Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wetlands Day 2014: Can Wetlands Management amicably co-exist with Agriculture in East Africa?

For many millennia, humans have been cultivating land for food production. Initially, human settlements primarily occurred in fertile areas along rivers. In the floodplains of Mesopotamia, such settlements were the very cradle of human civilization 6000 years ago (J.T. A. Verhoeven & T. L. Setter, 2009). From the early beginning of agricultural activities, such riverine wetlands have been recognized as valuable land areas for food and fodder production, because they have fertile soils as a result of regular sediment deposition during flood events. However, increase in human population and extensive farming over time has changed the situation as wetlands, forests and other natural habitats become stressed.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands - the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem, defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty, including areas of marine water, the depth of which does not exceed six metres". In line with the UN’s designation of 2014 as the UN International Year of Family Farming, the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands & Agriculture as the World Wetlands Day theme for 2014. Although wetland protection is officially a priority for the 168 nations (as of 2013) under this convention, wetlands continue to be under threat of being drained and reclaimed.

In East Africa, the theme triggers varied discussions and standpoints in line with the current situation of wetlands. This is because wetlands have remained to be seen as reclaimable land for growing crops even in the dry spells, can be a source of water for irrigation and watering animals, but also as a moderator of climate, crop and animal diseases as well as a source of medicine for both humans and domestic animals. This is in light of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands' main pillars of wise use, designating and managing more Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), and international cooperation to which all the 5 East African Countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) are signatory.

Wetlands and agriculture link?

Agriculture has been carried out in several types of (former) wetlands for millennia, with crop fields on river floodplain soils and rice fields as major examples. However, intensive agricultural use of drained/reclaimed peat lands has been shown to lead to major problems because of the oxidation and subsidence of the peat soil (J.T. A. Verhoeven & T. L. Setter, 2009). This does not only lead to severe carbon dioxide emissions, but also results in low-lying land which needs to be protected against flooding. Developments in South-East Asia, where vast areas of tropical peatlands are being converted into oil palm plantations, are of great concern in this respect. Although more flood-tolerant cultivars of commercial crop species are being developed, these are certainly not suitable for cultivation in wetlands with prolonged flooding periods, but rather will survive relatively short periods of waterlogging in normally improved agricultural soils. Extensive use of wetlands without drastic reclamation measures and without fertilizer and pesticides might result in combinations of food production with other wetland services, with biodiversity remaining more or less intact. But there is a need for research by agronomists and environmental scientists to optimize such solutions.

Wetlands coverage and challenges in East Africa

There are serious threats to wetlands in East Africa arising from the need to meet the growing water, food, energy and other livelihood needs.

In Burundi – the second most densely populated country in Africa, soil fertility is steadily declining because land is over-exploited, marginal lands are being used and farmers no longer leave fields fallow (New Agriculturalist, 2013). Diminishing soil fertility is compounded by shrinking farm sizes, which is forcing people to clear forested land and drain wetlands. These practices are accelerating soil erosion on steep slopes, flooding in lowlands, depletion of water sources, sedimentation of lakes, drying of wetlands and biodiversity loss. Burundi possesses extensive wetlands. The total area of marshland is more than 120,000 ha, almost 5 % of the area of the country. However, a large part of these marshlands has already been drained for agriculture. While land is also heavily grazed by livestock, hillside farming in highly erodible soils and frequent heavy rains has combined to create some of the worst soil-erosion problems in the world.

In Kenya, the main agricultural-related challenges facing wetlands include over-extraction of water; eutrophication (the process when a body of water receives excessive nutrients, resulting in excessive plant growth and less oxygen in the water) from domestic, agricultural and industrial runoff; fragmentation of land; deforestation of major water catchment areas; overgrazing; invasive species; over-exploitation of wetlands goods, such as fish and plants; drainage for infrastructure; and climate change (UNEP, 2013). For example, Lake Victoria North Basin Wetlands-Located to the north of Lake Victoria, the world's second-largest freshwater lake, these wetlands provides many services including fishing, farming and forestry. However, they face threats from inappropriate land use, mining, conversion of wetlands to agricultural use and unsustainable exploitation of resources. About 6,900 hectares in the Yala Swamp, part of the wetlands, have been leased to private companies for intensive agricultural activities, leading to water extraction and the flow of pesticides and fertilizers into the ecosystem (UNEP, 2013).

In Rwanda, the conversion of wetlands (that cover 10.6 per cent of the country surface area) to agricultural production has increased rapidly over the last two decades due the acute scarcity of agricultural land (REMA, 2009). The biggest marshlands are associated with and clustered around the rivers. Rugezi and Kamiranzovu are high altitude wetlands, most of the others are low altitude. However, enormous pressure, over the recent years, has been exerted on the water and wetlands resources through various emerging and increasing uses driven by the growing population. Some of these threats include agricultural intensification, pollution, invasive species, overuse and an inadequate institutional framework to manage the wetlands. Some of these threats, in the case of water, have affected both the quantity and quality of water available. Climate change is also contributing to degradation of swamps. With decreasing amounts of rainfall, the hydrological regime of wetlands is being threatened.

In Tanzania, wetlands are mostly utilized for crop production and grazing. Out of 43 million ha suitable for agricultural production, only 6.3 million ha are under agricultural production of which 0.45 million ha are under wetland cultivation. The principal livestock keepers are the Sukuma and the Masai (FAO, 1995). The Sukuma are the northwest of the country, south and east of Lake Victoria. They make extensive use of wetlands in the northern part of the country, for dry season grazing. Due to population pressure they have already moved to the south to the Usangu plains through the Chunya corridor. The Masai extend from the Kenya border to the Morogoro region in central Tanzania. Their traditional grazing lands were in the north but population pressure has forced them further south into Kilombero valley and now they utilise Mkata plains and Usangu plains for dry season grazing.

At present, conflicts arise between pastoralists and small holder farmers who grow crops in the wetlands. Policies governing the utilization of wetlands will help to resolve conflicts and conserve the land.

