War: Shit Street!

 

 

  • Refugee camp

Is there shelter from the storm? Most people know that war is hell; others have been desensitized by movies and war games. However, there is no fiction in reality. Those who have witnessed it know it is no fantasy. In recent years war has come to affect people in every country in one way or another.

An article in the www.nyt.com/2015/20/06 taking its information from the UN (UNHCR) tells us that there are around 60 million refugees in the world. The Economist uses the same figure but gives it a concrete context by linking it to the population of Italy; that’s a lot of people. Side Bar:

  • The new term for refugees is ‘displaced persons’. Displaced is a nice word but does not give sufficient gravity to the situation. Running from hell is not exactly being displaced; it’s fleeing for your life. We are not talking of a set of keys that you know will turn up.

There is no shortage of war zones. Middle East: Syria, Yemen and Iraq with the spread of Islamic revolution by ISIS. Sub-Sahara Africa with: Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, with another Islamic group Boko Haram. The surprise area for some will be Columbia in South America.

Why is there such a fire burning around the globe? A main reason is political power as in Syria where the dictatorial Assad regime is in conflict with groups seeking more democratic rights. The consequences are that nearly 50% of the population has been forced to flee their homes. Many have simply fled within the country but some 4 million have scattered abroad.

Neighbours, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and war torn Iraq have taken many Syrians in. The NYT suggest Egypt has 138,000; the Economist says Turkey has 1.7 million. It’s important to get the numbers right as aid being sent to the accommodating nations requires solid numbers to meet the need.

  • ISIS has driven an approximate 2.6 million Iraqis from their homes.

The civil war in Syria has affected 5 / 6 of its neighbours directly. However, the ramifications go much further. Thousands have made a dash for Europe or America. For Europe they have travelled to Libya, which itself is in turmoil, to find passage across the Mediterranean Sea. There is not a warm welcome in Europe because in their travels they meet up with other refugees from various parts of the world who are also escaping hell.

It is understandable that they want to flee the hell of their home nations to find the perceived stability elsewhere. The problem is that America is trying on a daily basis to stem the flood of migrants from South America. Europe, in a period of austerity, and a history over the last 20 years of conflict in the Balkans and presently in Ukraine, is panicked by the flow.

The influx of migrants has caused a political storm in Europe, which has seen a rise in radical parties. Politicians can’t ignore this trend. Hungary, is debating whether to construct a 100 mile fence to stop migrants crossing over from Serbia as numbers have increased from 30,000 to 100,000 in the past year. There is a huge cost in both political and financial terms in trying to cope with increasing numbers.

There are many poor people in the UK; some estimates suggest upward of 2.7 million families are affected. A large influx of economic migrants can have a direct impact on the poor by forcing wages down, putting pressure on housing and waiting lists for doctors, dentists etc. Thus little surprise that most poor people will not welcome migrants.

th67LNBAFYIn sub-Sahara Africa an estimated 15 million refugees have been forced from their homes. Ethiopia, houses an approximate 665,000 mainly from Somalia and South Sudan. An interesting point made by the NYT report was that most African refugees stay in Africa. Another point raised by the Economist is that 85% of refugees have sought shelter in developing countries.

It may appear cruel on those fleeing hell but developing nations often don’t have the resources to cope with an influx of refugees. Ethiopia is such a case. This country is still a recipient of foreign aid of over £200 million just to sustain their own population.

Unfortunately, those fleeing horror face further danger of exploitation. Even if they manage to reach the UK or USA they are used as cheap labour or forced into the sex trade. When it comes to humans there is no depth to their barbarity. The continued struggle in Columbia has caused the uprooting of around 6 million, 136,000 in 2014 alone. A further 360,000 have fled abroad to adjoining nations or perhaps trying to reach the USA.

If only there was an easy solution but being tied to politics, fear and cost there is no straightforward option. It is at a time like this that we witness the selfish gene come to the fore and this gene can be very erratic, and cruel.

Water: Too Good to Waste!

thNG4Z4Y0DWe are nearing a crisis of our own making, water the most important element in our lives is draining away. Drip, drip, drip; land is drying, plants are dying. While 70% of the earth is covered by water only 3% is drinkable and of that an approximate 2% is ice. The ice of Antarctica and of the Arctic is showing increasing signs of melt which could devastate coastal areas. To add to the nightmare 50% of our wetlands have gone. This has a tremendous impact on wildlife.

The burden grows heavier with the knowledge that some two (2) million people die annually, mainly children, from diarrheal diseases.th7E749LQY

www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

The poorer regions of the developing world suffer the brunt of water shortage. Sub-thH8D57ZHVSahara Africa has enduring problems which show no signs of abating. The situation is made worse by, “Weak governments, corruption, mismanagement of resources, poor long-term investment and lack of environmental research…”. Conflict has made it difficult to make improvements; Ivory Coast, which split north & south four years ago. The on-going troubles which confront the nations of Darfur, Nigeria, Mali and Ethiopia conflict or famine here continues to wreak havoc. Surprisingly, Ethiopia is the most water abundant in the region.

www.cfr.org/world/water-stress-sub-saharan-africa/p11240

??? “Too often, where we need water we find guns” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

Overall, 25% of Africa’s population suffer from water stress. (www.cfr.org) Whereas, Ethiopia has sufficient water, the country of South Africa is one of the poorest in water terms. However, S. Africa has some 589 dams out of a total of 980 in the region. Here lies the key, S. Africa has the infrastructure and has better managed their resources and crucially has the means. We spend £/$ billions on aid in Africa and nothing seems from the outside to have improved.

