Archive for November, 2010

Transnational Resource Conflict: Ethiopia VS. Egypt: The River Nile

November 26, 2010

The Nile is the world largest river and passes through Ethiopia, Egypt and seven other countries. The colonial-era agreements signed in 1959 gave Egypt and Sudan control of 75% of the water flow; however Ethiopia is now pushing its rights and has taken steps to make use of the river to produce more electricity and irrigation. Most parts of Egypt are desert and rivers and rain from different countries make the Nile flow. The river feeds a farming sector which counts for one third of all jobs therefore Egypt is almost totally dependent on it.

The Blue Nile flows from the Ethiopian highlands and is a major contributor of the river. Ethiopia which is the upstream had little access to the Nile. Significant numbers of Ethiopians receive food aid from international donors. The Ethiopian government claimed that making use of the water resource,  aid dependency would be reduced significantly. The government had therefore built in last decade five huge dams on the Nile and has also began work on a $1.4bn  hydropower projects and claimed the geographical and moral high ground.

The Egyptian government stated that diverting the water flow would mean a threat to their entitlement and national security and said that it would use force against Ethiopia if the flow of the water is restricted.  The former president Sadat stated that “Any action that would endanger the waters of the Blue Nile will be faced with a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war.” The Ethiopian government rejected the threat from Egypt to stop the contractions of dams and water projects upstream on the Nile River. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in an interview conducted last Tuesday (24.11.2010) that Egypt was arming rebels that are operating inside Ethiopia, however Egypt said that it has never backed rebels.

A new agreement, the Nile Basin Co-operative framework were signed in Entebbe to replace the 1959 agreement. Both Egypt and Sudan criticised this agreement and showed fears that their water supply would be severely reduced if the seven other countries used the river for domestic irrigation and hydro-power projects.

Both Egypt and Ethiopia should come to term that the river is a common pool of resource and that a means of cooperation rather than fighting over water is needed.

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Amazing Seeds: Green Revolution Vs Nature’s Evolution

November 26, 2010

AMAZING SEEDS: Green Revolution Vs Nature’s Evolution

While reading about the green revolution and genetically modified seeds, I never thought that I was also an indirect customer of global corporation like Monsanto. The truth was revealed when I called back home and they told me that we had grown a new type of maize in our garden. The seeds were amazing and our garden is now full of maize cobs. It didn’t take me longer to realize that the amazing seeds were nothing else but GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS.

However it was a good chance for me to explore more about genetically modified seeds and their productivity. When I asked about the cost of seeds, they told me that 1kg of genetically modified seeds cost about 350.00 Rupees (£2.69p @ £1=130PKR). Same amount (1Kg) of traditional seeds cost about 20 Rupees (£0.15p @ £1=130PKR). It means that genetically modified seeds are 17.5 times or 1750% expensive than traditional seeds.

Type Kg PKR(Pakistani Rupees) £ (British Pounds)
Genetically modified seeds 1 350 2.69
Traditional seeds 1 20 0.15
Genetically modified seeds 100 35000 269
Traditional seeds 100 2000 15.38

(A comparison of seed prices in Pakistan, November 2010)

There is huge difference in prices. If genetically modified seeds are bought for commercial scale agriculture or for large farms, the crop failure could be a disaster for poor investors especially when livelihoods are totally dependent on agriculture as it was seen in case of India where formers committed suicides when they were unable to payback their debt (Shiva, 2004). On the other hand the traditional crop with less chances of failure as having more compatibility with local environment, couldn’t be so disastrous because of less investment in seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

As the price difference between traditional seeds and genetically modified seeds is 1750%, yield should be 1750% higher, however it wasn’t the case. I was told that on each plant there was one maize cob (though larger in size than traditional), in case of traditional crop 2 to 4 maize cobs per plant is normal production. There should be approximately (17) maize cobs on each genetically modified plant to get the equal production against (1) on traditional plant. It is comparison of yield against economic cost of seeds in terms of money/investment, and the cost of extra water, pesticides, fertilizers,  and environmental damage is not included. There are few more hidden costs like health, linked to modified species introduced by Monsanto.

By looking into cost of seeds, yield and compatibility with local environment, it could be seen that genetically modified species by Monsanto are not alternative of traditional species which are genetically modified by the nature through the process of evolution. Any living organism, either if it is plant or animal everywhere in the world, knows how to survive in different environmental conditions. Unlike Monsanto’s problematic recipes to modify life through laboratory processes ,  it is nature’s modification through evolution that makes the life possible in extreme water environments and at the poles by modifying genetic traits of organisms. Hibernation, migration, and evolution of predator prey strategies are few best examples in this regard.