In Uganda, wetlands cover, as estimated in 2005, has now been reduced to 26,308 square kilometres, or 11% of the total land area. Wetlands in Uganda have come under considerable pressure and most them are on the brink of total degradation due to the uneven nature of activities there. Ahead of the World Wetlands Day (February 2013), Minister of State for Water – Betty Bigombe highlighted a number of challenges that Uganda is facing in wetland management including enforcement of the wetland policy and related legislation. The downward spiral in wetlands loss is appalling – NEMA’s State of Environment Report (2008) estimated that Jinja district has lost over 80% of its original wetland area. On one hand, communities that access these wetlands and use them for agriculture and extraction of various raw materials and fishing have greatly contributed to their degradation. The limited wetland areas of Uganda are under considerable pressure from a growing population and industrial development. Poor natural resource management, coupled with poorly planned or executed development activities have, and are continuing to deplete the limited renewable natural resource base of the country. On the other hand, mega projects have greatly contributed to the decimation of wetlands. For instance in Kampala, an increased number of Industrial establishments that have encroached on the wetlands have affected the ecological functions of Kinawataka and Nakivubo swamps. Similarly, increased private agricultural interests in the stressed wetlands are threatening their existence. For example, Rosebud flower farm is reportedly illegally re-claiming Lutembe Ramsar site for expansion of flower growing.

Five main action areas to sustainably manage East African Wetlands

For wetlands management to co-exist harmoniously with agriculture in East Africa, a lot of actions (from local to global levels) involving a multitude of actors need to be taken up. At the East African Community level, four main ones below for the attention of the 5 Partner states and development partners.

First of all, it is urgent that regional and international cooperation in management of wetlands and other natural resources be of high priority through domesticating related international commitments and joint regional actions (for example through the East African Community) in order to realise a more efficient implementation of the Ramsar and other related conventions

Secondly, scaling up wetlands management becomes an action to be flagged out in East Africa as part of the Post 2015 development Agenda. In this regard, clear customised targets and measurable indicators under either environmental sustainability or water resources management should be part of this framework to reverse wetlands loss, deterioration of water quality and improvement in management of watersheds.

Thirdly, East African countries need to address their respective national institutional weaknesses related to wetlands management. For example monitoring capacity at the local government level, review of management options that involve communities so as to cut down costs and sustain this role in the long-term

Fourthly, agriculture (agri-business), water, fisheries, and other sectors need to have a common vision (including respecting related national and international policies, laws and plans) towards conservation of the declining wetland cover. This will reduce cost, conflict and sustain this important resource.

Fifthly, In order to secure wetlands continuity, alternatives to wetland products and wetlands use will need to be promoted in East Africa. One example is constructed wetlands that can provide waste water management function.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The 'greenest' island in the world?

By Peter Geoghegan, Al Jazeera News

Scotland's remote Eigg island is on pace to become completely self-sufficient in renewable energy.

The tiny isle of Eigg, off Scotland's north-west coast, can feel like a land outside time. Buzzards, ravens, and even golden eagles swoop over heather-filled fields. The occasional car moves ponderously along the island's few kilometres of road. A sporadic ferry service provides the only connection with the outside world.

The 31-square-kilometre island's hundred or so inhabitants call this languid pace of life "Eigg Time". But the island, part of the Hebrides archipelago, is proving that a relaxed approach is no barrier to making big changes.

Eigg is firmly on course to become the first island entirely self-sufficient in renewable power. Dotted around the picturesque island are solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric schemes that provide almost all of the residents' energy needs.

"It varies from year to year depending on weather conditions, but we are getting between 85 and 90 percent of our energy from renewables," explains Maggie Fyffe over coffee in her pleasingly chaotic bungalow that doubles as the financial office for "Eigg Electric". Outside her window the sun shines on the Atlantic Ocean, bathing the hills of nearby Rum island in light.

"There are miles and miles of underground cable connecting every house to the grid."

More electricity

The electricity scheme, which cost around £1.6m ($2.64m) and was funded by the European Union and national bodies, was switched on in 2008. Before then, most islanders relied on noisy, polluting generators that ran on diesel that had to be shipped from the mainland at great cost.

"It's hard to imagine what it is like to live with no electricity or limited electricity," says Fyffe, who moved to the island in the 1970s. "If you had a generator you would only have it on for a few hours a day, so that meant you only had electricity for certain hours of the day. Now life is so much easier. I've got a washing machine - which I never had before."

Eigg Electric is independent of the UK's national grid, which means that the island is unable to sign lucrative renewables contracts with big energy companies as other rural communities in Scotland have done. Instead, electricity prices on Eigg are set slightly higher than the cost on the mainland. But at 21 pence (35 cents) per kilowatt-hour, few on the island are complaining.

"It was a condition of our funding that the price was higher," says Fyffe. "We might have to put up the price next year by another penny. We just have to keep an eye on how the books are balancing and decide. But it is still a lot less than we were paying before."

To ensure there is enough energy for everyone, islanders cannot use more than 5 kilowatts at a time - equivalent to running a washing machine and a kettle simultaneously. For businesses, the limit is 10 kilowatts. Islanders are used to rationing their power: So far, no one has been disconnected.

Extreme weather

Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Eigg gets more than its fair share of extreme weather - good news for renewable energy.

"It gives you a completely different attitude to rain," says Eddie Scott, part of Eigg Electric's maintenance team, as he shows off the state-of-the-art energy storage facility in the middle of the island. Rainfall helps power hydroelectric generators set up along streams or rivers.

"That arrow there shows you that there is more power coming in than the island is consuming," Scott explains, pointing to a bank of batteries and flashing lights.

On days that are really sunny - or, more likely, really wet or windy - Eigg Electric has a useful way for dealing with excess energy. "We have heaters in all the public spaces on the island, the two churches, the community centre, [the shop and café] down at the pier. So we put free heating into these buildings to keep the island's costs down and to keep the infrastructure of the buildings dry," says Scott.

