›March 31, 2009 // By Wilson Center Staff
“If we could do something about unintended pregnancy – which is about 80 million a year – we could dramatically reduce population growth,” and reduce pressure on the environment, says Joseph Speidel in this short expert analysis from the Environmental Change and Security Program.
Speidel, adjunct professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, discusses population, health, and environment issues, and offers solutions for the way forward.
To learn more, please see a full summary and complete video of Joseph Speidel speaking recently at a March 17, 2009, Wilson Center event, “Making the Case for U.S International Family Planning Assistance (Report Launch).”
›March 27, 2009 // By Geoff Dabelko
Speaking at the Wilson Center earlier this week, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Director Achim Steiner said he recently discussed plans with Alain Le Roy, UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to integrate environmental awareness into UN peacebuilding efforts. According to a study recently released by UNEP, From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (see New Security Beat post), at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources since 1990, but fewer than 25 percent of peace agreements for resource-related conflicts address natural resources. Steiner said he is hopeful that putting in “green advisers, so to speak, with blue helmets” could change that.
As someone who has followed the history of environmental security efforts for a long time, trust me—this is news. It’s not that Steiner’s idea of integrating environmental expertise into peacekeeping is novel; on the contrary, a “Green Helmets” force to respond to environmental conflicts was proposed unsuccessfully by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989-89 and by then-UNEP Director Klaus Toepfer in 1998. Both of these proposals failed because many countries feared a dilution of the principle of sovereign control over their territory and natural resources. But Steiner’s less-ambitious, more-practical plan to provide environmental advisers to peacekeeping troops seems to hold promise for reducing the environmental impact of conflicts and choking the supply chain of illegal resources fueling them. We may see this new integrated peacebuilding approach in action in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti.
Stay tuned for the archived video and transcript of Steiner’s talk, which also featured Daniel Reifsnyder of the U.S. Department of State and Andrew Morton of UNEP.
Photo: UNEP Director Achim Steiner. Courtesy of the Wilson Center and Dave Hawxhurst.
›March 27, 2009 // By Will Rogers
“Sana’a might very well become the first capital in the world to run out of water,” write Gregory D. Johnsen and Christopher Boucek in a February 2009 article in Foreign Policy. With massive population growth, rapidly shrinking freshwater availability, and weak governance, Yemen’s unsustainable water management policies are exacerbating the threat of international terrorism as the state devolves into a sanctuary for al Qaeda jihadists and other transnational criminals.
Today, Yemen is among the world’s most water-scarce countries. According to the most recent data collected in 2005, Yemen’s freshwater availability has dropped to a mere 186 cubic meters per capita per year – well below the international water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year. Below that, water begins to severely limit “economic development and human health and well-being.”
And since the latest data collection, according to Johnsen and Boucek, overexploitation of groundwater aquifers to satisfy a burgeoning population has resulted in “dramatically falling water tables—up to several meters per year in some places.”
To make matters worse, an annual population growth rate of 3.2 percent, driven by a total fertility rate of 6.2 children per woman, means the population will grow from 22.2 million today to 35.2 million by 2050, putting further pressure on an already-scarce resource.
In Yemen, the “lack of any serious legal oversight, reckless irrigation techniques, and unregulated private exploitation” are clear indicators of poor governance. Nevertheless, the government has begun working with the World Bank to implement an integrated water management program. “Support for the water sector is receiving high priority,” said Nabil Shaiban of Yemen’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, in an interview with IRIN News.
But despite these efforts, the government’s weakness and the country’s “gun-slinging tribal culture” present serious challenges to water management. According to IRIN News, “tribesmen seize control of water projects nearing completion, intending to use them for irrigating their farms.” This occurs with about “80 percent of projects in rural areas,” Ahmed al-Sufi, an information officer with Yemen’s National Water and Sanitation Foundation, told IRIN News.
And so the problems of poor water management and weak governance are circular. As water scarcity worsens, the government’s attempts to mitigate it are undermined by its weak control over the state. But without successful policies to mitigate water scarcity, the government’s legitimacy is further weakened.
With water woes aggravating Yemeni citizens and weakening the government’s authority, al Qaeda and other transnational terror groups are recruiting jihadists and using ungoverned areas as training grounds and safe havens. Forty-five percent of Yemen’s population is under 15 years old—and some claim al Qaeda is now actively recruiting boys as young as 12. With water scarcity worsening economic and human development, Yemen’s youth are particularly susceptible to al Qaeda’s promises of social justice and opportunities for advancement.
