›July 31, 2012 // By Wilson Center StaffThe original version of this article, by Michael Kugelman, appeared on SustainableSecurity.org.
On May 11, the UN approved new international rules to govern how land is acquired abroad. These Voluntary Guidelines (VGs), the outcome of several years of protracted negotiations, are a response to growing global concern that nations and private investors are seizing large swaths of overseas agricultural land owned or used by small farmers and local communities for food, medicinal, or livelihood purposes. FAO head Jose Graziano da Silva describes the VGs as “a starting point that will help improve the often dire situation of the hungry and poor.”
It’s hard to quibble with the intent of the guidelines. They call for, among other things, protecting the land rights of local communities; promoting gender equality in land title acquisition; and offering legal assistance during land disputes.
Unfortunately, however, any utility deriving from the VGs will be strictly normative. As their name states explicitly, they are purely optional. A toothless set of non-obligatory rules will prove no match for a strategy that is striking both for its scale and for the tremendous power of its executioners.
Oxfam estimates that nearly 230 million hectares of land (an area equivalent to the size of Western Europe) have been sold or leased since 2001 (with most of these transactions occurring since 2008). According to GRAIN, a global land rights NGO, more than two million hectares were subjected to transactions during the first four months of 2012 alone. One of the largest proposed deals – an attempt by South Korea’s Daewoo corporation to acquire 1.3 million hectares of farmland in Madagascar – failed back in 2009. Still, even larger investments are being planned today, including a Brazilian effort to acquire a whopping six million hectares of land in Mozambique to produce corn and soy (Mozambique offered a concession last year).
Continue reading on SustainableSecurity.org.
Sources: BBC, Food and Agriculture Organization, GRAIN, MercoPress, Oxfam, Reuters.
Photo Credit: “Garde armé,” courtesy of flickr user Planète à vendre.
›Set in the middle of the arid region between the Sahara desert and the equatorial savannas of Africa known as the Sahel, Niger is no stranger to drought. In recent years, however, droughts have hit more often, started earlier in the season, and lasted longer, creating a cycle of food insecurity that is becoming more difficult to break.
Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, recently spoke to PBS NewsHour about his country’s aggressive re-forestation strategy, designed to improve food security by capturing more natural moisture and raising soil nutrient levels. “We are convinced that drought does not need to mean famine,” Issoufou, told special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro. But while Issoufou’s campaign to strengthen food security offers reason for optimism, significant challenges remain if Niger is to break the cycle of drought and famine, including a population growth rate of 3.5 percent a year – one of the fastest in the world.
Desertification and Deforestation Created “A Virtual Desert”
For decades, a combination of environmental and man-made factors has slowly exacerbated Niger’s vulnerability to drought and food insecurity. While the Sahara’s gradual southern expansion has driven Niger’s desertification, an old colonial law (since overturned) making trees state property contributed to runaway deforestation. For the state, trees were an important resource as timber; for farmers, trees were a nuisance that stood in the way of planting new crops. With little incentive to preserve the already-sparse natural tree coverage, by the 1970s, the country’s landscape looked like “a virtual desert,” de Sam Lazaro says. Deforestation only accelerated desertification and the two trends were all the more impactful since they hit hardest in Niger’s semi-arid south, where the bulk of the country’s food is grown and harvested.
“A Structural Response”
By the mid-1980s, after major droughts had struck the country on and off for the past decade, a low-scale, individualized effort began among farmers to maintain the trees on their property. That effort was finally formalized under the current president, who entered office last year “declar[ing] food security a top priority,” according to de Sam Lazaro.
In office, Issoufou launched “Nigeriens Helping Nigeriens” or 3N – a program he bills as “a structural response to the food crises that are consistently linked with our recurrent droughts.”
That work is supplemented by an outreach campaign that educates farmers about the end of the colonial-era tree law and the benefits that well-maintained trees can bring to farmers, their households, and their crops.
“Trees that are pruned grow sturdier trunks, yielding abundant firewood, the main cooking fuel,” de Sam Lazaro reports. “The leaves form livestock fodder and trap moisture in the soil. Improved soil fertility can mean better harvests.” And, importantly, those benefits can start accruing immediately. “Even in the first year, you already have some benefits by leaves and some twigs the women can use as firewood in the kitchen,” said Chris Reij, a Dutch scientists who has studied agroforestry in the Sahel since the 1970s.
