Their aim is to create a toilet that will process wastewater in family homes and convert it into gas or electricity, saving families money and protecting them from deadly diseases caused by poor sanitation.
The Bangkok-based Asian Institute for Technology (AIT) is receiving a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the project, part of an estimated $380 million effort by the foundation to tackle sanitation problems in Asia and Africa.
“The [flush] technology that we’ve been using so far is 200 years old already … It hasn’t really been improved at all [since],” Thammarat Koottatep, an environmental engineer and associate professor at AIT, said at the AIT project’s launch Sept. 24.
The current flush toilet requires a substantial amount of sewage infrastructure, which is expensive to build and run. The technology for re-using and recycling the byproducts of animal waste is already available and used in industry but has not yet been applied to toilets, Thammarat said.
Severe diarrhea caused by poor sanitation kills 1.5 million children worldwide each year, according to the Gates Foundation.
According to the East Meets West Foundation, a US nongovernmental organization and another recipient of Gates Foundation’s sanitation funds, 50 percent of households in Vietnam and around 80 percent of households in Cambodia do not have sanitation facilities.
Almost 99 percent of people in Thailand have access to toilets, said Thammarat, yet the issue is not just about access but also of efficient disposal of waste afterward.
“Safe sanitation means you should be able to reduce the contaminants or the pollutants after flushing the toilet,” and Thailand has not reached that stage, he said.
Thailand produces 20 million cubic meters (5.3 billion gallons) - the equivalent of 8,000 Olympic swimming pools - of domestic wastewater per day, according to AIT. But only 1.6 million cubic meters are collected in sewer networks and sent to treatment plants, many of which do not function.
Less than 10 percent of the 60,000 tons of fecal sludge collected per day is treated correctly.
“We have a problem of contamination, very highly polluted rivers and canals,” leading to foul-smelling waterways especially in the dry season, said Thammarat.
The key to providing extensive and safe sanitation coverage in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam is to focus on decentralized systems, he said, often called septic or onsite systems, that focus at the household level.
Here, wastewater is treated close to the source, typically on the property of individual homes or businesses and saves owners the cost of connecting to a sewage system and eliminates the environmental burden of transporting large quantities of wastewater to a treatment plant.
In August, East Meets West received $10.9 million from the Gates Foundation, also to improve sanitation and hygiene practices, but this time among the rural poor in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Open defecation and the unsafe disposal of human waste in these two countries result in an estimated 17,000 deaths annually, 90 percent of which occur in children under age five, East Meets West said.
East Meets West’s program includes access to credible sources of financing for families to install latrines and hand-washing devices in their homes and conditional cash transfers to communes that achieve at least a 30 percent increase in sanitation coverage.
“The system we have [the flush toilet] only reaches one-third of the world’s population,” Doulaye Koné, a water and sanitation expert and senior program officer with the Gates Foundation said Sept. 24.
“It’s very expensive to buy this type of toilet, link it to kilometers and kilometers of sewer line, and build the kind of infrastructure that is needed to process it,” he added.
Yet he believes the problems can be fixed and he’s hoping to have more partners in Asia who will work with the organization on re-inventing the flush toilet.
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Halfway across the country at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital, a “showcase suite” shows how a child's hospital room can be made less intimidating and more comfortable.
The "1 percent" built the bike-repair workshop. The "1 percent" also built the hospital room.
No, not the 1 percent that’s been the object of Occupy Wall Street protests. This is "The 1%" program of Public Architecture. Based in San Francisco, the
organization connects nonprofit groups in need of design assistance with architecture or design firms. The name for the group comes from the idea that if firms across the country donate just 1 percent of their time each year to charitable work it would equal 5 million hours.
“In a moment of ambitious insanity, I decided to start a nonprofit,” says John Peterson, the founder and president of The 1%.
Mr. Peterson previously ran a small private architecture firm that specialized primarily in residential projects. But as his firm began taking on projects that forced him to think about its role in various kinds of neighborhoods, he saw an opportunity to help underserved communities.
Most architecture and design firms, he found, were unfamiliar with the idea of doing pro bono work. Initially, holding design competitions was the only way to get firms to participate.
