusecs of water flow, and sends overflow to the Arabian Sea has been the victim of poor planning and design as well as excessive government corruption has had its capability reduced to around 4,000 cusecs.

Since Badin and many parts of Sind are prone to waterlogging, the land was not able to absorb the excessive rainfall and as such put a severe strain on the LOBD canal and caused major breaches in the poorly maintained embankments.

The other factor that complicated the situation was the drought-like conditions experienced in July; leading the government to flood its canals to help overcome the dry spell. The canals were in full flow when the unexpected wet spell struck - the worst in over 300 hundred years of recorded history

According to many locals the it is the worst flood they have seen in living memory. 

As we arrived in Badin the situation was already at crisis point and tens of thousands were on the move as the raging waters destroyed over 9,000 villages and destroyed over 2.5 million bales of cotton just weeks before the harvest.

But the real worry was the fact that large towns were cut-off by the flood.

Faulty foresight

One local who lost everything says the wealthy went off to Karachi and Hyderabad but the poor headed for the dunes of the Thar Desert to find a safe haven. With their farmland destroyed and wheat stocks under water these desperate people have been waiting since the end of Ramadan to be rescued.

However despite the fact the country experienced the worst flood since independence last year and  displaced 20 million people - the country was not only poorly equipped to deal with the crisis a testament to the pathetic shape but also equally oblivious to the plight of millions of people in Sindh.

While the people were desperately trying to save their lives by clinging to the elevated embankments of the roads the local television stations were all telecasting a press conference of a political leader living in self-imposed exile in London.

For days the Pakistani media showed nothing else but the political bickering amongst various parties.

An old woman came up to me and said “why have you come here, to give us food or water. And where are the so called leaders who have forsaken us to such a plight?”

The only help these people had was from the Jamaat ud Dawaa, an aid organisation, who not only brought in their volunteers with boats and food rations to cook fresh meals and to help evacuate people from the flood and to send in their doctors to help out.

But even they admitted they could not meet the dire needs of a people afflicted by a catastrophe.

If anyone had any doubts that the ruling government was totally incompetent they only had to visit the calamity zone and ask the people who have lost everything and were now living under tarpaulins and thin plastic sheets propped up on twigs and branches.

Be grateful

Pakistan's prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani congratulated his provincial and federal teams on doing a splendid job but on the ground they did nothing at all and if they did try to fool the world - then they failed.

As my team and I left Badin, we stopped at a roadside school now a makeshift camp for those running away from the flood. The school was under several feet of dark brown water.

Our fixer asked the man appointed as the head of relief camp about the toilet facilities; he said the people could relieve themselves in the water!

A father holding his child asked me to have a look inside. For a moment I thought why am I doing this but when I looked into the eyes of the children and saw their innocent smiles I followed the children and their dad into waist-high muck to see the fetid conditions they were living under.

The stench of sewage and human waste was unbearable. 

The proud family of 8 children and their parents spent their nights in a room full of the dirty water. They told me to tell the world what they were going through. There were hundreds more in the same compound including pregnant women and sick children

As I walked back through the filth I saw a government-appointed caretaker sitting on a chair outside the compound in spotless light blue clothes, while the women sat on the ground.

He told me they have a roof over their heads and shouldn’t be complaining and I turned around to tell him “I would not even put my dog in such a place!”

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Tuesday
Sep132011

Late Monsoon Rains Pound Pakistan; Millions Affected (NEWS BRIEF)

A year after the devastating floods in Pakistan, families are trying to rebuild their lives, homes and livelihoods. CREDIT: UN(HN, September 13, 2011) - Just a few weeks after the commemoration of the one year anniversary of the worst floods in Pakistan's history, the South Asian country is again bracing itself for another humanitarian disaster from late and heavy monsoon rains.

The percipitation began a month ago and have to date affected some 5.3 million people, according to government estimates. 

An estimated 279,300 displaced people are now living at some relief sites, including public buildings and other temporary settlements.

Over a million homes have been destroyed or damaged, 4.2 million acres of agricultural land has been inundated and over 200 people have died, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The latest floods come as the country is still recovering from the worst floods in its history just a year ago in which 20 million people lost their homes. So far 200 deaths have been recorded, and UN aid agencies are stepping up their response.

Heavy rains resumed at the weekend and are forecast to continue through the next three days, affecting districts including Badin, Mirpur Khas, Tharparkar, Umar Kot, Thatta, Hyderabad, Shaheed Benazirabad, Dadu and Larkana, as well as Karachi and eastern parts of Balochistan.

