In a Watershed Year for Climate Change, the Commonwealth Secretary-General calls for Urgent, Decisive and Sustained Climate Action

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Climate Change

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Scotland expressed concerns about the impact of climate change on exacerbating superstorms, like this 2019 event which took a massive human toll. Credit: Commonwealth

London, Sep 8 2021 (IPS) – This November, five years after signing the Paris Agreement and pledging to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a further target of below 1.5 degrees Celsius, world leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK amid COVID-19 pandemic shocks, rising hunger and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warns of more extreme temperature, droughts, forest fires and ice sheet loss due to human activity.


The leaders are expected to submit more ambitious targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Out of the 197 countries which signed the Paris Agreement, 54 are members of the Commonwealth. That association has been helping its members to craft their national climate targets and follow through with implementation.

IPS spoke to Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC about the Association’s climate initiatives, the unique challenges faced by small states, its focus on gender mainstreaming and access to financing for critical adaptation and mitigation projects.

Scotland is the sixth Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the first woman to hold the post. The Commonwealth is an association of 54 countries that work together to advance shared values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy, human rights and sustainable development.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

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Inter Press Service (IPS): Secretary-General, it is a pleasure to be able to interview you from a small community in Dominica. Dominica continues to be proud of not just being a member of the Commonwealth but the land of your birth and the home of the Baroness Patricia Scotland Primary School.

In Dominica, we know that the Commonwealth is invested in climate change, and I’m happy to be speaking to you about one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The IPCC report has been dominating the climate change headlines in the lead-up to COP26. It is a sobering report that calls for urgent, increasingly ambitious action by world leaders to tackle the climate crisis. What does the report mean for the 54 member countries of the Commonwealth?

The Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC (PS): The latest IPCC report is a stark warning for humanity. One cannot argue with the definitive scientific evidence in the report, which shows how climate change is intensifying on a global scale, with widespread impacts. Some of these impacts are unravelling on our television screens and even right before our eyes, including increasingly destructive extreme weather events – from monstrous super storms in the Pacific and Caribbean to deadly floods in Africa and raging wildfires in Europe.

In many ways, the report reaffirms many of the concerns the Commonwealth has been advocating for over the past 30 years, particularly in relation to small and other vulnerable states. It also challenges us, as an international community, to respond – urgently!

We no longer have any excuse not to act. We already have a blueprint for international cooperation in the form of the Paris Agreement. What’s more, emerging from the Covid pandemic, we have a critical window to set a new development path and build back better. What the world needs now is urgent, decisive and sustained climate action. As I’ve always said: if not now, then when; if not us, then who?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at COP 25. She was speaking to IPS ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in October and November 2021. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): We know that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are important to gauge how each country intends to do its part to reduce global warming. We also know that new NDCs should be submitted every five years, but some countries have not met the deadlines. How is the Commonwealth assisting member countries with articulating and submitting their NDCs?

(PS): The Nationally Determined Contributions – or national climate plans – are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. I cannot overstate their importance. It is through the NDCs that we translate this global agreement into reality on the country level.

This is why the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with the NDC Partnership to support governments in enhancing and delivering their national climate plans under the Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP).

Through this initiative, we embed highly skilled Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers in countries to fast-track the process. In Jamaica and Eswatini, our experts help create frameworks to include climate-related spending in national budget planning. In Belize and Zambia, our advisers assist in developing national climate finance strategies.

Our flagship Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub has also deployed advisers in nine other countries across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to help governments develop strong climate finance proposals for NDC implementation and wider climate action.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland pictured in Seychelles. She is particularly concerned about the financing and support of small island developing nations with their climate change challenges. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): How can Commonwealth countries help each other with their NDCs submission and implementation?

(PS): The Commonwealth is a family of 54 equal and independent nations, spanning five geographical regions with a combined population of 2.4 billion people, 60 percent of whom are under age 30. Thirty-two members are considered ‘small states’, while we also have some of the world’s biggest economies along with emerging countries in our group.

One of the most valuable aspects of the Commonwealth is, therefore, its diversity and incredible capacity to be a platform for countries to share experiences on a wide range of global issues, examining what works and what does not work and cross-fertilising ideas. Building on this, the Secretariat organises regular virtual events, convening a range of actors from different regions and sectors to exchange knowledge and best practices for climate action.

We also welcome the generous financial and in-kind support from member countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Mauritius, which enables the work of key programmes like the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the CommonSensing Project (funded by the UK). The CCFAH ‘hub and spokes’ model ensures a dynamic network of expertise and a useful mechanism for cross-regional dialogue and international cooperation around NDCs.