Here are few links that shows the perfection of nature’s genetically modified species through evolution.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzcLWXFzOm0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwCi5y_QphY&feature=related

The World Bank Strikes Again

November 26, 2010

The blog Disaster Preparedness: saving lives and livelihoods was pointing out the concern over the increase in natural disasters. The writer is not the only one who is concerned about the issue as World Bank together with UN published a new report called Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention (2010) giving us insights of how to handle the unbearable costs of growing disasters that are now often linked to the climate change (see for example Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction by UNISDR, 2008). To those who will not have time to read all the report, I will introduce here some of the policy advices that were recommended. However, be warned, the matters I bring out here, do not include the entire report which can also be credited in many aspects. The specific points I mention are chosen to reflect my subjective and biased point of view, others may disagree with me. The report does mention that it is looking at disasters through an economic lens so naturally that will also influence the things they want to bring to our attention. However, I still feel that there is a need to take a look at some chosen policy implications to fight the disasters and, hence, also the climate change.

The report mentions that “when land and housing markets work, property values reflect hazard risks, guiding people’s decisions on where to live and what prevention measures to take” (p.4) and continues recommending that “getting land and rental markets to work can go a long way to inducing people to locate in appropriate areas and take preventive measures” (p.5).  According to the report, it is the rental controls, taxing property sales and controlling market prices and imports that are the reasons why the ‘poor’ live in bad houses and disaster vulnerable areas. However, it is somehow difficult to understand how letting markets to control the housing prices – so that the prices will most likely increase – is helping those with less income. Would you not think that it goes exactly to the opposite direction; when prices rise, only people with money (and probably lots of it) can afford any kind of decent housing. This could also push the people who before were just about able to pay their rent towards informal housing, or like the report mentions, away from appropriate areas. And those who were marginalised to start with will be even further on from the goal of getting a place for themselves. Whatever the case, the conclusion seems to be that letting the market to function freely, problems are fixed in no time.

However, even though the report suggests that government interventions in the market affects the ‘poor people’ in harmful ways, the report continues to recommend in the next instance that “governments must provide adequate infrastructure and other public services” (p.6). So government intervention is needed in some cases after all? According to the report, governments should not only invest in infrastructure maintenance but also make investments into some “other less obvious public services” like “reliable city transport” (p.6). Public transportation? Never would have thought of that without this report.

The report also remembers to emphasise the important role of good institutions. Good institutions are better equipped to deal with natural disasters but also to “allow divergent views to percolate into the public consciousness” because “permitting dissent allows the public to be informed and involved when alternative proposals and opposing views compete for their support” (p. 7). Just remember that it happens within the market structures. Taking a bit of radical standing the report continues by stating that “often, institutions are linked to democracy, but this report finds that it is not the label of democracy or dictatorship that matters. Good institutions are associated with political competition more than voting alone…” (p. 8). Excellent news as someone might have thought that dictatorship can occasionally hinder political competition.

We must give the report credit for pointing out that most official aid is spent on disaster relief and not enough have been done to prevent natural disasters. However, in order to remind us what this is all about, the report points out “the Samaritan’s dilemma: the inability to deny help following a disaster to those who have not taken sufficient prevention measures” (p.10). So the blame is still on the bad ‘developing countries’ and ‘poor people’ who have not been prepared for all these adverse effects of climate change that, basically, have been created by the actions of the so-called ‘developed’ countries.

I was hoping that we are given some new policy insights regarding the important issue of disaster prevention and climate change but somehow I get the feeling that I have read this same report before. Reports’ names and publication years might change but content stays the same. Well, looking at the bright side, at least some things are stable in this complex, disaster vulnerable world.

Due to technical difficulties was not able to add the link to the text above, so if you want to see the World Bank and UN report, here is the link: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/VVOS-8B4SKR/$file/WorldBank_Nov2010.pdf?openelement

CLIMATECHANGE-LOOKING AHEAD TO CANCUN/MEXICO(DEC.2010)

November 18, 2010

I am a keen listener to the ‘one planet programme’ on the BBC world service.I  listened to an interview  recently  conducted by the BBC (one planet ) with Christian Figueres-Executive Secretary UNFCCC.The theme of  this interview was what she expected to be different this time in Cancun as compared to Copenhagen,Kyoto(the general lack of binding agreement between countries in climate change interventions and emission level caps).She acknowledged that the issue of climate change is humanities greatest challenges and opportunities.That if only this meeting will increase the interest of the planet by one inch,progress would have been made and confimed that it will be a very slow process.

Weaknesses she identified in the Copenhagen summit were(1)the lack of legitimacy of some countries.That countries were not well represented in the decision making process,(2)that there was a fundermental problem of the principles of  transpirency and inclusiveness.Well according to her these  problem will be better addressed in Cancun.My question is  ‘how can people base decisions on the intelligence of others’.Lets wait and see.