“But competition [projects] rarely get built,” says Amy Ress, project manager for The 1% program. “We wanted to do projects that would get built.”
Mr. Peterson launched The 1% in 2001. More than 10 years later, more than 1,000 architecture and design firms (between 3 percent and 5 percent of all American architectural firms) and 600 nonprofit organizations are participating. About 18 new firms join each month, he says.
One of the earliest design ideas was The Station, which would serve as a gathering point for day laborers. Day laborers normally must hang out at spaces meant for other uses, such as gas stations and parking lots. Today a handful of official Day Labor centers exist across the country.
The Station, a flexible, pavilion-like structure could also serve as an employment center and classroom. While it’s not yet in use, the project is an example of how design can push discussion about social issues, according to the Program for Public Architecture website.
More outreach to architectural firms is needed to increase the number of pro bono participants , Ms. Ress says.
“If they [architectural firms] can’t keep the lights on and pay their staffs, they can’t do it,” Ress says. So The 1% needs to educate architect and design firms on how pro bono work can be a healthy part of doing business.
Firms should think of donating their time as an investment, Ress says. Nonprofits often have influential people on their boards. The chance to present work to a group of influential people is an opportunity, she says. One pro bono project can lead to 10 paying projects because of the connections made. And, in turn, new paying projects mean the firm will be able to afford to do yet more pro bono work, she says.
Donating time also permits firms to reach markets outside their usual business circle. And it allows younger firms to test new designs and technologies as well.
Only nonprofit groups based in the United States can participate in The 1%, though their projects can be anywhere. For example, San Francisco-based Room to Read builds libraries and school in Africa. It came to The 1% to find a design firm to help it become more energy and resource efficient.
A few firms in Canada and other nations use The 1% to share their pro bono work ideas though they haven’t yet joined in and matched up with nonprofit groups.
Financial support for The 1% comes from a mix of corporate and private foundations, according to The 1%. These groups include the National Endowment for the Arts, Shaw Contract Group, Teknion, and Formica. Contributions also come from firms such as Gensler, Cannon, and McCall Design Group.
From its start, The 1% has always asked the questions "How do we participate in the community? What is our responsibility in the community?” Peterson says.
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They’re getting mentors.
Veterans Helping Veterans — modeled after a successful program in Palm Beach County, Fla. — pairs seasoned former military service men and women with veterans, of all ages and from all wars, who have ended up on the wrong side of the law.
Though created in 2010 through Broward’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, known as RSVP, the program didn’t start thriving until being connected to the county’s Veterans’ Treatment Court, which opened in May.
Now, it’s receiving three to four court referrals weekly (although any veteran can apply for assistance) and has 18 mentors, who under RSVP guidelines must be age 55 or older. Impact Broward CEO and president John Gargotta, whose nonprofit agency manages the RSVP program, is recruiting more.
“The court has created a lot of momentum,” RSVP director Edward Gray said. “But we know there are a lot of veterans who aren’t aware of the program, who aren’t going to their American Legion or VFW for support.”
The veterans’ court is designed to channel people who suffer from behavior, mental health, or substance abuse issues connected to their service into counseling or treatment programs. Department of Veterans Affairs psychologists first evaluate all candidates.
Palm Beach County was one of the first judicial circuits in the state to have a veterans court, holding its first session in 2010. The county’s court-mandated mentorship program, run by the nonprofit Faith, Hope, Love, Charity, Inc. in West Palm Beach, now is assisting 55 veterans, and has 25 more who have “graduated.”
Mentors can “keep veterans who are arrested out of the revolving door [of the justice system],” said program coordinator Michael Coleman, who served 21 years in the Air Force. “We want to bring them back and give them a second chance at being good citizens.”
Coleman said veteran-to-veteran mentorship has been so effective at getting offenders back on track that several other counties are asking his agency for guidance on setting up their programs.
“We see a veteran who came into court looking like he was down on his last bit of luck come back in 12 or 15 months with a smile on his face and ready to go back into society,” he said.
