Flood-prone cities look to sustainable urban design for solutions

As nations set ambitious climate goals, many consider urban design as a potential solution to flooding and other natural disasters.

Copenhagen has taken the lead, with a brand-new neighborhood designed to promote green modes of transportation. Since, 2007, architect Rita Justesen has been tasked with transforming the former industrial harbor in Denmark’s capital into a brand-new neighborhood and ensuring its 3.5 million square meters of residential and commercial floor space is financially viable and climate-smart.

Around the world, with rapid urbanization, more than two-thirds of people will live in cities by 2050, the UN projects. And cities use more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN.

That is why cities are seen as key to meeting the commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement of reducing emissions to keep the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. A 1.5-degree Celsius rise would give vulnerable populations a chance of surviving climate shocks like flooding, cyclones, droughts, and higher sea levels, experts say.

Worldwide, sea levels have risen 10 inches since the late 19th century, driven up by melting ice and a natural expansion of water in the oceans as they warm, United Nations data show. A UN panel of climate scientists said in 2014 that sea levels could rise by up to a meter by 2100.

The sea level around Copenhagen’s harbor city is expected to rise by up to one meter over the next century, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. Copenhagen council estimated that if there were no form of protection from flooding due to storm surges, the damage over the next century would cost up to $3.14 billion. By comparison, it would cost up to $627 million to prevent this from happening.

Apart from future-proofing itself from the sea-level rise and flooding – from green roofs and parks that absorb rainwater, to large barriers that can curb flooding – the city is also on a mission to become the first capital to cut climate-changing emissions by 2025.

[Reuters]

Syrian refugees in Turkey showcase their new skills at fashion shows

Fashion shows are not often associated with development projects, but it made perfect sense as a group of Syrian women refugees in Turkey showcased the skills they acquired through a vocational training in apparel manufacture. The project was funded by Japan and implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The event was however much more than a display of fashion creations. It was an opportunity to reflect on how the training has helped Syrian refugees regain the sense of pride and hope that has been washed away by the events that forced them to flee their country to find refuge in Turkey.

“When the war started in Syria …the Turkish people approached us in a brotherly manner and we felt very close,” said Mecid Abdulkrem, a graduate of the vocational training, at the event. “We started living in camps and times were difficult. This course was very important for its psychological and vocational contributions. Now we have hope for the future and we would like to thank all stakeholders of the project.”

The  project aims to improve the livelihoods, social stability and resilience of Syrian refugees living in Turkey – in particular women and youth – by providing them with skills to help them find work so they can provide for themselves and their families. The training course focused mainly on sewing machine operation, equipment maintenance, pattern-making and production management. Around 1,000 people graduated from the course, out of which 350 attended a seminar on how to set up a business and apply for work permits. All the graduates were also registered for the employment pool, run by the Turkish Labor Agency, an important step in finding a job.

The Ankara event was the second of two fashion shows organized this week. The first one was held in the Kahramanmaraş refugee camp where the vocational training center was established as part of the project. Combined, vocational centers have trained more than 2,100 refugees, making a real difference to their lives and that of their families.

[ReliefWeb]

China sets new renewables target of 35 percent by 2030

China is stepping up its push into renewable energy, proposing higher green power consumption targets and penalizing those who fail to meet those goals to help fund government subsidies to producers.

The world’s biggest energy consumer is aiming for renewables to account for at least 35 percent of electricity consumption by 2030, according to a revised draft plan from the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) seen by Bloomberg. Previously, the government has only set a goal for “non-fossil fuels” to make up 20 percent of energy use by 2030.

The standard — which sets minimum consumption levels of electricity produced from renewable sources — is among efforts to ease the nation’s reliance on coal and combat pollution that blights the world’s most populous nation.

The NDRC also increased non-hydro power consumption targets for some provinces, including requiring Inner Mongolia to increase its use to 18 percent this year from a previous goal of 13 percent. Targets for regions such as Yunnan and Xinjiang have also been raised.

The latest document also called for non-compliant firms to pay compensation fees to grid companies, which will be used to cover government subsidies for renewable projects.

In recent years, China has pumped more money into renewable energy than any other country, leaving the government with a hefty subsidy bill.

[Bloomberg]

Becoming a Water Warrior

High School freshman Fiona is a warrior. A water warrior, that is!

With the science fair coming up, Fiona had chosen water filtration as her project. Fiona studied in-depth the effectiveness of different water filters, performing experiments with lake water and other contaminated water sources. To her surprise, all of them worked – some better than others.