Scott is not an energy specialist or a technician by profession - his background is in horticulture - but, like the rest of the six-man, part-time maintenance team, he learned how the system works by shadowing the construction company as they built the Eigg Electric scheme. "Part of their contract was that they had to teach people about installation and how it worked," he says. "Now we can solve a lot of the problems ourselves. We have learned a lot as the years have gone by."

One of the reasons the electricity scheme has worked so well, says Scott, is Eigg's unique ownership structure, which gave everyone on the island a say in the decision to install the wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric generators.

This was not always the case. For centuries, Eigg was owned by a succession of landlords, many of whom had little or nothing to do with the island. As recently as the 1990s most residents had no legal tenure on their land, making development on the island almost impossible.

Owning the island

In 1997, after a campaign that made international headlines, the residents of Eigg raised £1.5m ($2.48m) to buy the island from its erstwhile owner, an eccentric German fire artist who went by the name of Maruma. And so Eigg became the first island in Scottish history to be bought by its inhabitants.

"Owning the island has empowered the people of Eigg," says Fyffe, who spearheaded the community buyout of the island. "Eigg has improved enormously over the last 15 years. A lot of employment has been created. We have a lot of young people coming back to live here."

An impressive broadband scheme has helped, as has the island's vibrant cultural scheme - musician Johnny Lynch - better known as the Pictish Trail - is among the island's residents.

Anyone who lives on Eigg for more than six months of the year automatically becomes a member of the residents' committee. It was at this monthly committee that the idea for a renewable energy scheme first emerged.

"Electricity was brought up at every meeting. Where folk would want to see wind turbines, how much they would pay for a unit of electricity, we talked about all of that," says Fyffe.

'A great luxury'

Now the biggest problem for Eigg Electric is not renewables, but ensuring a supply of clean fuel for the diesel generators that still account for around 15 percent of the island's energy consumption. Last year, contaminated diesel entered the supply chain, causing £12,000 ($19,800) worth of damage - a significant outlay for a small community.

For its inhabitants, continuous electricity has changed island life forever. "Electric light is a great luxury. Now I have a television, a sound system, a refrigerator, all the stuff that people take for granted," says local postman John Cormack.

Cormack built his own hydroelectric scheme, near his wooden house overlooking a sandy beach at the Bay of Laig more than 15 years ago, but he has come to rely on Eigg Electric when bad weather knocks out his private generator.

"Before I'd have to try to stagger out there in the dark," he says. "Now I have the luxury of flicking over to Eigg Electric and sorting it out when the weather is nicer and it is daylight. It's great."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The End of Poverty? Yala Swamp in Kenya's Lake Victoria region

People from Kenya talk about how the Dominion Group of Companies took over their land. From the documentary film THE END OF POVERTY?, directed by Philippe Diaz and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio

Friday, January 24, 2014

A united call for action

By Kofi Annan, Washington Post

Kofi Annan is chair of The Elders, a group of independent leaders who work for peace, justice and human rights worldwide.

When Nelson Mandela formed the Elders in 2007 to promote peace and human rights across the world, he challenged us to be bold and to give a voice to those who have none. No issue demands these qualities more than our collective failure to tackle climate change.

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. It threatens the well-being of hundreds of millions of people today and many billions more in the future. It undermines the human rights to food, water, health and shelter — causes for which we, as Elders, have fought all our lives.

No one and no country will escape the impact of climate change. But those with no voice — because they are already marginalized or are not yet born — are at greatest risk. The Elders have an urgent moral duty to speak out on their behalf.

Given the compelling weight of evidence, it can be hard to understand why anyone is still dragging his or her feet on the coordinated action needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The latest report from the expert Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states clearly that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that human behavior is extremely likely the dominant cause.

Recent months have also brought examples — from typhoons in the Philippines to the polar vortex in North America and widespread floods in Europe — of the increase in extreme weather events that experts warn is the inevitable outcome of climate change. The costs are already enormous, which is why the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Energy Agency have joined the scientific community in warning about the risks. It is no longer only environmentalists who are ringing alarm bells.

Every year the world fails to act brings us closer to the tipping point when scientists fear that climate change may become irreversible. This is a terrible gamble with the future of the planet and with life itself.

What is needed to prevent this catastrophe has been established. Global temperature rises must be limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This means turning away from fossil fuels and accelerating the deployment of affordable renewable energies, for instance by setting an internationally agreed price for carbon. The way forward must be to meet the timetable for a robust, universal and legally binding agreement on climate change next year, under which every country commits to phasing down greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a decisive year. The United Nations secretary general has called for a climate summit in New York in September. It is imperative that governments and corporate leaders come to this summit committed to ambitious actions on the climate if we are to stand a chance to reach an agreement in 2015 commensurate with the challenge.

Many of the Elders have shouldered the burden of government. We do not make the mistake of believing that addressing climate change is easy. But we know that there are times when, no matter how difficult the immediate landscape, leaders must show courage and boldness. This is such a time.

Our experience has also taught us that if leaders make the right decisions for the right reasons, their voters will support them. By raising their sights — and shrugging off the restraints imposed by vested interests and short-term political considerations — they can also inspire hope, rebuild trust and mobilize action across society.

Solutions to climate change do not come only from research centers and laboratories but also through innovation by the people most affected. Many communities, businesses and local and national governments, including in developing countries, are already showing the way to a carbon-neutral world. These efforts have to be scaled up.

Climate justice also demands that those richer countries that have done the most to cause the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere — and reaped the benefits — help poorer nations adapt to the climate change already underway.

The international community has reached a fork in the road. In one direction, a terrible legacy could be handed to our grandchildren and their children. In the other is the opportunity to set our world on the first steps toward a fairer and sustainable future. No one wants the generations to come to say that we failed them.

Over the coming months, the Elders will appeal for bold leadership from governments, businesses and citizens to achieve a carbon-neutral world by 2050. If ever there were a cause which should unite us all, old or young, rich or poor, climate change must be it.