Al Qaeda recently made its capabilities in Yemen clear with a September 18, 2008, attack against the U.S. embassy in Sana’a. Several car bombs and rocket-propelled grenades killed 16 people—the deadliest attack against a U.S. target in Yemen since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. According to The Economist, last March “al Qaeda websites posted a message advising members to head for Yemen.”
To be clear, water scarcity is not the only issue plaguing the Gulf state. Falling oil prices and mismanaged oil reserves are making Yemen’s chronic economic and human development problems much worse. But assistance from the international community in implementing effective water-management policies would lend credibility to the government and could bolster its ability to prevent al Qaeda from training terrorists within its borders.
According to the U.S. Army field manual on stability operations, “The greatest threats to our national security will not come from emerging ambitious states but from nations unable or unwilling to meet the basic needs and aspirations of their people.” If Yemen’s government cannot provide even a minimal level of water security for its citizens, it risks becoming a failed state on par with Somalia or Zimbabwe.
Over the long term, a comprehensive approach to development that balances voluntary family planning with effective natural resource management would help reduce pressure on scarce resources and bring lasting stability to the country, while serving U.S. national security interests in the War on Terror.
Photo: In Taiz, south of the capital city of Sana’a, children fill up their water jugs outside a mosque. Courtesy of flickr user Osama Al-Eryani.
›The BBC has produced an excellent multimedia package (including articles, videos, and a narrated slideshow) on the controversial Gibe III dam in Ethiopia, which could threaten the livelihoods of nearly 500,000 people.
According to New Directions for Integrating Environment and Development in East Africa, the following activities are successfully promoting sustainable, integrated development in the region: “community-based management of natural resources for local livelihoods; natural resource-based businesses that benefit communities and the environment, including markets for environmental services; integrating population issues into development activities; connecting initiatives within landscapes; promoting integrated approaches in the formal policy process; and policy research and networks for advocacy.”
Flamingoes, giraffes, buffaloes, and other wildlife are at risk from forest fires in Kenya, according to the BBC. Police believe some of the fires were set deliberately by people opposed to relocated away from protected areas.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has released two new reports on Afghanistan. Swords and Ploughshares: Sustainable Security in Afghanistan Requires Sweeping U.S. Policy Overhaul describes a three-day simulation conducted by CAP and argues that sweeping U.S. foreign-assistance reform is essential to stabilizing Afghanistan. Sustainable Security in Afghanistan: Crafting an Effective and Responsible Strategy for the Forgotten Front sets forth short-, medium-, and long-term policy goals for Afghanistan.
The UN Population Division has raised its low population projection for 2050, reports Ben Block on Worldchanging. The revision in the estimate was largely due to a rise in births in Europe and the United States.
›March 24, 2009 // By Will Rogers
U.S. journalists “are by and large dying for the opportunity to go overseas and learn about a whole range of issues, from refugees to human rights,” but often lack the support of their editors—the “gatekeepers”—to do so, said Louise Lief, deputy director of the International Reporting Project (IRP), at a February 26, 2009, event, “Reporting From Uganda: U.S. Media Cover Health, Environment, and Security.” Leif was joined by Paul Hendrie, department editor at Congressional Quarterly (CQ); David Rocks, senior editor at BusinessWeek; and Ben de La Cruz, a staff video journalist at The Washington Post, to discuss the recent IRP Gatekeeper trip to Uganda.
President Museveni’s Surprising Views
“One of the advantages of these trips is when you go with a critical mass of 12 very senior editors…you can often get in to see the head of state,” said Leif, describing the group’s sit-down interview with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. One “big surprise for me was President Museveni’s views on population,” which he did not consider a challenge, said Lief, despite the country’s high total fertility rate of 6.7 children per woman.
She was heartened that the country’s poor infrastructure, including bad roads and unreliable electricity, did not deter Ugandan children from obtaining an education. “All along the road in brightly colored clothing there were thousands and thousands of children,” she said. “Some of them were walking for kilometers, but they were going to school.”
Organic Farmers Fight DDT in Uganda
“These things that we deal with in Washington every day have a real impact in the real world,” said CQ’s Paul Hendrie. He wrote a story on the Ugandan debate over using the pesticide DDT to combat the country’s significant malaria problem. “As one expert put it to me, ‘Farmers love DDT because it kills everything,’ and that’s why it was so popular”—and why it was banned in the United States.
