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Thursday:  July 31, 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 UNEP (6)

Thursday
Mar222012

Brazil Prepares for the UN Rio+20 Conference in June (REPORT) 

By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter, The Rio Times

(RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL) - Twenty years after the inaugural 1992 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – the Earth Summit - was held in Rio, the city will once again play host to the event. Now Rio is gearing up for the “Rio+20” (June 20th to 22nd), and on March 9th Conference Secretary-General, Sha Zukang was in Brazil to discuss the logistics with Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira.

The organizers are expecting representatives from 193 member states to attend, from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders.

The Brazilian Rio+20 Commission, which was set up in 2011, is responsible for coordinating the hosting of the event. The conference itself is an intergovernmental process, directed by United Nations Member States and overseen by the UN.

The debates will focus on two principle themes: the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development, which will look at ways to strengthen the effectiveness of global sustainability resolutions.

(PHOTO: In Sept 2011, International Youth met in Mollina, Spain to decide what future they want/Human Impact Institute) According to the organizers, its objective is to renew political commitment to sustainable development, by assessing the progress made on the goals set at previous major summits – including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit – and identifying gaps in implementation.

On March 9th, Teixeira said the elections in other countries should not hinder the presence of heads of state at Rio+20, stating that 79 delegations have confirmed their presence so far. She also reinforced that the goal of the conference is to come up with concrete decisions, and not just to debate. “[Rio+20] is a conference for stamping documents and saying that we approve.”

The organizers say, “[It] should help define the sustainable development agenda for the coming decades.”

The event will be built up in three stages, the first of which runs from June 13th to 15th,in advance of the official conference dates. This will be a Meeting of the Preparatory Committee to unite government representatives from around the world and negotiate the documents to be adopted at the Conference.

During the second stage, from June 16th to 19th, a series of events has been scheduled for the participation of civil society. So called “major groups” who are registered with the UN, are invited to take part, including: non-governmental organizations, business groups, indigenous communities, local authorities, community groups, and the scientific and technological community, as well as individuals.

The third and final stage is the High Level Segment of the Conference, scheduled for June 20th to 22nd, in which Heads of State and Government of various United Nations member countries will meet to agree on the conference outcomes.

Riocentro conference center, in Barra da Tijuca, will host the intergovernmental agenda and other event locations have yet to be decided. The Sub-Secretary General for Energy and Technology at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said at a public hearing at the beginning of the month that, “The conference itself is extraordinarily complex [to coordinate].”

However, he considers the event an important demonstration of Brazil’s commitment to being a key player in solving world issues, saying – “It is a renewal of our commitment to multilateralism as a legitimate way of solving global problems.”

- This article first appeared in The Rio Times

Tuesday
Feb142012

UNEP Report Says World Soil Management is Key to Food, Water, Climate Future

(PHOTO: Soil, side by side/Treehugger) (HN, 2/14/2012) - According to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book 2012 released Monday on the eve of the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, 24% of the global land area has already suffered declines in health and productivity over the past quarter century as a result of unsustainable industrial land-use and dramatic improvements in the way the world manages its precious soils will be key to food, water and climate security in the 21st century.

WHY? Soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter that in turn binds the nutrients needed for plant growth and allows rainfall to penetrate into underground aquifers.

Since the 19th century, an estimated 60% of the carbon stored in soils and vegetation has been lost as a result of land use changes, such as, clearing land for agriculture and cities and by some estimates, the top one metre of the world's soils store around 2,200 Gigatonnes (or, a billion tonnes) of carbon; three times the current level held in the atmosphere.

The report states some kinds of agriculture processes have triggered soil erosion rates at 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil and by 2030, without changes in the way land is managed, over 20% of habitats such as forests, peatlands and grasslands in developing countries alone could be converted to cropland which also aggravate losses of vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

There could also be profound implications for climate change as amounts of this carbon could be released to the atmosphere, aggravating global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels and points to the world's peatlands as an area of special concern. WHY?  The draining of super carbon-rich peatlands is currently producing more than 2 Gigatonnes of CO2 emissions annually; equal to around 6% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions and is happening at a rate 20 times greater than the rate at which the peat, and thus the carbon, is accumulated.

