Points of Progress: Technology improves water testing, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Sept. 14, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Law firms from every state have joined the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, an initiative dedicated to using members’ legal expertise to challenge laws and policies that negatively affect people of color. The death of George Floyd inspired a group of pro bono lawyers to start the project in partnership with the nonprofit Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, with the goal of shifting their sights from individual cases of racism and discrimination to advocating for systemic change. The alliance has grown to include 260 law firms since its July launch, and is now drafting papers to become a formal nonprofit. This is an essential step in making lasting change, said Ben Weinberg, pro bono partner at Dentons law firm, a founding member of the alliance: “If you don’t have infrastructure, something that exists independent of the good will of individual volunteers, it becomes all but impossible to generate an ongoing project.” (Westlaw Today)

2. Angola

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it’s where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

Between January and June, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared about 5 acres of land mines in the province of Zaire, paving the way for new development projects and safe travel. Twenty-six years of civil war left the countryside littered with land mines, and despite demining efforts, many people are maimed every year by the relics of a conflict that ended in 2002. During the latest demining campaign, sappers removed 9,982 explosive devices, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. They also educated citizens about the risks of land mines and how they can stay safe, according to the provincial department of INAD. The same source said nearly 10,000 explosive devices including bombs, anti-personnel mines, and ammunition were removed from the region in 2019. (Angola Press News Agency)

3. Ethiopia

Researchers have created a portable laboratory that can test water samples for millions of bacteria, allowing scientists to identify waterborne hazards faster and at lower cost. In sub-Saharan Africa, monitoring water quality can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Jemila Mohammed, a postgraduate student at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia who worked on the project, says the initial investment in one of these toolboxes is one-fifth the cost of conventional benchtop sequencing machines.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Women collect water rations on May 18, 2017, in Melkaselah Village, Ethiopia. Clean water is crucial for drinking and cooking.

If the suitcase-sized laboratory can keep up with local standards, experts say it could become an essential tool for developing countries. “Any new research which targets simplifying water testing, which may reduce cost, will play a significant role in increasing access to water,” said Worlanyo Siabi, CEO of Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency. (scidev.net)

4. Afghanistan

Afghanistan is setting up a council to empower women and safeguard their rights – a promising development ahead of the country’s peace talks with the Taliban. The council will include female deputy governors from various provinces. The announcement came after a coalition of women’s rights activists wrote to President Ashraf Ghani, demanding a seat at the table to ensure that “our place and contribution towards rebuilding our country [will not] be erased.” Activists are concerned the reemergence of the Taliban in politics could set back decades of progress toward gender equality. While it’s not clear what formal powers the council will wield, its creation gives hope to Fawzia Koofi, a lawmaker and vocal critic of the Islamist militant group. Ms. Koofi, who has been involved in the peace process, said the council would not only preserve gains made since 2001, but also help advance rights for women. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. India

As part of a new effort to empower female students, any girl who passes her end-of-school exams in the state of Assam will receive a gas-powered or electric scooter. The goal is not only to “empower the girls and make them independent,” as the state’s education minister said, but also to encourage promising students to continue their education. Lack of safe, efficient transportation is often cited as a major reason for dropping out of school or missing class, according to a report from the Child Rights and You charity.

Anupam Nath/AP/File
Indian girls walk to a school in Burha Mayong village, about 28 miles east of Guwahati, in Assam state, April 9, 2015.

While some say the Assam scooter plan doesn’t go far enough with addressing the infrastructure barriers to higher education, others see it as an encouraging first step. College student Gitashree Das said the reward would allow her to swap an hourlong commute on a cramped bus and auto rickshaw for a 20-minute scooter ride. (Reuters)

6. New Zealand

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has helped the wild population of black stilts – or kakī, in the Māori language – grow by 30% over the past year. The kakī is a critically endangered wading bird that used to be common across the North and South islands of New Zealand. There are 169 adult birds known to live in the wild. Wild kakī are primarily threatened by introduced predators, such as cats and ferrets, but this year has been particularly difficult due to excess flooding during the breeding season. In August, the Department of Conservation’s captive-breeding and reintroduction program also released 104 birds (not included in the earlier figure) to help boost wild populations. Despite these challenges, the success of the Kakī Recovery Programme has made conservationists hopeful that they can save one of the world’s rarest birds. (Mongabay)

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