Census figures show that south Florida has one of the largest veterans’ populations in the state, with more than 118,000 living in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Defendants in veterans’ courts — many charged with addiction-related misdemeanors such as drug possession or resisting arrest — still are sentenced and penalized for their crimes. But Broward County Judge Edward Merrigan, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, knows the AA meetings and counseling he orders can be more helpful than jail time.
“A veteran mentor is an extension of that,” said Merrigan, who makes the referrals to Veterans Helping Veterans. “I want someone who will check on them and encourage them. Their lawyers can’t do that.”
Veterans Helping Veterans is funded by the federal Corporation for National & Community Service, through RSVP.
Mentors are people who understand why a young man who just returned from Afghanistan can’t sleep or flies into a rage over nothing. Mentors are a ride to a nearby Veterans Affairs clinic, a phone call after a bad day, help with a resume, a guide back into civilian life.
Jeremy Bortz, of Lauderhill, Fla., came back to a construction job in 2006 after multiple Army combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he struggled to control his anger, with inexplicable fits of weeping when he talked to co-workers about what he had seen and done.
“I’ve been out six years, and I can still smell the dead people,” Bortz said he told them.
Sometimes, Bortz said, he would leave the house and forget how to find his way back home.
The VA eventually certified Bortz as disabled due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unable to work, he ended up in veterans’ court last month after being charged with a misdemeanor — and was paired with Gargotta, who served with a medivac unit in Vietnam.
The two agree that while their wars were different, their experiences were similar. Gargotta is familiar with VA disability claims, and Bortz said he feels more comfortable accepting help from a fellow combat veteran.
“Any guy in the service will respect a guy who fought in Vietnam,” he said.
Battle scars often aren’t on the surface, and some veterans who stand before Merrigan were discharged long ago. Edwin Stafford, who has been homeless and in and out of jail for years, served in the Coast Guard almost 30 years ago.
At 51, he found himself before Merrigan on drug charges, and the judge suggested Stafford might benefit from a mentor. Now, after a few meetings with Gargotta, Stafford has signed up for vocational culinary training and is searching for a permanent place to live.
“I’m learning life skills now,” he said.
• For more information on the Veterans Helping Veterans mentorship program or to become a mentor, call 954-484-7117 or go to seniorvolunteerservices.org. For information on Palm Beach County’s volunteer mentor program, call 561-968-1612 or go to standown.org.
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Money is whizzing through the airwaves and cell towers of Zimbabwe, as a mobile cash-transfer system is on track to become the country’s biggest bank.
EcoCash, a mobile money-transfer service operated by telecommunications company EcoNet Wireless Zimbabwe, has reached a million subscribers in under six months since its launch, according to Mobile Money Africa. EcoCash enables money transfers across all networks between mobile users, a rapidly expanding sector of the Zimbabwean population.
And in a country where 80 percent of residents do not have access to mainstream bank accounts, a service that requires nothing but a mobile phone is a popular and more convenient alternative. Mobile phone users now make up 77 percent of the population, compared to just 6 percent in 2006, reports Mobile Money for the Unbanked. And EcoNet Wireless, EcoCash’s parent company, has that market cornered in Zimbabwe, with 6.5 million customers, which represents 70 percent of the market share of cell phone users, according to Mobile Money Africa.
EcoCash, a mobile money-transfer service, has reached a million subscribers. “There is a lot of money to be made by investing in the poor,” says Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.
Within that segment, EcoCash has seen success by targeting the low-end market. Customers don’t need to have bank accounts, and 1,400 street agents throughout the country help make subscribing a quick and easy process. Agents receive a commission when customers total transactions reach $50, encouraging agents to target those likely to be actively using the service.
While the legalization of foreign currency in 2009 has pulled Zimbabwe’s previously plummeting economy out of a nose-dive, it’s also created challenges, including a shortage of change. The "coin problem" can make small transactions difficult to complete accurately, reported the New York Times, and small transactions tend to be the kind low-income users make. But now mobile cash services like EcoCash allow precise payment, regardless of the size of a transaction.
The ease of transactions is just one factor contributing to the skyrocketing popularity of EcoCash. Actual banks are more difficult to access than mobile phones, and the dark history of the Zimbabwean dollar contributed to widespread distrust of traditional banking services, reports the Zimbabwe Daily Mail.
