Quarter of humanity facing water scarcity a big challenge for the XXIst century

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Seventeen nations are facing severe water shortages, with countries such as India and Iran using almost all the water they have, according to World Resources Institute data.

Among cities with over 3 million people, 33 face “extremely high water stress,” per the report. By 2030, cities in this category are expected to rise to 45, affecting nearly 470 million people.

Water scarcity affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.

Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).

Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.

[UN/Linked In]

India monsoon floods kill more than 200

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The death toll from India’s monsoon floods climbed to 202 by Tuesday as heavy rainfall kept pounding coastal regions in the west and south, causing devastating landslides and floods in several parts of the country.

Authorities have already moved more than 1.2 million people to relief camps.

The southern tourist hotspot of Kerala bore the brunt of monsoon downpours. “The death toll in the state has increased to 88… and there are still at least 40 people missing,” Pramod Kumar, Kerala police spokesman, told AFP.

Death toll rises from Lekima third largest typhoon ever in China

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Reuters reports the the death toll from typhoon Lekima in eastern China rose to over 40 people, as the storm continued up the coast, racking up billions of dollars in economic losses and widely disrupting travel. China’s state broadcaster said on Sunday more than 3,200 flights had been canceled and high-speed railway lines suspended.

Typhoon Lekima first made landfall early on Saturday in China’s Zhejiang province, with winds gusting up to 187 kmh (116 mph). Many of the earlier deaths occurred when a natural dam collapsed in Zhejiang after a deluge of 160 mm (6.2 inches) of rain within three hours.

The Shandong Emergency Management Bureau said more than 180,000 people were evacuated in the province, adding to an earlier evacuation of roughly 1 million people in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces as well as the financial hub of Shanghai.

The latest update from Shandong brings the total estimated economic toll of the storm to 18 billion yuan ($2.55 billion) in China, including damage to 364,000 hectares of crops and more than 36,000 homes. Shandong alone estimated the total economic impact on agriculture was 939 million yuan.

Lekima is China’s ninth typhoon this year.

A summary of damages as of 12 August, as per Government of China statistics:
45 Fatalities in Shandong, Anhui and Zhejiang
16 People missing in Shandong and Zhejiang
1.45 Million People evacuated in Shandong, Anhui and Zhejiang
8.34 Million People affected in Shandong and Zhejiang

Groundwater resources in Africa resilient to climate change

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Groundwater – a vital source of water for drinking and irrigation across sub-Saharan Africa – is resilient to climate variability and change, according to a new study led by Cardiff University and UCL.

Groundwater plays a central role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa due to its widespread availability of generally high quality water.

A consortium of 32 scientists from across Africa and beyond carried out the research., which involved the collation of multi-decadal records of groundwater levels and rainfall to examine how the replenishment of groundwater has responded to variations in climate and geology. The team analyzed observations compiled from nine countries across sub-Saharan Africa representing a range of climates from hyper-arid to humid.

The study shows that in humid areas groundwater is replenished primarily by rainfall that directly infiltrates the land surface, whereas in drylands it occurs predominantly by leakage from temporary streams and ponds.

Dr Mark Cuthbert, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and co-lead on the study, said: “Previous regional-level assessments of groundwater resources using large-scale models have ignored the contribution of leaking streams and ponds to groundwater supplies, underestimating its renewability in drylands and resilience to climate change.”

Professor Richard Taylor (UCL Geography), co-lead on the study, said: “Groundwater offers a potential pathway to sustain increases in freshwater use required to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (zero hunger) and 6 (safe water for all).”

[Cardiff University]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s fall from grace as a human rights hero

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When former US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes first met Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012, she exuded the all traits that made her an international icon for human rights and democracy.

Rhodes had  accompanying Barack Obama in an historic visit to Myanmar, and admired the moral authority of Aung San Suu Kyi. There was a hopefulness, surrounding her, he says.

Now seven years later, she has been stripped of many international accolades, honors and prizes.

At issue is the fact that as the most powerful civilian leader in Myanmar she refused to intervene against, or even publicly condemn, a genocide committed by the government against a religious and ethnic minority.  Some 700,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled Myanmar amid what a UN official has called a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. All the while, Aung San Suu Kyi was silent

So what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi? How did a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent decades under house arrest in an elegant pursuit of democracy and justice in Myanmar fall so from grace? And was the international community, including the Obama administration, wrong about her all along? Ben Rhodes grapples with these questions and more.  [Listen to Podcast]

Iraqis choose refugee camps over ruined homes

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Despairing of the corpses and debris littering the streets, many Iraqis have left their homes in areas liberated from Islamic State two years ago and voluntarily returned to the displacement camps that housed them during and after the fighting.

“All houses and buildings [of Mosul] are in complete ruin. I saw in my own eyes corpses. I saw a hand of a woman,” said Sabiha Jassim, 61, who has since gone back to the Hassan Shami camp for displaced people. Jassim says there was no drinking water or access to medical treatment for her ailing husband, both of which are available at the camp.

In Hassan Sham camp alone, more than 200 families like Jassim’s have returned this year after having initially gone home. Bodies and destroyed buildings are still a regular sight two years on. In contrast, the camps provide residents with security and comparatively comfortable lives.

Islamic State seized large swathes of Iraq in 2014 and was finally defeated in December 2017. Militants ravaged and looted the areas, leaving behind houses, mosques, and churches in ruin.

The central government says it will need up to $100 billion to rebuild Mosul.


The connection of climate to migration

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Dina Ionesco is the head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has been at the forefront of efforts to study the links between migration, the environment and climate. She recently explained we are now living in an era where catastrophic climate-related events are linked to human activity, and this is likely to have a major impact on the way that we decide to migrate, and settle:

“The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.”

“However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will extensively change the patterns of human settlement. Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s lives and homes.”

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification, desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their places of origin.

As Ms. Ionesco explains, “There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of these adverse climate impacts. ….The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.”

“However, our level of awareness and understanding of how environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge, there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and respond. … The main priority is to find solutions that allow people to stay in their homes and give them the means to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This approach aims to avoid instances of desperate migration and its associated tragedies.”

[UN News]

US sanctions imperil aid to flood victims in Iran

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Two major humanitarian groups have warned that United States sanctions on Iran are stopping cash flows for vital humanitarian work in the country.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) complained that U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran is also stopping key assistance to flood victims and refugees there.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the NRC and a former United Nations official, warned that support to some 82,000 people in Iran could be cut off by mid-August because his group cannot get funds in to the Islamic Republic.

“We have now, for a full year, tried to find banks that are able and willing to transfer money from Western donors to support our work for Afghan refugees and disaster victims in Iran, but we are hitting brick walls on every side,” said Egeland. “If all bank channels are blocked, then so is the delivery of critical aid to vulnerable people.”

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has collected funds that it cannot transfer to its local outfit, the IRCS.

Last year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal with Iran and key world powers that had been agreed in 2015, and then ramped up sanctions to pressure Tehran and to lock it out of the global economy. White House officials say the sanctions are aimed at Iran’s energy sector and regime hardliners, and do not apply to essential items like food, medicine and humanitarian relief, even while these may have been indirectly affected.

[Inter Press Service]

Religious groups react to rumors the US will stop admitting refugees

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Reports have emerged that the Trump administration was considering lowering the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to zero. Many have pointed out this would effectively eliminate the country’s refugee resettlement program altogether, according to Politico.

  • Last year, only 22,491 refugees were admitted, the lowest number since 1980 when the U.S. officially established the refugee admissions program.
  • Back in 2017, the ceiling was 110,000, set by former President Barack Obama before Donald Trump took office.
  • Even in the year following the Sept. 11 attacks, about 27,000 refugees were admitted (2002).
  • According to the Pew Research Center, up until 2017, the U.S. settled more refugees than any other country.
  • In 2018, Canada, a country with a population slightly smaller than California’s, formally resettled the most refugees worldwide.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement site still states, “U.S. policy allows refugees of special humanitarian concern entrance into our country, reflecting our core values and our tradition of being a safe haven for the oppressed.” But the latest rumors from within the Trump administration have thrown this core value into question, even for religious groups that have traditionally worked as partners with the federal government to serve refugees once they arrive in the United States.

“Setting the U.S. refugee ceiling at zero would be an egregious assault on fundamental American values. And quite frankly, the humanitarian implications of this decision would be enough to nullify our global reputation as leaders of the free world,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine groups that works with the U.S. government to resettle refugees, in a statement.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signed by more than 40 faith groups, organizations implored Pompeo to increase rather than decrease the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. They wrote, “These figures represent a dangerous aberration from U.S. historic commitments to the persecuted, placing lives at risk and drastically reducing our ability to protect religious freedom.”

Melanie Nezer, vice president of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit that works with refugees, said in a statement, “Should the administration decide that the U.S. will no longer resettle refugees, it will be a full abdication of our role as the world’s humanitarian leader in refugee protection — a role the U.S. has held since World War II.”

[Deseret News]

Cherishing our connections to other people and cultures

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We all belong to the world in concentric circles of relationship — some more distant and others close, some with people different from us and others with people more similar.

Our lives and our relationships are well-served when we can lift our unconscious patterns into the light of day, embrace our shared humanity and vulnerability, and allow gratefulness to lead us into new ways of being and relating. …Recognizing that we are in relationship with our larger human family and our Earth in every moment no matter what we are doing, we are called to consider relationships in their widest possible arc.

Gratefulness supports us to experience deep appreciation for the blessings of our vast web of relatedness. …Typically, when we think of being more grateful in relationships, we focus on trying to remember to express gratitude for the things that people do for us or give to us that we appreciate — the unexpected kindnesses, the perfect gesture of support, the thoughtful gift, the fabulous meal. Getting better at offering this kind of gratitude is surely a worthy aspiration.

Cultivating a deeper recognition of gratitude for the existence of the people in our lives, not so much to them for something tangible they have done or given, is a different type of focus. …The people in our lives are true gifts for both us and the world as a whole, impacting us in ways that we can scarcely fathom.

Not taking people for granted is a foundational commitment in how we live gratefully in relationship…We recognize that people are distinct from who we are, individuated by who they are always in a process of becoming.

May our interconnectedness and inextricability keep us compassionate. May perspective keep us humble. And may our capacity to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the true blessings and gifts of all others grow more luminous and generous every day.

[Excerpt of article by Kristi Nelson]