The Year Book, launched 4 months in advance of the Rio+20 Summit, highlights another issue of emerging global concern - the challenges of decommissioning the growing numbers of end-of-life nuclear power reactors.

There are plans to close up to 80 civilian nuclear power reactors in the next 10 years, as the first generations of reactors reach the end of their `design lives’. So far in world history, 138 civilian nuclear power reactors have been shut down in 19 countries, including 28 in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, 9 in Japan and 5 in the Russian Federation.

Decommissioning has only been completed for 17 of them, so far but events such as the tragedy of the tsunami that struck Fukushima and its nearby nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011 has caused heightened concern.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of developing countries have built or are considering building nuclear power plants, including the United States which just announced at least 2 new reactors to be built on February 4.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said: "The Year Book spotlights the challenges, but also the choices, nations need to consider to deliver a sustainable 21st century and urgently improve management of world's soils and the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors".

"Superficially they may seem separate and unconnected issues, but both go to the heart of several fundamental questions: how the world will feed and fuel itself while combating climate change and handling hazardous wastes," he added.  "The thin skin of soil on the Earth's surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity. Improved, sustainable management such as no-till policies can assist in productive agriculture without draining peatlands," said Mr. Steiner.

Across the globe, there are examples of how multiple benefits can be delivered through effective management of soil carbon. In Kenya, the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund is providing the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project with US $350,000 to pay smallholder farmers to improve their agricultural practices, to increase both food security and soil carbon sequestration.

From Dakar to Djibouti, the `Great Green Wall’ initiative is a massive forestation project creating a 15 km wide strip of trees and other vegetation along a 7000 km transect to improve carbon sequestration, stabilize soils and conserve soil moisture amongst others.

In China, similar approaches are being monitored to assess whether land degradation in arid areas can be reversed.  In Brazil, changes in crop production and rotation practices have been found to have significant effects on soil carbon stocks and conversion to no-till techniques in soybean, maize and related crop systems resulted in a decrease of soil carbon degradation. And in Argentina, significant increases in soil carbon stocks have also been achieved, where farmers changed to no-till systems, along with enhanced benefits in water retention, infiltration and erosion prevention.  The UNEP Year Book 2012 is available at: http://www.unep.org

--- HUMNEWS

Monday
Mar212011

UN: Fast pace of African urbanization affecting water supplies and sanitation (REPORT)

Rapidly-urbanizing African cities are placing pressure on water supplies. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS(HN, March 21, 2011) - Urban centers in Africa are growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world.

Today 40 percent of Africa's one billion people live in urban areas - 60 percent in slums - where water supplies and sanitation are severely inadequate, according to the Rapid Response Assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat.

Africa's urban population without access to safe drinking water jumped from close to 30 million in 1990 to well over 55 million in 2008.

Over the same period, the number of people without reasonable sanitation services doubled to around 175 million says the report launched on World Water Day 2011 - which is tomorrow, March 22.

One of the most urbanized countries in Africa is Gabon, where 85% of the population lives in urban areas. Almost half of Nigeria's 150 million people live in urban areas, and the country is urbanizing at 3.8% annually. Within the next few years, its commerical capital, Lagos, will be Africa's largest cities.

"These are the stark realities and the sobering facts which need to be addressed as nations prepare for the landmark UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The conference, also known as Rio+20, takes a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of its two major themes.

"There is growing evidence from work on the Green Economy that a different path in terms of water and sanitation can begin to be realized. Indeed, public policies that re-direct over a tenth of a per cent of global GDP per year can assist in not only addressing the sanitation challenge but conserve freshwater by reducing water demand by a fifth over the coming decades compared to projected trends," added Mr Steiner.

Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, said: "Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on the planet and the demand for water and sanitation is outstripping supply in cities. As cities expand, we must improve our urban planning and management in order to provide universal access to water and basic services while ensuring our cities become more resilient to the increasing effects of climate change".

The report, which underlines the growing cooperation between UN-HABITAT and UNEP on such issues, provides case studies of cities in several parts of the Continent where high urbanization rates are not matched with adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.

Addis Ababa, for the past 50 years, the capital of Ethiopia and one of the largest cities in Africa, has grown from 100,000 to 3.5 million people and is today facing severe challenges to provide its residents with enough freshwater and sanitation services. According to the report, only five percent of the solid waste collected in Addis Ababa is recycled and the rest is often piled on open ground, banks of streams and near bridges where it is washed into the rivers. Moreover, fears of food poisoning are worsened by the fact the 60 percent of the city's food consumption is supplied by urban farmers who irrigate their crops using wastewater.

Grahamstown in South Africa is another case study highlighted in the report. Located in a dry part of the country with frequent droughts, the city has seen its population more than double from 76,000 in 2004. Inspiring water initiatives, such as the Blue Drop System which is a regulatory tool used by South Africa's Department of Water Affairs to monitor the quality of drinking water, and rainwater harvesting has helped the city to provide adequate water services to its growing population. However, the city predicts future crises as climate change brings more droughts and water shortages.

Nairobi, Kenya's largest city, has seen its population increase from 119,000 in 1948 to 3.1 million today, many in the more than 200 slum settlements spread across the city and have limited access to safe water and sanitation. The largest slum, Kibera, receives about 20,000 m3 of water per day, 40 percent of which is unaccounted for as it is lost through leakage or dilapidated infrastructure. With half of Kenya's population expected to be living in urban settlements by 2015, the country is looking for solutions and in 2002 introduced the Water Act to improve the legislative framework for effective management and control of water resources.

But while there are solutions, much more needs to be done, notes the report, to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation for urban areas. Moreover, it is essential that the long-term solutions make a connection between urbanization, water and ecosystems and recognize that urban areas in Africa will continue to grow and will the demand for water and sanitation services.

According to the report, solutions and policy interventions should consider some of the following options:
  • Mainstream the environment into urban water management;
  • Acknowledge and support the role of the private sector in complementing government and municipal authorities in delivering water and sanitation services especially to the poor urban areas;
  • Take into account the generally high levels of income poverty in Africa by acknowledging that market-based approaches are not always the best option to supplying water in urban areas in a sustainable way;
  • Inform residents about how the links between forests, protected areas and water supply;
  • Demonstrate that it pays to protect watersheds, instead of building expensive water purification systems;
  • Raise awareness on the impact of poor water quality on health, economy and the environment;
  • Mainstream the environment into urban water management through approaches such as Payments for Ecosystems Services, Integrated Water Resources Management, and Water Demand Management

 

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.

Tuesday
Dec142010

Water is The Greatest Gift in The Desert (Perspective)

By Rhym Gazal

(HN, December 14, 2010) --- They were the usual concerns for such a senior gathering of Arab officials: security worries over Iran, terrorism and peace in the Middle East were all high on the agenda. But in the end it was "water security" that arguably took centre stage, making it the first time an environmental issue had been discussed at such a high level in the region.Nowhere is the issue of water more important than in the Middle East, where it's considered a ‘strategic’ resource and tensions between countries in the region over it are high. CREDIT: UNEP

It was with good reason that the 31st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), gathered in Abu Dhabi this week, concluded with a Quoranic verse: "We made from water every living thing."

As a religion born in a harsh desert terrain, Islam ascribed the most sacred of qualities to water. It is the purifier and heavenly source of life, and its conservation is part of Islamic teachings. Even the term "Sharia" was originally related to water, meaning "the place from which one descends to water", and included rules about sharing the liquid in pre-Islamic Arabia that were later expanded to embody Islamic laws in general.