Q? Is much of the charitable donation we make feeding war and corruption and not the people?

In Pakistan, the situation is reaching danger point. Population is increasing by three (3) million per year and the water table is falling which has led the World Bank to conclude that Pakistan, “…is already one of the most water stressed countries in the world”. Its neighbour India has a developing water crisis.

With population growing by 15 million annually and the water table falling all over the country the situation is becoming critical. Some districts have to have water trucked in. A major problem is the unregulated digging of irrigation wells of which there are an estimated twenty-one (21) million. With the water table falling and more wells being dug; how long before the government take control. www.theguardian.com

th6IKNYANAAlso, according to The Guardian, countries that have reached their water peak include: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen it is understood that their water table is falling by six (6’) feet year on year. In Saudi Arabia over a 20 year period the aquifers have been seriously depleted which has had an impact on its grain crop. The country now has to import 15 million tonnes annually. Yemen will now need to import all its grain.

A running commentary on the problems facing Iran and Tehran in particular can be accessed via ‘Our Man in Tehran’. A series of articles is available at NYT World 2015/05/05. The issues are similar to many nations: water table depletion, rising population in Tehran which has tripled over the last thirty (30) years, made worse by a fall in average rainfall.

The great and the powerful are not immune to the rigours of water stress. China will face immense problems as water use is at a peak which will affect grain and rice production. The World Bank considers that China will face, “… catastrophic consequences for future generations”.

America may be mighty but it cannot escape the power of nature. It will need all the super heroes it can muster to get itself out of this problem. The US is a massive food producing country be it: grain, rice, soybean etc. However, a report by Ceres reminds us all, “Producing food, after all, requires more water than almost any other business on Earth”. Whereas we may drink 4 litres of water a day, it takes 2000 litres to produce our food. www.theguardian.com

  1. www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/11/405946749/why-food-companies-should-be-more-afraid-of-water-scarcity

thJSHFW8FRCalifornia seems particularly parched at present. The recent drought conditions may force a rethink on water supply and usage. Southern California gets nearly all its water from the Colorado River. To the north it is around 20%. Betting odds on there being a shortage of river flow on the Colorado has increased from 33% to 50%, not good odds. At present Lake Mead is only 38% full. The region needs a mighty downpour which incidentally may be helped by El Nino.

www.m.utsandiego.com/news/2015/may/11/colorado

Meanwhile, the California Department of Resources is predicting a huge increase in population.

2009                       2020                       2030

28m                       41m                       75m

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/water_scarcity

There is a sting in the tail for all of us that we need to take seriously. “Water use is growing twice as fast as population”. (November 2014) www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml

All the warnings are out there; well signposted but have not yet captured the imagination. The general media have not deduced the seriousness of our plight. Governments keep the lid on it perhaps hoping it might go away or don’t want to upset business. Meanwhile, the press feed us celebrity gossip and we become ‘mindless consumers’. (Philosopher Jürgen Habermas).

We cannot halt the use of water; everything we do is directly linked to it. We need constant reminders that only 1% is drinkable and that many millions don’t have the luxury of clean water. The potential of water wars in the developing world is very real. The prospect of severe rationing in the developed nations is increasingly likely.

It is equally obvious that we have the technology and the wherewithal to find solutions. One of our greatest attributes as human beings is devising solutions to extremely difficult problems. We are inexhaustible in our ingenuity.

One solution comes from a surprising source, Unilever, one of the world’s giant’s in chemical production. In Iowa State, they are paying soybean farmers 10c a bushel to adopt sustainable water practices. We should all cheer Unilever so where they lead others will follow.

The second enterprising solution is the use of solar power to distil water by nearly boiling it. Bedouins’ in the town of Dahab use a system called AquaDania’s WaterStiller which has proven five (5) times more efficient than other methods. (Wikipedia.org. as above).

These are practical initiatives which highlight the ingenuity of people. Finding a political solution will prove much too difficult in a liberal landscape. Politics is a blinding force; it strips the brain of the means to think beyond its narrow confines. Power and greed come to the fore and side-line any ethical approach. Thus the libertarians will sit back, enjoy a drink, toss a few coins in a charity box and turn a blind eye to the death and sheer hell of people struggling to survive.

People in the West are so afraid of taking a decisive step for fear that they will be castigated as erstwhile colonialists. They don’t want to be seen in any sense of appearing to dictate policy. These liberals suffer from historical restitution. They favour self-determination without thought of consequence, they hide behind a motto of; let them run their own affairs, find their own way. Give them some money to ease the stress.

Meanwhile, dictators, dictate and fascists terrorize but then, it’s none of our business. However, the ordinary Joes’ of Africa, Asia and the Middle East are making it our business by leaving their homeland in droves to find a better life. Immigration then becomes a major political and social issue.

One way to overcome our ‘lazy eye’ is to have strict guidelines on the use of foreign aid and to monitor its implementation. If wells are vital to ensure clean water then we only give aid for that purpose, to provide and maintain. Corruption is siphoning off £/$ millions from the real need. We desperately need an array of methods to circumvent those who indulge themselves in the proceeds of corruption.