Visibility aids EcoCash in its market domination. EcoCash markets its services through advertisements on public mini-buses, known as kombis, in urban areas, and over radio talk shows in rural areas. Widespread marketing helps keep EcoCash ahead of other, smaller competitor. And while some competitors require users to have bank accounts, EcoCash allows customers to bank with just their phone.
EcoCash modeled much of its strategy off of the success of Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, also under the umbrella of a telecommunications company, Safaricom. M-Pesa’s popularity has exploded in Kenya, with a customer base of close to 15 million subscribers, up from 2 million over five years.
Like EcoNet, M-Pesa’s parent company, Safaricom, dominates the telecommunications market in Kenya with a 67 percent market share, according to The Zimbabwe Independent. Like EcoCash, M-Pesa grew rapidly in its first year, although EcoCash’s first-year growth outpaced that of M-Pesa. And while Microfinance Africa reports that other countries have had difficulty replicating the long-term success of M-Pesa, similar marketing and business strategies and market domination make EcoCash a potential candidate to exhibit similar growth.
Most current EcoCash transactions are small, but the service is looking to increase its reach “into business services, such as bulk payments, salaries, and merchant transactions,” according to Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU). Customers currently pay a fee between 2 percent and 7 percent for transfers, but EcoNet hopes that as business volume continues to increase, those fees will be lowered further.
EcoNet sees the mobile money service “as a strategic business, rather than simply another product in its portfolio,” Francis Matseketsa, the head of EcoCash, told MMU:
"EcoCash believes that its primary economic driver will be cost savings on airtime distribution, as transaction revenue alone has not yet pushed the service to break even ... [and] offers a 5 percent discount on airtime purchased with EcoCash, a promotion that has proved very popular with customers."
Yet whether or not EcoCash proves to successfully bring Zimbabwe towards a thriving cashless economy, it has already demonstrated its ability to create jobs and keep cash changing hands – or phones – in what was long known as one of the world’s worst economic climates.
How will the world find the water to feed a growing population in an era of droughts and water shortages? The answer, a growing number of water experts are saying, is to forget big government-run irrigation projects with their mega-dams, giant canals, and often corrupt and indolent management.
Farmers across the poor world, they say, are solving their water problems far more effectively with cheap Chinese-made pumps and other low-tech and off-the-shelf equipment. Researchers are concluding that small is both beautiful and productive.
“Cheap pumps and new ways of powering them are transforming farming and boosting income all over Africa and Asia,” says Meredith Giordano, lead author of a three-year research project looking at how smallholder farmers are turning their backs on governments and finding their own solutions to water problems.
“We were amazed at the scale of what is going on,” Giordano says. Indian farmers have an estimated 20 million pumps at work watering their fields. As many as 200 million Africans benefit from the crops they water. And in addition to pumps, she notes, “simple tools for drilling wells and capturing rainwater have enabled many farmers to produce more crops in the dry season, hugely boosting their incomes.”
Such innovations are becoming a major driver of economic growth, poverty reduction, and food security, says her report, "Water for Wealth and Food Security," published by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a research center based in Sri Lanka.
The report says better support for this hidden farmer-led revolution could increase crop yields threefold in some places — and could add tens of billions of dollars to the household incomes of poor farmers across Africa and south Asia, the two regions where the majority of the world’s poor and food-insecure rural people live.
But such help could be a while coming, because much of the revolution is happening out of sight of governments and international organizations. In Ghana, the study found, small private irrigation schemes cover 185,000 hectares – 25 times more land than public irrigation projects. “Yet when I asked the agriculture minister there about these schemes, he hadn't even heard of them,” says Colin Chartres, director of IWMI.
For years, national governments and aid agencies have believed that centrally planned and run irrigation schemes, mostly tapping large rivers, are the answer to the world’s growing shortage of reliable water supplies needed to grow the food for people in arid countries and those with highly seasonal or unpredictable rainfall. But the record of such schemes has proved patchy at best. The 2000 report of the World Commission on Dams, set up by the World Bank, found that a quarter of dam-fed irrigation schemes watered less than 35 percent of the land intended, cost over-runs were almost universal, and a quarter of the irrigated fields were waterlogged or poisoned by salt. Not surprisingly, farmers have increasingly been making their own arrangements for water.