The challenges faced by different countries be them social,economic,cultural,political,willingness to mention but a few will inherently make any internationally binding agreement on emission levels/changing the climate a mere talking shop.Fundermental also are market forces in their drive for globalisation with capitalist interests .Nontheless,these forces must not be allowed to function independently in a global society.There must be signals of direction to manage and support them.These can be through international agreements in carbon emissions, and at national levels to develop frameworks to encourage markets to invest in green technology.

How will this processes be acclerated in Cancun?Firstly,there was the pledge  in Copenhagen to raise the sum of $1 billion per year fund house.This will need global and bilateral agreements to subject high emission countries to pay for cardon trade,putting self interets aside and consider the interest of the planet.Will this be achieved inlight of current global recession and spending cuts at national and international levels of governments.Secondly,this fund should be used to compesate developing nations who are working towards the objectives of climate change.Thirdly,there needs to be legitimacy in the representation and decision making process and lastly but not the least to uphold the essential principle of accountability and inclusiveness.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:saving lives and livelihoods

November 15, 2010

My interest in this topic is brought about by the frequent climatic anomalies  specifically in  Haiti and the impact this is having on the chronic  poor.

Over the last two decades,the number of recorded disasters has doubled from approximately 200 to over 400 per year.Nine of every ten of  these disasters have been climate related.Current projections regarding change suggests this trend is set to continue and that weather related hazards  events will become more frequent and more volatile.Patterns of drought and desertification are also intensifying.In addition,vulnerability is growing in many countries.Increasing unbanisation,including growing concentrations of people in unplanned and unsafe urban settlements and exposed to coastal areas,poverty,HIV prevalence,and inadequate attention to changing risk patterns,are placing more and more people in disater-prone  locations.

Never before has the challenge ”to substantially reduce the impact of disaster and to make risk reduction an essential component of development policies and programmes”,spelled out in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015(HFA),being more urgent and compelling.

In general and specifically Haiti, implementing the HFA will involved effective disaster risk reduction and entails community participation.The involvement of communities in the design and implementing of activities helps to ensure that they are well tailored to the actual vulnerabilities and to the needs of the affected people.This informed engagement helps to avoid problems and secondary effects when hazard events occur.

Disaster risk reduction must  be integrated into development activities.Disaster underpine hard won development gains,destroying lives and livelihooods and trapping many people in poverty.In addition,capacity development is a central strategy  for reducing  risks.This is needed  to manage the risks successfully.It entails not only training and specialised technical assistance,but also the strengthening of capacities and communities and individuals to recognise and reduce risks in their localities.Other measures include decentralisation of resposibilities,public-private partnerships  to mention but a few.

How is the  chronic poor affected  when disaster occurs.Over the last five years,in an era of unprecedented global wealth creation,the number of people living in chronic poverty  has increased(this in not typical of Haiti).Between 320 and 443 million people are now trapped in poverty that  lasts for many years,often for the entire lifetime.Their children frequently inherit chronic poverty.For the chronically poor,poverty is not simply about  having a very low income,it is about multidimensional deprivation-hunger,undernutrition,illeteracy,unsafe drinking water,lack of access to basic health services,social discrimination,physical insecurity and political exclusion.

Many chronically poor people depend on work which is insecure,low paid,unhealthy and unsafe,and have little scope oto improve their situation.Eradicating  chronic poverty by 2015 is a feasible goal-if national governments and international organisations make the necessary political commitment and resource allocations.This might seem an over-ambitious goal for some CDCs but offsetting this rapid gains could be made in several stable and relatively prosperous nations where many chronically poor people live  over  the next few years.

Social protection for the poor.Publicly provided social protection,particularly social assistance,plays a vital role in reducing opportunities for the chronically poor to engage with the growth process.

Public service for the  hard to reach.Making available reproductive health services and post-primary education can break the intergenerational transmission of poverty and have a dramatic effect on the prospects of  chronically poor.Inaddition,building individual and collective assests holding  will increase the personal (and collective) agency of the chronically poor.The more assets-psychological,as well as physical and social- a household possesses,the more leverage it has in social networks and transactions,as well as in formal financial markets.Anti-discriminatory  and gender empowerment policies and strategic urbanisation and migration are essntial policies to help  prevent chronic poverty and hence minimise the impact of natural disasters on the lives and livelihood of the chronic poor.