Cause for Cautious Optimism
In villages that have prioritized re-greening, resilience is already growing. In Dan Saga, a village near Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, even though “drought took a severe toll on the harvest last year,” according to de Sam Lazaro, past surpluses stored in a grain bank mean that hasn’t translated to famine.
Individual and state-led re-greening efforts have turned Niger into “the only country in Africa to have actually added forest to its land” over the past two decades, de Sam Lazaro reported. During that time, 200 million new trees grew in Niger, and that, according to Reij, has bolstered agriculture by an additional 500,000 tons of food per year – enough to feed 2.5 million Nigeriens, or 15 percent of the population.
From 5 to 55 Million People?
The next challenge will be scaling up those results to reach the entire country. U.S. Ambassador to Niger Bisa Williams said that expansion would be a long, but necessary, process. “This is not something that has a quick fix to it,” she said to NewsHour. “Development by its nature is a long-term process.”
“There is no magic bullet” to resolving food insecurity, Williams said. Doing so will mean tackling a number of the country’s development challenges, de Sam Lazaro said, including its high fertility rate which, at 7.4 children per woman, “will triple the number of mouths to feed by 2050.”
Indeed, population growth – both historical and projected – is a key part of Niger’s food security story and deserves more attention. Past population growth helped fuel the country’s rapid deforestation in the 1970s and 1980s, and since the early 1990s, Niger has reliably been among the world’s fastest growing countries. Between 1975, when the country was a “virtual desert,” and today, more than 10 million Nigeriens have been born. In the face of such growth, the country’s capacity for food production has not kept pace; while population growth is 3.5 percent a year, food production increases by only 2.5 percent, indicating a persistent and growing gap between the two. And, because of the multiplicative effects of high birth rates, the UN estimates that by 2050, Niger’s population will be an astounding 55.4 million people (and that’s the medium variant projection).
Though they don’t tackle these population numbers in great detail, the PBS NewsHour piece shows that Niger is moving forward in a promising way. “Everyone knows that this can’t be resolved by the internationals,” Williams said. Solutions, if they are to be effective and long-lasting, “are going to have to be embraced and be local. And I think that is what we are seeing in Niger.”
De Sam Lazaro’s report is part of joint project called “Food for 9 Billion,” with Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media, and PBS. Previous reports examined food security in East Africa, Egypt, and the Philippines.
Sources: The New York Times, United Nations Population Divison.
Video Credit: PBS NewsHour; chart: Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
›Chaotic Climate Change and Security,” published in the June issue of International Political Sociology, Maximilian Mayer traces the transformation of climate change from a long-term problem to something that has taken on a new urgency in recent years. Understanding the non-linear nature of climate change – the “abrupt changes” that can come as environmental thresholds are crossed – has led to the securitization of the environment, writes Mayer. Unfortunately, the “doomsday rhetoric of scientists and campaigners about ‘tipping points’ has apparently failed to spur governments toward negotiating a meaningful agreement.” Climate change skepticism still exists, he points out, and even those who are convinced of the potential negative impacts of environmental change on state security have failed to reverse detrimental actions, choosing instead to focus on ameliorating the effects of change on their individual states. As a replacement for these failed frameworks, Mayer suggests that actor-network theory should be used as it better accounts for the interconnected nature of climate change.
Climate Change in Fragile States: Adaptation as Reinforcement of the Fabric of the State,” published in a collection of articles written by members of the United Nations University Summer Academy. Houghton writes that in fragile states, environmental issues can be “compounded by armed conflict and institutional failure,” which further destabilizes the country. She mentions cases in which the state lacks the authority to properly assist its citizens following natural disasters, like the flooding of the Indus Valley in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In these cases, failure of the government to meet citizens’ needs “fuels instability and fragility rather than fosters resilience.” Any action to reduce the effects of climate change on residents of vulnerable areas must thus begin with the state, she writes. “Without effective action to strengthen the state and thereby enable adaptation, climate-induced adverse effects and extreme events may lead to the further destabilization of already fragile states.”
