›A new tool from the Center for Global Development, Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) tool, uses satellite data to monitor tropical deforestation on a monthly basis. Using publicly available feeds from NASA and other sources, FORMA detects the spread of deforestation in areas as small as 1 square kilometer. The video above uses FORMA to animate the rapidly growing damage in Indonesia over the last four years.
CGD hopes FORMA will help countries monitor the success of forest preservation efforts, as well as verify that those receiving payments to maintain forest cover are, in fact, doing so. Currently limited to Indonesia, FORMA will soon cover the rest of the global tropics.
The tool can be combined with third-party content, such as overlay maps of demographic and forest carbon content data, for additional applications.
›November 24, 2009 // By Dan Asin“I’m an optimist,” said Peter McCornick, director for water policy at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute, about the future of food and water security in the Ganges and Mekong river basins at the World Wildlife Fund’s recent two-day symposium on water and climate change (video). Although the basins are under threat not only from climate change, but also urbanization, industrialization, development, and population growth, he maintained there are solutions, “as long as we understand what is going on.”
Whereas big-picture discussions of Asia’s glaciers and rivers often start and end with “fewer glaciers = less water,” McCornick argued that the connection is not so simple. Glacial melt “is particularly important in the Indus,” he said, but not so for the Ganges or Mekong.
“The Ganges is basically a monsoon-driven river,” said McCornick, and only 6.6 percent of the Mekong’s waters have glacial origins. Predicting the effects of climate change on monsoons is “extremely difficult.” Periods of heavy and light rains will be more pronounced in the Mekong, and how and when upstream dams will release water—a possibly more serious issue (video)—is unknown.
Food security will be impacted by shifting water supplies in the Ganges and Mekong. Within the Ganges basin, India’s population—already the region’s most water-stressed—could see its yearly water supplies drop by a third, from 1,506 m3 per person today to 1,060 m3 per person by 2025. “This is still a lot of water,” McCornick said, but water efficiency must undergo dramatic improvements if food supplies are to keep up with population growth.
In contrast, the Mekong could have too much water. Eighty-five percent of the Mekong delta, located in Vietnam, is under cultivation and its staple crop and principal food export, rice, is highly susceptible to flooding, which could increase due to extreme rain events, rising sea levels, or dam releases.
The Mekong basin is also the world’s largest freshwater fishery, but the effect of dams on the migratory pattern of the basin’s 1200-1700 fish species is still unknown. The industry is valued at $2-3 billion each year, said McCornick, and declining fish populations will not only harm local food security, but local livelihoods as well.
Adaptation strategies to cope with shifts in water supply brought about by climate change must be implemented by individuals at the local level, said McCornick, who urged that future adaptation research concentrate on sub-basins. Specific adaptation strategies to be explored include:
- Flexible water management institutions
- Intelligent use of groundwater resources during times of stress
- Management of the entire water storage continuum—not just that stored in dams, but also water stored in soil moisture and miniature artificial ponds.
Photo: Top, Mekong River Delta; Bottom, Mekong River Delta post-floods from heavy rains. Courtesy NASA.
›November 24, 2009 // By Geoff Dabelkosurvey of Pakistani youth shows why the country is Exhibit A for taking seriously the potent combination of demography and lack of education and employment. Funded by the British Council, the survey shows how Pakistan’s “youth bulge” can be both threat and opportunity.
If it is coupled with investment in education and employment, the large youthful population can be a dynamic force: the much-heralded “demographic dividend”.
But without effective investment, a “demographic disaster” is more likely. The survey found that 1 in 4 young people are illiterate and only 1 in 5 have full-time jobs. Only 15 percent believe their country is headed in the right direction. Their faith is placed in their religion, not their government.
I might add Pakistan’s poor resource base to the perils of illiteracy, unemployment, and age structure. And let’s not ignore the other big problems of water, economics, and agriculture.
But one thing is certain: the population will continue to grow. The current and projected median projections are 180 million today, 246 million projected in 2025, and 335 million in 2050.
Those making big decisions in U.S. policy toward Pakistan and the region should consider all these underlying factors–and more.
Photo: Brave children of Bakalot, courtesy Flickr user amir taj.
›November 23, 2009 // By Sajid AnwarAt an American University event on his new book, Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars, the Center for Teaching Excellence’s James Lee identified some plausible scenarios that the international community will have to face to adequately and peacefully address the security impacts of climate change.
With the loss of glaciers and normal river flows, international boundaries that have long been determined by these natural barriers will be called into question, Lee said, raising legitimate issues of sovereignty, migration, and land rights. How will countries separated by large glaciers or rivers deal with their more open and easily accessible borders? Will people who depend on these resources migrate into other countries in search of water? How will these changes impact countries that share these resources?