Now, it is time once again to apply rules about the use of water, but on a far more regional level.

In a 15-point declaration, put together by the UAE in its role as the host of this year's summit, a broad plan was outlined to deal with one of the GCC's most "significant challenges" - a sustainable water supply.

"While abundant in oil and gas, our habitat is scarce in water, the lifeline for any civilisation and its development," read the Abu Dhabi Declaration.

The declaration urged the introduction of GCC legislation that would improve efficiency of industries and promote water conservation. Targeting the individual will be another top priority; in the UAE, the average resident uses 550 litres of water a day, the highest rate in the world. The global average is 250 litres a day.

Last year, the UAE used 4.5 billion cubic metres of water, with more than half coming from groundwater. Farming uses 97 per cent of that groundwater, while contributing just 3.3 per cent of GDP.

So in effect, the declaration called for a strategy that would take into consideration the effects of climate change, the impact of agricultural practices on the Gulf's water resources, the region's strategic water reserves and the effects of desalination on marine life and climate change.

"Water security and its sustainability is a great concern," said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a press conference after the summit. Immediately afterwards, Sheikh Abdullah boarded a plane for Cancun, Mexico, to attend the UN climate change summit.

Armed with the Abu Dhabi Declaration, one of the wealthiest groups of nations in the world will present a united Arab front on how to deal with the world's water crisis and hopefully inspire change at the UN summit.

The climate change negotiations will continue into next year, where governments will meet in another summit in South Africa in December, and then in Qatar in December 2012.

In other words, in two years the eyes of the world will be on the Middle East to see if our leadership will be able to save the planet.

At present, half of the world's desalinated water is produced in the GCC, a process that costs us dearly both financially and environmentally. So one of the immediate steps will involve improving existing desalination plants by introducing more fuel-efficient technologies.

At the moment just nine per cent of the water used comes from treated wastewater, and more than 40 per cent from desalination. In the UAE alone, there are 83 desalination plants, providing nearly 65 per cent of domestic, commercial and industrial needs.

The Federal National Council raised the alarm on a water crisis in November when it declared that these plants will be insufficient by 2017. The FNC said that serious steps have to be taken at governmental level to tackle "this national security issue".

A federal law on water management was issued in 1981, but was never implemented.

Other points in the Abu Dhabi Declaration stress the importance of diversifying sources of energy and food security, as well as introducing local and regional standards to limit the carbon footprints of the public sector and private homes. Applying more efficient standards for home appliances such as air conditioners, so vital in the Gulf's hot climate, were also singled out.

All this comes at a time when headlines like "the Levant prays for rain" are dominating regional news, when Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, which normally enjoy healthy rainfall, are in the grip of a drought brought on by one of the driest winter seasons in more than a decade. The heavy rains and storms forecast for this weekend will come too late to prevent the tragedy of 42 people burnt to death in Israel in recent days by fires that are a consequence of the continuous dry spell.

The situation is equally grim in Lebanon, where farms and ski resorts are struggling with drought that threatens livelihoods. Just 51.2mm of rain has fallen since September. Rainfall over the corresponding period last year was 214.8mm.

"Climate change is the biggest threat facing our region, including losing our agriculture, coast and water resources," says Wael Hmaidan, the executive director of the environmental pressure group IndyACT, and one of Lebanon's most vocal activists on the issue.

He points out that the International Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the Middle East will lose about 20 per cent of its water resources by mid-century.

"In countries like Lebanon, year after year, the rainy season is becoming shorter and shorter," Mr. Hmaidan warns.

"It will become worse, but the yearly change is incremental, so we do not feel surprised or shocked. It is similar to a frog in a water kettle that is being heated slowly. The frog will not jump out."

At least the UAE is not taking any chances. Nor is it waiting, after already investing millions of dollars in preventative measures.