“Uganda has developed an industry, a fledgling industry, of certified organic farmers. They’re the leading organic exporter in Africa and thirteenth in the world,” explained Hendrie. Farmers are concerned “that if traces of DDT are found in these products, they’ll be shut out of markets, especially in Europe, their biggest market.”
“It’s kind of ironic then that in Uganda now, today, the fight against the use of DDT is not being so much led by environmentalists as by farmers, and specifically organic farmers,” Hendrie noted.
Investigating Uganda’s Economy
“In a developing country, what is it that moves people, that makes the economy grow?” BusinessWeek’s David Rocks wondered before visiting Uganda.
“One of the companies that struck me was Kiwi Shoe Polish,” he said. Many people keep their shoes “for 10 or 15 years, so you have to keep them shined and polished and in good shape in order to use them.” But Chinese companies have begun counterfeiting the polish, causing Kiwi’s sales to plummet 50 percent in the last year. “It’s the poorest of the poor who are getting ripped off,” he said.
“I think that there is a lot of room for interesting economic and business stories to be done from Africa,” said Rocks, who is a senior editor at the magazine. “I hope to get my people to do more and more of that.”
Seeds of Peace in the IDP Camps
“The focus of my reporting was basically on security issues in the north, in the Gulu region, where there’s been a 20-year civil war,” said Ben de la Cruz, who filmed several videos for The Washington Post documenting the dangers of life in Uganda’s internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. In the online multimedia presentation “Seeds of Peace,” IDPs tell their wrenching stories, and peace mediator (and former Wilson Center Scholar) Betty Bigombe provides historical and political context on Uganda’s civil war.
“Despite the two years of relative peace, lots of people are still living in the camps and are afraid to leave,” de la Cruz explained. “There’s a huge fear factor because of Joseph Kony’s rebels—even though they had a ceasefire, they’re always afraid he’s going to come back.”
Photos: From top to bottom: Louis Lief, Paul Hendrie, David Rocks, and Ben de la Cruz. Courtesy of Dave Hawxhurst and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
The intersection of the environment, security, and policymaking is often glossed over, even at a venerable institution like the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which trains the future officers of the U.S. Army. I am teaching a new mini-course within the geography program that aims to change this situation, using a region-specific approach. The course is designed to show geography majors how the environment can act as a catalyst for conflict or simply as an amplifier of existing problems. A series of 14 lessons will focus on defining environmental security, the role it plays in policymaking decisions, the significance of the military in these situations, and the intelligence-gathering and dissemination processes.
The military is evolving, and the armed services often find themselves involved in activities clearly classified as “other than war”; a key example is the recent formation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which focuses on “war prevention rather than war-fighting.” The bottom-line goal of West Point’s environmental security course is to educate future Army leaders on the interrelatedness of the environment and human activities, because these are issues they are likely to face in their careers.
The 11 students taking the course this semester will be required to read, comment on, and analyze a New Security Beat blog topic they find especially interesting, as well as pitch an idea for a potential blog entry. The blogging project is being incorporated into the course to expose students to near real-time perspectives from subject-matter experts in environmental security and related fields. Other readings will come from peer-reviewed journals, the Army War College, and other U.S. government sources. The course will conclude with an integrative experience where students apply what they have learned to a set of “what-if” scenarios from across the globe.
The mini-course, along with the blog exercise, has been a welcome addition to the geography program’s line-up. Feedback from this first-ever attempt to teach environmental security to geography majors at West Point will be compiled, and environmental security will either be developed into a more comprehensive course or split among several existing courses within the geography curriculum, such as environmental geography, climatology, and several regional geography courses. I look forward to sharing my reflections on teaching the mini-course with New Security Beat readers in the coming months.
Photo: U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Courtesy Flickr user Devonaire Eye.
Lieutenant Colonel Luis A. Rios USAF is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
›March 20, 2009 // By Will Rogers
“Water access is no longer simply a global health and development issue; it is a mortal and long-term threat that is increasingly becoming a national security issue,” said Senator Richard Durbin at a March 17, 2009, event on Capitol Hill. Introducing the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009, Senator Durbin called for renewed American leadership on the global water crisis plaguing billions around the world.
“The United States needs to do much more to ensure that global water access is protected and expanded,” he said. Senator Durbin’s remarks come on the heels of the Fifth Global Water Forum held in Istanbul, Turkey this week, and precede UN World Water Day on March 22, 2009.