I have seen this revolution taking hold all over the world in recent years. In northern Nigeria, I saw the canals of the state-owned Kano Irrigation Project clogged with weeds, and the fields often untended, while a few miles away, farmers lined up pumps on the banks of the river, diverting its flow to their fields.
Across India, I met farmers who are reviving the ancient tradition of digging ponds to capture water as it falls onto their land during the short monsoon, storing it for growing crops during the long dry season. In Mexico, I found farmers irrigating fields in the middle of a state irrigation scheme by pumping up the prodigious amounts of water seeping from unlined irrigating canals.
Charlotte de Fraiture of UNESCO’s Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands, agrees there is a hydrological revolution going on. Rich farmers have always had the money to buy pumps, she says, but “with the availability of cheap Chinese pumps, this type of irrigation is accessible to a much larger range of farmers.” You can now buy pumps at almost any town market for as little as $200.
Even the cheapest models transform livelihoods. “The capacity of even a small pump with 1 to 5 horsepower is bigger than most farmers need,” says de Fraiture. “So they hire them out.”
In India, small-time rural entrepreneurs travel the countryside on bikes or donkey carts, with pumps strapped on the back. They rent the pumps for a dollar an hour, so even the poorest farmers can get some water from a local river or underground water reserve. In Burkina Faso in West Africa, pump owners supply a complete service, keeping small vegetable gardens irrigated for $120 to $150 per growing season.
Of course, pumps need a power source, usually either electricity or diesel. But in India, some farmers are using dung from their cows to generate biodiesel. One Gujarati practitioner told IWMI researchers that dung-powered pumping saved him $400 a year in fuel.
Such farmers are not being green; they are being pragmatic. According to the IWMI’s Chartres, a big push by aid groups a few years ago to get poor farmers to invest in treadle pumps to raise water from shallow aquifers beneath their fields has largely failed. “Most farmers don’t want to sit in the hot sun all day, pumping up water with their feet,” he says. “Not when you can hook up a motor pump for a few dollars.”
Farmers are also finding inexpensive ways to conserve water by using drip irrigation – delivering water down pipes from where it drips through holes close to plant roots. Conventional drip irrigation is costly to install. But in central India farmers have found a novel solution. They buy rolls of cheap perforated plastic tubing that ice-pop sellers use to package their frozen candies. The perforations, which the ice-pop sellers use to tear off each individual popsicle holder, turn out to be ideal for dripping water close to crop roots.
Too often, we have a picture of poor smallholder farmers as passive victims of natural disasters, or the grateful recipients of aid from others. But here they emerge in a different light. It is they – rather than governments, NGOs, or Western aid-givers – who are the active players, taking charge of their own destiny.
But there is a downside, which the IWMI report touches on, and which in some regions is a major threat to both future water supplies and the survival of the farming communities themselves.
The danger is that independent action by farmers to water their fields is creating a “tragedy of the commons” – in which everyone grabs what water they can while they can, because they know that all will suffer when the water runs out. This is especially a risk where farmers are pumping out underground water reserves at rates that the rains cannot replenish.
Seven years ago, I toured Gujarat with Tushaar Shah, head of IWMI's groundwater research station. He was in despair at what he called “hydrological anarchy” in the Indian state. A million farmers had bought cheap pumps that they were plugging into the heavily subsidized state electricity grid. The pumps often ran 24 hours a day, bringing massive volumes of underground water to the surface. The farmers’ yields often doubled, but the water tables were plummeting. “It looks like a one-way trip to disaster,” he told me then. “Nobody knows where the pumps are, or who owns them. There is no way anyone can control what happens to them.”
Yet today, Shah is one of the co-authors of the IWMI study advocating more of the same. What changed? He says that, on his advice, the state government of Gujarat has tamed the anarchy by restricting power supplies for farmers to eight hours a day. Water tables are still falling, he admits, but with pumping time limited, the decline is much slower than before.