In September, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority awarded a contract worth US$315.8m (Dh1.16bn) to build a water-storage and recovery system in the emirate. It will take the form of an underground aquifer storage facility in Liwa with a capacity of 27 million tonnes of water for use in the event of an emergency.

Although for the typical home or business in the UAE that is something to be imagined rather than experienced, that is not the case for our neighbours in Saudi Arabia.

For at least 15 years, residents in residential compounds and neighbourhoods in major Saudi cities have been relying on privately run "water trucks" to help them cope with their ever-dwindling national supply of water. So precious is this resource that at times it has created a "water black market", where water-tanker drivers charge double, if not triple, especially neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city centre.

I experienced this first hand, living with my family in Jeddah during the 1990s. If I came home to find the bath tub filled with water, it meant someone in the household had spotted that water flow from the taps was weak, signalling an imminent cut within the next hour or so. Sometimes it took a whole day, sometimes longer, for the water to come back.

In those days I often took showers using bottled water, or "canister" water that my mother would buy from private water suppliers.

This "extra water" was often not of the best quality. Sometimes it felt a bit salty or had a strange hue. But when one is desperate for water for washing and flushing, these factors seem insignificant.

These days, the family has a backup water storage in the back of the villa, filled by a truck once a month. It costs several hundred riyals on top of the municipal bills for water and electricity, but is a necessity.

In some compounds, there are special staff who monitor water usage. Leave the hose watering the garden for more than an hour and the "water police" will come and fine you. Another conservation measure means that cars can be washed only with water from a bucket.

Saudi Arabia is planning to invest $53bn in a variety of water projects over the next 15 years, 70 per cent of which will be for sewage and wastewater treatment projects. It wants to start reusing sewage water, which currently only contributes six per cent to seven per cent of the kingdom's water.

In this Year of Water - or perhaps the lack of it - the UN General Assembly has declared that access to clean water and sanitation are fundamental human rights. After much talk about the importance of water, it is only now that the world is taking notice.

As Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, put it in Cancun: "Nature will not wait while we negotiate."

--- Rym Ghazal is a writer and a columnist for The National - where this opinion piece first appeared. She lives in Dubai.

Tuesday
Jun082010

Ban Ki-moon marks World Oceans Day by Drawing Attention to "Terrible Toll" Mankind Having on Oceans, Seas

(HN, June 8, 2010) Marking the second World Oceans Day today, the UN Secretary General said humans activities - from over-fishing to piracy - are taking a "terrible toll" on the world's fragile marine ecosystems.The sea lion and her pup, off the BC coast, are becoming more vulnerable to human activities. Credit: Michael Bociurkiw

Said Ban Ki-moon: "Human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources.  Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

"Oceans are also affected by criminal activity.  Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 per cent of the world’s goods.  Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans."

The idea for World Oceans Day stemmed form the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the United Nations General Assembly had subsequently decided that that day would be celebrated every 8 June, starting in 2009. This year’s theme is “Our Oceans: Opportunities and Challenges”.

The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. They cover 71% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the planet's water. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

This year's commemorations have taken special significance in the wake of the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bill Mott, director of The Ocean Project, a network of 1,200 organizations worldwide working to help promote World Oceans Day and to communicate with the public about conservation issues, said of the BP oil spill. "I think this is going to create a whole new generation of people who are much more aware of how we are all connected to the ocean in so many ways," he told MSNBC.com.

The Secretary General said one of the most long-standing and effective international instruments to protect the oceans and seas is the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As part of the UN observance of the event, a roundtable discussion is being held at UN headquarters in New York and the city's legendary Empire State Building will be illuminated in white, blue and purple to signify the entirety of the oceans - from the shallows to the darker depths."

In Nairobi, the UN Environment Programme is commemorating World Oceans Day at its headquarters with the screening of Ωcéans, a film by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud film. The documentary is designed to raise awareness of the need to protect our oceans.