LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador, Oct 8 2021 (IPS) – As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall, hundreds of families in rural communities in El Salvador are standing together to gain access to drinking water.
The Salvadoran state fails to fulfill its responsibility to provide the resource to the entire population, and the families, faced with the lack of service in the countryside, have organized in “Juntas de Agua”: rural water boards that are community associations that on their own manage to drill a well and build a tank and the rest of the system.
It is estimated that in El Salvador there are about 2,500 rural water boards, which provide service to 25 percent of the population, or some 1.6 million people, according to data from the non-governmental Foro del Agua (Water Forum), which promotes equitable and participatory water management.
One of those community systems has been set up in the small village of Desvío de Amayo, in the canton of Cangrejera, part of the municipality and department of La Libertad, on the central coastal strip of El Salvador.
The system provides water to 468 families in Desvío de Amayo and eight other nearby villages.
“Governments have the constitutional obligation to provide drinking water in each country, but when they are not able to do it, as it happens here, the families decided to meet to take decisions and seek support either from NGOs or municipal governments to set up drinking water projects”, José Dolores Romero, treasurer of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, told IPS.
Created in the 1980s, this board finally obtained in 2010 a contribution of US$ 117,000 from the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (Anda), the sector’s authority, for the expansion and improvement of its network infrastructure, he explained.
As agreed by those involved in this effort, each family pays seven dollars for 20 cubic meters a month. If they consume more than that, they pay 50 cents per cubic meter.
“We benefit from the water, it is a great thing to have it at home, because we no longer have to go to the river, remember that we cannot go there because it overflows during the rainy season, so this community system benefits us a lot”, María Ofelia Pineda, from the village of Las Victorias, told IPS, while washing a frying pan and other dishes.
“Before, we had two or three hours of water during the day, and now we have it all day long, I am very happy for that, because I have it all day and all night,” said Ana María Landaverde.
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:
=========== 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?
(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.
Clara Colton Symmes, Princeton-in-Asia Fellow, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka
In an Interview with Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Country Representative – Pakistan, Regional Representative – Central Asia
Farmer working in a paddy field in Pakistan. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sep 3 2021 (IPS) – An intense monsoon season in Pakistan means the country’s food system faces the challenge of both extreme floods and extended droughts.
In an effort to address these challenges through cross-sectoral collaboration, Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, IWMI’s Country Representative for Pakistan and Regional Representative for Central Asia, convened a regional dialogue in advance of the UN Food Systems Summit (which is scheduled to take place at the United Nations, September 23) .
Human actions are at the root of much water scarcity, but these international dialogues are an opportunity for humans to be a part of the solution by working to reconcile our damages through transforming how we approach food systems.
Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index and extreme weather, intensified by climate change, has made farming a challenging venture there. Much of Pakistan’s food is now imported from overseas.
Dr. Hafeez’s work centers around improving the resiliency and efficiency of Pakistan’s water systems. This includes innovating water capture and storage systems in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where he is working to introduce nature-based solutions like recharging groundwater with rainfall runoff.
By convening April’s regional dialogue and organizing four provincial dialogues in the time since, Dr. Hafeez provided the collaborative platforms necessary for reaching sustainably-managed water sources in his region. It is only through cross-sectoral dialogues and work that Pakistan will achieve sustainable food systems management.
“There is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information to ensure water-food-energy security and environmental sustainability for food system transformation in Pakistan,” Dr. Hafeez said.
The pre-summit hosted in Italy was another opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders in food systems in the leadup to the UNFSS. On the IWMI blog, we will be exploring what country managers in Uzbekistan and Pakistan hope to achieve through the UNFSS process.
A Q&A with Dr Hafeez:
How are water and food systems connected?
Water supply systems are first and fundamental in food systems. In Pakistan more than 90 to 95% of our total water resources is used for irrigating crops. It’s a water system intrinsically linked with the food system.
When there is a water shortage, we see a direct impact on food production because this is an arid environment, and farmers are not able to do agriculture without the artificial applying of water.
What are the most pressing challenges facing food and water systems in your region?
Pakistan is a food insecure country. We don’t even have food to eat, let alone nutritious options. Around 45% of the children have stunted growth. People don’t have enough food to meet their caloric needs. We’re importing all the other major crops in the last 4 to 5 years from overseas.
And the food system is dependent on water. When we don’t have enough water, the farmers are not able to grow anything, which impacts the lives and livelihoods of everyone.