(IPS): Access to finance for climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives continues to be an issue of concern, particularly for small island developing states. What mechanisms have the Commonwealth Secretariat established to assist countries in financing their climate commitments?

(PS): Funding for climate action is absolutely critical for the survival of our small and vulnerable member states. However, a concerning paradox is that countries most vulnerable to climate change are often the ones that find it most challenging to access climate finance.

This is mainly because they have constrained resources or capacity. For example, a small island developing nation may have just a small ministry or unit dedicated to climate change, and a single officer, if any, focused on mobilising finance. When you look at the complex requirements, application processes and varying criteria set by different international climate funds, it is clear there is a gap.

Consequently, many countries can spend months and even years working through the process to access finance, delaying climate action whilst impacts are ongoing.

This is why the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) was initiated in 2015, whereby long-term Commonwealth national climate finance advisers are embedded in government departments to help them develop successful funding proposals, and who then pass on the knowledge and skills to local officials and actors. As of June 2021, CCFAH has helped raise US$ 43.8 million of climate finance, including US$ 3 million of country co-financing for 31 approved projects. More than US$762 million worth of projects are in the pipeline.

We are also looking at innovative ways to fill the data gap in project proposals. Under the CommonSensing Project, we work with UNITAR-UNOSAT, the UK Space Agency and others, to use earth observation technology and satellite data to build more robust, evidence-based cases for climate finance in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

(IPS): According to agencies like UNICEF, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change – a reflection of patterns of gender inequality seen in other areas. Are you satisfied with the work of the Commonwealth in ensuring gender integration across climate change initiatives?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland planting mangroves in Sri Lanka. Scotland believes that the diversity of the Commonwealth is its strength in tackling climate issues. Credit: Commonwealth

(PS): To tackle climate change, we simply cannot ignore the role of half the world’s people who are women. In fact, the most recent Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in 2019 reiterated gender and climate change as one of four priority areas on gender equality. It is absolutely a top concern for the Secretariat, which is committed to mainstreaming gender across its work programmes.

All our regional/national climate finance advisers are expected to mainstream gender and youth considerations in their operations. All their projects must be responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys, as equal participants in decision-making and beneficiaries of climate action.

For instance, the Commonwealth National Climate Finance Adviser in Jamaica helped the government secure a grant of US$270,000 from the Green Climate Fund for the project ‘Facilitating a Gender Responsive Approach to Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation’.

The Secretariat recently launched a gender analysis of member country climate commitments. This research will help us better understand the current situation and inform future activities and programmes.

 

NDC Partnership: Supporting a Global Network of Youth Climate Advocates

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Natural Resources, NDC Partnership, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation, Youth

Climate Change

Madrelle, Loubiere, Dominica 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2021 (IPS) – Just over six months after launching its Youth Engagement Plan, the NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum.


NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, refer to governments’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an integral part of the Paris Climate Agreement. NDCs are scheduled for revision every five years and are expected to be increasingly ambitious to tackle the climate crisis effectively.

Countries and the NDC Partnership want to ensure that, as agents of implementation, young people have platforms for engagement and a say in national climate action.

The Partnership recently brought youth together in 3 regional groupings: Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The young people engaged with representatives of partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) through sessions like ‘agriculture and climate change,’ and ‘equipping young people to engage in the NDC process.’

The NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum. Credit: NDC Partnership

The participants say the teaching element was bolstered by the opportunity to be heard, as the organizers asked for their input in areas that include NDC enhancement, structures needed to strengthen youth involvement, and ways young people are already impacting climate action.

For youth like Natalia Gómez Solano of Costa Rica, the forum provided a space to share experiences and ideas.

“Working for a more resilient and a more just, low-emissions world moves us, and that is why we are here today,” she told the virtual event.

“We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and they are worsening. We need increased adaptation and mitigation action, and the NDCs are the key instruments to achieve that. The NDCs are the roadmaps for climate ambition in which young people are key in bringing new climate solutions to the conversations and to raise action.”

Jamaica’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change, Dr Alwin Hales, told the Latin America and Caribbean forum that the virtual event and Youth Engagement Plan hope to leverage the ‘leadership and power’ of youth into NDC implementation and enhancement.

“Today’s children and young people are caught in the center of climate change, for it is they who have to live with and manage its consequences,” he said.

“The NDC Partnership launched the Youth Engagement Plan (YEP). It aims is to build young people’s capacity on climate change matters and engage the youth in global NDC partnership activities. This is in direct support of our mission to increase alignment, coordination, and access to resources to link needs with solutions.”