›Two maps released to the public for the first time this month illustrate the vast wealth of mineral deposits in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan. The maps, created through a joint effort from the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Defense Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, are the first of their kind to provide large-scale coverage of a country using a technology called hyperspectral imaging, which measures the reflectance of material on the Earth’s surface simultaneously across a continuous band of wavelengths broken up into 10 to 20 nanometer intervals. More than 800 million individual pixels of data were collected during a period of 43 days in 2007 by a NASA aircraft. Each data point was then “compared to reference spectrum entries in a spectral library of minerals, vegetation, water, ice, and snow in order to characterize surface materials across the Afghan landscape.”
Accompanying the release of the maps is a USGS study, completed in September of 2011, that largely confirms earlier reports from the DOD and USGS on the size of Afghanistan’s untapped mineral resources. The first reports received widespread media coverage last year, and updated estimates indicate that upwards of $900 billion worth of mineral reserves are present in a number of different forms including copper, iron, gold, and, most notably, more than one million metric tons of rare earth elements.
Scientists involved with the project believe that there may be even more reserves awaiting discovery. “I fully expect that our estimates are conservative,” said Robert Tucker from the USGS in an interview with Scientific American. “With more time, and with more people doing proper exploration, it could become a major, major discovery.”
Over the course of the study, scientists from the USGS and Afghan Geological Survey combined the newly-created spectral data with existing maps to identify 24 areas of interest (AOIs) that warranted hands-on investigation.
The two hyperspectral maps illustrate different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Shortwave infrared wavelengths reveal carbonates, phyllosilicates, and sulfates, while visible and near-infrared wavelengths show iron-bearing minerals, which yield products ranging from copper to rare earth elements and uranium. Each map classifies 31 different types of materials by color.
Although the hyperspectral maps only show mineral deposits on the surface, geologists were able to estimate what lies beneath by combining new data with samples previously taken from trenches, drill holes, or underground workings at the AOIs by Soviet and Afghan scientists. According to the USGS, “A number of the AOIs were field checked by USGS and DOD geologists between 2009 and 2011, and the previous geologic interpretations and concepts were confirmed.”
Actual Extraction: Not Easy
Afghanistan has been “scouring the globe for investors to develop its mines in an attempt to lift one of the world’s poorest nations out of misery through investment,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Contracts have already been awarded to China and India to develop copper and iron mines, respectively, and another round of bidding is currently in progress for four unexploited sites that are being closely eyed by countries such as the United States, Australia, and Turkey.
But significant hurdles remain in the quest to turn Afghanistan’s buried minerals into a steady source of income for the government and the Afghan people. Security is still a major concern and United States will pull out a vast majority of its combat troops by 2014. The government has established a Mines Protection Unit to guard sites where ground has already been broken, and plans to increase the size of the unit as necessary to provide security for all mining projects nationwide. For now the Afghan Ministry of Mines is only taking bids for projects in the more secure northern part of the country, where deposits of copper and gold are located. As the nation develops and stabilizes, massive resources of rare earth elements located in the notoriously volatile Helmand Province will open for bids.
Security isn’t the only factor affecting the country’s mining prospects. “If you want to do mineral resource development, there are two things you need to pay attention to: water and energy resources. Where is the power going to come from? You can’t develop these large mineral deposits without energy,” said director of the USGS program in Afghanistan, Jack Medlin, in an interview with EARTH magazine.
There are also the traditional pitfalls of developing extractive industries, especially in poor and conflict-prone countries, including corruption, inequity, land disputes, and environmental degradation. And the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked, making supply lines in an out of the country difficult (as the United States has discovered).
Despite the many hurdles, there is plenty of optimism for an Afghan future brightened by mineral wealth. The new data shows that previous reports of substantial resources were not far off, and the Afghan economy, which for years has relied on opium as its biggest export, could certainly use the help. “The prognosis is extremely encouraging and could play a significant role in recovery from decades of war,” USAID advisor Wayne Pennington told EARTH.
For the full resolution versions of the hyperspectral imaging maps (~90MB each) see here and here.
Keenan Dillard is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an intern with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
Sources: Afghan Geological Survey, Afghan Ministry of Mines, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Department of Defense, EARTH, The New York Times, Scientific American, U.S. Geological Survey, The Wall Street Journal, World Bank.
Image Credit: USGS.
›The original version of this article by Will Rogers appeared on the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 Blog.