Karachi, the country's commercial capital and largest city with more than 13 million people, has endured several times the normal rainfall for September. A HUMNEWS correspondent said her family in Karachi is suffering the effects of "a total shut-down and washout."

According to GEO News, all schools, colleges and universities are closed in Karachi; one Internet consultant said his area has been without power for 12 hours.

"The rains are showing no sign of abating and this disaster is still evolving. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people already need emergency shelter and, as in 2010, the inaccessibility of flooded areas is going to be our biggest challenge," says Arshad Rashid, an official with the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Wednesday
Feb092011

Second Tsunami of Floods Hits Already-Drenched Sri Lanka (Report)

(HN, February 9, 2011) - A devastating second wave of floods that has hit Sri Lanka are much worse and more serious than those that had hit the country some weeks ago, says the UN.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) official figures indicate more than 1-million people are affected by the floods, including almost 200,000 persons in 703 temporary evacuation centres in 15 districts. There has been fourteen deaths and it's estimated that more than 7,700 houses in 13 districts have been damaged or destroyed, Elisabeth Byrs of OCHA has told a media briefing in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS.

While the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center is doing its best, resources are becoming increasingly limited, the UN says.

Another challenge is that some measures taken by the authorities, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in response to the first wave of floods had been almost erased, including the re-contamination of wells in the water and sanitation sector. The work is further being further complicated by flooded roads and the insufficient availability of boats and helicopters.

The $50 million Sri Lanka Floods Flash Appeal, launched in early January, is currently funded to only 15 per cent, with $7.7 million received, but would be revised upwards at the end of this month, given the current situation of unforeseeable rains which meant that the overfilled reservoirs could lead to new population displacement.

Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) says the Rome-based agency is scaling up its food assistance to flood-affected people.

In January, the WFP provided rations to 500,000 people in five districts in response to the first wave of flooding. Now, with the second wave, WFP has dispatched food assistance for 326,000 people over the past weekend and continued to move towards 500,000 people in this ongoing emergency.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that in January 450,000 metric tons of rice paddies had already been damaged and now there was even more damage to the rice harvest, which was a particular problem for the most vulnerable people.

Initial estimations suggested that at least 87,000 farming households would be affected by the damage to the rice crops, having a knock-on effect on the wider community of people who would be receiving that harvest food.

WFP was facing a number of challenges, Casella underscored. Not only had WFP been using the stocks for its conflict returnee programmes to assist flood-affected people, its rice suppliers also faced difficulties in meeting their deadlines to deliver to the WFP as they had themselves been affected by the floods.

Monday
Jan242011

2011 is Year of the Bat - Crucial Pollinators (Perspective)

By Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle

(HN, January 24, 2011) - Were you aware that bats are key pollinators in many parts of the world? Pollination is a vital ecosystem service without which many of our key industries such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals would collapse or incur heavy costs for artificial substitution. TEEB has found that in some estimates, over 75% of the worlds crop plants, as well as many plants that are source species for pharmaceuticals, rely on pollination by animal vectors.Bats provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer. CREDIT: Merlin Tuttle

Furthermore, for 87 out of 115 leading global crops (representing up to 35% of the global food supply), fruit or seed numbers or quality were increased through animal pollination. Bats also provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer.

Bat Pollinators: Tequila and the Tree of Life

More than 1,200 species of bats comprise nearly a quarter of all mammals, and their ecological services are essential to human economies and the health of whole ecosystems worldwide. Without bats, costly crop pests would increase, forcing greater reliance on dangerous pesticides. We could also lose some of our favorite foods and beverages and suffer the consequences of greatly diminished biodiversity.

Many of our most important foods come from bat-dependent plants. These include bananas, plantain, breadfruit, peaches, mangos, dates, figs, cashews and many more. In fact, in an average tropical food market, approximately 70 percent of the fruit sold comes from trees or shrubs that rely heavily on bats in the wild. Some such as the famous durian, still rely on bat pollinators even in commercial orchards. This king of Asian fruits sells for a billion dollars annually, but could be lost without healthy populations of its bat pollinators.

In East Africa nectar feeding bats are essential to fruit production of the Baobab tree, sometimes referred to as the African Tree of Life due to the exceptional variety of wildlife that depend on it for food and shelter. Recently, it has additionally become known as the Vitamin Tree. Baobab fruits contain six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, are rich in other vitamins and antioxidants and may soon become a billion dollar a year crop.