A united call for action

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kenya set for $1.2 billion investment to generate 50% of electricity from solar - Blue and Green Tomorrow

Kenya’s government has identified a number of sites where it could develop solar farms – which it said could provide more than half of the country’s electricity needs by 2016.

The Kenya Renewable Energy Association, together with the government and a number of private companies, has said there are nine sites suitable for solar farm development.

The plan would see $1.2 billion (£730 million) invested in order for Kenya to get more than half of its electricity from solar panels by 2016. The government is set to fund 50% of the project.

Kenya – which is one of the countries with the highest risk from climate extremes – currently gets most of its electricity from hydropower but the photovoltaic sector is rapidly expanding.

Cliff Owiti, Kenya Renewable Energy Association’s senior administrator, said, “We hope that when the entire project is completed by 2016, more than 50% of Kenya’s energy production will consist of solar. Already we are witnessing solar investments in Kenya such as a factory that was opened here in 2011 that manufactures solar energy panels.

“The costs related with hydro electricity are very high, considering they are influenced by the low water levels in major supply dams. With high investments in solar, we will witness almost no blackouts and power charges will reduce because electricity will be in high supply.”

Kenya is the largest producer of geothermal energy in Africa and has plans to build the biggest wind farm on the continent, the 365-turbine Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium (LTWP), which will be the largest single private investment in the country and could generate thousands of jobs.

Kenya set for $1.2 billion investment to generate 50% of electricity from solar - Blue and Green Tomorrow

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Any plausible pathway to sustainable development must involve the state

By Chandran Nair, The Guardian, UK

States cannot abdicate responsibility and rely on the private sector to lead sustainability; their choices will be the central narrative of 21st century

The consensus about sustainable development is that business should take the lead. Governments are meant to get out of the way or, at most, provide enabling conditions for the private sector. This conclusion, however, relies on a number of simplistic assumptions about the efficiency of markets and the intrinsically negative role of the state and regulation.

The private sector is roughly two thirds of the world's economy, and might seem to matter more than governments in terms of its contribution to unsustainable practices and what it can do to solve major sustainability problems. But this is a limited and dangerous way of thinking about sustainable development in the 21st century.

The primary objective of corporations is growth and expansion. This makes them wholly unsuited to leading the way on regulations for the public good that are by definition about limits and restrictions.

There is little incentive for corporations to properly price the resources they consume, which is a key factor in the current epidemic of overconsumption by a small minority in a greater context of scarcity for most. Coal-fired electrical plants do not charge their customers for the cost of polluting the air, nor do electronics companies include in their prices the social cost of production in Asia and Africa, nor the cost of disposing of these devices once they are deemed obsolete.

To think that businesses can redefine the economy alone is to also miss a key feature of many of today's fastest growing economies. On China's stock market, 80% of the market capitalisation is made up of state-controlled companies, in Russia it's 60% and in Brazil it's 35%. Of the world's top 25 oil companies, 18 are nationally owned. It goes without saying that these companies will respond to the state on which they are so dependent.

Moreover the world's population continues to rise. The strain that this puts on resources is compounded by rising consumption levels throughout the developing world, particularly in Asia. Were China and India to reach western levels of car ownership, estimates suggest they would have 2bn cars between them. Keeping that number of cars on the road would require 120m barrels of oil a day, four times OPEC's current output, to say nothing of the disastrous effects on the environment. It is unclear how corporations could even begin to act to mitigate such trends.

Business can do little to address the problem of economic inequality and inequality of access to resources. Citizens of developing countries have poor access to their own natural resources, which are often bought up by large corporations or richer nations. Left alone, these issues will only compound the long-term challenges of sustainable development.

Neither is it right to foster an over-reliance on intergovernmental organisations, even those as important as the UN. The non-binding nature of the vast majority of international agreements obstructs their effectiveness, the Kyoto protocol being a classic example. Not only is the world's second largest polluter, the US, not a signatory, but countries are free to leave without penalty, as Canada did in 2011.

The second problem is that geopolitics often derails potentially valuable agreements, especially given that most of the major international bodies are dominated by western nations. Should any developing nation attempt to stand up for itself, it is portrayed as derailing international cooperation.

Any plausible solution must involve the state. We need more effective government institutions. The specific form of a state's political system will be less important than its institutional structures, and their capability to generate and implement policies that can realise the changes necessary in resource and environmental management.

The state will need to be active in its intervention and tough in its regulation. This will include not just taxes and tariffs but, when necessary, strict limits placed on resource use or consumption. At the heart of this is tackling the underpricing of resources and other environmental assets such as clean air and water. Left unchecked, this exploitation will result in large scale disenfranchisement and social unrest, something that only states, not corporations, have the mandate to prevent.

None of this is to say that states are flawless, or that state intervention is always successful, or that the private sector has no role to play. New business models that are both socially beneficial and commercially viable will go a long way towards tackling the problem. Technological innovation, properly regulated, can also make a difference. But none of this can come at the price of states abdicating their responsibility to their citizens and hoping that the private sector will come to the rescue.

State-led governance in a century defined by resource constraints is vital to balance the essential need to use resources to better billions of lives, with the equally important need to avoid the potential environmental catastrophes that come with reckless exploitation. The choices states make will be the central narrative of the 21st century.

Any plausible pathway to sustainable development must involve the state

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pakistan turns to solar energy as power shortfall widens

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio, Thomson Reuters Foundation

After months of sleepless nights and uncomfortable days in sweltering heat, Hussain Raza has found relief.

But it’s not just the cooler winter weather that is making Raza happier. It is, somewhat ironically, the sun.

The 35-year-old banker and his family have bought a solar-powered electricity supply that kicks in during the frequent power outages that afflict even his upscale residential neighbourhood in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

A chronic shortfall in electricity in Pakistan makes life miserable for much of the country’s population and hampers industrial growth, experts say.