Furthermore, we must stop treating Africa as a car-boot-sale venue. Humanitarianism is not a business tool and should never be used as such.

Do some good…..join Robin Hood

 

 

Environment: Save It!

th[3]It’s a war of attrition against the gangsters who have no compunction in raping the planet for profit. It’s a war about the education of our politicians who seem awestruck by the wealth and the power of the big boys. They are as schoolkids, posters in their bedroom, dreaming of one day being as famous as their favourite star. The big difference is that kids grow up. Politicians will spout that they’re tied by the art of what’s possible and the eternal need to compromise. If I wasn’t choking on exhaust fumes I might accept their excuse.

The alarming stories about climate change just keep on running. In a report by www.france24.com/en/20150327- they outline a damning report by the European SpacethS6MBC7KN Agency, published in the journal Science which relates to the shrinking of the ice mass around Antarctica. The ice mass is the bulwark which prevents the permanent collapse of glaciers covering the southern continent. Think of it as a dam holding back an ocean. The study based on satellite measurements over the period 1994 – 2012 suggest that the ice mass has shrunk by almost 20%. The study also highlighted the speed of the melt:

  • In the period 1994 – 2003 there was little difference.
  • However, in 2003 – 2012 melting accelerated markedly.

If the ice mass is destroyed it will cause glaciers to slip into the ocean bringing a rise in sea levels. A rise of one (1) metre could prove devastating in many coastal regions. Separate studies of the South Pole are just as worrying. A report published in December 2014 found that thawing had trebled the number of glaciers falling into the Amundsen Sea. Two further studies in that year concluded that melting in Western Antarctica could lead to a sea rise of one (1) metre.

  • The real worry is that the process is likely to be irreversible!!!

The North Pole is also under threat, NYT 2015/04/24. The Arctic Council made up of interested nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the USA are due to meet soon. Their biennial meeting will be held on Baffin Island in Nth Canada. The others are concerned by the actions and intentions of Russia. The Russians have started to exploit oil from the Kara Sea and there is a worry that further exploration could damage the fragile environment.

It seems to be the way of business and politicians in general that they act first then wait for us to react before they consider the need to think. But unless they think and think quickly about the North and South Poles many communities will be devastated.

thINHWQFFZWe desperately need more scientific study on as many aspects of the environment as we can imagine. A report in the New Scientist of work carried out by Norwegian scientists on the potential damage or otherwise of microbes in the Arctic; coupled with the study of marine phytoplankton which may also hold a danger to the environment.

It’s all very technical but microbes in warmer climates draw to a halt at 40C but the little buggers in the Arctic continue producing methane at 270C. Worryingly, Arctic soils contain twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere which leads to one estimate that the thawing of the permafrost could cause a similar problem as deforestation.

Another problem comes from the phytoplankton as their dark bodies can absorb more sun which could cause the Arctic sea to warm up by 20%. Obviously, this has effects on the ice mass and the rate of melt.

  • Methane: 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Away from the possible danger of the Arctic our politicians hold meetings, talk, eat and talk some more; arrange another meeting where they will talk and eat and talk again, at our expense. Little wonder that the process of change takes so long. The Arctic Council meets biennially; it’s not important enough in the busy schedule of our leaders to meet more frequently. Perhaps they are on a diet!! If it wasn’t so serious I might laugh at their lackadaisical attitude and contribute to their gym fees.

Meanwhile, politicians may be battering your eardrums with how they are spending huge amounts of money trying to improve the environment. Investment in renewable energy rose to $270bn worldwide, with nearly 50% coming from developing countries, e.g. China. France24.com/en/

I feel better now!!thDC82LPF2

Hold on! In an interview for, theguardian.com/environment/ on 2015/04/13 Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank called for the scrapping of subsidies and a carbon tax. Kim made the point clearly, “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now”. Why was he so agitated? It seems that governments around the world are currently spending $1 trillion per year to subsidize fossil fuels. One trillion $$$! That figure certainly puts spending on renewables deep into the shadows.

  • The irony – our taxes are being used to help kill the planet and therefore us.

They’re killing us but the profits excellent!

At a subsequent meeting in Hong Kong, Jim Yong Kim made another bold speech about climate change; he told delegates at the Nobel Laureates Symposium that climate change is a ‘fundamental threat’ to development. He warned that a sea rise of 15cm /6inches coupled by severe cyclones could inundate Bangkok by 2030s. This was based on a study by the Potsdam Institute.

A Japanese delegate, Ryoli Noyori, Nobel Prize winner for chemistry 2001 told the assembled that Japan has many coastal cities susceptible to floods. “But unfortunately, the government has not done enough in counter measures”. France24.com/en/2015/04/23

Several of the points raised by Jim Yong Kim are very relevant. He suggests that Africa needs to develop its hydroelectric potential as it only makes use of 1% of possible production. However, one major project has caused some controversy. A hydroelectric dam across the Blue Nile in Ethiopia would be the largest in Africa but is causing Ethiopia’s neighbours some misgivings. A study has raised a number of issues:

  • With the Aswan High Dam (Egypt) there will be 2 large dams on the one river.
  • Need to look carefully at aspects of the build.
  • Egypt & Sudan might not get water during drought periods.
  • Sudan might use more water for irrigation and so affect the amount of water to Egypt.
  • 60% of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile.
  • It will produce too much electricity and therefore needs an infrastructure e.g. pylons to transmit the electricity and an organised way of selling it.