Urbanization and climate change may be the two most important trends to shape global development in the decades ahead. On the one hand, urban cities have the potential to serve as engines of change, driving economic growth in some of the world’s least developed countries and pulling more people out of poverty than at any other time in history. On the other hand, climate change could undercut all of this by exacerbating resource scarcity and putting vulnerable communities at risk from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.
Today, roughly 80 percent of economic growth occurs in urban centers. Much of this comes from what experts refer to as the “urban advantage:” cities typically concentrate the full spectrum of economic opportunities that are not readily available in rural areas. This includes everything from social services such as education and healthcare, more reliable access to water, sanitation services, and electricity, to industries and transportation hubs that are lynchpins for commercial development.
Simply put, countries have more opportunities for economic growth as they urbanize. According to a 2010 study from the United Nations Human Settlements Program, “The prosperity of nations is intimately linked to the prosperity of their cities. No country has ever achieved sustained economic growth or rapid social development without urbanizing (countries with the highest per capita income tend to be more urbanized, while low-income countries are the least urbanized).”
Of course, how much a country benefits from urbanization depends on policies developed at the local level. Indeed, urban politics can make or break the benefits of urbanization if local policymakers fail to adopt policies that break down socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers.
Nevertheless, urbanization affords tremendous economic opportunities, and most of the future benefits will accrue to the world’s developing and least developed countries. As Drew Erdmann wrote earlier this week on the Global Trends 2030 blog, “For the first time in over 200 years, the majority of the world’s economic growth during this decade will occur in emerging markets, not the developed economies of the ‘West.’” This may help foster a modicum of stability in some of the world’s most unstable states, countries like Haiti, whose urban population is projected to expand from 52 percent in 2010 to 70 percent by 2030, according to United Nations statistics.
Scarcity and Infrastructure Challenges
Yet climate change may ultimately undermine the economic benefits of urbanization in some parts of the world. Urban centers place substantially more pressure on natural resources than rural communities, given their population density and the attendant demands on water, agricultural, energy, and other resources. And although urban planners can apply innovative solutions to help manage these resource constraints – such as waste water recycling systems – climate change could exacerbate resource trends in ways that may hamper the effectiveness of these creative technologies, slowing or stalling economic growth in some of these emerging economic centers.
But the real climate challenge may stem from development in fragile areas along the world’s coastlines. Indeed, many of the global megacities (those with populations over 10 million) are located on the coast: Tokyo, Jakarta, Shanghai, New York City, Mumbai, Bangkok, and Lagos, to name a few. Their locations are borne out of necessity: according to the San Francisco Chronicle, 90 percent of global commerce is done by sea. So while urbanizing along the coastline allows countries to more easily tap into global trade, coastal cities may be vulnerable to sea level rise and more frequent and intense typhoons, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events that could result from climate change.
Sea level rise could be particularly damaging to urban economic development. Surging seas can crumble coastal infrastructure, such as electricity systems and road ways, and infiltrate ground water aquifers that supply city water and support local agriculture. Moreover, sea level rise may drive up insurance rates, forcing people into bankruptcy while also creating socioeconomic gaps in some cities. These challenges are not abstract or distant either: one need only look to the south of Washington, to Norfolk, Virginia, where sea level rise has already dislocated some communities, while forcing city officials to invest millions of dollars to hold back the sea near the naval station, according to The Washington Post.
Alex Evans on global natural resource scarcity
Typhoons, hurricanes, nor’easters, and other extreme weather events may become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change, and pose dangers to urban centers. The density of some coastal cities portends extreme challenges for first responders and others charged with responding to weather-related natural disasters. Indeed, the scale of these disasters could be quite staggering, and may even overstretch the capacity of emergency personnel if they are not adequately prepared to respond. Although one cannot definitively point to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina as an example of climate change, the effects of the storm provide a vivid illustration of the magnitude that such a disaster could have in a densely crowded urban community. As a result of this reality, some large cities have started examining how climate change may affect them in the coming decades. In 2010, for example, New York City published its own study from the New York City Panel on Climate Change that looked explicitly at these challenges.