Landmines and Un-Exploded Ordinances have become the greatest thereat to Environment and Eco-System

November 9, 2010

Introduction

Landmines and Un-Exploded Ordinances (UXO) have certainly become threatening problem which affect tremendously the environment and human beings.  It has negative impacts on the socio economical developments too.  Huge usage of chemical weapons during World War I had sever and long lasting damage to the forest, agricultural lands especially in Belgium and France. The hazard vastly increased after World War II.  The statistics illustrate that there are between 60 to 110 million mines buried around the world.

 According to UNDP’s statistics, nearly 78 nations have been affected by landmines and about 85 by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). An estimate shows that there are 500,000 landmine and ERW survivors today and three-quarters of them are civilians. Among them thirty-four percent of civilian casualties are children and nearly all of them are boys. The boys between 5 and 14 are particularly the high-risk group. In some severely affected countries, children were the majority of casualties.  Example: 59 % in Afghanistan, 53% in Nepal, and 66% in Somalia.

 The most prominent environmental impact of landmines and UXO are loss of human being, access denial to vital resources such as agricultural lands, forest and natural water sources and loss of biodiversity. It has been studied that in the past half-centuries they also cause physical and emotional injuries to human beings, displacements of the communities and individuals, obstacles in agriculture, soil degradation, deforestation and pollution.  

 What is Landmine? Landmine is device usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage its target via blast and or flying fragments. They are mainly Anti-personnel mines and Anti-tank mines.  They are designed to create defensive barriers such as protecting the borders from infiltration by the enemies and to act as passive area-denial weapons in order to reject assess to territory, resources or facilities when active defense of the area is not possible.  They are laid on ground or fixed/ placed above ground on trees. 

 US Department of Defense 2005 defines that unexploded ordinance is UXO which has been primed, fused, armed or otherwise prepared for action, and which has been fired, dropped, launched, projected, or placed in such a manner as to constitute a hazard to operations, installations, personnel, or material and remains unexploded either by malfunction or design or for any other cause.

 In reality enemies take precautions from the mine targets and UXO as they are knowledgeable on the weapons and its mechanisms.  And innocent people and flora and fauna are easily trapped by these to a greatest extent.  This situation exists almost in all war affected countries. 

 Since 1999, humanitarian demining agencies cleared more than 4 million antipersonnel mines, 1 million anti-vehicle mines and 8 million items of unexploded ordnance from over one billion square meters of land for safe use through operations.  In 2006 alone, 217,000 antipersonnel mines were cleared from 450 square kilometers of contaminated land.

Access denial to vital resources and adverse effect on development:

Many of the mine-affected countries’ livelihoods depend on framing and agricultural activities.  The presence of mines and UXO prevent them from accessing to those facilities and resources.  Forests often become the only source of fuel and food and this result in reduction of resources such as deforestation and destruction of biological diversity. When people are driven off from their most productive agricultural land they may be forced to depend on a smaller area of land for survival. This land may be over-cultivated and washed-out of its mineral deposits. It leads to erosion, less yield and eventually destroys the complex ecosystems

 For e.g. in Sri Lanka, 730 villages were identified as contaminated by mines and UXOs and 202 square Km of agricultural lands in the war affected areas especially in the North and East, were abandoned and people lost their livelihoods.  The land mine impact assessment survey conducted by Sri Lanka National Steering Committee for Mine Action in 2006 states that there are still over one million land mines contaminated in the area.  It had negative impact on their house hold food security.  This situation made the people to be dependent on external food aid and other forms of international assistance.  Further more only limited areas are cleared for resettlement/ relocations as clearing agencies have limited resources.  A statistics of Viet Nam says, 6.6 million acres of land are contaminated by UXO. 

 Nearly three decades of war left Cambodia as one of the countries severely affected by landmines and ERW. Cambodia is an agricultural country and 85% of the Cambodians are engaged on agriculture for their livelihoods. However many part of the lands are contaminated with mines and UXO and it prevented from livelihood activities, prevent access to natural resources.  It drives them into more marginal and fragile environments.

 Angola is another country heavily contaminated with landmines and ERW, including cluster munitions remnants. More than four decades of armed conflict led the country to be contaminated with 40 different types of mines from 15 countries (the clearance survey indicates).  The Environmental and Social Management Framework Final Report concludes that the presence of landmines throughout the country inhibits access to land and is an environmental limitation that undermines development. A study of World Bank on the economic impact of landmines illustrate that land mines affected the overall economy of the country.

Loss of biodiversity:

There are no exact numerical data on the amount of animals that are injured or killed from landmines, but it is found thought disappearance of endangered species.  In Croatia it is reported that 4 per cent of the rare European bears were killed by landmines. Elephants, antelopes, deer and tigers got killed in Angola, Sri Lanka, Burma, Congo and Bosnia. Since the end of the war in 2002, elephants have begun to go back to the Luiana Partial Reserve in Angola’s sparsely populated Kuando-Kubango province.  When the initial migration took place a number of elephants had lost their trunks and legs by mines, condemning the animals to agonizing deaths.