Don Blackmore an Australian water specialist has warned: “The International community needs to focus on the Nile as a matter of urgency”. Theguardian.com/environment 2015/04/13

Water and its supply will become critical in the future but is already a major problem in Africa according to UNICEF as it estimates that 157m people in East & Southern Africa do not have access to clean and safe water.

The situation is deemed to get far worse. The UN warns that “…the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit”. www.cbsnews.com/news/gambian Even in America the warning signs are imminent with www.USAtoday.com reporting that within the next decade 40 states can expect to have water shortages. Note that California is witnessing its worst ever drought. Will the bulb light up in republican land?

  • It really doesn’t matter what aspect of the environment you look at, it all needs saving!

Where are the peoples’ army?

There are many environmentalists, individual and groups but their voice is never raised in unison. Theirs is a disparate tone and because of that separation is sadly weakened. There are too many groups defending their own garden plot; too many individuals who think because they recycle they are doing their bit. Many tribes and tribal chief’s, each certain that their methodology and environmental agenda, is the true noble path to pursue. Unfortunately, therein lies the cog which maintains the raison d’etre of the market system.

All the groups, too many to mention, ply their wares with a swagger as though they have achieved something. They have achieved nothing! They have not stopped one demi-kilo of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. They are as midges to the big boys, to be swatted as an irritant. At the very least the environmental groups could convene a conference before national elections to endorse the political party which pledges the best deal for the environment. Such an endeavour could bring the environment to a much wider audience within the country and beyond.

Further demonstration will be to flag up where the government has failed throughout their term in office. It requires a sustained and well marketed approach, perhaps to include intensive programmes of activity in marginal seats. Show the intellectual rationale of the environment lobby by coming together. Put the environment first and parochialism into the dustbin of history.

The environmentalists are as guilty as politicians of putting politics above the welfare of the planet.thTXFQFN0B

Save Santa’s Homeland!!!!

Do some good…..join Robin Hood.

Environment: It Needs Oxygen!

 

th[3]Are politicians deaf to the cry of the wild that they would rather subsidise fossil fuel than promote a green environment?

A reminder: Government should benefit the people not those in power. Wang Fuzhi

Should we believe politicians and the faceless bureaucrats that the world will be saved by the buying and selling of carbon emissions? I dealt with some aspects of selling pollution in my previous post: Environment: It’s Dying. What is really interesting is the number of developing countries who are taking part in this market oriented money making enterprise. There are several projects initiated by UN-REDD Programme aimed at preventing further deforestation and degradation of forests in developing countries.

Madagascar is one such country which has allocated 705,588 carbon credits for a project in the Makira Forest. The Makira Forest of 400,000 hectares (1,500 sq. miles) is a sizable area. A number of projects are underway to convince the local communities that there is an alternative to deforestation. However these prevention techniques are small in scale e.g. one will take 30 years to offset 32 million tonnes of CO2. A second will avoid 1.6 million metric tonnes over a 25 year period. http://phys.org/news/2013-09-massive-carbon-credit-sale-madagascar.html

 

  1. The world emits 32 gigatonnes annually.

Other projects in Africa include Tanzania which has sold some credits for $US 200,000 in forest conservation. A further hope is to encourage eco-tourism. Trains and boats and planes go jollying by, burning fossil fuel but it’s ok because they’ll pay. An earlier project received $US 1.9 million over a four year period 2010 – 2013. Tanzania Daily News

Why the focus on Developing Nations?

Madagascar is losing an approximate 100,000 hectares (386 sq. miles) each year to burning for agriculture. Zambia is losing between 250,000 – 300,000 hectares annually, predominately in the making of charcoal for heating in business and the home.

thFTLUIBEWIn South America the situation is even worse. Peru, Brazil and Ecuador etc. the region is losing an estimated 13 million hectares year on year. In December 2014 the UN held climate talks in Peru, which has some of the worse deforestation in the region. Brazil attended but continues with accelerated deforestation under their president Rouseff, a former head of an oil company. The conclusion of the meeting was to replant 20 million hectares of trees. However, in the period 2001 – 2012 some 36 million was lost to agricultural expansion. The guardian2014/12/09

There is little sign of abatement as, theguarian2015/01/28 reports. Roads run deep into the Amazon where oil and gas blocks are now much bigger than those of Texas e.g. 730,000 sq.km. The setting up of National Parks has prevented some incursions but deforestation continues apace. Ecuador, who signed an agreement in 2007 to prevent further road building changed tact under economic pressure. So much for contracts! Bolivia too is open for business.

They’re killing us but the profit is excellent!

