Bouncing back: Cheese in Bosnia, trees around the world
In other stories about changing legacies of harm, a Kenyan court awards restitution to Indigenous peoples, a state in India makes it easier for nurses to travel to patients, and the U.S. begins to prepare mandatory standards for a group of industrial chemicals that have long-lasting effects on living beings.
1. United States
The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to reduce “forever chemicals” in drinking water. Human-made compounds known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been valued for properties like heat resistance and water repellency since the 1950s. Used in industrial processes and in household products, from cosmetics to cookware and cleaning supplies, these long-lasting chemicals build up in soil, water, and air. Studies have linked PFAS to health concerns for both humans and animals.
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Our progress roundup includes a look at how some Bosnians are recovering from war by reviving an artisanal food tradition, and how 36 countries have actually gained tree coverage.
On June 15, the EPA announced four advisories for PFAS pollution in water, dramatically reducing the concentration levels considered safe for public health. The agency also made available $5 billion between 2022 and 2026 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help smaller and disadvantaged communities confront what advocates have labeled a “contamination crisis.” The EPA is developing a proposal for mandatory standards this fall.
Sources: The Washington Post, EPA
Bosnian cheesemakers are bringing new life to a former war zone. The rural town of Livno, near the Croatian border, was known throughout Europe since the early 1900s for its artisanal cheese. But the local cheese industry took a hit during the Bosnian war of the 1990s, with Livno on the front lines. Since the conflict, an estimated one-half of the population fled the area. With the people went their sheep, whose grazing had kept shrubs at bay and allowed for rich biodiversity of the semi-natural grasslands to thrive.
Instead of giving up hope on the troubled region, the dairy farmers who stayed are bringing back traditional cheesemaking. The revival began with Jozo Baković, who learned to make cheese from his father and grandfather. In the 2000s, he organized a cheesemaking cooperative called Cincar with support from the Czech government development agency. Now, herds of grazing sheep are helping to restore the region’s wetlands, attracting migratory birds – and more tourists – to the area. The co-op recently received “protected designation of origin” status and is awaiting approval to sell the cheese in the European Union.
Source: Undark Magazine
The Indigenous Ogiek people won historic reparations in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Currently a community of about 30,000, the Ogiek people have suffered evictions from their ancestral land in the Mau Forest and other human rights abuses for decades. In 2017, the court confirmed that the Kenyan government had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in its treatment of the Ogiek people.
Following a June 2022 ruling, Kenya must pay the Ogiek 57,850,000 Kenyan shillings ($492,000) for material damages and 100,000,000 shillings for violations of the right to nondiscrimination, religion, culture, and development. Reports of evictions have persisted after the 2017 decision, continuing as recently as July 2020. And while the court does not have the power to enforce rulings, proponents say the case sets an important precedent as the first Indigenous case the court has addressed. “What this means for the African continent is that going forward, states will be very very mindful when they want to evict Indigenous people from their land,” said Samuel Ade Ndasi from Minority Rights Group.
Sources: Grist, United Nations
Electric scooters are expanding access to health care in remote mining regions. In the eastern state of Jharkhand, pollution from coal and mineral mining has long created health issues for residents and laborers. But health workers have to travel long distances along bumpy roads and forests to reach patients. A state-led initiative launched in April gave 342 e-scooters to nurses in West Singhbhum district, one for each health sub-center, allowing them to provide better and faster care in the region. The rechargeable scooters offer space for first-aid equipment and are easy to operate on village roads. “Villagers often leave early for work, and it is important for us to reach [them] at the right time to give them information or check on their health,” said health worker Lalita Minj. “The e-scooters have made it easier.”
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tree coverage expanded in 36 countries between 2000 and 2020. When it comes to forests, most of the news is discouraging, given a loss of over 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of trees since the turn of the century. But some countries, including China, Bangladesh, and Uruguay, offer evidence that deforestation is not inevitable.
Researchers estimate that a little over one-third of the forest gain is thanks to intentional planting, with the rest attributed to natural generation. “The new data is pivotal, because now we have the full picture of a forest change,” said Katie Reytar, a researcher at the nonprofit World Resources Institute. “For a long time, we had been looking just at loss in isolation, and doing the best we can with looking at gain in isolation. But it’s really the balance of the two that is important.”
The satellite and lidar technology used to detect tree coverage can only measure trees that are at least 5 meters (16 feet) tall. That means trees planted in recent years, including efforts to restore forests on 100 million hectares in Africa, haven’t yet been captured in the data.
Sources: Fast Company, Frontiers