“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.
Fishers of Bluefields Bay tell stories of a time when the coral grew so high parts of the reef were impassable, when boats had to navigate around the coral tips emerging out of the Caribbean’s blue waters. Four decades later a trip underwater will show you a seafloor still covered with the skeletons of these same corals. Due to the effects of hurricanes, decline of algae grazers and climate change, the once lush thicket is only a story told around a bottle of Red Stripe beer and a cup of fish soup (since the fish is too scarce to cook any other way).
Until now. The climate isn’t the only thing changing for some communities around the Caribbean. In Bluefields Bay, Jamaica, the community has come together with the Government to establish one of the fourteen (14) fish sanctuaries island wide. Since 2009, the community based organisation, Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s…
Currently, agriculture is the largest user of water, but as the World Bank’s Thirsty Energyinitiative points out, increasing demands for energy will also require increasing use of freshwater. And as populations rise, so will the need for more water and energy for food production.
So could decentralised, off-grid solutions hold the key? For many years, influencers have debated whether community-based, off-grid schemes can deliver energy sustainably. But this battle has not yet been won. Recently new lines have been drawn by Bill Gates, who called for centralised, fossil-fuel based electrification to solve energy poverty and SunEdison founder Jigar Shah who responded by putting forward the case for distributed renewable solutions.
While this debates goes on at the policy level, what do experiences on the ground tell us? At Practical Action, we have found that micro hydropower (or microhydro) systems, which produce power from streams and small rivers, provide huge potential for sustainable energy.
For example in Peru, microhydro systems installed in the mid- to late-1990s are still running today. Not only do they provide electricity for light bulbs and other small appliances, they can also supply continuous power for local clinics, allow people to use fridges and run small businesses. We found they reduced household energy expenditure by more than half, and 60% of families said their incomes had increased.
However, there is still unexplored potential for decentralised hydropower. In both Peru and Nepal (where micro-hydro schemes are widespread), there was rarely any deliberate attempt to connect the electricity generated to agricultural systems, or to make use of the channelled water for irrigation. This means missing out on a set of potentially transformational opportunities. Decentralised energy systems can not only improve energy access, but also help to maximise the relationships between water, energy and food, both now and in the future.
More recently, and learning from our experiences, we have been making the connection between agriculture and energy more directly. Together with Oxfam we have been working in Zimbabwe, for example in the Himalaya scheme which uses the electricity generated by the microhydro plant, as well as the channelled water, for much-needed irrigation.
The approach does of course have it’s challenges. Across the schemes we’ve developed in Zimbabwe familiar challenges and trade-offs emerge, particularly with a recent severe two-year drought followed by heavy rains. For example, in Chipendeke in Zimbabwe, initial planning for hydropower failed to fully accommodate existing irrigation needs. As a result during the dry season, there was insufficient water to run both the irrigation and the hydro simultaneously. Eventually the villagers reached a compromise where the microhydro plant was switched off for short periods to allow more water for irrigation.
In Ngarura, there were delays in construction of the microhydro project and farmers lost trust. They continued cultivating the steep river banks, and when the rains came there was heavy siltation of the system. The lesson there was that farmers have to be convinced of the benefit of the scheme in order to preserve the river banks.
Despite these problems, in both cases solutions were reached through dialogue and the community balancing their priorities. It is important not only to focus on the infrastructure for hydropower but also the institutions to support it and that is as much part of increasing resilience as the energy or water itself.
Development organisations can sometimes be rightly accused of being starry-eyed about the potential of community ownership and management. In the case of a microhydro plant this can impose unrealistic burdens, and in the absence of support structures from local technicians, spare parts, and a clear sense of ownership infrastructure can quickly fall into disuse. But the sector has been learning, as research shows. The right systems for decentralised energy production can be created and it can provide a sustainable solution to energy poverty. More
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed on a preliminary deal on a controversial dam project that Cairo feared would reduce its share of vital waters from the Nile river.
The leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan all gathered in Khartoum on Monday to sign the agreement of principles on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project.
“I confirm the construction of the Renaissance Dam will not cause any damage to our three states and especially to the Egyptian people,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said at the signing ceremony.
We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development.
We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's President
Egypt, heavily reliant on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water, feared that the dam would decrease its water supply.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that “this is a framework agreement and it will be completed”.
“We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development.”
Sisi said the final accord will “achieve benefits and development for Ethiopia without harming Egypt and Sudan’s interests”.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir hailed the deal as “historic”.
The agreement is made up of 10 principles, Egypt’s Water Resources Minister Hussam al-Maghazi told the AFP news agency.
The countries agreed on the “fair use of waters and not to damage the interests of other states by using the waters”.
They also agreed to establish “a mechanism for solving disputes as they occur”, Maghazi said.
He gave no details as to when the final agreement would be signed.
Sudan’s deputy water resources minister, Saif al-Din Hamed, said the signing of the agreement “will not stop the current construction and building” of the dam in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia began diverting the Blue Nile in May 2013 to build the 6,000 MW dam, which will be Africa’s largest when completed in 2017.
Ethiopian officials have said the project to construct the 1,780-metre-long and 145-metre high dam will cost more than $4bn. More
Late rains were unusually heavy this year, say local farmers, affecting winter crops of wheat, oilseed and potato.
Anxious farmers in Pakistan waited for weeks for the rains to arrive – but when the skies finally opened, the downpour was so intense it destroyed crops and put the harvest in jeopardy.
“We weather scientists are really in shock, and so are farmers, who have suffered economic losses due to crop damage,” says Muzammil Hussain, a weather forecasting scientist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).
“The wind from the southeast has carried moisture from the Arabian Sea. Normally, the northeast wind brings rain during winter, and the southeast wind brings monsoon rains in summer. But the pattern has changed this year because of what is believed to be global warming.”
Farmers across much of Pakistan plant winter crops of wheat, oilseed and potato late in the year and wait for rains to water the land.
This year, the rains arrived more than three weeks late and were unusually heavy, accompanied by violent hailstorms. Along with the rains, temperatures also dropped.
Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of the Pakistan Agri Forum, says excessive moisture due to heavy bouts of late rain is likely to lead to outbreaks of fungus on crops, and production could be halved.
“If the rains come a month ahead of the harvesting time [April to mid-May], it is always disastrous,” he says. “It can hit production for a crop such as wheat by between 20% and 30%, and if the rain is accompanied by hailstorms and winds then the losses can escalate to more than 50%.”
Arif Mahmood, a former director general at PMD, says the onset of winter across much of Pakistan is being delayed by two to three days every year, and there is an urgent need for farmers to adapt to such changes.
“Over recent years, winter has been delayed by 25 to 30 days, and also the intensity of the cold has increased, which has affected almost every field of life − from agriculture to urban life.”
This year has also been marked by abrupt changes in temperature. Ghulam Rasul, a senior scientist at PMD, says big swings in temperature are likely to add to the problems being faced by millions of farmers in Pakistan.
“The average temperature during the first two weeks [of March] was between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius, but now it’s on a continuous upward trend and has reached 26˚C over the space of two days,” he reports.
“The winter rains in the north and central area of Pakistan, and the sudden rise and fall in temperature, are related to climate change.”
Similar storms and late winter rains have also caused serious damage across large areas of northern India.
The states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra – the two most populous states in the country – have been particularly badly hit.
In Maharashtra, snow and landslides have blocked roads and cut off towns and villages.
In Uttar Pradesh, there are fears that more than 50% of the wheat crop has been lost in the eastern part of the state. More
For the Pakistan Metorlogical Department to claim be shocked by this event says to me that they have obviously not been following the global climate change discussion. Farming methods and water control and harvesting will have to change to mitigate the changing climate. Permaculture farming methods would be a good place to start. See http://permaculturenews.org/about-permaculture-and-the-pri/ Editor
IF YOU seek his monument: look around Singapore. Prosperous, orderly, clean, efficient and honestly governed, it is not the work of Lee Kuan Yew alone. But even his severest critics would agree that Mr Lee, who died early on March 23rd (Singapore time) at the age of 91, played an enormous part. Singapore’s leader from before “self-government” from Britain in 1959, he was prime minister until 1990, and retired in stages, leaving the cabinet only in 2011, and remaining a member of parliament until his death. Under him Singapore, with no natural resources, has become one of the world’s richest countries. Many admirers look to it as a model, and Mr Lee as a sage. He did indeed have much to teach the world; but some, especially in China, draw the wrong lesson: that authoritarianism works.
Part of Mr Lee’s influence stemmed from his role as a clear-eyed, blunt-speaking geostrategist. He was an astute observer of the defining contest of our era—China’s emergence and how America reacts to it. He was also a respected interpreter of each to the other, and an important voice, with unique access in both countries, arguing for continued American engagement in Asia and for Chinese tolerance of it.
Critics mock Singapore for being like North Korea or as “Disneyland with the death penalty”, as William Gibson described it in 1993. However, Mr Lee’s defenders argue that the restrictions are a small price to pay for stability and prosperity. GDP figures do not lie: Mr Lee’s policies have worked. Singapore is a thriving city-state. Unlike North Korea or Disneyland, it offers a real challenge to the liberal notion that growth, prosperity and freedom should and do go together.
China’s leaders, especially, are fascinated by Singapore’s style of one-party rule. They see flaws in “Western-style democracy”: its short-termism; its disregard for non-voters such as children and foreigners; and its habit of throwing up unqualified leaders. Mr Lee’s “meritocracy” promises a solution.
But four peculiarities of Singapore make it look like an anomaly. First is its size. It is a city with a foreign policy, which means it has a cohesion that vast, diverse countries cannot match. Second, this cohesion is reinforced by the turbulent circumstances of its birth. After a painful divorce from Malaysia in 1965, the government has never let Singaporeans forget that a Chinese-majority island, surrounded by Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, would always be vulnerable. Geography is third. Singapore has flourished in part because of the failings of the rest of its region. Rather as Hong Kong’s prosperity was based on being Chinese but not entirely part of China, so Singapore is in South-East Asia, but not of it.
Only one Lee Kuan Yew However, the most important reason for Singapore’s singular experience is Mr Lee himself. Incorruptible himself, he kept government unusually clean. He ensured that Singapore pays its ministers and civil servants high salaries. Under today’s prime minister, his son Lee Hsien Loong, the bureaucracy has remained orderly and clean. Unlike many other independence leaders, Mr Lee designed a system to outlast him. Singapore’s government claims it has faced enough electoral competition to keep it honest but not so much that there was a high risk of losing power. So it has been able to eschew populism and take decisions in the country’s long-term interests.
But in most countries, probity requires checks, balances and an opposition that is not always condemned as unpatriotic. In China, for example, Xi Jinping, two years into an anti-corruption campaign, shows no sign of winning the battle. Across much of the developing world, those in opposition are treated as traitors whether their criticisms make sense or not.
Even in Singapore the model may not outlast its creator for long. Singaporeans are having few children and ageing fast, so the government faces demands for more generous social-welfare provisions. And growth has become dependent on high levels of immigration, angering natives who feel the influx is suppressing their wages and making it impossible to get a seat on the tube. That balance between competition and inevitable re-election is shifting uncomfortably. The Singapore model may prove unsustainable even in Singapore. More