The talks in the capital Lima had been an initiative of Germany in 2011 and thus termed the Bonn Challenge. As we can see – they are doing the mad dog thing – chasing their tail. Not very successful based on the amount of forest lost. Scientists believe that around 17% of CO2 emissions – more than what America produces each year – is caused by deforestation especially in tropical areas. www.phys.org as above

The economic rationale of the region fits well with the self-interest theory as examined by Dani Rodrik p249 the Harvard economist, “In the case of global warming, self-interest pushes nations to ignore the risks of climate change”. This would appear to be the case in South America. But if we keep in mind the carbon emissions of deforestation (more than America) can we justify allowing these countries to simply cut and burn at will irrespective of the consequences to climate change. The Globalization Paradox

Dani Rodrik p277 gives an emphatic yes in principle to developing countries finding their own way. “The right approach would be to have China, and indeed all emerging nations, free to pursue their own growth policies”. As we travel down Rodrik Road and allow carte blanche development for ‘emerging’ nations, he argues that it would be ‘reasonable to expect’ that these nations would not pursue policies that would lead to huge trade balances. An alternative might be, “Every nation has responsibility”, Ottimar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; quoted: www.blogs.reuters.com   2015/04/13

Rodrik’s prime concern is the sanctity of the market, not the environment. Large trade balances in favour of China or India could swing the pendulum of power, and, power is the name of the game. Why with the economic power at their behest would China / India not seize the opportunity to dictate world policy just as others have done, past and present?

It was and is ‘reasonable to expect’ America to pursue policies that aid the world economy and environment. At present US oil is $10 a barrel cheaper than the world average but is not for sale abroad. America has used its might in agriculture and pharmaceuticals to run roughshod over the globe. Because it has held the economic power America has the political power and has used it to their benefit. Why would China / India be any different? www.economist.com/news/united/2015/04/02

Moreover, it was the market that has brought us to this jammed road intersection and, still pursues a profit before people mentality. The market is about satisfying the demands of the 1%. The poor, the world over, still get scraps from the table.

Furthermore, the notion that developing countries need to push forward with industrialization to counter poverty is such balderdash. Recent demonstrations in Brazil and Venezuela and many parts of Europe prove categorically that the poor do not share in the wealth of the nation. Both China and India have horrific records when it comes to alleviating poverty. Or giving due consideration to the environment.

According to Reuters.com 2015/04/13 China will overtake America as number-one in carbon emissions and will do so this year. India is expected to leapfrog Russia into fourth (4th) place in the deadly table. Both countries, assuming present trends will surpass America and the EU together.

China has recently been accused of dumping chemical waste in Inner Mongolia. In a report for france24_en Observers, when the villagers protested they were met with rubber bullets and tear gas. Farmers from Doquintala village have reported that their crop is reduced by 33% and, the fruit trees have died. The ground water has been contaminated and instances of cancer and thrombosis have sharply increased over the last decade. For me Rodrik’s argument that we can ‘reasonably expect’ does not stack up. Check my post on Rodrik and India: No ‘Cover’ for Child Labour

It is a bazaar situation, this whole concept of carbon credits. The West gives the credits to developing countries and then buys them back. Some may suggest that its charity but it is not; there is profit to be made on both sides of the transaction. Bet you can’t guess who takes the larger slice of the cake.

thXJDRNI6QWhat is happening is that we are walking our way through an ocean of sludge because we don’t know any better. We are tied into the neoliberal economic school of thought; within which the market is enshrined in a golden casket that cannot be tampered with for fear that a world calamity will unfold.

Sadly it is a belief shared by many of our leaders and by powerful international bodies: UN, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. As far as they are concerned the market is the prime motivator for change. These are people with clout; they are in effect the Praetorian Guard of the 1%. The super rich, the big boys!

However, it is not just the developing nations that are screwing up our planet. Australia has made a hash of the coral reef and every nation has contributed to the shrinking of Antarctica. Where are our defenders, the peoples’ army? My next post will look at these and other contributing issues.

Do some good…….join Robin Hood

 

 

World Poverty: We are ALL Digits.

thCAX5TE0TThe World Bank (WB) deals in statistics; people it would seem are a function of the stats. Judgements will be made, decisions will be taken and resources allocated on the basis of the figures. World poverty is but a number and numbers make for understanding, or do they? By its own admission the WB accepts that the poverty threshold of $1.25 a-day is “very frugal”. Nonetheless the WB holds fast on the figure; meanwhile the South Asian Bank promotes a $1.35 a-day threshold as more realistic.

I don’t know how the calculation is done to arrive at either figure but what is abundantly clear is that the higher the threshold the more people that come under its umbrella and thus more are considered to be living in ‘extreme’ poverty. The $1.25 a-day relates to what can be purchased in the USA for that amount. Of course it has no bearing on what can be purchased in Kenya, Chad or in Honduras, for the same daily allowance, unless all prices are the same.

There is a very powerful political agenda being advanced by the WB, one that suits Conglomerates rather than promoting local business. The celebration of the huge drop in ‘extreme’ poverty mainly due to the industrial surge by China seems to have been taken as a panacea to rid the earth of all poverty. Consequently, the WB has sought to impose the China model elsewhere. As we have noted, China is booming and the WB applauds the results but what are the consequences of such rapid growth?

A look at recent film footage from China shows an environmental and human downside to the industrial expansion. Quite visible is the smog that hangs in the atmosphere; whilst behind the closed doors are the poor working conditions that the people are forced to endure. Such is the celebration of the growth that few listen or take heed of the warnings:

“The same is true of other developing countries, for growth in these lands is not environmentally neutral and raw materials are not elastic.”  The Hungry Spirit, P54. Charles Handy,

One light shines and the WB leads us walking blind into a well of human misery and potential environmental catastrophe. One is reminded of the ‘Dark Satanic mills’ of 19th century UK. Are the millions of child labourers, who earn a pittance working in the most hideous, squalid conditions; are they and their families removed from below the poverty line if they earn a cent above the $1.25 a-day threshold? How can poverty be understood on purely monetary terms?