The forum was proposed by the NDC Partnership’s Youth Task Force but is a priority of the NDC Partnership’s Steering Committee and Co-Chairs, Jamaican Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr. and U.K. Minister Alok Sharma, who also serves as President of COP 26.

Noting that young people are vital to effective action on climate change, NDC Partnership Global Director Pablo Vieira Samper reminded them that their input also ensures that action is inclusive.

“We want to hear about what capacity or technical support is still needed and what learning you are eager to share with your peers,” he said.

“The Youth Engagement Plan was the starting point for greater action for youth engagement in NDCs. Today the NDC Partnership is thrilled to be turning this plan into concrete steps for more meaningful engagement and bringing new ideas to this framework to inspire action. We look forward to your insights as we collaborate across the Partnership to build a low carbon, climate-resilient future by supporting sustainable development.”

The youth attending the forum have described it as an important platform for highlighting the challenges faced by young climate activists.

“It is important to increase climate finance to support projects that are led by children and youth and integrate a rights-focused education curriculum in schools and universities,” said Xiomara Acevedo, the Founder and Chief Executive of Barranquilla+20, an NGO run by young people who empower their peers to tackle issues of biodiversity, sustainability, policy inclusion, and climate change.

Acevedo’s NGO has reached over 2,000 young people. She says it is clear that youth have a unique role to play in climate activism.

“We have seen that involving young people at the local and subnational level has also helped to ensure that a lot of citizens are seeing that climate action is not something beyond their territories, or is not only a topic that is managed at the national level. They can relate our message to their narrative, to their realities. We engage climate action as an important topic in the local agendas,” she said.

According to UNICEF, including youth in climate change action is important to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 13,2 which urges urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; 16,3 which calls for the promotion of peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development and 17,4 with its target of assistance to developing countries in attaining debt sustainability.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released its NDCs scorecard in February. It applauded countries for strengthening their commitments to the Paris Agreement but encouraged them to further step up their mitigation pledges, adding that greenhouse gas emissions targets were falling ‘far short’ of what is required to achieve the Agreement’s goals.

Young people like Natalia Gómez Solano say as custodians of the planet, youth must be mobilized, and their voices amplified to arrive at the deep emissions reductions needed in the NDCs.

“We need to integrate more voices and reach more places. As the Latin America and Caribbean Region, we need to keep working, keep asking, keep demanding, and doing more. Not all youth know how to be involved in climate action, and we need to work with more young people, for example, in the rural areas,” she said.

The delegates at the NDC Partnership’s inaugural Youth Engagement Forum say they are hoping for more opportunities at the table.

They say it takes persistence, organization, time, and passion to achieve climate goals. It also takes an empowered, well-connected, and financed global network of youth.

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Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

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Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

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Rock Glaciers Supply Water to Highlands Communities in Argentina

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

EL CÓNDOR, Argentina, Nov 14 2019 (IPS) – In Argentina’s Puna region, at 4,000 metres above sea level, the color green is rare in the arid landscape, which is dominated by different shades of brown and yellow. In this inhospitable environment, daily life has improved thanks to a system of piping water downhill from rock glaciers to local communities.


“When I was a girl we would walk an hour or two to fetch water from the hills. Since we didn’t have jerry cans or buckets, we carried it in sheepskin bags,” Viviana Gerónimo, a 50-year-old Kolla indigenous woman, tells IPS.

“We also built dams, to retain rainwater. We used it for ourselves and for our animals,” she adds. Gerónimo, a married mother of five, lives in Hornaditas de la Cordillera, an indigenous hamlet of just 15 families in the province of Jujuy in northwest Argentina, a few kilometres from the Bolivian border.

The Puna highlands region is a desert where only a few shrubs grow to less than half a metre in height and where it hardly ever rains – the average is around 200 millimetres a year, almost all of which falls in the southern hemisphere summer: December to March.

These high plateaus located above 3,000 metres altitude in the Andes mountains cover not only northwest Argentina but also northern Chile and southern Bolivia and Peru.

Local inhabitants in the Puna region depend mainly on livestock, although they cannot raise cows due to the poor quality of the pastures.

Geronimo’s family has 80 llamas and 120 sheep – the domestic species that best adapt to the climate of the Puna, although the profit margins are slim. In fact, the local indigenous people rarely shear them anymore because the wool fetches such low prices. They raise them for their own consumption and to sell the surplus meat.