Landmines introduce poisonous substances into the environment as their casings erode. Explosives commonly used in landmines, such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), seep into the soil and  the decomposition of these substances cause many environmental problems as they are often water soluble, carcinogenic, toxic, and long-lasting. When Landmines explode they scatter debris.  It destroys surrounding vegetation and soil composition and. substantially decreases the productivity of agricultural land. It also leads to soil erosion, water pollution and affect water habitats.  A study shows that detonation of UXO drastically reduced soil productivity in Quang Tri, the province of Viet Nam and the rice production per hectare has decreased by 50 percent in this area. Landmines, they represent a very serious, long-term toxic hazard to human health.

 Mitigation Methods

Today many de-mining organizations are finding the way to accelerate de-mining process though they clear the lands for safe mobility, un-doubtfully damage the environment and eco system through removal of vegetation.  It is a  biggest challenges faced by the mine-action community is the balancing act of removing mines from the ground while simultaneously protecting the contaminated soil from further damage.

 The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a global network in over 90 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.  The Ottawa Treaty or the Mine Ban Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, completely bans all anti-personnel landmines.  As of April 2010, there were 156 States Parties to the treaty. Two states have signed but not yet ratified while thirty-seven states are non-signatories to the Convention, making a total of 39 states not party.

 It is notable that non-signatories stockpile over 160 million anti-personnel mines, the majority held by just 6 countries.  The figure illustrates that China is the leading country.

Country Estimated landmine stockpile(in millions)
South Korea 2
India 4-5
Albania 2.2
USA 11.3
Russia 60-70
China 110

Source: http://members.iinet.net.au/~pictim/mines/history/history.html

It is an obligation of all states to safeguard the environment not only from other pollutions, damages.  The 39 states also should come forward or forced to come forward to sign and rectify Ottawa Treaty. 

Reference:

http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Problem

http://www.mineaction.org/

Economic Development versus Atmospheric Changes: Air pollution becoming a greatest threat in the heart of Sri Lanka – An analysis

November 8, 2010

The atmosphere is a common resource which is enjoyed by all living organs.  The eco-system maintains the atmospheric system and adjusts spontaneously enabling the organs to have better environment and air quality.  But the great influence of human being in changing eco-system reflects negatively in terms of health and wellbeing of human and the rest of all living and non living organs.  Air pollution is one those and it could be described as an undesirable change in the physical, chemical or biological characteristics of air.  When the system is affected it has an adverse effect on all organs.

 Both developed and developing countries are experiencing both indoors and outdoors air pollution and its consequences.  Sri Lanka is not exceptional among those and air pollution is an increasing environmental problem in Sri Lanka and especially in Colombo city and other metropolitan areas.  The development of science, technologies, rapid industrialization and economic initiatives are the main contributory factors for air pollution.  The transport sector alone contributes about 65% of the air pollution in Colombo city.  In addition, highly polluting industries such as thermal power plants and other factory emissions with in the Colombo metropolitan area aggravate the existing situations by contributing by 33%.  While the rest is contributed by open burning of garbage and other things. 

 Approximately 2.4 million vehicles have been registered under the Department of Motor Traffic, Sri Lanka and only 1.5 millions of these vehicles are under operation.  Sixty percent of them are operated in Colombo city.  It comprises of 27 % of diesel, 14 % of 4 wheelers petrol, 10% of 3wheelers petrol and 49% of motorcycles.  In average estimated each vehicle emits 14,730 million carbon particles per square meter to the environment each year and it is a serious situation.  Soon after the war end, the purchasing tendency of new vehicles is very high not only in Colombo city but also in other places.  Therefore growing number of vehicles are expected to pollute more and aggravate the existing situation.

 Dust /soot are another source of air pollutant to a certain extent in Sri Lanka and this is mainly caused due to poor maintenance of roads.  Hourly PM measurements indicated that the highest dust exposure occurs at 8.00 a.m. local time in the urban area.

 Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is a major environmental health problem and affects people in many ways.  Although air pollutants are many, the most important are particle pollution often referred to as particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and lead (Pb).  They are found in the ambient air and known as “criteria pollutants”. 

 Exposure to air pollutants leads to a variety of health problems depending on the type of pollutant, amount of the pollutant exposed to, duration and frequency of exposure, and associated toxicity of the specific pollutant.  These exposures are associated with a broad range of acute and chronic health effects varying from sub-clinical effects to premature mortality. 