In his presentation, Lee argued that climate change will lead to violent conflict, using the historical record of climate change and conflict to prove his point. But most of the cases cited occurred before the 20th century, and the changes in climate then were much different than what we are now facing.
Today, we live in a world that is truly global in both governance and accountability. Issues such as severe environmental degradation or scarcity can be a factor in conflict within a country, but the potential for climate change to cause an international conflict is not as high as some warn.
There are multiple variables on the causal chain between climate change and conflict that can be addressed now, through national efforts and international cooperation. Countries can start with strong governance initiatives now to ensure that future problems of transboundary water scarcity, migration trends, and border changes do not lead to conflict.
For example, while climate change may lead to water scarcity, declines in agricultural production, and therefore to food insecurity, countries can avoid this outcome by leasing agricultural land in countries that won’t face high levels of water stress.
In addition, countries could avoid future disagreements over territory by negotiating a shared understanding of borders independent of geographic markers such as rivers or glaciers. These and other variables can be addressed now in order to mitigate the risk of future conflicts.
Renegotiating Water, Avoiding Conflict
Uppsala University Professor Ashok Swain, who spoke via Skype, took a different tack than Lee, stating that the links between climate change and conflict lack proper research. He was concerned by the hard security linkages being made with climate change and called for further exploration.
But Swain identified one potential trouble spot: While interactions over shared river systems have been shown to be overwhelmingly cooperative rather than violent, he voiced concern that the changes brought by climate change are not encompassed in the scope of current water-sharing agreements, which could increase the likelihood of conflict, according to Swain.
In the same way that leasing agricultural abroad or negotiating a shared understanding of borders now could help mitigate conflict in the future, so could renegotiating and strengthening current water-sharing agreements to reflect the future effects of climate change.
Cooperation to ensure sustainable access to shared water sources will still be more likely than conflict, simply because it is more cost-effective. If, as Lee writes in his book, climate change will cause a society’s accumulated wealth to decline, then the cost of mitigating the negative effects of climate change by using force to secure a resource would be too high for any nation to pursue.
Photo: Cracked earth, from the lack of water and baked from the heat of the sun, forms a pattern in the Nature Reserve of Popenguine, Senegal. Courtesy United Nations.
›November 17, 2009 // By Geoff DabelkoThe lecture was only a few hours away. In desperation, I turned to Facebook. “I’ve got just 50 minutes with the cadets at West Point today to talk water, conflict, and cooperation. What are the most compelling examples you would use to make both hard security and human security points, both threat and opportunity points? I ask in part because it is proving harder to decide what to leave out than what to put in!”
Within seconds, experts from the Departments of State and Energy, USAID, and National Geographic responded with examples, including the Tibetan plateau and glacial melt, the lower Jordan River, and more. I used these cases and others to break through to an audience that included both those skeptical of “treehugger” issues and those eager to learn. The map of Chinese current and planned hydro projects produced audible gasps and wide eyes among the class of future officers.
While at West Point, colleague Meaghan Parker and I met with geography faculty to better understand how and what they are teaching on environmental security and demographic security. The professors on the banks of the Hudson face similar challenges to their non-military brethren; today’s students have shorter attention spans and lack experience conducting in-depth research (or getting beyond Google).
But some challenges are unique to the service academies: isolation from academic peers; the need to make sure the material is relevant to future military leaders; and most of all, the physical and mental demands on cadets’ time placed by army training. I saw it as a sign of success that I only had three stand up during my lecture, the military’s sanctioned way to keep yourself awake in class. (LTC Lou Rios USAF, one of the faculty members we met with, wrote about teaching environmental security at West Point previously on New Security Beat.)
Video, blogs, and other new media seem like a way to bridge some of these gaps. We’re especially excited that the cadets in at least three courses will be using the New Security Beat as part of their classes by reading posts, commenting, and proposing a post on a topic of their choosing. We’re looking forward to a cadet joining us next summer for internship with ECSP.
All of these outreach efforts are part of our strategy to both understand how all types of actors—including future army officers—come to understand environment and security links while providing insights and analysis to that same diverse group.
Photos by Geoff Dabelko and Meaghan Parker
›November 16, 2009 // By Sajid AnwarAt the United Nations, “we see more and more interest in looking at natural resources: how do they contribute to a conflict, and how can they contribute to peacebuilding,” says David Jensen of the UN Environment Programme’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch in a video interview with ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko.