Viviana Gerónimo adds color to the yellow and brown arid landscape of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, one of the Kolla indigenous communities that now have water for the consumption of the 15 local families and for their sheep, llamas and vicuñas, as well as subsistence crops, in this Andean highlands region in the northwest Argentine province of Jujuy. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Viviana Gerónimo adds color to the yellow and brown arid landscape of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, one of the Kolla indigenous communities that now have water for the consumption of the 15 local families and for their sheep, llamas and vicuñas, as well as subsistence crops, in this Andean highlands region in the northwest Argentine province of Jujuy. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The Kolla are the largest of the dozen or so indigenous peoples in Jujuy, where 7.8 percent of the population was recognised as native in the last national census in 2010 – more than three times the national figure of only 2.4 percent. Officially, there are 27,631 members of the Kolla people, although the real number is probably much higher, as there are more than 100 Kolla communities in the Puna.

Water brings change

The water collection system benefits the indigenous communities of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, Escobar Tres Cerritos and Cholacor, and the town of El Condor, the municipal seat, which has a primary and secondary school and first aid clinic.

El Cóndor is an hour’s drive from La Quiaca, the main Argentine city on the border with Bolivia. It has about 400 inhabitants, while the communities of the rest of the municipality number less than 100 people in all.

Climate change also seems to be playing its part in exacerbating the scarcity of water. “Although the biggest problem here has always been water, our grandparents said it used to rain more,” says 53-year-old Ricardo Tolaba, another resident of Hornaditas.

“In the past, the ponds, where underground water comes to the surface, dried up in June or July, after the summer rains. Now they dry up in March or April,” he told IPS.

The most important resource are the so-called rock glaciers: moving ice in the mountains covered in rocks and debris which keep them from melting; invisible but strategic water reserves.

The province of Jujuy has 255 rock glaciers, according to the National Glacier Inventory published by the Argentine government in 2018.

With government support, the local communities built a system of underground pipes that run down the slopes for 33 kilometres, using the force of gravity to pipe water to different villages.

“Back in 2007 we began to talk to the communities about how we could build a solution to the lack of water,” says agronomist Julio Sardina, a technician with the Secretariat of Family Agriculture who has worked with the indigenous settlements of Jujuy for more than 20 years.

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

“The problem was that people in the lower-lying areas didn’t have water for their animals. And some wanted to plant crops but couldn’t because of the lack of water,” he adds during his tour with IPS through the different communities participating in the project, which are precariously connected by dirt roads in poor condition.

Sardina explains that the Secretariat of Family Agriculture provided the materials to build the system, thanks to funding from the Socioeconomic Inclusion in Rural Areas Project (Pisear), a national government programme.

From the outset, it was stipulated that the work had to be carried out by the members of the beneficiary communities.

“The project, besides bringing water to the villages, helped the communities organise and forge closer ties, since the families were isolated from each other,” says Sardina.

The system benefits some 600 people in an area where families are often nomadic, moving around to find the best pastures. Many Kolla Indians have communal land titles, which is not common among native peoples in Argentina.

When it reaches the communities, the water is stored in a tank. It is also piped to some of the houses and to water troughs for livestock.

But the greatest impact of the project was on agriculture, which has always been limited in the Puna region by the lack of water.

In the high Andean plateau of the Puna, in northwest Argentina, the biggest need was always water, says Ricardo Tolaba. People walked for hours to find it and carry it back in small containers, for human and animal consumption. With the new community-built system that pipes it from rock glaciers, "things began to change," he adds. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In the high Andean plateau of the Puna, in northwest Argentina, the biggest need was always water, says Ricardo Tolaba. People walked for hours to find it and carry it back in small containers, for human and animal consumption. With the new community-built system that pipes it from rock glaciers, “things began to change,” he adds. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

David Quiquinte, also from Hornaditas, proudly relates that “a 40-centimetre-deep ditch was dug, where the pipe was buried to prevent freezing,” since in the wintertime temperatures in the Puna region can drop to 25 degrees Celsius below zero.

“For nearly six months, the entire community threw its effort into this work… except for one or two people,” the 40-year-old local resident told IPS, without concealing his irritation with those who didn’t help out.

During meetings with technicians from the Secretariat of Family Agriculture, the indigenous communities in Jujuy’s Puna region raised their concern about the growth of the population of vicuñas, a wild South American camelid native to the Andean highlands.

The vicuña came close to extinction in the 1960s, but recovered thanks to protection measures agreed by the countries of the Puna ecoregion.