 The air pollutants, sources and its health effects are tabulated

Pollutant Source Health effect
Carbon monoxide -Product of incompleteCombustion of organicmatter Symptoms of Co (Carbon monoxide) poisoning are:-Dizziness, Headache, General fatigue.-Blocks the uptake of Oxygen by blood by forming carboxyhaemoglobin. This affects respiration and function of brain and heart.
Sulphur oxides -Burning of fossil fuels-Automobile exhaustIndustrial process – Irritation of the mucous membrane- Aggravate existing conditions especially bronchitis- Causes wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing
 Nitrogen oxides Automobile exhaustIndustrial furnaces – Irritates mucous lining of nose and throat, coughing, choking, headache, lung inflammation such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Suspended particulate matter (PM) -Automobile exhaust fumes.-Industry – smoke,mining and construction-Agricultural activities-Indoor cooking usingfirewood-Burning of organic matter –  Aggravates heart and lung Conditions- Irritates nose, throat- Particles less than five microns can pass throughthe lungs causing inflammation and scar toLung tissue
Heavy Metals – Pb Motor vehicle exhaustIndustry -. Accumulate in bones where it replaces Calcium- Lead intoxication will lead to brain damage- Low level of chronic exposure to Pb leads topermanent retardation inchildren

Though air pollutants affect all human beings, the age groups of 0-14 years old and 50 and up are more prone to health hazards and undergo serious chronic health problems. The population in Colombo city is 680,000 and out of them 200,000 are school children.  Many of schools are situated along busy main roads and schools children are more vulnerable and exposed to high level of pollutants.  Air pollutant such as NOx, SOx and TSP levels are significantly higher in the premises of the urban schools as compared to as remote schools.  Therefore prevalence of respiratory symptom such as cough, phlegm, wheezing among school children attending in the cit limit is higher that that of children attending a school in a rural area. 

 This hazardous and unhealthy environment not only affects Colombo city but also all main economical capitals/cities such as Galle, Kandy etc.  Hospital statistics at Gall district illustrate as follows:

Prevalence of Asthama

District Year 2008 Year 2009
Galle 21.90% 28.70%
Village Chandgarh 12.50% 10.40%

The table explicitly illustrates that the air pollutant has grater impact among children i.e., 21.9 % and 28.7 % respectively in 2008 and 2009 with in the city limit Gall.  Whereas it is low, i.e., 10.4% and 12.5% respectively in 2008 and 2009 in the rural area – Chandgrah of the same district.  It is also to be noted that the prevalence of asthma increase to higher level compared to the previous. 

 In another instance, the statistics of the government hospital for children –‘Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH)’ in the Colombo city illustrate that 30, 932 children received nebulizer therapy in the emergency treatment unit (the median daily attendance was 85) during 12 month period beginning in July 1998.  Further binomial test indicate that the highest number of episodes of nebulization occurred on the most polluted day with respect to SO₂ and NO₂. 

 Colombo Fort Monitoring Station used the software which was prepared by WHO to assess the air pollutants and the assessment findings state that occurrence of bronchitis, emphysema and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases had strong association with PM level.  Further it illustrates that 20% of asthma patients who got treatment at LRH, in Colombo in 2005 should have been exposed PM10. 

 Another assessment carried out among bus drivers, trishaw drivers, shop keepers and outdoor vendors to study respiratory condition through a questionnaire indicates that the highest prevalence of respiratory system was reported among bus drivers. 

 Another trend according to the health record of Sri Lanka states that since 1995 the diseases of the respiratory system have been ranged as the second leading causes of hospitalization.  The respiratory diseases were with in the first seven leading causes of death in all age groups except 15-24 and 25-49 years.  The statistics of hospitalization and hospital death from 1995-2001 shows that Asthma has become a major respiratory diseases. 

 The rapidly increasing vehicle population and fuel consumption particularly diesel, high proportion of old vehicles and poor vehicle maintenance; absence of clean fuel, and the high rate of urbanization are contributing to dangerous pollution levels in Sri Lanka.

 Conclusion:

The facts and figures clearly illustrate the seriousness of air pollutants in Colombo city, and other major cities and its negative impact on the human’s health.  It leads to chronic and deadly diseases.  Therefore it is the right time to take immediate action to control air pollutants through all possible means. 

 While the government of Sri Lanka takes a lead to mitigate these problems through policy reforms and adoptions and in ensures the policies to be practised, the private and public sectors could also actively be engaged in these initiatives.  We know that there were several policies were put forward to maintain air quality by the successive governments in the past, due to various constrains and priorities, they were not achieved fully or succeeded. 

