Water for life

Access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. Globally, wide ranging successes and reforms has been achieved in making this a reality, including the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 seeks to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Despite the progress, available statistics from UN agencies shows that 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. Additionally, water scarcity affects four out of every 10 people. In light of the projected increase in the frequency and intensity of disasters associated with climate change – combined with a host of social and economic factors – it is anticipated that the number of our neighbors facing water scarcity worldwide will definitely increase.

We are already seeing intensified competition over scarce water resources in some parts of Africa. This has profoundly compromised pastoralism and small scale agriculture as a forms of rural livelihoods. Vulnerable populations have been further exposed to a vicious cycle of famine, endemic conflicts and severe poverty. These groups will be in need of humanitarian assistance for decades or, in some areas, generations to come.

In the drylands of East Africa, though, water scarcity no longer seems to be an impediment to development for communities participating in the CWS Water for Life program. Instead, it serves as an inspiration. Communities have invented innovative solutions that are progressively transforming communities.

[Church World Service]

Time to resolve a cursed old water problem

Goal 6 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030, concerns the global water challenge and includes measurable indicators of progress.

But “You cannot manage what you do not measure” is a long-familiar saying to many, nowhere more so than in professional water circles at almost every level. Just as you cannot manage your bank account without knowing how much money you have, it is all but impossible to make informed water management decisions without reliable, sufficient, and freely available water data. Obtaining such data, however has always proven difficult.

Surprisingly, despite its obvious importance and value, river flow data collection has been declining for decades now, with literally thousands of gauging stations in many countries, including large ones like USA, Canada, Russia, and Australia — closed in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

River flow in most developing countries of the global South has never been measured well (and what was measured was seldom properly archived). Even more limited observed data are available on groundwater, or on withdrawals and abstractions from aquifers and various other water sources globally.

Understanding of the importance of various water data seems lacking beyond the water community. It is not a ‘sexy’ subject, does not hit the headlines. Nor does water data collection attract sufficient funding.

It is not hard to imagine that we could measure water flows using orbiting technology with reliable accuracy. In fact, it is coming close to that. Already a car’s license plate can be read from space, and some remote sensing technologies are able to penetrate water and soil. Direct water observations obtained via satellites could be made at a much larger number of locations, and will, naturally, cross the national boundaries, making such new data sharing unrestricted.


The war on Syrian children and civilians

At the heart of the Syrian conflict and devastation are helpless civilians. To help us shed light on their plight, following are insights from two individuals: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International which is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 2.5 million people in Syria, including 1.7 million children. And Dr. Raphaël Pitti, a French medical doctor who trains Syrian doctors and nurses there.

Helle Thoorning-Schmidt: “Eastern Ghouta is basically a suburb of Damascus … and when war moves into these areas, it is an attack on civilians and particularly children. …These children are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Many of us will not know what that is, but that is children who are hiding or going into acute stress when they hear bombings, children who are wetting their beds, children who can’t sleep, and basically children who cannot function in a normal way.

“Almost 2 million people are in besieged areas and hard-to- reach areas denied food and also medical assistance. This is a new level of horror and I really fear that we are accepting this as the new normal. Basically it’s a war on children.”

Raphaël Pitti: “Syria had well-organized health and sanitary facilities until 2011, but it has all collapsed completely. Long-term, chronic illnesses are no longer treated, there are no vaccination programs, and of course cancer patients, diabetics or those with high blood pressure, etc get nothing. Today we can estimate that around 1.5 million people have died in Syria indirectly because of the ruined health system.

“Often the most competent doctors couldn’t take it anymore and left with their families. They were often replaced with medical students. Often people with no training at all offered their help. We have seen cleaning staff take on nursing duties, and then some becoming midwives. We’ve seen students become nurses, first year undergrads become vascular surgeons.

“When you are in a hospital with no supplies you see how conditions deteriorate and that has a direct effect on how you handle the flow of casualties. Triage becomes vital and there will be a certain number of patients who you could certainly have treated in different conditions, but here, with the numbers we have to deal with and lack of supplies, you will leave to die.

“The Syrian population has traveled a long way from the revolution it had hoped for. All Syrians are now hostages to one group or another, and it is the people who pay the highest price.”


‘Horrific inter-ethnic’ violence in DR Congo drives thousands into Uganda

Fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has forced 4.5 million people to flee their homes over the past year and left more than 13 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Babar Baloch, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters that the agency is working with partner organizations in western Uganda to support the influx, many who are exhausted, hunger and deeply traumatized by “horrific inter-ethnic violence and sexual abuse” they have reportedly endured.

Since the year began, an overwhelming 77.5 per cent of more than 57,000 refugees displaced by the violence in eastern DRC are women and children, according to the agency.

“These numbers are on a larger scale still than in 2017, when some 44,000 fled over the course of the entire year,” he continued. “UNHCR fears thousands more could arrive in Uganda if the security situation inside the DRC does not immediately improve.”