Until he bought his 300-watt solar energy system in October last year, Raza and his family often had no electricity to keep the lights on in the evening or run a fan during hot nights.

“How can I be at ease seeing my children go to school without homework (being done) and feeling sleepy in school due to inadequate sleep at night?” he asked. “Now I feel really relieved that I have a solar energy system that runs two fans that give us a good night’s sleep,” he said.

Mounted on the roof of his two-storey house, the solar installation stores energy in a battery that can power two fans and four 23-watt energy saver light bulbs for 10-12 hours through the night.

Apart from the comfort and convenience the system provides, Raza’s monthly electricity bills have dropped from around 4,500 Pakistani rupees (about $43) to less than 2,800 rupees ($27).

“It is worth the bill we paid for the renewable energy system,” he said. The kit cost the equivalent of $560, he said.


Power outages in Islamabad have been a problem for more than seven years, in part because of rising electricity demand due to the increasing size of the city’s population.

Pakistan’s daily power demand averages 16,000 megawatts (MW), but the country produces only around 12,000 MW. This shortfall can soar to 7,000 MW during peak summer months.

As a result, power authorities must resort to load shedding for more than 15 hours a day in the summer months, and six to eight hours daily in the winter.

The outages have also been getting longer because of a lack of investment in energy systems, particularly hydropower, which accounts for one-third of Pakistan’s total power production. The rest of the country’s energy is produced with oil and coal.

Inadequate foreign reserves prevent the government from importing oil, and the country’s ongoing budget deficit has stymied progress in the development of renewable power sources such as solar and hydro, though officials in the federal water and development ministry say that plans for tapping 100,000 MW of hydropower have been drawn up.

But despite a campaign to attract foreign money to hydropower and solar energy, investors have been slow to respond, deterred in part by Pakistan’s struggles with law and order and with terrorism.

The failure to invest in reducing Pakistan’s energy gap has had serious consequences for some families.

Shumaila Fatima, a 35-year-old who lives on the outskirts of Islamabad, has been unemployed since being fired last June from her accountancy job at a travel agency. She blames her problems on protracted power disruptions.

“How could I do my office work properly when I would feel sleepy in the office?” she said. “I never had proper sleep during scorching summer nights, which we have to pass usually without electricity.”

She now plans to use her savings and money borrowed from friends to buy a solar energy system that will power at least one light bulb and a ceiling fan so that she can do housework and sleep better at night. She is one of many taking an interest in renewable energy sources.


Businesses in Islamabad and adjoining Rawalpindi that sell solar panels and related equipment are now often crowed with potential buyers.

Business had been slack until a few months ago but is beginning to boom, said Alamgir Khan, an entrepreneur in Abpara market in the heart of Islamabad.

“We sell out daily some 30 300-500 watt solar energy systems,” Khan said. A year ago, he said, he sold five to eight kits a day.

“We have now growing number of customers visiting our shop ... who ask about the solar panels’ specifications, their prices, and mostly to check if they can afford it,” Khan added.

According to him, about 40 percent of these customers go on to purchase a system. The level of interest is leading electrical shops which previously sold fossil fuel-powered generators to switch to marketing solar energy systems, he said.

“It is really heartening to see that the lack of (electric) power is driving innovation that might not otherwise have come about,” said Arif Allahudin, former head of the government-owned Alternative Energy Development Board in Islamabad.

Although the need for an alternative power sources is lower in the winter, when outages are shorter, people use the solar kits to power light bulbs so that their children can do homework and household chores can be completed.

Bilal Mustafa, owner of Hussain Electronics on Murree Road in Rawalpindi, said business has boomed markedly over last couple of years.

“One of the reasons behind the soaring demand for solar energy systems is itself the sale of the systems. People watch others using solar power and they hanker to try it out too,” Mustafa explained.

Sometimes customers share the benefits of systems they buy with neighbours, which “multiplies our sales,” he said.

The frequent and protracted power disruptions in Pakistan have slowed business and made running industries increasingly difficult, business owners said.

Aware of the seriousness of the widening energy gap, the government has begun promoting solar energy use.

“Sindh and Punjab and other provincial governments have signed MoUs (memoranda of understanding) with Chinese, Saudi, German and other European firms to exploit the abundance of sunlight for energy production and put it to gainful use,” said Khalid Islam, director-general of the state-controlled Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technologies in Islamabad, which promotes solar energy use in sectors including agriculture and industry.

In October, the Punjab government signed an agreement with ZTE Solar China to produce over 500 MW of solar electricity in the province.

“The firm will establish a solar power plant in the Cholistan area to produce around 300 MW of power, and its capacity will be enhanced to 500 MW later on,” said Islam.

He added that the chief ministers of Sindh and Punjab provinces are exploring the potential for national and foreign investors to set up manufacturing units in Pakistan to produce components for solar power systems including panels, charge controllers, power inverters and power meters.

Pakistan turns to solar energy as power shortfall widens

Thursday, January 16, 2014

China's water squeeze worsens as wetlands shrink 9 pct | Reuters

China's wetlands have shrunk nearly 9 percent since 2003, forestry officials said on Monday, aggravating water scarcity in a country where food production, energy output and industrial activity are already under pressure from water shortages.

China has more than a fifth of the world's population but only 6 percent of its freshwater resources, and large swathes of the nation, especially in the north, face severe water distress.

Since 2003, wetlands sprawling across 340,000 sq. km. - an area larger than the Netherlands - have disappeared, officials of China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) told reporters.

"The investigation shows that China is facing various problems with wetlands protections," Zhang Yongli, vice director of the forestry body, told a news conference, adding that loopholes in protection laws imperil the shrinking wetlands.

The lost wetland areas have been converted to agricultural lands, swallowed by large infrastructure projects or degraded by climate change, the forestry administration said.

Wetlands lost to infrastructure projects have increased tenfold since the government's last survey in 2003, Zhang added.

Water has emerged as a major issue in China. Its scarcity endangers economic growth and social stability, and China has set aside $660 billion for projects to boost supply this decade.