“We needed water, especially because there wasn’t enough for the animals. And in the meetings about the water system project, many people complained that the vicuñas were eating the grass needed by the llamas and sheep,” Luis Gerónimo, 30, who lives in the community of Escobar Tres Cerritos, told IPS.

That is how the idea arose for training for the “chaccu”, an ancestral practice that the Kolla Indians have taken up again, as have other indigenous communities in Bolivia and Peru, which consists of capturing, shearing and releasing wild vicuñas.

“We’ve been practicing the chaccu for five years and people no longer see vicuñas as a problem. Today they are taken care of. The llamas and sheep graze in the lowlands and the hills are left to the vicuñas,” says Luis Gerónimo.

The chaccu and the water project pursue the same ultimate goal: to enable people from the communities to stay in Jujuy’s Puna region instead of migrating to the cities.

“I am one of the people who went to work in different parts of Argentina and came back. And I’m convinced that we have the resources to keep young people in the Puna,” says Tolaba.

He points out that “the main need in the Puna has always been water. Walking for hours to fetch water or to take the animals to drink are things we’ve been used to since we were kids here.”

But “with this project, things have begun to change,” he adds.

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Translating Ambition to Action: High Hopes for United Nations Action Week

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Cameron Diver is Deputy Director-General, the Pacific Community (SPC)

New Caledonia, Sep 13 2019 (IPS) – In less than 10 days, countries from around the planet will come together in New York for the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. I look forward to representing the Pacific Community (SPC) at this important event, and throughout “Action Week” during the upcoming UN General Assembly.


Cameron Diver

The interconnections and synergies between major issues of global concern and the key role multilateralism and international cooperation can play in helping tackle these challenges are illustrated by the agenda of the week from 23 to 27 September. Underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals, each of the high-level summits will focus on commitments to accelerate action across climate change, enhance efforts to secure healthy, peaceful and prosperous lives for all, mobilise sufficient financing to realise the 2030 Agenda and address the specific issues and vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

The week of summits kicks off with a focus on climate action. And this is, in my mind, highly appropriate. The multiplier effect of climate change undermines our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, it increases the challenges of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, it intensifies competition and the potential for conflict around natural resources and it poses the single greatest existential threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. From where I stand, the science on climate change is clear. To take only these examples, the IPCC Special Reports on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° above pre-industrial levels and climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems provide us with the most robust, high quality evidence base to understand the significant negative impact climate change is already having on our natural environment, on the wellbeing of people, ecosystems, flora and fauna and the massive and potentially irreversible consequences of inaction. As regards our ocean, the upcoming Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate is likely to confirm what the islands of the Blue Pacific continent, and others whose cultures, traditions and livelihoods are deeply attached to the ocean, have already sensed: the climate crisis is a real and present threat to ocean and coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

The stakes are high, but where there is a threat there is also an opportunity. If we act now, there is still have time effectively to tackle the climate crisis! To put it simply: ambition without action is insufficient and simply not an option. SPC is committed to working with our Member States, international and regional partners to translate climate ambition into tangible climate action, for both mitigation and adaptation. The benefits could be huge, with the Global Commission on Adaptation estimating that investing $1.8 trillion in climate adaptation globally in just five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. We are also convinced that we must collectively harness the synergies between, for example, climate and the ocean, biodiversity, health, security, economic development, food systems, land use, gender and many other development areas to fully exploit the potential of the SDGs and ensure that future pathways to sustainable development are integrated, inclusive, nature-friendly, climate-informed and resilient. SPC is already implementing this approach with its Members and partners. One illustration is our EU funded PROTEGE project, whose intended outcomes include a transition to sustainable integrated agriculture and sound forestry resource management; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management that is integrated in and adapted to island economies; sustainable integrated water resource management; and invasive alien species control, all against a backdrop of climate-change hazards that require ecosystem and biodiversity protection, resilience and restoration.

As was recently remarked to me at the Green Climate Fund Global Programming Conference in Korea: “we already know what we must do. We need to stop talking and start doing”. It is my sincere hope that “Action Week” in New York will indeed be a turning point for “doing”; a catalyst for firm, measurable commitments to tangible actions that match the level of ambition already expressed to address the climate crisis and the multiple development challenges that remain as we approach the final decade of the 2030 Agenda. If we do not translate ambition into action, we will fail ourselves, we will fail future generations and we will fail our planet. If, however, we take up the challenge and take sustained, coordinated and integrated action, we can win the battle against climate change, create new and innovative opportunities for development, deliver on the promise of the Global Goals and trace a positive pathway to new era of resilient and sustainable development. High hopes indeed…