Nonetheless, pleased with its catchpenny statistical endeavours so far, the WB has set its next goal, to reduce ‘extreme’ poverty throughout the globe to 3% or less by 2030. However, it does recognise that more than 1billion people still live in destitution and that inequality is rising in developing countries. The WB offers a caveat by admitting it has, “established ambitious but achievable goals.” They also accept that the target is, “highly optimistic” and requires, “rapid economic growth,” as well as, “long term structural changes.” This is quite an array of caveats and while I wish them well, I cannot muster the same belief that they obviously possess.

My attention was particularly drawn to:

“It will require sustaining high rates of economic growth across the developing world…” and “ social policy changes not seen yet in many poor countries,…” now that is what I call ambitious!

I am intrigued by the “long-term structural changes”
mentioned and by just how long these changes will take and crucially, how they will be implemented? Surely changes of a major kind such as envisaged will require local support and wherewithal to impose them? The time factor is also critical here; the WB has given themselves, 20 years or so; does that constitute long-term? Or is it satisfactory for the reforms to be in the pipeline? Can the WB guarantee the support locally to implement the changes or do they have an alternative method in mind?

What of the “social policy changes not seen yet…”? Is this just wishful thinking on the part of the WB or a necessary prerequisite? Are we to see a health service and an education system manifest themselves overnight? When will they start and do the governments involved fully endorse these mammoth undertakings? Where will the staff for the numerous jobs come from? My advice to the WB is to get their skates on!

The task becomes even more daunting when the foundation from which they start is so unstable.

“In 12 countries in sub-Sahara Africa, the extreme poverty rate is above 60%; in four cases it is above 80%.” A great deal of credit is due for the basic honesty that is displayed. However, when India is added to the picture, with 33% of people globally living below the poverty line then we must start to think in terms of miracles. Their realistic assessment, I believe, condemns the ambitious target set before the engine is started.

Another major criticism of the plan is the one to retain the threshold at $1.25. Introduced in 2005, the threshold is now unrealistic because it does not take into account inflation from then to the present day. To maintain the rate set as a global rate is a false position as price rises are not universal, they differ depending on the economic stability of the individual nations. This, therefore, appears as a game played with numbers and gives credence to the notion that the WB’s main concern is looking good; a policy of self-promotion. It reminds me of a little book I came across in a second-hand bookshop, titled, How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff, 1954.

An indictment of the $1.25 a-day threshold is exemplified if we consider a threshold of $2 a-day, which raises the number trapped in poverty from 1.4 billion to 2.6bn. Is that why the WB is sticking to the prescribed threshold? If these figures are reliable then we have 1.2bn people living in a shadow place between darkness and light, fighting a constant battle with hunger and hades, yet daring to hope. Therein lies the true miracle of the human spirit. www.prb.org/Articles/

“Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything.” Gregg Easterbrook.thCA6407G6

We can all use statistics to promote or defend our argument, and it is very difficult to ascertain the truth or otherwise of facts and figures, as bias is a constant intruder into our thoughts. However, to begin on a false premise would seem to lack moral certitude. Nonetheless, a number of points can be raised here; Oxfam (2008) warned that 100million more people may face poverty due to price increases as the $1.25 a-day does not take into consideration increases in fuel and food. (bbc.co.uk) “In addition in developing countries the informal economy predominates for all income brackets except for the richer, urban upper income bracket population.”

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient#Gene

In effect money does not play a large part in the lives of these poor people. To add to the downcast mood we have another opinion from Oxfam (2008) when they point out that in sub-Sahara Africa, 50% live in ‘extreme’ poverty and have done for the past 25 years. Elizabeth Stuart. (bbc.co.uk).  The point here, surely, is that poverty in sub-Sahara Africa is endemic and the sheer scale of the task to eradicate it will take more than the 15/20 years allotted to it by the WB. A similar case can be made about India.

A total rethink in terms of approach is vital and it does not help when those who can affect change fail to deliver. In 2005 the G8, (the eight most economically powerful

Agony does not sleep

Agony does not sleep

countries) set a target to double aid to Africa by 2010; that target was never met. Since the mid-1950s donor nations have poured over $1 trillion into the Horn of Africa and yet today these countries are still in a state of perpetual misery. The sadness continues for several of these nations as famine has reared its ugly head (2013) in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Unfortunately the good news that the WB would like us to believe is overwhelmed by the bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Poverty:The Darkside of Fairy Tales.

There is always a great deal of talk about world poverty. Flyers come through our doors, advertisements on the TV, news stories of the latest tragedy, be it: drought, hurricane, earthquake, famine or volcano. We are all, or should be aware of the plight of others that share the planet with us. We talk, we like to talk, we plan, we like to plan, and we set targets, we like to set targets as does the World Bank (WB). If we are a politician or a top echelon bureaucrat we have lunch and/or dinner and we discuss the problem, set a target, job done, problem solved, until the next meeting. Chow!

