1. United States
The Mississippi River has been getting cleaner since the 1970s, new research shows. By analyzing federal, state, and local water quality records dating back to 1901, oceanography professor and study author Eugene Turner was able to assess the impact of one of the strongest environmental protection policies in American history.
Since Congress passed the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Mr. Turner found a steady decline in lead, sewage, and other pollutants that were once ubiquitous. Other markers of river health, including pH and oxygen levels, have also improved since then. Bacteria attributed to human and animal waste is “1% of what it was before the 1980s,” when the Clean Water Act prompted the building of sewage treatment plants, he said. Mississippi River management expert Olivia Dorothy says the research underscores the importance of such legislation: “We need to protect the act and all of its authorities, [and] we also need to start looking at expanding it to cover the emerging public safety threats as they relate to water.”
Why We Wrote This
Long-standing problems can start to feel like fixtures of society. This week’s roundup of progress stories includes evidence that the needle can move on even the most obdurate problems, from sewage pollution to human trafficking.
The Kenya Wildlife Service has reported that no rhinos were poached in 2020, a first since 1999. Four African countries – Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – hold 97% of the continent’s rhino population. At last count, Kenya had a rhino population of 1,258 and is currently home to the world’s last two northern white rhinos. In recent years, these governments have increasingly viewed poaching as a threat to socioeconomic development, rather than an isolated conservation problem.
At the height of Kenya’s poaching problem, in 2013, the Kenya Wildlife Service counted 59 cases of rhino poaching. While pandemic-related travel bans are partially responsible for the latest figures, 2020 also saw a surge in bush meat poaching. This suggests poachers were still active during lockdowns, and the agency’s efforts to protect endangered rhinos contributed to the record low. In recent years, the wildlife service has focused on multi-agency collaboration, involving community stakeholders, and conducting more intelligence-led operations.
Anadolu Agency, Geographical,
See Africa Today
Uttarakhand has become the first state in India to offer women co-ownership rights over ancestral family properties. Through an amendment to the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, the Himalayan state has created avenues for women to become co-owners of land owned first by a father or husband. These properties include farmlands that are typically passed down the patriarchal line, though as thousands of men migrate out of Uttarakhand in search of work, their wives have been left to manage farms. “It was unfair that despite performing all the agri works, the women could not take decisions or apply for loans as the land was in the name of their husbands,” said former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. “Uttarakhand has set a precedent for other states to follow. I am confident that this reform will not be limited to Uttarakhand.”
The Times of India, Hindustan Times
Aizuwakamatsu, Japan, is using cutting-edge technology to improve resident’s lives, while prioritizing privacy. The opt-in approach to data collection differs from that of many other “smart cities” around the world, allowing locals to choose to subscribe to a range of digital services. These include disaster alerts to residents’ smartphones and other tools related to education, mobility, energy consumption, and health care. In Japan, many communities are trying to harness robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technology to address economic and social challenges, but such initiatives often meet resistance over surveillance and data privacy concerns.
“Most smart city data derives from citizens’ activities – energy usage, health care, etc. – and the owner of the data is the citizen, even if it is held by companies or clinics. So it is critical that citizens have control over the degree to which their data is accessible,” said Shojiro Nakamura, co-lead of Accenture Innovation Center Fukushima, a consulting firm that has worked on revitalizing Aizuwakamatsu since a major undersea earthquake devastated the area in 2011.
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Scientists say Fiji’s coral reefs are recovering faster than expected from a devastating 2016 cyclone, offering evidence that well-managed reefs are more resilient. With winds up to 174 mph, Tropical Cyclone Winston killed 44 people, caused $1.4 billion in damage, and turned critical reef systems to rubble. But on a dive last December, scientists found a colorful reef once again teeming with life. Young coral colonies are filling protected areas, and fish are returning throughout the region. It was the third dive conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji Country Program since the storm.
“I was surprised at how quick the recovery has been, especially at the Namena reserve,” said WCS Fiji Director Sangeeta Mangubhai. “The fast recovery likely reflects these reefs have good natural recruitment and they are well managed.”
New technology, harnessed by a growing number of nonprofits and government agencies, is helping tackle human rights issues in the fishing industry and also offer legitimate operators a way to demonstrate their good practices. Forced labor and other human rights abuses are rampant on distant-water fishing vessels, which often spend years far offshore. Developing coastal nations struggle to monitor illegal fishing activity and to keep hauls tied to abuse from entering markets. Burgeoning intelligence networks can help, with researchers using open-source data and satellite tools to identify suspicious ships. “One of the biggest messages from governments is they don’t have coast guard or inspection capacity to investigate every vessel in our waters or ports,” said Courtney Farthing of Global Fishing Watch.
Although so-called dark fleet vessels do not broadcast their locations, experts have identified key behaviors associated with ships engaging in human rights abuses, such as spending longer-than-average periods at sea, fishing more hours each day, and avoiding port locations. By working with a philanthropic organization, a fisheries intelligence nonprofit, and the United Nations, the Ghanaian navy was recently able to detain 14 vessels, with four arrested for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing after inspections.