Wetlands store a large amount of China's freshwater resources, and receding wetlands will leave less water available in the long term, Debra Tan, director of Hong Kong-based non-profit China Water Risk, told Reuters.

"This will add to the pressure and increase competition for water going forward," she said. "China will be looking to grow more food, and more food in wetlands, as urbanization continues."

Nearly 70 percent of China's energy production depends on water-intensive coal power. Despite pursuing alternatives, its coal use is expected to grow between 2 and 3 percent a year for the next five years, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian said.

A study by the World Resources Institute last October showed 51 percent of planned coal-power plants in China were in regions with severe water shortages, potentially pitting energy production against agriculture and basic needs for clean water.

Although 9 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) was earmarked to protect wetlands during 2005 to 2010, just 38 percent of those funds were actually allocated, said forestry official Zhang.

For 2011 to 2015, China plans to use 12.9 billion yuan to protect its wetlands.

(Reporting by Stian Reklev and Kathy Chen; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

China's water squeeze worsens as wetlands shrink 9 pct | Reuters

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Green campaign helps six Lake Victoria basin firms save KSh1bn

Six companies based in the Lake Victoria Basin saved nearly Sh1 billion last year owing to adoption of cleaner production strategies, in a campaign meant to reduce pollution of the fresh-water lake.

A report by the government-affiliated agency, Kenya National Cleaner Production Centre, says the companies are saving millions of shillings and releasing less waste to the environment.

According to the Industry Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production report, Sh9.6 billion is lost annually through inefficient use of resources (water, energy and material inputs).

The aim, according to the centre, is to ensure that participating firms in the basin reduce pollution by up to 35 per cent by 2015.

“The sugar industry that is currently threatened by the lapse of Comesa safeguards can reduce its production costs and make its products more competitive by embracing resource efficient production methods,” says the report.


According to the report, Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries is one of the biggest reformers in waste water management campaigns, having reduced its effluent by 70 per cent.

Therefore, people living downstream are enjoying cleaner water, says the report, adding that the firm is saving Sh7 million annually on that front. The firm is also reported to have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for climate change, by 16 per cent.

The report says Nzoia Sugar has saved Sh38.4 million through prudent solid waste treatment and greenhouse gas emission reduction.

“The savings have come mainly from improvements on the company’s reduced reworks and spillages of cane fibre and sugar making processes,” said KNCPC director Jane Nyakang’o.

Ms Nyakang’o said the centre was regularly assessing companies along the Lake Victoria Basin to identify potential interventions for energy efficiency, water use and waste reduction.

According to the report, Kitumbe Tea Factory in Kericho did well in energy management, cutting losses of Sh13.4 million. Electricity consumption fell by 53 per cent in the past two years, the report says.

Rift Valley Bottlers made great strides in water use reduction and energy waste. It reportedly saved Sh25.5 million through prudent use of energy and water waste reduction.


Other top performers included United Millers Bakery, where there was a reduction of water usage and environmental pollution, leading to total savings of Sh575,550.

Equator Bottlers excelled in green house emission reduction and waste water management. The company saved Sh127.5 million on energy.

Eldoret-based garment firm Ken Knit also recorded better grades in solid waste reduction. “Material wastages and reworking were reduced,” the report notes, adding that the company is now able to save at least Sh6.8 million.

Promotion of cleaner production technologies is being undertaken by the Kenya National Cleaner Production Centre, under the wider Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme, which is set to run until 2015.

A total of 65 industries have received training on resource efficiency and cleaner production techniques, with 38 of them implementing the new measures.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Heat, Rain and Livestock: Impacts of Climate Change on Africa's Livestoc...

By the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

What's the future for Africa's livestock herders as our climate changes, becomes less predictable, heats up? How can scientific research help remote pastoral communities? Among the poorest of the world's poor, herders supply milk and meat not only for themselves but for large numbers of other poor people. Although their animals produce few of the greenhouse gasses harming the earth, these people will be among those most hurt by the climate changes we expect. Population growth and land degradation are already causing problems over much of the continent's traditional rangelands. Many herders, having lost all their animals to droughts, are facing the end of their way of life. Research-based approaches for adapting to climate change, however, offer options that can help herding communities sustain at least some aspects of their pastoral

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Top Priorities for Africa in 2014

The year 2014 will be pivotal for the region as African leaders and global policymakers grapple with financing and sustaining the continent’s economic growth, overcoming recent breakouts of insecurity and conflict, adapting to evolving demographic changes, and recalibrating Africa’s position within the international community on matters ranging from justice to the post-2015 development agenda.

On January 7, the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings hosted a discussion with leading Africa experts on the most important challenges the continent will face in 2014. The panel included: Makhtar Diop, vice president for Africa at the World Bank; Robin Renee Sanders, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria and CEO of FEEEDS; Bright Simons, Ghanaian social entrepreneur and founder and president of the mPedigree Network; John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough Project; and Amadou Sy, senior fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative. Brookings Visiting Fellow John McArthur will moderate the discussion.

Friday, January 10, 2014

'Green Knesset' project to make Israeli parliament greenest in world

By Ynetnews

Knesset Speaker Edelstein says launch of environmental initiative part of 'irreversible policy' led by parliament; project includes installation of solar panels, LED bulbs, water desalination

As a legislature that passes environmental laws, the Knesset must practice what it preaches, Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) said Wednesday during the launch of the "Green Knesset" project, which will make the Israeli parliament the greenest in the world.

"Green Knesset," Speaker Edelstein's flagship project, is spearheaded by Knesset Members Dov Khenin (Hadash), Zvulun Kalfa (Habayit Hayehudi) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), and it will be implemented under the supervision of Knesset Director-General Ronen Plott.

The multi-year project's goal is to convert the Knesset into a legislature that is guided in its conduct by the concept of sustainability (a multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary concept which examines our lives, as a whole, in terms of the environment, society and the economy).
Speaker Edelstein said that while the project required a significant financial investment, "it will bear fruit and return the investment," adding that the "Green Knesset" project constitutes a declaration of an "irreversible policy" led by parliament.