 Some possible interventions for actions:

  1. Minimize numbers of vehicle usage with in the cities and core areas.  We do observe that many of private vehicles travel with only one person.  In addition to convenience, it is also believed in Sri Lanka that travelling in a personal vehicle could bring social status.  These attitudes should be changed.   
  2.  The public transport mechanism should be improved enabling the public to rely on the services.  It is important to increase the number of train and bus services.
  3.  Through CO₂ emission control practices are under effect, we could observe there are many more vehicles that supposed to be banned/ ceased are not happening.  The policy should be strictly practiced. 
  4.  The government as well as private sources should seek possible hydropower techniques for electricity and energy rather on thermal power plants. 
  5.  Road infrastructures should be improved.  While it reduces traffic congestions, eventually the fuel consumption and it will also reduce dust problems. 
  6.  On the other hand public should be taught about the importance of clean air and the mitigation methods at household and community level to minimize air pollutant.  While they are encouraged to plant trees, action should be taken to stop open burning.  

 As a Sri Lankan we all have the obligations to think about our younger and future generations and their safety and health.  They have rights to breathe clean and healthy air.  So we all have to join together for actions.

When Common turned Green

November 8, 2010

Tarbela dam is one of the largest water reservoir, in the northwest of Pakistan. It is surrounded by mountains, with high biodiversity. A number of plant and animal species can be found in surrounding areas. Tarbela water reservoir and surrounding mountains are source of recreation for local communities. The peoples often go for fishing, hunting, boating and for hiking. The migratory birds are the additional feature of reservoir, and every year 1000s of Siberian birds visits, every winter.

  Across the Tarbela water reservoir, there is a large piece of land. It was a common land, shared by a local tribe for many decades. This common land was shared by the members of tribe for grazing their cattle’s and for the collection of  fuel wood, until 1970s. This  particular shared piece of common land was in addition to their individually owned agricultural land. The agricultural land was divided into parts and was owned by individual person/household.  The shared common land was mainly consists of a chain of mountains, with some plain part. In 1970s, the population of surrounding area was small, and common land always had enough resources to provide fuel wood and grass for the cattle’s. The tribe was self sufficient, by means of food production and many other resources for their living.

The concept of hunting wasn’t so common and surrounding mountains were full of wild life, and common land was covered with forest (mainly small shrubs and small wooded plant)

 In  1974, the construction of tarbela dam was completed, dislocating local tribes. They were moved  next to tarbela water reservoir, where a town was built for dislocated people. The above discussed tribe was one of them. Their agricultural plain land was drowned however, common land was still out of water. The direct access to this land was cut off by water and boats were only source to get in there. However. some other tribes were moved to the opposite side of  the tarbela water reservoir with direct access to this land though they don’t have right to use it. The absence of its owner tribe, encouraged the peoples living in the surroundings of   that land to exploit its resources, especially through hunting.

The francolin bird specie was almost diminished locally because of hunting.

Picture: Francolin, A native bird specie in north west of Pakistan.

Though the members of  owner  tribe were visiting time to time, but diminishing birds were never noted, as for them, it wasn’t some thing economically valuable. However the trees were always checked thoroughly.

 As it was mentioned that, this land was a common land shared by whole tribe, in 1998,  a news was heard that few members of tribe have sold whole forest. It was a shocking news for  many peoples and when, it was proved, a local meeting (Jirga) was called to resolve the issue. According to local tradition, it was headed by few old and experienced peoples. The members who sold the forest argued that they have right to do so, and next time when the forest will grow up, some one else can sell it, or we can share the money. However , many young member (mostly educated) of tribe were not agreed and the issue was resolved after giving warning, don’t repeat it. In 2004, same thing happened again.

  This time, community meeting (jirga) was held, and it appeared that there were three groups. One was favouring that after every few year forest should be cut and sold. Money can be distributed. However there were two other groups that were insisting that common land should be divided and every one will take care of its own land. Finally, in 2004, common land was divided ( how?  It was a complicated process, and many factors were taken into account, especially historical usage of land ). 

 In 2005, one of the group started plantation, in addition to existing shrubs. Initially 1000 plants were planted and it was agreed that every year, plantation will be carried out. As it was hilly area, beyond the water reservoir and hardly accessible, a small room (dera) was built and a guard was appointed there to take care of plants and animals, too. Hunting was strictly banned. The other group, that was popular for deforestation also did the same.. A competition was start and now, a lush green forest can be seen with fearless birds flying around.

                                                                  

Tarbela (Pakistan): Pictures taken on September, 2008. (two years after plantation).

User Fee for the Global Commons?