The World Bank (WB) has noted a sizable drop in the number of people adjudged to be living in ‘extreme’ poverty. Their figures tell us that between 1981 and 2005 that those living below the poverty line have fallen by 40% from 2billion to 1.2bn, a very significant number. www.globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com  The basis of their analysis is correlated from a $1 a-day spending threshold. It should be a time to celebrate but the story is not as glossy as first appears.

China, now the world’s second most industrialised nation accounted for 680 million souls being lifted from ‘extreme’ poverty. However, outside of China poverty only fell by 10% and in Africa, poverty actually doubled! (bbc.co.uk)

thCA2OLY29China’s success story has given heart to those who seek an eradication of poverty, as we all do, but how realistic is the goal? There has been significant industrial development in the country, leading to a 10 fold increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 1978 (CIA). In the last decade, China has grown on average above 8% per annum. Millions of their workers have obviously got employment and earn a wage and therefore based on the WB threshold of $1 a-day have risen above what constitutes ‘extreme’ poverty. Can China sustain its present development course?

China has helped change the figure but cannot maintain such drops in poverty level.”                   Laurance Chandy, Brooking Institution.

How reliable is the statement by Chandy? There are a number of pointers to suggest that Chandy might be right in his analysis. For example, “ …per capita income is below world average.”  This means that the ordinary people don’t have much to spend and therefore China will find it hard to develop a strong and viable home market for its goods. A strong tendency to save rather than spend compounds the situation.  Consequently, the country is more reliant on the export market. Increased foreign trade would be a possibility if the world economy was thriving but unfortunately business worldwide is contracting which has affected China’s growth rate:                                         2010=10.4%     2011=9.3%            2012=7.8%

Growth is sluggish throughout the world as economies find it hard to bounce back from the banking collapse of 2008 which brought about the world recession. No one knows quite how long the recession will last and economists have differing views on how to overcome the depth and extent of the crises. The facts are stark: five years on, as of May 2013, 9 out of 17 countries of the European Union (EU) are in recession. Nor does the future look bright according to the new Bank of England, Governor: “Deep challenges persist in its financial system. [Europe] Without sustained and significant reforms, a decade of stagnation threatens.” (dailymail.co.uk May 22nd 2013)

Brazil is teetering on the brink with an industrial production growth rate of -0.3% for 2012. (CIA) India, likewise is feeling the strain as it tries to control inflation. The USA, the world’s largest economy is growing at around 2%, not as positive as it could be. The importance of these figures is that trade is obviously affected and thus China’s ability to export its goods is seriously hit.

Equally damaging for China is an analysis carried out by, Dr Damian Tobin, which highlights serious flaws in the nation’s economic longevity. www.bbc.co.uk/new/business-13945072

“…inequality in China has now surpassed that in the United States, and surged through the 0.4 level in the mid-2000s.” This is based on a rating called a ‘Gini-coefficient’.

“A Gini-coefficient of 0.4 is generally regarded as an international warning level for dangerous levels of inequality.” China’s Gini-coefficient stood at 0.47 in 2010.  The Gini-coefficient is named after the originator, an Italian sociologist called Gini in 1912.

I can only assume that Dr Tobin, when talking about ‘dangerous levels of inequality’ is alluding to political consequences. In the past glaring inequality has brought attempts at and actual revolution.

While America is a deeply unequal society it has in its favour an embedded cultural belief in democracy. China, on the other hand has a history of dictatorship, latterly a communist dictatorship. The question arises therefore as to how the people respond to any major downturn in the economy and how that will affect their new found aspirations. There is a distinct East/West divide in China, generated by the rapid industrialisation that has taken place. It has become a nation of haves and have-nots.

Moreover, poverty is not restricted to rural areas or to the Western provinces, urban poor are on the increase; in 1993 the figure stood at 12m, which rose to 22m by 2006. (Wall St Journal). Of course this could be due in large measure to the huge migration from the countryside to the towns and cities. It is estimated that a vast army of 250m has made the move; this in itself creates a massive social problem. As yet China has been able to cope and has avoided the manifestation of shanty towns but for how much longer as the migration figure is set to increase. To accommodate this huge influx will require substantial spending.

Nonetheless, without a buoyant domestic market to purchase the goods being thCAG7AHDSmanufactured and an export market that maintains its buoyancy, China may experience trouble sustaining its growth level. The vagaries of the market place and the spin of trade cycles could easily force it off the road. The consequences of failure could leave China facing widespread industrial disruption and as a result the flight of investment capital. Tobin’s analysis may yet prove critical for China and with it the dream of the World Bank. Can the Bank rely on any other country or countries to step into the breach and save its goal?

Coming soon: the situation elsewhere, e.g. in Africa, America and Brazil. ++Bono’s belief that the WB is right!

 

 

 

Food Waste: Around the World on a Fingertip.

 

I have talked at length about the absolute scandal that food waste is and sadly continues to be; yet I remain an optimist.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man Epistle 1

Things are on the move in various parts of the world. In Africa, the United Nations (UN) has several initiatives in operation: in Gambia, a new policy of one-village-one-product is helping to eliminate waste at the farm level. Each village in the scheme produces a crop to sell at the local market where other villages bring their main crop. How this develops will be interesting and to determine if it can be sustained in the long-term. Nonetheless it is a positive start and brings a consciousness of avoiding waste to the forefront of local thinking.