For example, UNEP experts travel to the UN Peacebuilding Commission’s target countries to examine how natural resources may have contributed to conflict and what role they could play in restoring peace, explains Jensen: “A new module was approved on environment and natural resources. So it’s now integrated within the overall UN post-conflict assessment framework,” which is used by the UN, World Bank, and the European Commission.
Currently, “there are tremendous opportunities,” Jensen says, for environmental security to become a mainstream issue within the United Nations, as exemplified by the Secretary-General’s report, Climate change and its possible security implications.
›The Center for Global Development’s latest report, Start With A Girl: A New Agenda For Global Health, sheds light on the risks of ignoring the health of adolescent girls. Like other reports in the Girls Count series, it links broad social outcomes with adolescent health. “Adolescence is a critical juncture for girls. What happens to a girl’s health during adolescence determines her future–and that of her family, community, and country,” state coauthors Miriam Temin and Ruth Levine.
Between childhood and pregnancy, adolescent girls are largely ignored by the public health sector. At the same time, programs and policies aimed at youth do not necessarily meet the specific needs of girls. Understanding the social forces that shape girls’ lives is imperative to improving their health.
Like recent books by Michelle Goldberg and Nicholas Kristof, the report argues for increased investment in girls’ education to break down the social and economic barriers that prevent adolescent girls from reaching their full potential. Improving adolescent girls’ health will require addressing gender inequality, discrimination, poverty, and gender-based violence.
“For many girls in developing countries, well-being is compromised by poor education, violence, and abuse,” say Temin and Levin. “Girls must overcome a panoply of barriers, from restrictions of their movement to taboos about discussion of sexuality to lack of autonomy.” The report points to innovative government and NGO programs that have successfully changed negative social norms, such as female genital cutting and child marriage. However, the authors urge researchers to examine the cost-effectiveness and scalability of these programs.
In the last five years, the international community has become increasingly aware of the importance of youth to social and economic development. Some new programs are focused on investing in adolescent girls, such as the World Bank’s Adolescent Girls Initiative and the White House Council on Women and Girls, but significant additional investment and support is needed.
“Big changes for girls’ health require big actions by national governments supported by bilateral and multilateral donor partners, international NGOs…civil society and committed leaders in the private sector,” maintain Temin and Levin. They offer eight recommendations:
1. Implement a comprehensive health agenda for adolescent girls in at least three countries by working with countries that demonstrate national leadership on adolescent girls.
2. Eliminate marriage for girls younger than 18.
3. Place adolescent girls at the center of international and national action and investment on maternal health.
4. Focus HIV prevention on adolescent girls.
5. Make health-systems strengthening and monitoring work for girls.
6. Make secondary school completion a priority for adolescent girls.
7. Create an innovation fund for girls’ health.
8. Increase donor support for adolescent girls’ health.
“We estimate that a complete set of interventions, including health services and community and school-based efforts, would cost about $1 per day,” say the authors of Start With a Girl. There is no doubt in my mind that this small investment would indeed have a high return for the entire global community.
›“All trafficking is not sex trafficking,” argued Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow Pardis Mahdavi, at a recent Middle East Program event. Drawing on her ethnographic research in the United Arab Emirates, Mahdavi analyzed the policy implications of the latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The TIP report offers information on modern day slavery–human trafficking–and includes comprehensive data on policies and enforcement in 155 countries and territories.
The TIP report paradoxically hurts the people it tries to protect, claimed Mahdavi, by placing too much emphasis on sex trafficking and failing to take into consideration other types of abuse, such as those against men and migrant labor workers. Mahdavi pushed for a “breakthrough of the labeling and politicizing of sex traffickers as women and children,” which depicts women as passive and helpless, while excluding male victims.
According to Mahdavi, in Dubai, 80 percent of the population are migrant laborers. Often, these foreign workers do not trust the government to protect them against trafficking abuses, particularly if they are working in the host country illegally. Thus, civil society organizations, and not the state government, serve as the major source of protection and recourse for abused migrant workers. In the Persian Gulf region, Mahdavi argued that the “TIP report needs to be rewritten…to include increased labor inspectors and police training,” and called for the increased “accountability and transparency” of civil society organizations.
Mahdavi cautioned countries against using the TIP report to enact policies that make migration illegal. Tightening borders forces workers into the informal economy, she maintained, where it becomes difficult to track and protect these individuals.
Although the TIP report has weaknesses, it does pressure countries to act, as Mahdavi has witnessed in the United Arab Emirates, where it has provided opportunities for dialogue on the various aspects of trafficking.
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