In deserts, from the southwestern United States to southern Peru, more than 100 species of cactus and agave plants rely on bats for pollination. Giant, columnar cactus plants, such as the famous saguaro and organ pipe, are heavily relied on for food and shelter by a wide variety of birds and mammals, and agaves are extremely useful in erosion control, as ornamentals and as the source of all tequila liquor. The world's thirsty Margarita drinkers can definitely raise a glass in praise of bats.

Bats: Nature's natural pesticide

Bats also provide an essential ecosystem service known as "biological control." Natural pests and diseases are usually regulated by a wide range of predators and parasites. TEEB has found that agricultural pests cause significant economic losses worldwide. Globally, more than 40% of food production is being lost to insect pests, plant pathogens, and weeds, despite the application of more than 3 billion kilograms of pesticides to crops, plus other means of control. Natural control of pests is to date one of the most effective means of dealing with these threats. Bats are essential predators which keep many damaging insects from destroying crops.

The colony of 20 million free-tailed bats that lives in Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Texas, for example, consumes 200 tons of insects nightly, predominantly crop pests such as corn earworm and armyworm moths. Just one of these bats can catch enough moths in one night's feeding to prevent 50,000 or more eggs from being laid, resulting in local cotton growers saving close to a million dollars annually in reduced need for pesticides.

A single mouse-eared bat (widespread in Europe and North America) can capture 1,000 or more mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats, a number that could live in a backyard bat house, can capture enough cucumber beetles in a summer to prevent them from laying 33 million eggs that would otherwise hatch into corn rootworms, a billion-dollar-a -year pest in the United States.

In many locations, bats can be easily attracted to bat houses to help protect gardens and organic farms. Outstanding success has been reported from Oregon to Georgia in the United States, probably because many of our worst insect pests listen for bat echolocation signals and flee areas where bats are heard. A pecan grower in Georgia reports having become entirely organic since he attracted thousands of bats to extra large bat houses in his orchard. So the next time you think organic, think "bats."

Bat Fertilizer

Bats are also the primary energy producers for many cave ecosystems. Guano deposits beneath their roosts provide energy that sustains thousands of unique life forms, from bacteria and fungi to arthropods and small vertebrates. These organisms are often endemic to a single cave or cave system, but provide a potential treasure trove of biodiversity needed for solving human problems, from production of new antibiotics and gasohol to improved detergents and waste detoxification.

Additionally, extraction of bat guano for fertilizer provides an invaluable renewable resource for whole communities in developing countries from Asia and Africa to Latin America. For example, due to this eco-service of bats, Thailand's Khao Chong Pran Cave has become a major source of income for the local community, as well as a unique tourist attraction. Careful protection and harvest management have allowed annual guano sales to increase from $10,000 to $135,000. Bat guano is big business.

From Terror to Tourist Attraction

As people learn to appreciate bats, these fascinating animals are paving the way for popular tourist attractions. When 1.5 million free-tailed bats began moving into crevices beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas, health officials warned that they were rabid and dangerous, and local people wanted the bats eradicated. However, through the educational efforts of Bat Conservation International, fears were calmed, and in more than 30 years, not a single person has been harmed. The bats consume roughly 15 tons of insects nightly and attract 12 million tourist dollars each summer, clearly demonstrating the value of bats to our environment and economies.

Year of the Bat 2011-2012

Unfortunately, many people in other locations around the world still misunderstand, fear and persecute bats at great harm to themselves. Too many have heard only of vampires and disease, both of which have been greatly exaggerated by sensational media stories.

Needlessly fearful humans, in Latin America, have mistakenly destroyed thousands, even millions of highly beneficial bats at a time by sealing, burning or poisoning roosts, especially in caves, and many more bats have been lost through simple neglect of their conservation needs.

Ironically, even the common vampire bat of Latin America has proven useful. A new drug, Desmoteplase developed from research on vampire saliva, appears to greatly improve treatment of stroke victims, a potentially enormous contribution to human wellbeing. Who would have thought that a bat - and a vampire, at that - could help save countless lives?

Year of the Bat (2011-2012) celebrations will highlight bat values and needs, providing unique introductions to these incredibly fascinating animals that unfortunately rank among our planet's least understood and most rapidly declining and endangered animals. But as more people learn about and account for the ecosystem services provided by bats, greater conservation efforts will be made to ensure the survival of these fascinating and essential creatures.