Many will think the IWMI report underplays the risk of hydrological anarchy. But, when I put this to Chartres, he countered that in many places, there is still huge scope to encourage farmers to make better use of both surface and underground water. In some of the poorest parts of eastern India, there is water to spare, and there are better livings to be had. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, farmers have increased their incomes by 70 percent by constructing on-farm ponds.
The story is the same in sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the continent is often thought of as short of water. The images of hungry people searching for food in droughts are seared in our memories. But much of Africa has abundant water for much of the time – what’s needed is to find better ways to store and tap it.
State-sponsored irrigation projects in Africa have a dismal record. IWMI quotes a UN estimate that only 3 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s renewable water resources are currently used for agriculture.
Given how little is known about African farmers’ informal irrigation, this is probably an underestimate. But even so, there is clearly room to scale up. Millions of Africans could transform their livelihoods by deploying pumps, according to Chartres. “There are huge investment opportunities for unlocking the potential of this farmer-led approach,” he says.
What should be done? Chartres calls for more investment in bringing electricity to rural communities, encouraging the local manufacture of pumps, and supporting local water entrepreneurs. He says this should be coupled with an effort to map water reserves and prevent farmers from taking too much when supplies are tight.
De Fraiture agrees. She despairs that governments and donors alike “continue to focus their attention and investments on the underperforming public irrigation sector, when private irrigation is both more important and has larger potential” for scaling up.
The new thinking from IWMI about managing water supplies has a striking parallel with how researchers are discussing other global commons, notably forests. Once it was assumed that only states could protect forests. But recent research suggests that local people often know best how to both protect and use them.
Now the same lesson seems to be emerging for water.
Governments cannot shirk their responsibility for ensuring that water is used wisely. But perhaps they should give up the idea that the water in rivers and underground is theirs alone – or that only they can manage it.
• Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He serves as environmental consultant for New Scientist magazine and is the author of numerous books, including "When The Rivers Run Dry" and "With Speed and Violence." In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Pearce has written about how indigenous people are using GPS technology to protect their lands and about the promise of “climate-smart” agriculture.
Hawa Aden Mohamed won the United Nations refugee agency's Nansen Refugee Award Sept. 18 for her work in helping thousands of Somali women and girls, many of them rape victims, start new lives in their battered homeland.
Mohamed is a former Somali refugee who returned from safety in Canada to her war-torn country in 1995, launching an education program in Puntland to shelter and train Somalis who have fled war, famine, and violence, it said.
Known as "Mama Hawa," she founded the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, which has assisted more than 215,000 displaced and victims of violence since 1999, it said.
"In a society like Somalia, it's very often that a woman or a girl is raped, and they are severely marginalized thereafter. So what she has done is given them is a home, a new start, hope for a new life, and their dignity back," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing.
Young Somali boys also receive vocational training in carpentry and welding to keep them off the streets and avoid them falling prey to criminal or armed groups, the agency said.
Somalia's new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took office Sept 16, calling for an end to terrorism and piracy in a nation mired in conflict for more than two decades. More than 2 million people have been displaced.
Recent laureates include the late US Sen. Edward Kennedy, for sponsoring asylum legislation, and former British soldier Chris Clark, for removing mines in Lebanon, allowing displaced people to return home after Israel's 2006 invasion.
Ms. Mohamed, currently hospitalized in Kenya recovering from surgery, is expected to attend the awards ceremony in Geneva Oct. 1, Ms. Fleming said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jason Neely)
Keeping coastal mangrove forests intact or replanting them is cheaper than building man-made structures to protect coastlines threatened by climate change, according to the head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“Our message is, ‘Don’t assume that man-made or engineered solutions are the only ones to protect our coasts and rivers and to provide drinking water. We are not against engineering in the absence of natural solutions, but look at what nature has to offer,’ ” urged Julia Marton-Lefevre at the recent World Conservation Congress in South Korea.
Preserving mangrove forests can help regulate rainfall patterns, reduce the risk of disasters from extreme weather and sea-level rise, provide breeding grounds for fish, and capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to slow climate change, she said. That suggests preserving them will be essential to fighting climate change and protecting lives and livelihoods in the face of climate shifts already under way.
