Counting bees, growing trees: How people’s efforts build back environments

One key to getting work done is buy-in. In this week’s spotlight on positive global news we feature Ecuador, where municipalities started a successful conservation program by asking people how much they would be willing to pay for their water.

1. United States

The entire West Coast now has access to early earthquake warnings after Washington state was added to the mobile alert system. First launched in Los Angeles, the system began notifying cellphone users in 2018. Because modern telecom systems can send messages faster than shock waves move through the ground, the alerts offer users crucial seconds to prepare for the shaking – enough time to find shelter or to drop, cover, and hold on.

Why We Wrote This

Our progress roundup this week highlights the power of cooperation. By banding together, Ecuadorian towns are improving water access and quality. And in the Netherlands, a patchwork of bee-friendly initiatives is stabilizing populations.

More than 50 million people living in the most earthquake-prone region of the country now have access to the early alerts, which are issued automatically to Android operating systems or through a number of mobile apps, such as MyShake and QuakeAlertUSA. The U.S. Geological Survey is also working to complete its seismic station network by late 2025, adding sensors to rural parts of the West Coast and ultimately improving alert times.
Los Angeles Times, USGS

Richard Vogel/AP/File
Some users have been able to access earthquake warning apps, like the one pictured here in Los Angeles, since 2018.

2. Ecuador

A pilot program in southern Ecuador is incentivizing residents to conserve water and protect the environment. In 14 municipalities where climate change and deforestation have affected water quality and exacerbated shortages, the Regional Water Fund of Southern Ecuador (FORAGUA) is either buying land or entering multiyear agreements with landowners to turn their property into conservation areas. In El Pangui’s water catchment area, for example, it’s convinced several cattle farmers to rewild their pastures and grow a local fruit elsewhere that produces more income. The program is funded by a fee on water consumption, which is partly determined by how much residents are willing to pay and generally amounts to about $1 per month for an average family.

FORAGUA, founded in 2008, is the first water fund in the country to bring together municipalities of different sizes and resource capacities. The group provides equipment, funds, and expertise to local environmental departments to develop sustainable-use ordinances and conservation programs that work for local communities and the region more broadly. So far, FORAGUA has restored 3,700 acres of land and put 833,000 acres under conservation. By 2030, the group hopes to serve 39 municipalities and protect 1.48 million acres.

3. Sweden

The Swedish city of Malmö has curbed gun violence with help from a U.S. strategy. Malmö adopted the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) approach after a surge of gang violence in 2017 resulted in 65 shootings.
Known as Operation Ceasefire when first developed in the 1990s in Boston, the program is now seeing gun violence decline annually in the Scandinavian city, with 20 shootings recorded last year. In March 2021, authorities extended the GVI program, known as Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting), for another three years.

A major element of GVI is the “call-in,” in which rival gang members out on parole must gather and listen to a series of speakers – a nurse, imam, etc. – explain how they’ve been affected by gang-related shootings. The hope is that these young people will bring the stories back to their networks and discourage others from picking up a weapon. As the program gets more publicity, GVI coordinator Rebeca Persson has also received more requests from people who want to leave the criminal world entirely, but need help starting fresh. In 2020, her organization helped 14 ex-members relocate to new cities and supported 49 men in leaving their gangs.
The Local, The Telegraph

4. The Netherlands

The Netherlands’ latest bee census shows the national pollinator program is succeeding in stabilizing urban bee populations. Announced in 2018, the strategy includes 70 initiatives to increase bees’ nesting sites and food supply following a decadeslong decline in native bee populations. Of the country’s 360 native bee species, more than half are endangered. With much of the decline stemming from economically important agricultural activity, including the clearing of bee-friendly landscapes for farming, many initiatives have focused on urban areas. Amsterdam, for example, has set up “bee hotels” – tall, cavity-packed structures where bees can find refuge – and replaced grass with native flowering plants on public lands.

Michael Kooren/Reuters/File
A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht, Netherlands, one of several cities working to support the country’s bee populations.

Thousands of volunteers recently counted and identified bees in their gardens for the fourth national census. Organizers plan to collect five years’ worth of data before making definitive conclusions, but the 2021 results – an average of 18 to 20 bees and hoverflies spotted per garden, consistent with previous years – suggest the pollinator strategy is working.
The Guardian

5. Uganda

Solar-powered streetlights are helping Uganda’s second-largest city improve public safety and save money. Due to aging equipment, poor maintenance, and high electricity costs, much of Jinja was living in darkness in 2016. The city installed more than 100 solar lights, powered by photovoltaic panels and batteries, over three years. The new equipment was 25% cheaper to install than traditional city lighting, and maintenance costs have been reduced by up to 60%. The reliable lighting has allowed businesses to thrive with longer hours of operation, and locals say the tourism sector was also growing before the pandemic.

With financial and technical support from a World Bank program, Jinja has developed a master plan for infrastructure that includes a citywide rollout of solar lights. But the impact of its success may reach further. Many of Africa’s largest cities have incorporated informal settlements without power grid coverage, and they are eyeing solar power – with lessons learned in Jinja – as a sustainable way to boost economic opportunity.

6. Indonesia

Deforestation has declined for the fourth consecutive year in Indonesia, as the island nation rethinks its approach to forest protection. Many of the country’s current policies stem from the 2015 Southeast Asia haze crisis, when Indonesian forest fires covered neighboring countries in a thick smoke, resulting in loss of life and environmental devastation. Governments and businesses have since worked together to reduce forest clearing for commodities such as palm oil, while also strengthening protections of carbon-absorbing mangroves and peatlands. This includes a temporary ban on new palm plantations, established in 2018 and lasting three years.

Home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests, Indonesia has a multilevel approach that has allowed the country to drop from third to fourth place on the Global Forest Watch rankings for tropical forest loss. Experts from the United Nations Environment Program say the new clearance restrictions “have certainly been critical” in slowing deforestation, although falling palm oil prices may also be a factor.
Thomson Reuters Foundation

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