For more information:

Year of the Bat 2011 - 2012 is a global campaign to promote conservation, research and education about the world's only flying mammals. Year of the Bat is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and EUROBATS, as well as numerous partner organizations around the world.

The writer is Honorary Ambassador for the Year of the Bat campaign.

Saturday
Jan152011

Battered Sri Lanka Contends With Destructive Climate Change (Report)

(HN, January 15, 2011) - Still recovering from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the long-term effects of armed conflict, the island nation of Sri Lanka now finds a quarter of its territory under water.

Families wade through floodwaters triggered by heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka, carrying clothing and possessions to higher ground. CREDIT: UNICEF

Recent catastrophic floods have decimated crops, driven tourists away at the height of the season - and caused a spike in food prices. The freak weather has even caused a plunge in temperatures. On Thursday, the capital city of Colombo hit 18.8 Celsius - the coldest day on record in more than 60 years.

Today, in its Twitter feed, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said initial estimates of damage is in the $500-million range.

The rains started December 26 and in one day alone on January 12, 300 millimeters fell, said a spokesperson for the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs.

Already 27 people have died, and more than 1-million people have been affected - roughly a third children.

The country - a major tea and rice producer - faces loosing as much as 20 per cent of its harvest due to flood waters. The UN says about 300,000 people have been displaced; one UN official described eastern parts of the country as "a lake." The worst hit areas are Batticalao, Trincomalee and other regions in east-central Sri Lanka and the central provinces. Many roads have been rendered impassable.

More than 360,000 people are living in temporary shelters, Byrs told a media briefing in Geneva, monitored by HUMNEWS.

About 200,000 acres of rice fields are reported to be under water. Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the floods had come just before the harvest season in February and March - in what was expected to be a bumper crop. The Rome-based food agency is gearing up to meet the food needs of about 500,000 people over a period of six months, Casella said.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, has warned of a major food crisis in the country and his ministers have been ordered to develop an emergency plan.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Donations for flood victims can be made to the Red Cross in Sri Lanka

Friday
Dec032010

HUMNEWS HEADLINES - December 3, 2010 (North and South Oceans) 

Thursday
Nov252010

60% of Africans City Dwellers by 2050 - UN (News Brief)

(HN, November 25, 2010) - Incredible urban growth and population migration will swell the size of major African cities - in some cases tripling their size over the next 40 years.

According to a new report by UN Habitat, The State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequality and Urban Land Markets, urbanization is occurring faster on the African continent than anywhere else, and that by 2030, the Africa will no longer be predominantly rural.Traffic is worsening in many African cities due to urban migration. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

“No African government can afford to ignore the ongoing rapid urban transition taking place across the continent. Cities must become priority areas for public policies, with hugely increased investments to build adequate governance capacities, equitable services delivery, affordable housing provision and better wealth distribution,” said Joan Clos, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.

The report also found that:

- By 2015, Lagos will be Africa's largest city with 12.4 million people - overtaking Cairo (however Cairo is said to have an unofficial population as high as 17 million at times)

Luanda has recently surpassed Alexandria and is now Africa’s fourth largest agglomeration. It is projected to grow to more than 8 million by 2040.

- Africa's population will be 1.23 billion by 2050

- Slum dwellers in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia decreased to 11.8 million in 2010, from 20.8 million in 1990.Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Is one of the largest slums with more than a million residents struggling with limited access to basic services. CREDIT: UN Habitat

- Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is becoming the fastest-growing city in Africa: its population will almost double over the next decade.

70 per cent of all African urban population growth will be in smaller cities and those with populations of less than half a million.

- Projected proportional growth for the 2010−2020 for some cities defies belief: Ouagadougou’s (Burkina Faso) population is expected to soar by no less than 81 per cent, from 1.9 million in 2010 to 3.4 million in 2020.

The report also noted that, since many large cities (such as Lagos and Alexandria) are situated by the sea, climate change and coastal flooding may erode their size.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Friday
Aug272010

FLOODS PLUNGE PAKISTAN DEEPER INTO OBLIVION (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan
The devastating floods in Pakistan this past month have done more than just render over 20 million people homeless and submerge one-quarter of the total land area from north to south. They have, once again, magnified the ineptitude of the state to deliver to its people, or answer to its constituents.

But this is something Pakistan has been akin to for several decades now. The earthquake in the northern areas in 2005, illustrated a similar lack of preparedness and the failure of the state to contain the misery.