After completing her science fair project, Fiona’s parents encouraged her to think bigger. To not just think about how this water impacts herself but the world around her.

At World Concern, Fiona learned about the need for clean water in some of the world’s poorest, most remote places. A spark ignited. Returning home, Fiona began a campaign for water filters – herself being the first donor.

The desire to help was infectious. Before she knew it, Fiona’s classmates organized bake sales and collected spare change in jars to raise money for water filters. So far she and her fellow fundraisers have raised almost $2,000.

“Just do it – it will be worth it,” she said without missing a beat. “You can’t really mess up. However much money you raise, it’s helping! Even just one water filter helps.”

Click here to visit water filter campaign and learn more about the impact of clean water

Conquering the Global Water Crisis one loan at a time

More than half a billion people could solve their own drinking water and sanitation needs if they just had access to small loans.

This month, Water.org reached a critical milestone, attracting and mobilizing $1 billion in capital to support small, easy-to-repay loans for people in need of access to water and sanitation. Water.org now is in 13 countries, cultivating new partnerships and graduating partners who continue to lend on their own.

This $1 billion of mobilized capital demonstrates that finance is a viable tool to help meet the funding gaps to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) which calls for clean water and sanitation for all people. The funding gap for extending safely managed access—fully meeting SDG6—is $89.6 billion a year. That dollar amount can seem overwhelming. But at Water.org we don’t believe that SDG6 is only aspirational, it’s also attainable in our lifetime.

We know that for every $1 invested by donors, Water.org leverages 40 times that amount from capital markets to fund vital water and sanitation services. Bottom-up financing is an in-demand solution for millions of people.

Take for example Lackshmee, a woman in India who used a small loan through WaterCredit to finance access to drinking water in her home, freeing her from the burden of spending large amounts of time, energy and money to obtain clean water for her family. Instead of using hours each day searching for water, Lackshmee now uses that time to sew. That work earns Lackshmee money to send her kids to school and to repay her loan. And the money from the repaid loan is recycled to help another family gain access to water and sanitation.

Lack of safe drinking water within a 30-minute round trip from their home traps hundreds of millions of people—nearly one out of every nine people on the planet—in poverty. Unsafe water increases the risk of disease. And the burden of retrieving clean water falls disproportionately on women and girls. Easy access to safe water keeps girls in school and empowers women to earn income to invest in their future.

So what can a $1 billion buy? It can buy an acceleration to the end of the global water crisis, strengthen our global economy and help bring millions of people the good health, power, and dignity that come with access to a tap and a toilet.

[Excerpts of article by Gary White, CEO and co-founder of Water.org]

The Global Partnership for Education

Grant approvals by The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) have reached almost US$300 million in 2018.

“GPE is putting this new education financing to work so that all children can go to school and get a quality education,” said Julia Gillard, Board Chair, Global Partnership for Education. “We are … helping countries strengthen their education systems that will be the backbone of their future prosperity and stability.”

The recent approval of US$55.7 million in new grants for Bhutan, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe follows a first set of grants of US$95.3 million approved in March for Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Madagascar and a second set in May providing more than US$45 million to Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Chad, Comoros and Somalia.

In addition, the Board approved close to US$100 million in allocations to 11 countries from the GPE Multiplier, GPE’s new innovative financing instrument. This funding is set to leverage more than US$400 million in additional financing for these countries.

“The GPE Multiplier has quickly gained traction and is successfully crowding in significantly more investment for education,” said Alice Albright, GPE’s Chief Executive Officer. “The new Multiplier is another example of how GPE continues to evolve to deliver impact and extend its role as a leading catalyst of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal to educate all the world’s children by 2030.”

[Global Partnership for Education]

With land to spare, churches turn to farming

As Baltimore was convulsed by protests in 2015 over the death of a young black man in police custody, thousands of demonstrators forced shops and schools in some neighborhoods to close–creating sudden food deserts, particularly for many people without a vehicle.

“People didn’t have access to food,” said Darriel Harris, a Baptist preacher, noting that many in the impoverished community where the protests hit hardest ate hand to mouth, relying on convenience stores or school lunches. In response, Mr. Harris and two others quickly began to organize, drawing on contacts who had access to farms in nearby states and bringing supplies into affected neighborhoods to distribute via a local church.

Now across the United States, more than 200 faith groups are members of an emerging Christian Food Movement, which promotes more sustainable food systems by growing their own crops, bringing idle land into use, and feeding the poor and hungry. Harris says about nine churches in Baltimore are growing their own food–some selling it at reduced rates, and others giving it away to their congregations.