Along with the implementation of the initial phase of "Green Knesset," the task force in charge of the project continues to work on a multi-year work plan, which will be implemented during the second phase of the initiative. Among other things, the task force will discuss the Knesset's geographical surroundings, including the planning of a park based on the principles of sustainability, which will include a communal garden – in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The plan will also be aimed at encouraging the use of public transportation and turning the Knesset into a building that educates on the environment.

It should be noted that the Knesset has already adopted some environmentally conscious practices: Knesset employees recycle paper and bottles and try as much as possible to avoid printing out documents. When they do, they use the duplex printing feature. Moreover, the Knesset's director general began to encourage employees to save electricity as soon as he assumed his duties.

Moreover, the saving of energy will reduce the level of carbon emissions from the Knesset and thus make the Knesset's ecological footprint smaller.

Some NIS 7 million ($2 million) will be invested in these initiatives, and the average return from saving energy and water is estimated at NIS 1.5 million ($430,000) a year, on average, after about five years.

This sum will be transferred to the "Green Fund," which will be designated for the continuation of the "Green Knesset" project (meaning the expansion into additional initiatives), as well as for the benefit of the employees, as is customary around the world.

All of the approved projects have been found to be economically feasible.

National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) said the "Green Knesset" project will be a source of pride for Israel and will inspire other countries. "This is a blessed move of great importance. Encouraging energetic efficiency, the saving of electricity and advancing the use of natural gas and renewable energy will reduce pollution, preserve the environment and save a lot of money," he said, adding that the project's principles and goals directly coincide with the values and projects being promoted by his office.

Naor Yerushalmi, director of Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for the environmental movement in Israel, said during the event that the environmental groups "welcome the Knesset's leadership in the sustainability field." By adopting environmentally conscious practices, Yerushalmi said, parliament "is showing that it is responsive to the concerns of the public and is setting a great example for public institutions and millions of citizens."

The project will consist of numerous activities, including educating MKs and Knesset employees on the environment and encouraging them to partake in activities related to the environment; publishing position papers on the issue; launching projects that will make the Knesset a more sustainable place; and making the everyday operational activities in the Knesset more sustainable as well.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) said during the event: "At a time when my office is leading an environmental revolution in industry and in the residents' homes, the symbol of the country must become a leading element in the green revolution, because it is the Knesset's duty to protect the next generations, and protecting the environment is the way to do it. Those who want to think far must think green."

Wednesday's event marked the beginning of the first phase of the project, which will be implemented throughout 2014 and 2015. This phase will be characterized mainly by 13 ventures focusing on energy and water. Among other things, this phase will include the construction of a 4,500 square meter solar field for the production of electricity from renewable energy; replacing hundreds of bulbs with LED bulbs; replacing the air-conditioning systems with an energy center; automatically shutting down all of the computers at the end of the workday; measuring the amount of water used for irrigation in the Knesset and adopting a more economical water consumption model; the desalination of water from the Knesset's air-conditioning systems and using this water for irrigation and other purposes.

'Green Knesset' project to make Israeli parliament greenest in world

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Meat consumption is wrecking the planet, says new atlas

 Source: Friends of Earth Europe

Intensive meat and dairy production is having an increasingly devastating impact on society and the environment, according to a new ‘Meat Atlas’ published today by Friends of the Earth Europe and the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

The way we produce and consume meat and dairy needs a radical rethink. Our industrialised production system is untenable, according to the report, since it depends on scarce land and water resources, and passes on hidden costs to the consumer. Curbs on corporate control over food need to be implemented, it says, to reduce the impact on society and the environment.

The Meat Atlas aims to catalyse the debate over the need for better, safer and more sustainable food and farming and advocates clear individual and political solutions.

Barbara Unmüßig, President Heinrich Boell Foundation: "Intensive meat production isn’t just torture for animals. It destroys the environment, and devours great chunks of our raw materials which we import from the global South as animal feed. After China, Europe is the biggest importer of soya. Argentina and Brazil are dramatically increasing their soya cultivation, and it’s being fed almost exclusively to the animals we slaughter. Rising meat consumption is forcing up land prices. This has devastating consequences: Nearly a third of the world’s land is being used to grow animal feed. Meanwhile, small farmers are losing their land and their livelihoods. That schnitzel on our plates jeopardises the food security of many people in the global South."

The report outlines the impact of intensive meat and dairy production on freshwater usage and land. Worldwide agriculture consumes 70% of available freshwater, one third of which goes towards raising livestock. The increasingly intensive livestock sector is also one of largest consumers of land and edible crops, with more than 40% of the annual output of wheat, rye, oats and maize used for animal feed, and with one third of the world’s 14 billion hectares of cultivated land used to grow it.

To produce a kilo of beef requires 15,500 litres of water – the same amount required to produce 12 kilos of wheat or 118 kilos of carrots. To make a hamburger requires more than 3.5 square metres of land.

Adrian Bebb, senior food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Diet is no longer a private matter. Every time we eat, we are making a political choice, and we are impacting upon the lives of people around the world, on the environment, biodiversity and the climate. Huge amounts of resources go into the food on our plates. Sustainable alternatives exist to the dominant destructive, corporate-controlled and intensive global system for producing and consuming meat.”

The report also warns that the trade talks between the EU and the US risk pushing food and farming standards down on both sides of the Atlantic [2]. Big food and biotech companies want to lift EU restrictions on genetically modified (GM) foods and animal feeds, and are challenging consumer labelling laws. They also want to undermine the European Union’s ‘precautionary principle’ which sets food safety standards, and aim to further globalise and industrialise the meat industry.

There are solutions, and the organisations urge legislators to reform the livestock sector [3]. The Sustainable Food Communication [4], due to be launched by the European Commission in spring 2014, should address dietary issues, underlining the basic right to a nutritious diet based on seasonal and local food, which is grown sustainably, respects cultural diversity, and includes a smaller daily intake of good quality meat, according to the organisations.