November 8, 2010

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) suggests in its Special Report Charging the Use of Global Commons (2002) that a fee should be put on the usage of global commons, like the atmosphere or the seas. The report argues that airspace and the seas are natural common goods for which property rights are not sufficiently defined. Because of the lack of international regulations over their usage, these commons are overexploited and therefore the international community should take charge of their protection. The report shows that, for example, the CO2 emissions from international aviation or shipping are not included in the national emission listings and so they are also not subject to, for example, the Kyoto Protocol commitments. The liberalization of aviation leading to cheaper flights has also further added to the problem. The report suggests that this could be fixed by introducing user charges that could be the first practical step towards a global system for the conservation of natural goods. The charges would not only create an incentive to reduce the environmental impact but also the revenue collected could be then used for conserving these common goods. The report predicts that user charges might also be an additional incentive to plan and create innovative and improved technologies and lead to changes in behaviour when using the global commons. However, the report acknowledges the challenges and the scepticism that has surrounded these kinds of ideas. There are, for example, fears of unemployment and loss of competitiveness. Emerging countries have also been afraid that this might affect their tourism industry as well as increase transporting costs for exporting to the foreign markets.  

Philippe Douste-Blazy (2010) writes in his article, Millennium Development Miles, also about the aviation user charges but in a slightly different context. He mentions how a small fee introduced to air tickets have collected 1,5 billon USD since 2007 to the UN sponsored international drug purchase facility, UNITAID. According to Douste-Blazy, the money has been used to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health – the three health related MDGs. For example, UNITAID can finance drugs for three-quarters of the children receiving anti-retrovirals in the world today. Douste-Blazy continues that UNITAID has now got together with the Millennium Foundation to create a fundraising mechanism called Voluntary Solidarity Contribution that gives the possibility for travellers to add an extra 2 USD to their plane ticket purchase and so make voluntary donation. Even though this only applies to 7-10% of all airline tickets, it has still managed to collect 400 million USD a year. Extending this programme would naturally, Douste-Blazy argues, increase the collected amounts even more.

The idea of a user charge does give us something to think about. Would a charge in air flights be a good solution to fight the climate change in one way at least? Surely this extra money collected and spend on a “good cause” cannot be a bad thing. Collecting a small amount of extra money (like that 2USD) probably does not make a difference to most of us. But when calculating together like Douste-Blazy shows, it does come up to a considerable amount. What to spend that money on, I cannot say. Would be great we could use it for developing new technologies that help us to fight the climate change, but are not the medicines important as well?

However, is collecting a user fee a sustainable solution? Would it really change our behaviour when coming to the usage of the global commons, like suggested in the report? Today people travel a lot and long distances. Which one of us is ready to change their habits and travel less in order to fight the climate change and is it even realistic to expect us to do so? And we have not even mentioned the needs for transportation in trade. As the hope of many is to see more economic growth and more trade, does that not imply more transportation, via air, oceans or even just roads?  If we keep travelling and transporting our goods to the same speed and amounts – or even faster and bigger amounts –  as before, can a small sum collected as an extra fee make that much of a difference? Or is this just another way to make us feel good about ourselves for doing ‘all this for a good cause’ – to fight the climate change with 2 dollars – and distract us from the real issue; the excessive and unsustainable usage of our global commons and our environment?

The Dammed World

November 8, 2010

As we discussed in our last seminar, the construction of dams can be extremely controversial. According to the WWF’s (World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund) Dam facts and figures, there are an estimated 48,000 dams worldwide, half of which are in China. The benefits of dams are monumental. They can boost agriculture, supply drinking water to water deprived regions, provide electricity, and store water needed during droughts. In many instances, they have even helped boost the GDP of countries such as Egypt.

However, sometimes the disadvantages of dam construction far outweigh the benefits. The Economist article on “The ups and downs of dams” describes how they have the potential to create catastrophic environmental damage including flooded valleys, destroyed villages and habitats, drained wetlands, and the reduction of inland seas to mere puddles. They can also create permanent damage to people’s lives. China’s proposed south-north dam scheme alone stands to displace around 250,000 individuals from their homes. And if history is any indicator, one could assume the Chinese government will not adequately reimburse those individuals for their loss and they’ll be left to fend for themselves.

But aside from these pros and cons, dams in general come at a significant cost. Countries spend millions of dollars to construct and maintain them, and often have to look to the World Bank and other financial backers to complete them. It would be worth the investment if the benefits outnumbered the losses, but that is often hard to determine beforehand. And poorer countries don’t often have the finances to “build sewers, drains, dams, reservoirs, flood defences, irrigation canals and barrages” to avoid the many disasters that can occur, putting them at a further disadvantage once they do.

It seems that the construction of a dam needs to be evaluated at length from many different perspectives before money and lives are lost in the aftermath. So as the WWF asks, “to dam or not to dam?” That is the question.