IN PICTURES: Sustaining the environment
“Standing trees help us with inevitable climate change,” she said. “Keeping mangroves intact on the coast is not only good for capturing and storing carbon but also very useful for protecting the coast in times of extreme weather conditions and acting like nurseries for fish to ensure people have protein to eat,” she said.
Ms. Marton-Lefevre said the financial benefits of maintaining mangrove forests outweigh those of, for instance, cutting mangroves to build coastal hotels, particularly when their effect on disaster risk is taken into account.
And “it is the same for trees standing rather than being cut down [in terms of] protecting against landslides,” she said.
“Ecosystems, including mangroves, play a role in mitigation and adaptation. You have to respect the forests, wetlands, peatlands, and oceans in capturing and storing carbon. Once you respect that, then maybe there would be an impetus to take care of [them] better,” she said, during an interview with AlertNet.
“Standing forests also provide livelihoods for people,” she added. “You don’t have to cut the trees down to raise cattle. You could also grow food inside the forest canopy,” she said.
Part of what is driving cutting of mangroves and other forests, experts at the conference said, is a lack of alternatives to fuel wood.
In Pakistan’s Balochistan province, for instance, the juniper forests of Ziarat are being cut because residents have no other way of getting fuel. But pilot projects to provide alternative energy sources, including solar lighting, are helping make a difference, experts said.
IN PICTURES: Sustaining the environment
Pakistan’s mangrove forests, similarly, have been reduced from 600,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) to 86,000 hectares (190,000 acres) over the last 50 years, according to a documentary film shown at the conference.
But an IUCN-backed effort to ensure “mangroves for the future” has so far overseen replanting of 30,000 hectares (66,000 acres) of mangroves, said Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, manager of IUCN’s program office in Islamabad, Pakistan.
• Johann Earle is a Guyana-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change issues.
Since April, the Nature Conservancy has secured more than $16 million with the Conservation Note, a new investment program that will return an interest rate of up to 2 percent to the charity’s supporters.
Under the arrangement, supporters who provide at least $25,000 to the Nature Conservancy to invest for a term of one, three, or five years will earn 0 to 2 percent in interest and get all their money back.
The Conservation Note has been given a double-A rating by Moody’s.
The Nature Conservancy will use the money from supporters to help it shoulder the costs involved in transferring a protected piece of land.
For instance, the Nature Conservancy recently purchased a Colorado ranch on sensitive land and obtained a conservation easement that prohibits the land from being developed, thereby lowering its value. The lower price made it possible for five families with adjacent ranches each to buy a portion of the property back from the Nature Conservancy. The buyers all agreed not to develop the land.
Money from the Conservation Notes helped the charity make up the costs involved in selling the land and getting the easement.
“What is so exciting is that it opens up a whole new avenue of supporting conservation with resources aside from philanthropy,” says Charlotte Kaiser, who manages the program.
Supporters do not receive tax breaks when they invest in a Conservation Note, but foundations can count their investment toward meeting the federal requirements that they pay out at least 5 percent of assets to charities every year.
Ms. Kaiser says that the sluggish economic recovery prompted the Conservation Note idea. Land values have declined, making it easier for the Nature Conservancy to buy real estate. But charitable donations are still hard to come by, so the charity sought another approach that would appeal to supporters.
Says Ms. Kaiser: “We saw a big opportunity.”
Managing irrigation pumps and water systems is a difficult and costly task for many farmers in developing countries.
The amount of time and energy farmers spend watering their crops often compromises time that could otherwise be used for family and community obligations. It also compromises their safety at night, when they are most vulnerable to animal predators.
A new innovation from the India-based company Ossian Agro Automation, called Nano Ganesh, seeks to transform the way farmers manage their water systems by giving them the freedom to turn pumps on and off, from any location, with their mobile phone.
Santosh Ostwal, cofounder of Nano Ganesh, created mobile-based technology that gives farmers the flexibility to remotely switch water pumps on and off from any distance using cell phones or landlines. Ostwal, an electrical engineer by trade, had a personal connection to the plight of farmers. After observing the hardships his 82-year-old grandfather faced in tending his farm and monitoring the availability of electricity to operate water pumps, he began to construct a remote control that farmers could use within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the farm.