A novel approach to cattle farming is being experimented with in Kisii in the western highlands of Kenya. Here the UN has introduced insecticide treated mosquito nets and results are quite promising. The cattle have to be corralled and the netting placed around the pen at ground level and up to 1 metre high. Apparently, the little culprits, the Tsetse fly, swoon in at low level to attack their prey. (Didn’t know that.) The benefit is twofold: firstly, the milk yield has doubled and in places tripled. Secondly, illness among the farmers has been significantly reduced.

As the Tsetse fly, kills millions of animals in sub-Sahara Africa with a disease, the human equivalent of ‘sleeping sickness’ the netting could prove a considered step forward. The saving of the animal and the resultant milk supply could stave off possible hunger. The downside is that the animals must be corralled for the system to be effective and of course, that means they need to be fed.

I have mentioned New Zealand previously where it is claimed that 60% of households do some composting rather than sending their waste to landfill. All sounds really positive but I would like to know whether the composting is inclusive to rural areas or is also a main function of the urban areas too. Composting is something that we should all consider.

The story in Europe Union (EU) is likewise upbeat in that the EU has set member states a target to reduce biodegradable waste or face monetary penalties. An example is Britain which has adopted the ‘landfill directive’ by which it has to reduce biodegradable waste to 35% of what it was in 1995. A stiff challenge but the government reckon they can achieve it. Cross fingers.

In the United Kingdom (UK) the new Conservative government has followed, and given fresh impetus to an initiative of the previous Labour Government, to push ahead with ‘anaerobic digestion’(AD). The government view AD as the strongest contender to advance a zero policy on biodegradable waste. Two other considerations, composting and incineration while helpful do not have the added benefits that could accrue from AD, e.g. biogas and a perfectly good fertilizer. The latter could also reduce the farmers’ dependence on chemical fertilizer. (Bonus) According to their website AD, “…offers the greatest environmental benefit.”  www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste

There are several initiatives in America with individual states, Omaha, and major cities such as San Francisco, making headway with their own plans. However, the one that caught my eye was Austin Texas, where the city council in collaboration with local business and local media has designated 2013 the ‘Year of Food Waste and Prevention’. Now that is serious thinking and very serious initiative taking. It would appear that Austin means business-all power to their efforts. Imagine if other major cities, the size of London, Sydney, Bangkok (Krung Thep), Beijing, followed Austin’s lead the publicity to take action against food waste would be immense.

Check out: www.austineconetwork.com

www.in.gredients.com/

www.wastefood.com/

Wherever there is a positive side there is usually a negative right opposite it, and yes, there are still a few bugbears to sort out. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, point out some interesting facts: one hectare (2.5 acres approx.) of land used to produce rice or potatoes would feed between 19/22 people annually. The same land given over to animal farming would feed two people. Is this a case for vegetarians’? Perhaps, when we add that meat production requires 50% more water than vegetables.

1501_09_4_thumb[1]Furthermore, they suggest that 40% of the world’s food supply is derived from irrigated land. However, they say that such use of the land is unsustainable due to the fact that the water supply is poorly sourced. The use of the flood method and/or the overhead spray is wasteful due to loss through evaporation. The most condemning aspect of their findings stems from the fact that much of the water used in irrigation farming comes from sinking ‘boreholes’ into poorly managed aquifers.

“In some cases government programmes and international aid interventions exacerbate this problem.”

www.imeche.org/knowledge/themes/environment/global-food

 

I find it difficult to comprehend the logic of such developments, especially the use of international aid in such circumstances. It is of course the blight of short-termism. The narrow vision that uses ‘aid’ money for a quick fix leads down a blind alley and can end up costing more to rectify. Solving the immediate problem is not always the expedient thing to do.

Water is a scarce resource and must be treated as such by everyone. Therefore, the proposal by ‘imeche’ should even now be adopted to replace the flood method and the spray method by the drip or trickle method. While the installation of the drip/trickle method will prove more expensive the cost will be offset by the 33% saving on water used in these areas. Sustainability, I have heard the cry so often and yet when it comes right down to it those in a position to lead fail.

Another important point raised by the ‘imeche’ report is the amount of energy used to produce our food. I was surprised to read that between 3-5% of the world’s natural gas supply was being used to produce fertilizer. A further eye-catching piece of information was that over 3% of ‘annual global energy consumption’ is used in food production from the humble tractor, to harvest, storage, distribution and processing. How many trucks drive on our roads carrying foodstuffs to various locations?

We force the cost of living up by the sheer volume of our waste. A new approach to food production through to consumption is needed. For too long we have frittered away our energy, our resources, and people’s lives in an arbitrary fashion simply because it was convenient to do so. Has me, ‘moi’, and ‘mich’ and ‘a mi’, finally taken over our thought processes to the extent that we are blind to the needs of others? Are we blasé about the ozone layer, and thoughtless towards animal welfare? Lemmings come to mind!

Folks need to pay more attention to the philosophy of Bob Marley:

Get up, stand upthCAAXUSTO

Stand up for your rights

Get up, stand up

Never give up the fight.

 

Food waste is too important an issue to ignore; take Bob Marley’s words to heart.