Climate change and farming: ‘Unpredictability is here to stay’

In many parts of the world, droughts are getting longer, more intense and more frequent. A climate and environment director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization discusses the risk to food security. Interview excerpts include:

Q: Could drought cause food shortages and famines in the years or decades to come, and what regions are most at risk?
Absolutely. The FAO estimate is that we have 830 million people who are currently food-insecure. They do not have enough food to eat without this kind of shortage. Obviously, decreasing production could be a major factor. We’re also looking at the issue of nutrient depletion. Climate change, CO2 changes in the air, are having an impact on the nutrient content of food. Some cereals have about 10 percent less protein, and they have less minerals and less vitamins. So it’s not just a question of how much food, but also the quality of that food.

Q: Is drought going to become the new normal for farmers?
Unfortunately, variability is going to become the new normal. Unpredictability is here to stay.

Q: The solutions are within our reach. But why aren’t they being tapped into?
Well they’re expensive, and farmers are already often very stressed in terms of barely making a profit. And of course in a bad year, where they’re probably going to lose money because of drought, if we were to come in and say: “Well, we want you to invest more money in limited tillage or zero-tillage equipment,” of course they’re going to say, “You’re crazy, I’m already in debt.”

What we need is to speed it up because we don’t have two decades to work on this. We really need to get results within a few years. Otherwise it will be too late.

[Deutsche Welle]

Biggest regret is failures of kindness

One useful thing you can do with an old person is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc.?

There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really.  Read full commencement speech

At least 10 dead after Indonesian earthquake

A powerful magnitude-6.4 earthquake has struck the popular Indonesian tourist destination of Lombok, killing 10 people and injuring forty, the country’s disaster mitigation agency says.

The quake damaged dozens of single-storey houses and taller buildings and was felt in a wider area, including in Bali, where no damage or casualties were reported.

It hit the northern part of Lombok island early on Sunday morning when many people were still sleeping.

The quake, which was quickly followed by an aftershock of magnitude-5.4 in the same area, was centerd 50 kilometres north-east of the city of Mataram, the US Geological Survey said.

Disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number of casualties could increase as information is still being collected from across the island. Mr Nugroho said the earthquake also triggered a large landslide from Mount Rinjani, a popular trekking destination.

[Reuters/AP]

Greek government facing criticism over handling of wildfires

This weekend, Greece will begin burying the victims of a devastating wildfire near Athens which killed at least 88 people, and has prompted criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday took political responsibility for the tragedy as opposition leaders said the government had failed to adequately safeguard lives. Tsipras’ government has been criticized for failing to have an adequate evacuation plan in place for such a disaster. The government has announced a long list of relief measures and promised to tackle decades-old problems, including haphazard and unlicensed residential building, to minimize the risk of a repeat disaster and to cool public anger.

A deputy mayor in Marathon, which administers some of the affected area, on Saturday became the first official to resign over the wildfire.

Heavy downpours hit the region on Saturday, prompting fears that the work of rescue crews and efforts by locals to salvage what they can from the fire could be made more difficult.

[Reuters]

One year after ouster of ISIL from Mosul

It’s been one year since the end of military operations by Iraqi security forces to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Mosul’s occupation by ISIL from June 2014 to July 2017 caused a humanitarian catastrophe with immense human suffering and enormous physical destruction. Close to one million people were forced to flee the conflict in Mosul.

“Almost 870,000 people have now returned to Mosul”, said Marta Ruedas, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq  Key achievements by humanitarians include:
The UN refugee agency has established six camps for displaced Mosul residents in Ninewa governorate and in the Kurdistan Region.
The UN migration agency (IOM), has established two community resource centres in Mosul to facilitate the reintegration of returnees.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has helped rehabilitate one-third of the 638 schools that have re-opened and enabled more than half a million girls and boys to return to local schools.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the government has provided emergency school meals to 87,000 school children in 145 primary schools and four kindergartens in West Mosul from March to May.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed 53 ambulances in Ninewa governorate, and relocated two field hospitals to deliver emergency healthcare services to returnees in West Mosul.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supported 16 primary health care clinics by providing almost 800,000 reproductive health consultations to women and girls, and deployed six mobile reproductive health clinics and teams.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has helped rebuilt infrastructure and is working to rebuild the electric grid that will keep the health, education and water supply running in Mosul.
The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has removed more than 43,700 explosive hazards, including 1,000 improvised explosive devices from roads, bridges, schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, water treatment plants and municipal buildings.
The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has rehabilitated 257 conflict-damaged houses in West Mosul, allowing almost 3,000 people to return home.

Despite these achievements, extensive humanitarian needs remain in Mosul and across Iraq. The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable 3.4 million people is only 54 per cent funded.

[UN]

US freeze on Palestinian aid threatening coexistence of humanitarian efforts

Palestinian officials say that local humanitarian groups who work with the United States Agency for International Development have scaled back their activities in recent months and are preparing to fire employees and shut down projects as a result of the Trump administration’s total freeze of financial aid to the Palestinians.

The funding freeze has also hurt local companies that USAID uses as contractors for economic projects, as well as Jewish-Arab coexistence groups that rely on American financial support for their activities, according to the officials who spoke with Haaretz.

The U.S. Congress approved an aid budget of $250 million to the Palestinians for the current fiscal year. This money includes $35 million to support the Palestinian Authority’s security forces and $215 million intended for economic development, infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance and an additional $10 million for coexistence programs that comes from a different line item in the budget.