Many Christian denominations around the world have massive landholdings which can be put to productive use. Kenya’s Catholic Church, for example, made 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of land available to commercial farming in 2015 to fight hunger.

“These are people who are interested in activating their land portfolio for good…. For many of these groups, the answer is food charity, and that’s been a longstanding tradition within the church,” Ms. Von Tscharner Fleming said.

[Reuters]

Florence was another 1000-year-event, the new normal?

Over a massive region of southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina, Florence produced an extraordinary rainstorm that statistically has a 1-in-100 chance of occurring each year. Over substantial areas, the deluge had a 0.1 percent chance of happening, what is known as a 1,000-year event.

But these exceptional rainfall events keep happening and appear to be part of a trend toward more extreme tropical rainmakers, probably connected to climate change.

Since August 2017, two other hurricanes besides Florence have set rainfall records for tropical weather systems in four US states:
– First came Harvey, which dumped an unheard-of five feet of rain in Texas last August. No storm in recorded history had produced so much water in the United States.
-Then came Lane in August, which bombarded the Big Island with more than 50 inches, becoming Hawaii’s rainiest tropical storm.
Florence’s rainfall in North Carolina was the most for any tropical weather system north of Florida along the East Coast on record, and fourth most for any state.

Records like these may only be the beginning as Earth continues to warm. Recently published research has shown hurricanes are slowing down, taking in more water and growing bigger.

[Washington Post]

A year after deadly Maria, Puerto Rico still struggles with aftermath

Even before the Category-4 storm hit, Puerto Rico was financially bankrupt with $120 billion in debt and pension liabilities it cannot pay. A year after Maria, the island is far from prepared for the next big storm, with an ever-fragile power grid, damaged infrastructure and the same crippling debt.

The storm knocked out power and communications to virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents, while destroying the homes of thousands. Last month, the U.S. Commonwealth’s government sharply raised the official estimate of Maria’s death toll to almost 3,000 after an independent study. The exact death toll figure remains unknown, and the governor has admitted his administration failed to properly record storm-related deaths.

More than 200,000 people left the island after the storm, mostly to the U.S. mainland, according to government data.

There are still some 45,000 homes with so-called “blue roofs,” or tarps installed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The San Juan mayor has noted that the island has seen only a fraction of almost $50 billion in recovery funds Congress approved for Puerto Rico, including $20 billion in HUD funds.

“Most of the people that have requested help from FEMA … have not received enough assistance to be able to take care of their problems,” Mayor Cruz said, adding that “a lot of people that don’t have a title deed and they really are not eligible to receive any type of support or help.”

[Reuters]

How Bangladesh digitized education aid for 10 million families

March 1, 2017, was a milestone in the story of financial inclusion in Bangladesh. On that day, 10 million low-income mothers received their first digital payment from Mayer Hashi (Mother Smile), a long-standing government-run program that offers financial aid to the parents of primary school students.

There are many good reasons for countries to digitize government-to-person (G2P) payments. Digital transactions are more transparent and traceable than cash-based ones, and also faster. But there are just as many challenges. In some countries, too few recipients may be enrolled in a mobile money service to support a switch to digital delivery. In others, a lack of mobile money agents may make it too difficult for recipients to convert digital payments into cash, rendering the payments useless. The government departments involved in a payments program may also be unwilling or lack the skills to support a transition away from cash.

In Bangladesh, several leaders in government and the private sector spearheaded Mayer Hashi’s digitization initiative, which likely gained cooperation from some who may have otherwise not supported the effort. This approach may be applicable in other countries.

Rolling out digital payments also required the support of mobile money agents and teachers. The program needed 400,000 primary school teachers to identify low-income mothers who qualified for financial assistance, help program applicants fill out know-your-customer forms and open linked bank accounts and assist with disbursement paperwork. These teachers mailed hard copies of recipient lists to SureCash, which digitized the data and sent them back to the teachers for verification. This process reduced the error rate to 5 percent. SureCash rewarded teachers with a small fee for each record correctly entered into the database of eligible recipients.

Agents were another crucial partner. SureCash raised commissions and offered agents a subsidy for an initial period to ensure agents’ support even during the ramp-up phase.

SureCash had to handle more than 10 million account application forms in just a few months. It imported 45 high-speed scanners capable of processing 60 pages per minute and set up a form processing center staffed by up to 240 people in peak periods. It also upgraded its character recognition software to a custom solution that not only recognized the text in scanned documents, but also color-coded its level of confidence in the scans to flag problematic areas, speeding up human validation.

[Consultative Group to Assist the Poor]