Wind and solar farms could totally transform the Sahara Desert

Installations of largescale wind and solar farms don’t just have the power to supply the world with an immense amount of energy, they have the power to actually change climates on massive scales, potentially for the better. A new climate-modeling study has found that wind and solar plants throughout the Sahara Desert could significantly increase precipitation across the region and increase vegetation, reports Phys.org.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, and it’s growing. It covers a massive swathe of Northern Africa, making much of the terrain uninhabitable. So any increase in precipitation here would likely be a good thing, study authors speculated.

“We found that the large-scale installation of solar and wind farms can bring more rainfall and promote vegetation growth in these regions,” explained Eugenia Kalnay, co-author on the study. “The rainfall increase is a consequence of complex land-atmosphere interactions that occur because solar panels and wind turbines create rougher and darker land surfaces.”

If wind and solar installations covered this barren terrain it could supply about 3 terawatts and 79 terawatts of electricity respectively. That would meet global energy demands several times over. “In 2017, the global energy demand was only 18 terawatts, so this is obviously much more energy than is currently needed worldwide,” said lead author Yan Li.

Massive amounts of clean energy, plus a more habitable landscape (which means more viable agricultural and economic development), plus more greenery over a large area that could become a significant carbon sink.

It’s remarkable to think that instead of burning fossil fuels and creating catastrophic climate change, which involves increased desertification, that we could instead use clean energy to produce positive climate change and transform the world’s largest desert into a habitable oasis.

[MNN.com]

Humanitarian catastrophe feared as Syria war reaches final rebel stronghold

As the Syrian government prepares to launch an offensive on Idlib province, humanitarians are on edge. Estimating the area may hold as many as three million people, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said he is “deeply concerned about the growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe”, calling on Russia, Iran, and Turkey to seek a last-minute deal to avoid violence, while UN envoy Staffan de Mistura is offering to personally escort civilians out of the warzone.

With the border with Turkey sealed, hundreds of thousands of civilian may have nowhere to run if the tanks come rolling in. “The only thing people are talking about now is the coming battle,” said Rajaai Bourhan, a former business student who now ekes out a living as a freelance journalist in northwestern Syria. Speaking to IRIN from Idlib last week, he described a city hostage to circumstances outside its control.

For years, Sunni rebel groups have controlled Idlib. The surrounding area is mostly under al-Assad’s control. As one of few remaining opposition sanctuaries and an entry point for cross-border aid, Idlib has seen its population swell with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians like Bourhan.

Two thirds of the estimated 3 million population of Idlib are said to be in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance, and “these people are extremely vulnerable”, said Linda Tom, a Damascus-based spokeswoman for OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body.

Pawel Krzysiek, head of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, said that fighting in Idlib “will put thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, on the move.”

Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to UNHCR statistics, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under pressure from the Turkish public and the EU to secure his borders.

[IRIN]

The future of humanitarian water provision is solar

For World Water Week, Oxfam Engineering Adviser Brian McSorley reflects on the achievements of the Global Solar Water Initiative and the potential of solar water pumps to transform lives:

Solar power offers so many possibilities for development and humanitarian aid, from lighting, to internet connectivity and water provision. Why rely on diesel fuel -which is expensive, difficult to source in remote areas, to power a generator, which is a complex piece of mechanics, that frequently breaks down with skilled expertise and spare parts hard to find?

Less than six years ago (2012), Oxfam installed the first solar water pumping system in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. At the time Dadaab was already 20 years old and recognised as the largest refugee camp in the world with a population of nearly half a million people.

Since then, a two-person team has visited 55 camps and communities, conducted training workshops in eight countries and addressed technical queries from 80 organizations, across five continents.

By analyzing 140 different water schemes, we have found that switching to solar will pay for itself within four years, and in some circumstances, solar is cheaper than a diesel generator from day one.

Over the life time of these systems solar will be 40-90% cheaper.

[ReliefWeb]

Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, the 2nd deadliest US storm in over a century

Puerto Rico’s new death toll of almost 3000 casualties from Hurricane Maria has made the storm one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history, killing more people than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which numbered 1,833 people.

By comparison, the September 11 attacks killed 2,996 people.

Authorities yesterday officially raised the death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria (September 20, 2017) to 2,975, which surpasses:
– Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which is responsible for 1,833 deaths, and
– the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane in Florida, which killed 2,500 people.
– the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest recorded hurricane in US history, with estimates of 6,000-12,000 people killed.

News organizations and some members of Congress have raised questions about the official death toll in Puerto Rico, which had remained at 64 for months.

CNN reporters surveyed about half of the funeral homes across the island and found that funeral home directors identified 499 deaths they considered to be hurricane-related. In December, The New York Times estimated 1,052 “excess deaths” occurred after Maria. The findings of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health are nearly triple most estimates of the hurricane’s death toll.

Democrats in the House, including some Hispanic Caucus members, have requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. The Category 5 storm knocked out power on the island, leaving much of it without electricity for almost a year. Meanwhile, residents struggled to get medical care, repair their homes, or even find food and water. Thousands have since left for the mainland United States.