Meat consumption is wrecking the planet, says new atlas

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pakistan faces a sanitation crisis with 43 million people still defecating in the open | India Sanitation Portal

Source: India Sanitation Portal

Pakistan faces a crisis that threatens the lives of millions of Pakistanis every year. It is also a crisis which in its resolution offers the potential for increased wealth, health and dignity for the whole country.

This crisis is in our access to water and, in particular, sanitation. They are the most basic of daily human needs, human rights recognised in international conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory, yet still far from the reach of many ordinary Pakistanis.

Pakistan is due to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of people without access to water by 2017. However, the situation for sanitation is bleak: 43 million people still defecate in the open, and the sanitation MDG may not be met until 2027.

The public health implications are severe. Some three million Pakistanis face infections from waterborne diseases every year. Children are especially affected by illnesses such as diarrhoea, often caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, and killing more under-fives around the world than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

Tackling this public health blight could bring huge economic dividends, with research from the WHO showing that every $1 invested in sanitation returns $4 to the wider economy. It could also advance gender equality and education, with women no longer forced to search in the dark for a place to defecate or look after children absent from school due to lack of sanitation or menstrual hygiene facilities. However, to do this requires a new policy approach.

During reconstruction after the 2010 floods, NGOs built thousands of latrines and water supply schemes. But despite the good intentions many systems were unsustainable due to the lack of operation and maintenance training given to local populations.

There was a culture of subsidy in calamity-hit areas. Local authorities absolved themselves of responsibility for water and sanitation systems and instead looked to external donors. But many private water service providers refuse to cover operation and maintenance costs due to low tariffs and poor profitability. Access to water and sanitation, a human right essential to lives and livelihoods, must be protected and fulfilled, regardless of profitability.

There is a lack of policy on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Pakistan, and where it exists it tends to be poorly informed and often implemented without consulting local people.

In order for Pakistan’s water and sanitation policies to succeed, two things need to happen. First, cabinet members should approve funding for water and sanitation programmes for the provinces, where local solutions can then be employed. This would address the crucial need for more policy and funding for sanitation at the national level.

Second, policies need to provide room for localised solutions by facilitating local participation in innovation and decision-making on water and sanitation systems. It is common sense that the people who access WASH projects are the people who will best know the cultural context and feasibility of a local project. Now that provinces are responsible for the management of water resources under the 18th Amendment, we hope to see the application of more local solutions to complex contexts of water and sanitation.

National and provincial politicians have allocated funds to water and sanitation. But in places like Fata, KP, interior Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan, open defecation is practised widely and using a toilet in the home is considered to be taboo. The solution is about more than funding. As Jan Eliasson, UN deputy secretary general, says, we must dismantle taboos: “As was the case for the word ‘toilets’ a few years ago, it is time to incorporate ‘open defecation’ in the political language and in diplomatic discourse.”

Raising the political profile of water and sanitation can also be boosted by demand from the Pakistani people, who have already shown their mass concern for this issue. Last year, Pakistanis contributed nearly 500,000 signatures to a global petition calling on decision-makers to keep to their promises on water and sanitation.

The World Walks for Water and Sanitation, coordinated by the End Water Poverty coalition that I am a member of, runs from March 15-23 to coincide with World Water Day. It is the world’s largest mobilisation for water and sanitation and one of the largest annual mobilisations of any kind. We ask that as many people as possible join us to ask their political parties to include sanitation in their manifestos as well as demand legislation recognising water and sanitation as a basic human right.

Tackling sanitation must be a central concern of government, and we, as citizens, must remind our leaders that we face a severe public health crisis, but one that which if we invest in the right way we can overcome and in doing so increase our national wealth, both economic and moral.

Pak faces a sanitation crisis with 43 million people still defecating in the open | India Sanitation Portal

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Climate Change Could Put One-Fifth Of World’s Population In Severe Water Shortage

By Ari Phillips,

A new study by a diverse group of researchers from twelve countries found that of the human impacts stemming from climate change, the threat it poses to global water supplies may be the most severe.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in the journal Nature, the researchers found that if global temperatures rise by an average of 2°C, up to a fifth of the global population will suffer from severe water shortages. Recent research has shown that a minimum average temperature of rise of 2°C by 2100 is becoming an accepted likelihood, even though just a few years ago it had been the stated benchmark that scientists hoped to remain beneath. A new study published in the journal Nature shows that temperatures will rise by at least 4°C by 2100 and potentially more than 8°C by 2200 if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced.

Hans Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, explained why climate change’s impact on global water supplies is of particular concern: “Water and all that relies on it, from food to sanitation and public health, is an emblematic aspect of climate change whose urgency people tend to instantly understand.”

“Those who might say, ‘Come back when you’ve narrowed down the risk’ should be reminded that climate change is a treacherous gamble. We don’t quite know the odds, but the chance of losing heavily might be a lot bigger than many tend to think.”

Schellnhuber and other leading climate change researchers launched the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project last year with the goal of directly comparing climate models using the same data for the first time.

“The multi-model assessment suggests that, in vulnerable regions, climate change will significantly add to the problem of water scarcity that is already arising from population growth,” Nature reported. “The modellers found that climate-driven changes in evaporation, precipitation and run-off will result in a 40 percent increase in the number of people worldwide who must make do with less than 500 cubic meters of water per year — a commonly used threshold to signify ‘absolute’ water scarcity.”

The findings show that the regions most at risk from water scarcity include parts of the southern U.S., the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Prolonged drought is already taking its toll on several U.S. states. 2013 was the driest year on record for much of California, with both Los Angeles and San Francisco setting low precipitation records that hadn’t been met since official record-keeping began in the mid-19th century. Overall, 2013 ended with about 31 percent of the contiguous United States experiencing moderate or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Climate Change Could Put One-Fifth Of World’s Population In Severe Water Shortage