He later modified the remote control by expanding its range to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). In 2008 Ostwal altered the technology so that it could function over an unlimited range granting farmers the flexibility to start and stop the flow of water from anywhere there is a mobile connection.
Nano Ganesh also allows farmers to check the availability of electricity to the pump and verify the on and off status of its operation. Both of these features offer cost-saving benefits to farmers who otherwise may not be able to shut their pumps off before their fields have become overly saturated.
This is important for two reasons. One is that overwatering can lead to soil erosion and nutrient depletion. The second reason is that the inability to remotely shut off water pumps leads to unintentional water and electricity waste.
With the help of Nano Ganesh farmers will be able to conserve water and electricity more effectively. This will minimize the environmental and financial costs of farming. In fact, the product description suggests that farmers can recover the cost of the technology in just 11 days from the water and electricity savings it will produce.
So far, Nano Ganesh has assisted 10,000 farmers in India, and it is now being used in Australia and Egypt. The innovation received international recognition from the Global Mobile Awards in 2010 and Nokia’s Calling All Innovators Contest in 2009. Nano Ganesh has also received acknowledgement from several institutions in India, including the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture.
• Sarah Alvarez is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" please click HERE.
Some 30 countries taking part in a convention in Oslo, Norway, this week, are being encouraged by activists and government officials to join a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions and help halt their harmful impact on civilians, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said.
More than 100 governments are at the summit in the Norwegian capital.
A total of 111 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008 and entered into force in 2010, but superpowers Russia, China, and the United States are among those that have not, Laura Cheeseman, the director of the disarmament group CMC said.
The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. It also requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of the weapons, and victim assistance. Among the convention’s signatories, 75 countries are legally bound by its provisions, and ratification is under way in most of the remaining 36 countries.
"We’ve got half the world on board, but there are a number of countries that remain outside the ban,” Cheeseman told AlertNet from the conference. “There’s really no good reason for any of these countries not to come on board and to sign up to the convention.”
The weapons consist of small bomblets that open and explode across a wide area when they are launched from the ground or dropped from the air.
“These weapons harm civilians both at the time of use because of their wide area effect – but they also fail to go off on impact a lot of the time, so they lie on the ground deadly and active for years – sometimes for decades – after a conflict has ended,” Cheeseman said.
More than 17,000 cluster munition casualties were reported globally in 2011, according to the coalition, which is made up of more than 350 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The group estimated in a recent report that the true number of casualties might be between 20,000 and 54,000.
Civilians accounted for 94 percent of casualties. Of these, 83 percent were male and 40 percent were children, the report said.
Almost 745,000 cluster bombs containing almost 86 million bomblets have been destroyed since the convention came into force in 2010, the report said.
“What we want is for these countries to look into these reports of cluster munitions use and make sure they never use the weapon again,” she added. “We want them to work to join the convention.”
Also under discussion at the convention is how national legislation required by signatory countries that have yet to ratify the treaty could undermine its original intent.
Article 21 of the convention says that signatories may engage in joint military operations with governments who are not legally bound by the treaty.
The spotlight is on Australia and Canada, two countries setting out legislation that cites occasions when they might be able to take part to help in joint military operations where cluster munitions are being used, Cheeseman said.
The proposed Canadian legislation, which could be completed within six months, goes against the letter and the spirit of the law, Paul Hannon, the executive director of Mines Action Canada who also sits on the CMC advisory board, told AlertNet.
"Our view is that this is a great treaty, and it bans cluster munitions for all time, and that means no Canadian should ever be involved in use of cluster munitions for anyone, in any place, at any time, for any reason,” Hannon said from Oslo.
Campaigners were unsuccessful in their fight to change the Australian legislation, which was ratified in its parliament in August, but has not yet been passed into law.
“The Australian [CMC] campaign fought for two years to get the legislation changed, so the government knows there’s a huge stigma against not only the weapon, but on the possibility of the Australian government being involved in its use,” Hannon said.
“I’m hoping the Canadian government has been paying attention to that as well and is more open to making changes and amending our legislation," he added.