[CNN]

Sharing the humanitarian story with an external audience

Humanitarian work is challenging, complicated, and complex — and capturing those complexities for an external audience is a challenge in itself. For humanitarian communicators, it’s an opportunity to reach donors, policymakers, and the media, and to give them a chance to engage.

More and more humanitarian organizations are pivoting to a focus on individual stories, relatable entry points and, in some cases, more unfiltered and raw content from the frontlines.

A key driver of this trend is technology such as social media and video streaming. “Technology allows you the ability to bring these situations to people in an intimate way on their phones and computers,” said Erin Taylor, director of communications for humanitarian response at Save the Children. People respond and engage with more direct and personal content. It’s not uncommon for organizations to open a real time video stream from emergency response centers, refugee camps, or search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean sea.

In the days following the Lombok earthquake, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report that an unfiltered cell phone video uploaded in the first hours of the earthquake outperformed all other content on their feeds.

“There’s a sense that people are becoming cynical to highly polished and produced pieces of content,” Matthew Cochrane, media and advocacy manager and spokesperson at the IFRC, said. “There’s a real interest in authentic, ‘rougher’ content [of] what’s actually happening on the background.”

[Devex]

Something to encourage your heart

Things are bad in the world and it feels like it’s getting worse, right?

Wrong! Step-by-step, year-by-year, things are improving for billions of people worldwide!

  1. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has halved. This progress is absolutely revolutionary!
  2. The percentage of people worldwide who are undernourished has dropped from 28% (1970) to 11% in (2016).
  3. In 1950, the child mortality rate was 15%. (i.e. 97 million children were born and 14.4 million children died.) In 2016, the child mortality rate was down to 3%! (i.e.141 million children were born and 4.2 million died.) So we can rejoice there’s more than 10 million less dead babies per year than a relatively short time ago!
  4. Child deaths per thousand in Saudi Arabia have dropped from 242 to 35, in just 33 years. Countries like Sweden took 77 years to reach this same achievement.

Read more

Something to encourage your heart Pt 2

  1. As of 2016, 88% of all the children in the world today have been vaccinated.
  2. The point above also means almost all human beings alive today have some access to basic healthcare.
  3. HIV infections are down to less than half of what there were 10 years ago. From 549 per million in 1996 to 241 in 2016.
  4. As far as literacy goes, the share of adults who have the basic skills to read and write is up from 10% (1800) to 86% (2016).
  5. Worldwide, 90% of girls of primary school age are now enrolled in school, whereas in 1979 only 65% were.

[Source: “Factfulness, Why things are better than you think” by Hans Rosling]

 

India politely declines relief assistance for flooded Kerala

In late July 2018, the worst floods in a century impacted the southern Indian state of Kerala a result of unusually high rainfall during the monsoon season. Over 373 people died within a fortnight, and hundreds of thousands evacuated.

India on Wednesday rejected an offer by the United Arab Emirates government to give $100 million to the disaster relief fund for flood-stricken Kerala state. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that foreign money could only be donated through Indian-origin individuals or foundations.

Politely declining the offer, India had expressed appreciation for the countries who were willing to help Kerala. Among other countries who have offered to assist India with relief efforts in Kerala are Maldives, Thailand and Qatar.

Today, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his country stands with people of flood-ravaged Kerala who have suffered a devastating spell of flood and offered to extend humanitarian aid to the southern Indian state.

Trying to shed its long-time image as a poverty-wrecked nation, India has refused to accept aid from foreign governments since a 2004 tsunami, when New Delhi told potential government donors that India would contact them if it needed financial aid.

[The Times of India]

Things can be both bad and better

There are a lot of good things happening. For example, academic education is within reach of far more people in poor countries, child mortality has dramatically improved, the number of malaria cases are down, and so forth.

Yet as long as things are still bad for so many people, we feel it’s heartless for us to say they’re getting better.  Everything in the world is not fine, but it’s ridiculous to not acknowledge the progress that has been made.

But things can be both bad and better.

Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate and other important signs are tracked continually so that changes for better or worse can be quickly seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better though she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical.

Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes!
Does it make sense to say her health is bad? Yes!

It’s both bad and better! That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

 

[Excerpt from “Factfulness – Why things are better than you think” By Hans Rosling]

Women and children most vulnerable in African crises

The East and Southern Africa region is home to humanitarian crises that are having a devastating effect on the health, dignity and rights of women and girls.

Over a decade, an estimated 7.4 million people have been displaced by intercommunal violence and protracted armed conflicts. Of the 4.5 million of the total 7.4 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), up to 80 per cent of whom have been on the move for more than 10 years and are suffering from extreme poverty and insecurity. The majority of these are women, young people and children.

In the Horn of Africa region, more than 13 million people are affected, 9.5 million of whom are IDPs and nearly 4 million are refugees, mostly from South Sudan.

More than 44 million people in East and Southern Africa are presently food insecure, nearly 36 million of them severely so.

In all these humanitarian crises, women and girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence and exploitation. Their day-to-day activities – such as looking for food and water for the family, collecting firewood, attending the market, or engaging in other household duties – more often than not further expose them to abduction, exploitation, and abuse.

And humanitarian crises dramatically elevate risks to the lives of pregnant women and newborn babies.

[UN Population Fund]