This entire sum has been held up by the Trump administration, which has been conducting a “review” of Palestinian aid since the beginning of the year. It has no deadline for ending that review or releasing the money.

Western and Arab diplomats who spoke with Haaretz said they believed the freeze is meant to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end his boycott of the Trump administration, which started after the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December. The administration, these diplomats added, want Abbas to return to negotiations with Trump’s peace team – led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and special envoy Jason Greenblatt.

[Haaretz]

Russia and US eyeing joint plan for return of Syrian refugees

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed resolving the crisis in Syria and how to return refugees who fled the war-torn country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed, “There was a discussion between President Trump and President Putin about the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back. It’s important to the world that at the right time through a voluntary mechanism these refugees are able to return to their home country.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said on July 20 that it sent Washington a proposal for drawing up a joint action plan to bring Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and elsewhere back to the places where they lived before Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 — a goal repeatedly espoused by Trump since taking office.

The Russian ministry estimates that over 1.7 million Syrian refugees would be able to return to Syria in the near future, including an estimated 890,000 refugees from Lebanon, 300,000 from Turkey, and 200,000 who are living in European Union countries.

Washington and Moscow back opposing sides in the Syrian war, with Russia’s intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad having helped turn the conflict in favor of the government, particularly in the last year. So the proposed joint plan of action on refugees is remarkable in that it appears to presuppose that the war is coming to an end without a negotiated settlement and the country is now in a resettlement and reconstruction phase — a view often espoused by Russia but not previously openly endorsed by Washington.

[Reuters, AFP, and Interfax]

Engage local women to lead humanitarian action

Women are disproportionately impacted by conflicts and disasters. The World Health Organization reports that disasters such as droughts, floods, and storms kill more women than men as a result of structural gender inequalities, including women’s lack of influence or control over decision-making. A majority of the 1 in 8 people around the world who experience hunger are women. About two-thirds of Syrian refugees worldwide are women or children.

And what can be done to more greatly promote  women as agents of change?

  • Put women at the helm in times of disaster. – There is increasing evidence that women’s leadership and involvement contributes to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction,more effective and efficient response, and stronger peace building.
  • Lead locally.While transforming gender roles is a project that will take generations, it can be jump-started in moments of crisis. And international NGOs can play an important role in making that change by putting local actors in the lead. As we work to redress power imbalances in the humanitarian system, women leaders are an important constituency that deserves greater attention.
  • Provide training and resources. We must view and support women as active agents in humanitarian action. With training and resources, capable local organizations can provide the support people require, including preparing for and preventing disasters, promoting gender equality, and paying attention to the different needs of women and girls.

When women’s voices, leadership, and needs are prioritized, whole nations benefit.

[Devex]

France and Russia to jointly deliver humanitarian aid to Syria

France and Russia will jointly deliver humanitarian aid to the former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the French Presidency announced Friday, while it was also revealed that Moscow has offered to work with the US on returning Syrian refugees.

The French foreign ministry said that the first cargo plane, loaded with 50 tons of medical equipment and essential goods, would take off from Chateauroux Friday evening and head towards Russia’s Hmeimim air base in the west of Syria. It will be the first joint humanitarian aid operation between Russia and a western country.

The aid will be distributed on Saturday under the supervision of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).

France had secured “guarantees” from Russia that the Syrian regime would not obstruct the distribution of the aid, and that it would not be misappropriated or diverted for political purposes, the foreign ministry said.

It was also revealed Moscow has put forward plans to Washington to cooperate on the safe return of refugees to Syria, days after a summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

“Specific proposals on how work could be organized to ensure that refugees can return home have been sent to the American side,” senior ministry official, General Mikhail Mizintsev, said in a statement. The proposals “take into account the agreements reached by the Russian and American presidents during their meeting in Helsinki” on Monday, he said.

 [AFP and Reuters]

The death rate for migrants crossing the Mediterranean is skyrocketing

While migrant arrivals crossing the Mediterranean have reduced dramatically over the last two years, the proportion of deaths per attempted crossing has spiked. An analysis of recent data by UNHCR and the Missing Migrants Project shows that over the last six months, 28 of every 1,000 migrants died undertaking the boat journey over the Mediterranean. That figure is not far off the all-time high set in early 2017.

Until 2016, migrants undertook the dangerous sea journey across the Aegean Sea in their bid to reach Greece. But that route was effectively closed off once the European Union (EU) signed a deal with Turkey in 2016, which saw Turkey receive billions in aid in return for agreeing to take back migrants who cross over to Greece.

One of the few routes left for migrants was the Central Mediterranean route. With the devastating civil war in Libya, and restrictive fences and border patrols at other routes, more migrants who opted for the Central Mediterranean route believed they were less likely to be returned if detected by authorities. But this route, in which migrants can be stranded at sea for weeks, remains the most dangerous.Just last week, more than 200 migrants drowned at sea in the Mediterranean.

But even the Central Mediterranean route is slowly being cordoned off. In November 2017, the EU signed a controversial deal with Libyan authorities to intercept migrants and return them to detention centers. The Italian government, with the backing of the EU, has also severely restricted NGO rescue boasts in the area. The UN described the deal as “inhuman,” while campaigners have accused the Libyan coast guard of abandoning migrants at sea.

[UNHCR]