Now, five years later, history has repeated itself, learning nothing from its past. Except this time, the scale is far, far greater and the effects far more devastating and all-encompassing.

Pakistan has stepped up to the challenge of this natural disaster, despite its limitations. Like the earthquake, Pakistanis all over the world, have gone above and beyond to provide relief and shelter to the affected. But with the numbers of refugees rising everyday, and the floodwaters still hesitating from emptying their bowels into the Arabian Sea, this is literally a drop in the ocean.

Despite this, everyone is doing whatever they can under the sheer immensity of the circumstances. But as all such opportunities allow, the debates emerging from this national crisis, go far beyond just nature’s wrath and how it could have been prevented.

International humanitarian aid has dominated the agenda of this disaster from Day One. With the UN taking centre stage to call for funds (an initial flash appeal of $460 million), the world has been quick to respond. The US alone has pledged almost $800 million, while the UN claims that commitments in pledges and private donations have topped $1 billion. This is just for immediate relief.

Damage to Pakistan’s agriculture and livestock has pushed the country at least 2-3 years behind in terms of food security. Estimates for long-term reconstruction and economic rehabilitation have reached a staggering $43 billion so far. But the cry from within, is that more is needed, both in cash and kind. And there is no denying that there is a dire immediate need.

However, the fact remains that Pakistan’s capacity to utilize aid of any sort effectively, has been sorely questioned in the past. This is fueled by sour experiences during the 2005 earthquake, which remains mired in controversies of financial mismanagement and unfulfilled pledges, forcing many to rebuild their homes themselves.

More recently, and definitely more crucial, is Pakistan’s links to militant jihadi outfits, which have further tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad and are now being used as a basis on which to judge future contributions. But politics is a dirty game, and the millions who wait desperately for even a tarpaulin over their heads in adhoc refugee camps, have no idea that they are simply a pawn in a larger, deadlier political brinksmanship.

To begin with, Pakistan’s government and its erstwhile civilian rulers have chosen to distance themselves from the disaster relying instead on international hand-outs. The President after taking much heat for his European sojourns has donated a paltry Rs.5 million (about US$58,000) and the Prime Minister claims that he does not believe in donating cash, only in kind.

International agencies meanwhile are using the threat of militancy as a reason to invest more in flood relief, lest the 20 million homeless “cross over to the dark side”, raising fears that intentions may not be purely humanitarian. This has been manipulated with great dexterity by the militants, who are now threatening foreign aid workers, only adding more girth to the fears being purported by donors like the United States.A young boy in flood-ravaged Pakistan. Credit: Asad Zaidi

The United Nations is also playing on this card by alerting the world to Pakistan’s “image deficit” abroad, a term it very cleverly coined to fill its own coffers, rather than address the actual threat of militancy, which it claims is not its mandate.

Furthermore, the armed forces contribution to rescue and relief efforts, is a thorn in the civilian democracy’s side, resurrecting the never-ending tussle between man and might that has shadowed Pakistani politics since birth.

Intellectual and civil society pundits insist that this is a time to put aside age-old grudges and just get on with helping those in need. Yet, they are unable to create an effective framework of relief to handle the sheer numbers. But the reality is that, both practically and politically, it is not possible to “just get on with it”. The sheer physical scale of the disaster is beyond comprehension and most civilian and government attempts will only go so far.

The US meanwhile, continues to use the Taliban threat to remain in control of the region. And whatever the international relief agencies and NGOs are attempting to provide, not much success is possible without greater coordination, which like the earthquake, is very limited at the moment. This time around, global politics is very much in control.

But this international versus national aid conundrum has exposed a darker, more chronic side of the disaster. I myself have not yet been to any of the flood affected areas - however I did work in the earthquake emergency. But one does not really need to physically view the sites in order to comprehend the scale of the disaster, nor the suffering of those affected.

The irony is, that in Pakistan, time and again, it is those who have ever barely had a roof over their heads who have been rendered homeless. It is those who have never had the luxury of a steady income that have been robbed of their meager livelihoods. It is those who never had access to basic health care that are now lying ailing and in need of urgent medical attention.

Ultimately, the flood has brought to the surface the harsh reality that it is Pakistan that abandoned its own people a long time ago. It is even more ironic and heart-breaking that even a disaster of this scale still does not make us realize that and we continue to look every which way, except within.

Till that realization actually strikes each and every Pakistani, it seems, we are still at the mercy of the global powers that be, our political elite and God’s wrath.

--HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi.