›September 30, 2008 // By Lauren HerzerEarlier this month, approximately eight boulders weighing 60-70 tons each split from the edges of the Muqattam cliffs and fell onto densely populated Manshiyet Nasr, a slum in eastern Cairo, killing more than 100 people and destroying 30-50 homes. By the next day, security officials outnumbered rescue workers in the area, and locals, outraged by the slow response of the government, were clashing with police. This tragedy and the ensuing conflict between residents and local authorities highlight the need for effective governance and urban planning to alleviate poverty and rapid urbanization and avoid conflict.
Rockslides are not uncommon in Manshiyet Nasr; in 2002, for example, 27 people were killed under similar circumstances in the same area. One local journalist reported that “the reason the rocks keep falling is because there is no sewage system and their wastewater is eating away at the mountain.” This lack of basic sanitation services is a common characteristic of the informal settlements and slums that are growing exponentially worldwide. This year, for the first time, more than half of the global population lives in cities; it is forecast that by 2030, 81 percent of the urban population will reside in the cities of developing countries, which are unplanned, underserved by services like sanitation, and unable to cope with continually growing demand for these services. The rockslide in Manshiyet Nasr is a stark example of what can happen when a city’s infrastructure and government are unprepared to deal with rapid urbanization and increasing poverty, and how these challenges are exacerbated by poor government response. (For more on Cairo’s informal settlements, see the Comparative Urban Studies Project’s Urban Studies in Cairo, Egypt.)
A recent Human Development Report analyzing Egypt’s progress toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals noted that the poverty rate in Cairo, a city of 16 million people, is expected to almost double between now and 2015. This growth in poverty is attributed to “increasing numbers of residents in vulnerable areas and increasing rates of internal migration.”
It is important to note, however, that migration alone does not account for increasing poverty. In Global Urban Poverty, a publication of the Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Loren Landau argues that “public responses to migration and urbanization—including the absence of a conscious coordinated response—have tended to exacerbate mobility’s negative effects on all of the Millennium Development Goals.”
The Egyptian government’s initial response to the rockslide in Manshiyet Nasr was to hold the residents accountable for living in an illegal settlement in a dangerous area. Yet 70 percent of Cairo residents live in informal communities like Manshiyet Nasr. In addition to a severe housing shortage and lack of urban planning, a history of slow government response to disasters is intensifying accusations of government neglect and incompetence.
Except for an 18-month break in 1980-81, Egyptians have lived under emergency law since 1967. This law prohibits public gatherings, restricts speech, permits searches without warrants, and enables the police to detain citizens without charge or trial. After promising to repeal the law during his 2005 presidential campaign, Hosni Mubarek, who has been in power since 1981, extended the law in 2006 and again in May of this year. While proponents of the law (and of Mubarek) claim that the state of emergency has helped stabilized the country, human rights groups argue that the law violates human rights and sanctions the government’s oppression of political rivals.
Egypt’s history of extreme law and unchecked police powers has stunted the development of a system of governance that responds to the most basic needs of Egyptians. Manshiyet Nasr residents’ angry reaction to the poor government response to the rockslide is evidence of their smoldering desperation.
›September 29, 2008 // By Wilson Center StaffWhat does the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) have in common with Brazil’s Urucu natural gas fields? They both epitomize the struggle to balance energy independence and environmental conservation.
Located in the southern Amazon region and discovered in 1978, the Urucu fields are the largest onshore natural gas reserves in Brazil. Exploration began in 1988, but not without controversy. The Amazon rainforest, like ANWR, is a sensitive, biologically unique environment. Plans for exploration of the Urucu fields sparked heated debate over the extent of the environmental damage caused by such exploration—much like the current debate over oil drilling in ANWR.
Conservationists’ arguments revolved around two main issues: preservation of the environment and local communities’ livelihoods. The extraction complex will consist of three pipelines (map): Urucu-Coari (in existence); Urucu-Manaus; and Urucu-Porto Velho. The two new pipelines, which will total 621 miles of additional pipe, will also require the clearing of a 65-foot-wide strip along the entire pipeline. For the pipeline to reach Manaus, it needs to cross the six-mile wide Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon river. The project’s critics argue that even a small oil spill, especially in the stretches of the pipeline in the river, would harm the region’s biodiversity and the livelihoods of indigenous communities and others who depend on the river.
Petrobrás has sought to assuage activists’ concerns over the pipeline’s impact on local communities by assuring them that the Urucu gas fields will employ at least 3,800 local workers. In addition, Petrobrás is sponsoring community development projects to stimulate alternative economic activities.
Bolivia’s political crisis triggered Brazil’s decision to build the gas extraction pipelines, in spite of environmentalists’ misgivings. The December 2006 “nationalization” of natural gas in Bolivia, which provided Brazil with approximately half of its natural gas supply, made energy security and diversification of energy suppliers priorities for the government, and prompted Petrobrás to jumpstart a natural gas independence project in which Urucu features prominently.
While environmentalists may not have succeeded in stopping the development of the Urucu fields, their efforts have forced Petrobrás to significantly diminish the project’s environmental footprint. In conjuction with local universities and research centers, Petrobrás carried out an impact and risk analysis (Piatam) that led to the implementation of several environmental precautions. For example, the pipeline must be built eight feet under any river it crosses and permanently monitored by a cable embedded within the pipes. In addition, the extraction wells are very small, taking up very little forest area, and a remote control center that tracks any leaks in the pipeline is able to isolate and disable leaking pipes or valves, according to Jeff Hornbeck, an international trade and finance specialist at the Congressional Research Service (via email).
Moreover, all equipment is transported to the site by helicopters in order to avoid building roads, which frequently open up areas to logging and wider-scale development. Petrobrás also plans to use robots to monitor changes in environmental conditions, including the level of oil in the water; and to gather information to help prepare for emergency situations (e.g., flooding or other natural disasters) that threaten to damage the pipelines.
If Petrobrás executes the development of the Urucu fields successfully—with minimal negative consequences for communities and the Amazon—it could serve as an example for other energy projects in sensitive habitats. As growing energy needs increase demand for more exploration, environmentally conscious projects will become even more important.
By Brazil Institute Intern Ana Janaina Nelson.
Video: You can glimpse unspoiled forest outside the window of a plane landing at the Urucu fields, the product of Petrobrás’ efforts to minimize damage to the Amazon.
›September 29, 2008 // By Geoff Dabelko
I was disappointed but not surprised to receive a recent e-mail from Wilson Center Senior Scholar Murray Feshbach, warning me off visiting . A demographer who closely tracks environmental and health conditions in the former Soviet Union, Feshbach was instrumental in pulling back the curtain on the Soviet Union’s catastrophic environmental legacy in his co-authored 1993 volume Ecocide in the USSR. St. Petersburg ’s message contained further evidence of Russian environmental decline. In this case, institutional failings are throwing Murray open for the business of accepting the world’s nuclear waste. Russian civilian and military radioactive waste is now being supplemented by waste from the Netherlands and Germany—and soon, Pakistan, India, and Russia . China
The beginning of a September 26 St. Petersburg Times article gives us a glimpse of this selective Russian embrace of free trade:
Up to 10,000 tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride are expected to travel through St. Petersburg in the next six months, according to the local branch of the international environmental pressure group Bellona….According to official sources, cargos containing depleted uranium hexafluoride arrive in the city on average ten times a month…radioactivity levels near the trains have significantly exceeded the norm on several occasions over the past year.Environmental and health issues in Russia have not always looked so dire. In the early 1990s, in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, two exciting developments came out of northwest Russia from two unlikely sources: the military and civil society. In one of the most militarized regions of the world, the Russian military cooperated with the Norwegian military and eventually the
military on joint assessments of threats posed by nuclear waste. The 1994 trilateral Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation agreement provided a mechanism for addressing radioactive waste and, more broadly, for finding a way for militaries to talk during the Cold War thaw in an example of what is now called environmental peacemaking or environmental peacebuilding. U.S.
Health concerns connected to nuclear waste also formed the basis of a blossoming civil society movement in early-1990s
. Both Russian and international NGOs were increasingly able to gather data and bring to light nuclear waste’s myriad threats to people and ecosystems. The Norwegian Bellona Foundation and its Russian affiliates were particularly effective in revealing the scope of the problems and prodding governments to take more aggressive action to respond. Russia
But even by the mid-1990s, the tide was beginning to turn back to a secretive and securitized approach to environmental data. The celebrated treason case of former Russian submarine captain Aleksandr Nikitin was merely the most visible example of the recriminalization of sharing environmental data. Nikitin’s “crime” was co-authoring the 1996 Bellona Foundation report The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination. Following a year of imprisonment and the achievement of Amnesty International prisoner status, Nikitin was released, but his celebrated case was succeeded by the Russian government’s broad-stroke efforts to dial back environmental openness and the rights that came with it. We may be seeing the effects of this return to environmental secrecy in the current row over nuclear waste transportation through St. Petersburg.
Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson Center.
›In impoverished Chongzuo, in southern China, biologist Pan Wenshi has partnered with the local community to save the white-headed langur, a highly endangered monkey, by initiating sustainable development projects that lessen their dependence on the forest—and in turn, the pressures on the langur’s habitat.
In the latest issue of Forced Migration Review, 38 articles grapple with how climate change may affect the movement of people—and how communities can best adapt to a changing climate.
“Poverty and habitat loss go hand in hand in Madagascar and in much of the developing world, and only win-win solutions will work for conservation,” says an article in Time magazine about an innovative conservation and livelihoods project in Madagascar.
Two articles (“Economies of Scales”; “A Rising Tide”) in the Economist argue that privatizing fisheries through what are known as individual transferable quotas (ITQs) could help save the world’s dwindling fish stocks. ECSP’s fisheries series, “Fishing for a Secure Future,” highlights a variety of innovative ideas for fisheries governance and reform.
Conservation and Use of Wildlife-Based Resources: The Bushmeat Crisis, a new report from the Center for International Forestry Research, recommends ways to preserve the biodiversity of species eaten as bushmeat while also sustaining local people’s livelihoods.
Senators McCain, Obama Announce Priorities for Alleviating Poverty, Tackling Climate Change at Clinton Global Initiative›Speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative plenary session (webcast; podcast) this morning, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) laid out their proposals for addressing the interconnected problems of global poverty, climate change, and disease. Excerpts from each senator’s speech are below.
“We can never guarantee our security through military means alone. True security requires a far broader approach using non-military means to reduce threats before they gather strength. This is especially true of our strategic interests in fighting disease and extreme poverty across the globe.”
“Malaria alone kills more than a million people a year, mostly in Africa….To its lasting credit, the federal government in recent years has led the way in this fight. But of course, America is more than its government. Some of the greatest advances have been the work of the Gates Foundation and other groups. And you have my pledge: Should I be elected, I will build on these and other initiatives to ensure that malaria kills no more. I will also make it a priority to improve maternal and child health. Millions around the world today—and especially pregnant women and children—suffer from easily prevented nutritional deficiencies….An international effort is needed to prevent disease and developmental disabilities among children by providing nutrients and food security. And if I am elected president, America will lead that effort, as we have done with the scourge of HIV and AIDS.”
“America helped to spark the Green Revolution in Asia, and…[we] should be at the forefront of an African Green Revolution. We should and must reform our aid programs to make sure they are serving the interests of people in need, and not just serving special interests in Washington. Aid’s not the whole answer, as we know. We need to promote economic growth and opportunities, especially for women, where they do not currently exist. Too often, trade restrictions, combined with costly agricultural subsidies for the special interests, choke off the opportunities for poor farmers and workers abroad to help themselves. That has to change.”
“Our security is shared as well. The carbon emissions in Boston or Beijing don’t just pollute the immediate atmosphere, they imperil our planet. Pockets of extreme poverty in Somalia can breed conflict that spills across borders. The child who goes to a radical madrassa outside of Karachi can end up endangering the security of my daughters in Chicago. And the deadly flu that begins in Indonesia can find its way to Indiana within days. Poverty, climate change, extremism, disease—these are issues that offend our common humanity. They also threaten our common security….We must see that none of these problems can be dealt with in isolation; nor can we deny one and effectively tackle another.”
“Our dependence on oil and gas funds terror and tyranny. It’s forced families to pay their wages at the pump, and it puts the future of our planet in peril. This is a security threat, an economic albatross, and a moral challenge of our time.”
“As we develop clean energy, we should share technology and innovations with the nations of the world. This effort to confront climate change will be part of our strategy to alleviate poverty because we know that it is the world’s poor who will feel—and may already be feeling—the effect of a warming planet. If we fail to act, famine could displace hundreds of millions, fueling competition and conflict over basic resources like food and water. We all have a stake in reducing poverty….It leads to pockets of instability that provide fertile breeding-grounds for threats like terror and the smuggling of deadly weapons that cannot be contained by the drawing of a border or the distance of an ocean. And these aren’t simply disconnected corners of an interconnected world. And that is why the second commitment that I’ll make is embracing the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. This will take more resources from the United States, and as president, I will increase our foreign assistance to provide them.”
“Disease stands in the way of progress on so many fronts. It can condemn populations to poverty, prevent a child from getting an education, and yet far too many people still die of preventable illnesses….When I am president, we will set the goal of ending all deaths from malaria by 2015. It’s time to rid the world of a disease that doesn’t have to take lives.”
Human beings have harnessed culture and technology to become the most dominant animals on Earth, said Paul Ehrlich at a September 18, 2008, launch of his new Island Press book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, but “we’re really backward ethically—in terms of how we treat each other and…the environment. And this leads to a lot of problems, not the least of which is we’re destroying our life-support system.”
Climate Change: Addressing Population, Consumption
Climate change, according to Ehrlich, is an example of human dominance undermining the environment that enables it. He is most concerned about continually shifting patterns of precipitation, which could wreak havoc on agriculture and water infrastructure. “Don’t worry so much about sea level rise—worry about where your food’s going to come from,” he said, adding, “The people who are starving, of course, will also have nuclear weapons, which makes the whole situation a little dicier.”
Using his and John Holdren’s famous IPAT equation—human impact on the environment equals population times affluence times technology—Ehrlich argued that reducing population growth will be far easier than reducing consumption (i.e., affluence). According to Ehrlich, the steps necessary to reduce fertility—improving women’s access to education, jobs, and voluntary family planning—are well-known and have been successfully implemented around the world.
To Ehrlich, consumption is a much thornier issue. As many as two billion people currently live in absolute poverty, so their standard of living—and thus their level of consumption—should be significantly increased. Yet the consumption of people in wealthier countries must decline dramatically if we are to address climate change or a host of other environmental problems. “It’s much more important that we have [population] shrinkage in countries like the United States and Europe and Japan than it is, say, in Bangladesh or Nigeria” because the former are consuming so much more, Ehrlich explains.
The Least of Our Problems?
Ehrlich warned that other environmental problems may be more damaging than climate change. For example, if one of the thousands of toxic chemicals polluting the Earth proved seriously harmful to human health, there would be no way to remove it quickly. In addition, epidemics of new diseases—such as avian flu or hantavirus—could kill more people than climate change-induced famines, he says.
All Is Not Lost: Recommendations For Action
Ehrlich offered six principal recommendations for bringing environmental ethics up to speed with human dominance:
- Show the same concern for birth rates as death rates. “If you change one half of the equation and you know the planet isn’t infinite, then you’ve got to change the other half of the equation,” he said.
- Emphasize conservation as much as consumption.
- Consider not only what new technologies will do for people, but also what they will do to people.
- Educate the public about the challenges we face.
- Avoid actions that will harm people on another continent or in a later generation.
- Conduct a “Millennium Assessment for Human Behavior” that launches a global discussion about what kind of society we want to live in.
For more information, including a webcast of this event, visit ECSP’s website. To receive invitations to future events, e-mail email@example.com.
›September 23, 2008 // By Rachel WeisshaarDrought, continuing violence, returning refugees, and the spike in global food prices are combining to produce a serious threat to Afghan food security, reports the New York Times. The World Food Program has expanded its operations in Afghanistan to cover a total of nearly 9 million people through the end of next year’s harvest, sending out an emergency appeal to donors to cover the costs.
According to a report published earlier this year by Oxfam UK,
[W]ar, displacement, persistent droughts, flooding, the laying of mines, and the sustained absence of natural resource management has led to massive environment degradation and the depletion of resources. In recent years Afghanistan’s overall agricultural produce has fallen by half. Over the last decade in some regions Afghanistan’s livestock population has fallen by up to 60% and over the last two decades, the country has lost 70% of its forests.A post-conflict environment assessment conducted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2003 confirms these dire trends in further detail. “In some areas, we found that up to 95 percent of the landscape had been deforested during the conflict—cut for fuel, bombed to remove cover, or removed to grow crops and graze livestock. Many people were fundamentally dependant on these forests for livelihoods. Without them, and without alternatives, Afghans were migrating to the cities or engaging in other forms of income generation—such as poppy production for the drug trade—in order to survive,” writes UNEP’s David Jensen in a forthcoming article in ECSP Report 13.
Despite the fact that agriculture has traditionally employed or supported approximately 80 percent of Afghans, says Oxfam, donors have vastly underinvested in the sector, spending only $300-400 million over the past six years directly on agricultural projects—a sliver of overall aid to Afghanistan.
Not only does hunger have negative impacts on health and economic growth, it could also make the security situation worse. “Development officials warn that neglecting [agriculture and development in] the poorest provinces can add to instability by pushing people to commit crimes or even to join the insurgency, which often pays its recruits,” reports the Times. In addition, an Oxfam International survey of six Afghan provinces found that land and water were the top two causes of local disputes.
To head off greater food insecurity and potential threats to overall stability, Oxfam UK recommends the development of a comprehensive national agricultural program; improved land and water management capacities; and greater support for non-agricultural income-generating activities, such as carpet-making.
Photo: An irrigated area near Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. Courtesy of UN Environment Programme (source: Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment).
›The World Bank cancelled a deal with Chad to help finance a $4.2 billion, 665 mile-long oil pipeline, citing evidence that Idriss Déby’s government had not used oil profits to alleviate poverty, as had been stipulated in the agreement.
“Emergency aid to Africa continues to be made available too late, is too short-term and targeted too heavily on saving lives rather than protecting vulnerable livelihoods….food aid only addresses the symptoms of the emergency—hunger—and fails to address the real reasons for the crisis, which include a range of social, political and economic factors such as access to land and basic services, social marginalisation, climate change and poor governance,” argues a new report from CARE.
A report from swisspeace examines the role of the United Nations in linking the environment and conflict prevention.
According to Michael Shank of George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, the conflict between Georgia and Russia last month “was chiefly, if not solely, spurred by the desire for mastery over natural resources.”
The World Resources Institute has released a number of new publications on the structure and implications of natural resource decentralization, including Protected Areas and Property Rights: Democratizing Eminent Domain in East Africa and Voice and Choice: Opening the Door to Environmental Democracy.
Join the Conversation
- The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy Friday, January 23, 2015
- Scaling the Mountain: Women, Health, and the Environment in Nepal Wednesday, January 7, 2015
- Emerging Priorities for Maternal Health in Nigeria (Abuja and Washington, DC) Friday, December 5, 2014