“The global water crisis is a quiet killer,” Durbin said. “In the developing world, 5,000 children die every day from easily preventable water-related illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and malaria, diseases that have been all but eradicated in wealthier nations.”
The Water for the World Act of 2009 expands a commitment from the earlier Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which has had notable success in focusing U.S. aid on water-related assistance. From 2007-2008, for instance, the U.S. helped provide 2 million people with access to an improved source of drinking water and more than 1.5 million people to improved sanitation.
But these efforts need to be scaled up to reach the billions of people without clean water. According to Representative Earl Blumenauer, speaking at the same event, there are more people in the world today without access to adequate sanitation than the populations of China and India combined. The Water for the World Act of 2009 will seek to provide “100 million people around the world with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation by 2015,” said Durbin.
In addition, if passed, the act will make water a development priority for U.S. foreign assistance and “designates within the State Department a high-level representative to ensure that water receives priority attention in our foreign policy, and establishes a new Office of Water at USAID to implement development assistance efforts related to water,” Durbin said.
Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is a cornerstone for sustainable development around the world. Developing countries will not be able to build their economies or bring their resources to fruition if people in these countries have to travel for hours to find water, or are “too sick from drinking unsafe water, to work or to go to school,” Durbin warned.
Improving access to safe water will not only reduce mortality from waterborne illness, but will help provide long-term stability in countries that suffer from population pressures due large population growth from high total fertility rates. In developing countries, 3,900 children under 5 years old die every day from waterborne illness. “Mothers who fear the deaths of their children bear more, in a desperate race against the odds,” said Senator Durbin. While access to education and family planning programs is also essential to reducing high fertility rates in developing countries, so too is basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
But funding for water infrastructure and sanitation programs is just the first step. In developing countries, poor governance is a major roadblock to implementing successful development projects. Unregulated privatization of water can prevent the “voiceless and powerless” poor from gaining access to the water services they need, Durbin cautioned.
To address the challenges of governance, the bill will help “build the capacity of poor nations to meet their own water and sanitation challenges,” Durbin said, by providing “technical assistance, best practices, credit authorities, and training to help countries expand access to clean water and sanitation.”
Working to ensure access to safe water and adequate sanitation can help implement the “smart power” strategy the U.S. desperately needs during a period when the world is redefining America – a strategy to help provide “things people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership,” writes the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Smart Power.
CSIS President John Hamre said the U.S. should re-establish its moral leadership in the world by making a serious commitment to increasing access to clean water and adequate sanitation. CSIS recently issued a Declaration on U.S. Policy and the Global Challenge of Water, endorsed by more than 35 leaders in business, government, and academia, and called on President Obama “to launch a bold new U.S. campaign to address the global challenge of water.”
“Throughout history, civilized nations have put aside political differences to address compelling issues of life and survival,” said Senator Durbin. “Our generation owes the world nothing less.”
Photo: Senator Richard Durbin. Courtesy of the Office of Senator Richard Durbin.
›Arab Environment: Future Challenges, the 2008 report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, addresses a wide range of issues, including desertification, urbanization, water resources, waste management, air quality, climate change, and the environmental impact of conflict.
Water: A Global Innovation Outlook Report, distills insights from several of IBM’s “deep dives” on water and business, agriculture, infrastructure, and data.
“Securing Our Future: Environmental Security in Mongolia,” a YouTube video from the Asia Foundation, highlights the Foundation’s efforts to ensure that mining in Mongolia protects human and environmental health.
The Economist examines competing claims to land in Peru, where concessions for mining and oil and gas exploration are often “superimposed on towns, farms and natural parks.”
The Washington Post reviewed Sex and War: How Biology Explains War and Offers a Path to Peace this week. Author Malcolm Potts presented the book at the Wilson Center last month, and discusses the themes in a short YouTube video.
Join the Conversation
- Resilience for Peace: A New Agenda Monday, March 2, 2015
- The Precarious State of Our Oceans Thursday, February 19, 2015
- High Stakes: How This Year’s Climate Negotiations Will Impact National Security Thursday, February 12, 2015
- Cholera feared in Syria due to dirty water, WHO warns
- In Kenya’s Mountain Forests, A New Path to Conservation by Fred Pearce
- Peru’s deadly environment: the rise in killings of environmental and land defenders
- The costs of adaptation in Punakha, Bhutan: Loss and damage associated with changing monsoon patterns
- Salinity-induced loss and damage to farming households in coastal Bangladesh