UNHCR has received chilling accounts of violence – rape, murder and separation from family members. A growing number of reports indicate that the violence is taking on ethnic dimensions as tribal groups engage in retaliatory attacks. “These are linked to the deteriorating security situation, internal conflicts and inter-communal tensions,” the spokesperson maintained, saying that armed men are reported to be attacking villages, looting and burning houses, indiscriminately killing civilians and kidnapping young men and boys.

[UN News]

The happiest countries have the happiest immigrants

Finland is the happiest country in the world, according to the latest World Happiness Report.

Norway, last year’s winner, came in second place in the 2018 report. It’s followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. The Netherlands came in sixth place this year, followed by Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The World Happiness Report was released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations on March 14, days before World Happiness Day on March 20. The report ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.

The 10 happiest countries were also 10 of the top 11 spots in the rankings of immigrant happiness. “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” to quote the news release.

The United States landed in 18th place, dropping four spots from last year.

This report is the sixth to come out since 2012. The rankings of the world’s happiest countries came from an analysis of data from surveys in 156 countries taken from 2015 to 2017. The analysis of immigrant happiness was based on surveys of 117 countries covering the years 2005-2015.


Protests at schools run by UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees

At 700 UNRWA schools across the Middle East, thousands of students flew and carried kites to send a message of hope, demanding that all the schools run by the Agency remain open, in spite of the financial crisis confronting UNRWA.

More than 500,000 students took part in kite flying events in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank, where the Agency provides a daily education to 525,000 children.

This ambitious initiative comes in advance of an Extraordinary Ministerial Conference in Rome on 15 March convened by Jordan, Sweden and Egypt to bridge UNRWA’s funding shortfall for 2018 of 446 million US$.

UNRWA has described this as the worst financial crisis in its seventy- year history.

[Aid News]

Civilians pay heavy toll as Syrian conflict enters its 8th year

“The last seven years feel like 20,” says Fatmeh, a 23 year-old Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, referring to the war in her home country that is dragging into its eighth year. Fatmeh is one of millions of Syrians who have been left homeless — inside and outside their country — as the conflict wreaks havoc throughout Syria. Civilians pay the heaviest price, as they are killed, wounded and displaced daily.

One-quarter of Syria’s pre-war population has crossed the border, and inside the country more than 6 million people have been displaced. Around 100 people, on average, have been killed each day since the start of the conflict in 2011. Hundreds of thousands are living under siege, in places like Eastern Ghouta, where entire families have been going without food or clean water for weeks now, a few miles from Syria’s capital Damascus.

As the conflict enters its eighth year, women have been hit hard. With the Syrian army and its allies, as well as non-state armed groups, fighting on the ground and unprecedented violence in the country, many women have lost a husband, son or brother to the war. This has shifted the customary male role of heading the household to many women in Syria, who are increasingly assuming both the role of breadwinner and caregiver. According to the UN, one in three households in Syria is headed by a woman. Women and girls constitute more than half of the 13.1 million people who are in need in Syria.


China floods Africa with needed assistance, stoking US concern

With Beijing’s astonishing investments in ports, roads and railways throughout Africa, the US warns, come dependency, exploitation and intrusion on nations’ basic sovereignty.

“We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese investment dollars out of Africa. They are badly needed,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week in the Ethiopian capital. “However, we think it’s important that African countries carefully consider the terms.”

Tillerson and other US officials say Chinese firms, unlike American ones, don’t abide by anti-bribery laws, fueling Africa’s pervasive problems with corruption. And if countries run into financial trouble, they often lose control over their own infrastructure by defaulting to a lender that historically has not always been forgiving. Some African countries now owe sums double that of their annual economic output, the US has said, with most debt owed to China.

China, unlike the United States, is showing up on the continent with a generous checkbook in hand. Given the unpredictability involved in investing in poorer countries, China is often the only one willing to take the risk. And African nations realize that China’s investments don’t come with the same nagging about human rights and good governance that often accompanies US assistance.

The eye-popping investments through China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, believed to run into the trillions of dollars, form just one part of the Asian power’s bid to promote a new global system that puts Beijing at the center. Equally alarming to the US are China’s military designs.

There are obvious reasons why the United States would want to cast itself and its companies as a more favorable alternative to China, the geopolitical rival and economic competitor whose influence is also on the rise in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.


Rural women are essential to the struggle against hunger

Rural women make up more than a quarter of the world’s population and 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, according to 2010 data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women’s make up between 12 and 25 percent of the economically active population in agriculture, depending on the different areas.

Julio Berdegué, FAO representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that “rural and indigenous communities have a crucial role to play in food security, first of all for their own peoples. The persistence of hunger is very high in indigenous populations. In many countries it doubles, triples or quadruples the national averages. If indigenous communities are not central actors, there is no way to solve hunger in those places.”

“The empowerment of indigenous women is part of the agenda in the fight against rural poverty, poverty and hunger in indigenous communities,” he said.

The UN Women agency warns, however, that “in practically all development measures, rural women are lagging behind rural men or urban women, as a consequence of deep-rooted gender inequalities and discrimination.”

“Less than 20 percent of the people in the world who own land are women, and although the global wage difference between women and men stands at 23 percent, in rural areas it can reach up to 40 percent,” it stated, to illustrate.

[Inter Press Service]