If you’re talking about even the linkages between the water system and food system: the current water storage systems are only able to cope for 30 days of water supply.
Then there is also the issue of water quality. There is a lot of wastewater and effluents that mix directly into the into the water supply system including the canals and water networks. This also impacts the food system, so that what we grow may not have a same nutritious value.
Why is water storage so essential in Pakistan?
80% of annual rainfall happens during the monsoon season, which is around 60 to 90 days between July and September. The remaining nine months we receive only 16-20% of the water supply.
Water systems here are not resilient, so water storage capacity is quite low. And when we face extreme climate shocks like droughts, this stresses the water and food systems. Either we are facing three months of floods, or nine months without enough water.
What would a water secure world look like for Pakistan and what needs to happen in order to achieve that?
We need to make water systems more efficient, and that will only happen if we improve the efficiency of the irrigation system, which would make water more available for the other sectors. We also need to make water systems more resilient.
There has been a lot of focus on building large dams, but they require a lot of capital resources. I believe we should also focus on improving water resilience through nature-based solutions like rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging at the localized level.
We need local, nature-based solutions and the government of Pakistan is planning to introduce 3000 small ponds across Pakistan so farmers will have more water available.
A holistic approach and reliable database on water resources and their usage across Pakistan is key to achieving food, water, and energy security. We are the fifth most climate-vulnerable country in the world and there is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information.
We also need groundwater management policy. Even though we have a national water policy and provincial water acts, we don’t have a comprehensive groundwater plan. Ministries, like those for climate change and food security policy, must stop working in silos and collaborate.
The regional dialogue we convened did this. It brought ministries together and made them talk about how each could help the other in the water, food, energy (WEF) nexus.
How were you able to give voice during the dialogue to historically underrepresented groups like smallholder farmers, women, children, and rural communities?
We invited people from various government and private sectors and farmers. But because they were held in English, we faced the challenge of a language barrier. Many rural farmers do not speak English. So, we invited some and did what we could to help them with translators.
Another challenge is that this dialogue was conducted virtually, and many smallholder farmers did not have access to that. So, we had only two or three farmers participate.
But we had many government agencies that are directly involved in the farmers community. They were able to represent the farmers and a group called the Farmer’s Federation was also able to attend.
Woman working in a paddy field. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI
How do events like the regional dialogues and then the larger UNFSS affect water systems in your region? And what would you like to see as a result of the UNFSS?
When people talk about the food systems, they talk about production, the food value chain, and consumption. And they often ignore the importance of water. This is really the first time in 10 years when we’re talking holistically about food in a way that includes every aspect of the system.
At a recent provincial dialogue, part of the Member State Dialogue, we had people working on nutrition, agriculture, the value supply chain, traditional agriculture, water, and policy. It provided a platform where people worked together and thought beyond their own specialty: identifying real issues and how they could be improved in the future together.
Pakistan joined a UNFSS coalition for developing countries facing food insecurity. The Pakistani government is emphasizing the need to build resilient societies and improve food accessibility. There will be actions and pledges made to invest more into food systems areas which have been typically ignored.
What upcoming IWMI projects do you think will affect the kind of food system transformation desired by the UNFSS?
IWMI and International Food Policy Research Institute are designing a CGIAR Initiative to scale up the integrated management of water, energy, food, land, biodiversity, and forests for inclusive, sustainable development in transboundary river basins in the context of a changing climate.
The NEXUS Gains Initiative will be a game changer, but also many other IWMI projects will be helpful in interconnected thinking about improving the food security and water systems.
As IWMI and the other One CGIAR centers work together, we will be able to make change in a more systematic, holistic way that will change the mindset around food systems and ultimately improve the resilience of water supply systems.
What is making you feel hope about the future of food and water systems in Pakistan and Central Asia?
The current government is Pakistan is saying that food security is one of their highest priorities. They have initiated so many social initiatives in that field, including a resource program where they are providing food to vulnerable communities, with a focus on gender and the stunted growth of children.
The government also emphasized a need to understand the challenges in agriculture sector, linking from the basic production system towards the value supply chain, because as I mentioned that 22% of the system level losses are there.
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.
Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE
St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.
Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.
Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.
The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.
Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.
Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.
“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”
Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE
But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.
Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.
Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”
The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.
Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.
Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE
Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.
“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”
Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.
“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.
Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.
Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.
Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE
The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.
Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.
Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.
One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.
A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.
Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.
Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.
“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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.