Even absent climate change, it is difficult to disregard the inherent vulnerabilities associated with densely crowded urban cities, particularly those along the coast. In his book, Monsoon, Robert D. Kaplan writes that, “[N]ever before have the planet’s most environmentally frail areas been so crowded,” particularly in countries like Bangladesh, India, and elsewhere, where hundreds of millions of people are packed together at or just above sea level. “This means that over the coming decades more people than ever before, in any comparable space of time save for a few periods like the fourteenth century during the Black Death, are likely to be killed or made homeless by Mother Nature,” Kaplan observes.
Looking for Opportunities
There are some opportunities that U.S. policymakers and others can pursue to help dampen the impact of potential climate disruptions on urban cities.
- Enhancing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Training: The United States should develop more robust relationships with countries around humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, to help more vulnerable countries and their cities develop the institutions, tools, and procedures for responding to natural disasters. This does not have to be just traditional military-to-military cooperation either. Fire departments and other first responder organizations from U.S. cities can exchange expertise with other officials in cities around the world. And some of this is ongoing already, whether it’s around flood or wildfire response, and may just need to be scaled up.
- Improving Climate Change Science at the Local Level: Many countries do not have the tools or techniques to assess how climate change may affect their cities. As a result, there is a significant opportunity for the United States to bolster its science and technology cooperation with countries, to enhance their understanding of local-level climate impacts. The United States could leverage its National Labs and others in academia to help support and develop sound climate science that will provide better fidelity about how climate change is projected to manifest itself in urban centers. Better projections will enable cities to become more resilient, which may also help dampen political and social disruptions.
Will Rogers is the Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan national security and defense policy think tank in Washington. The views expressed herein represent his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which he is affiliated.
The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends reports are unclassified looks at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. The Global Trends 2030 Blog provides a forum where guest bloggers can discuss selected topics to be raised in the upcoming publication later this year.
Sources: National Intelligence Council, New York City Panel on Climate Change, San Francisco Chronicle, UN Habitat, UN Population Division, Washington Post.
Photo Credit: “River of Development,” courtesy of flickr user pmorgan (Peter Morgan).
›July 25, 2012 // By Kate DiamondWater, poverty, and the environment are “intrinsically connected,” and the development programs targeting them should be as well, writes David Bonnardeaux in Linking Biodiversity Conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene: Experiences From sub-Saharan Africa, a new Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group briefing. In a review of 43 programs across sub-Saharan Africa, including four in-depth case studies, Bonnardeaux finds that natural synergies between water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming and conservation work provide opportunities for greater effectiveness in addressing both.
Integrating WASH and Conservation: A Natural Match
“WASH interventions are generally reliant on natural resources and processes, whether indirectly or directly,” he writes, and “WASH services produce outputs that are potentially detrimental to the environment if not managed properly.” At the same time, poor ecosystem management can “threaten biodiversity and jeopardize the vital services that these ecosystems in turn provide to humanity, in the form of regulation of stream flow, erosion prevention, water filtration, aquifer recharge, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and flood abatement.”
Given the connections between the two, WASH and conservation efforts would benefit from programmatic integration, according to Bonnardeaux. To bring the two closer together, he recommends three tools for policymakers and development programmers: integrated river basin management and basin planning; payments for watershed services (also known as payments for environmental services); and population, health, and environment (PHE) programming.
A Whole-of-Basin Perspective
“The causal link between WASH and ecosystem health and integrity is most accentuated when
dealing with freshwater ecosystems,” writes Bonnardeaux.
In Tanzania’s Pangani River Basin, one of his in-depth case studies, a growing reliance on hydropower, urbanization, and increased agricultural demand is altering a valuable ecosystem marked by endemism and iconic landscapes, including Mount Kilimanjaro.
In response, the government and international organizations are partnering through the Pangani River Basin Management Project to developing a greater understanding of the basin’s hydrology and ecosystem, how local populations interact with that ecosystem, and how potential development scenarios could impact the basin in the future. That knowledge, paired with an intensive training program for local water officials, is enabling stronger integrated resource management, which in turn could lay the groundwork for integrating WASH and conservation interventions, writes Bonnardeaux.
Economic incentives – in this case, payments for watershed services – offer another valuable tool for building support for conservation efforts, especially when upstream communities bear a disproportionate burden of safeguarding watersheds.
In South Africa, another case study country, “increased economic development and urbanization have taken its toll on” the country’s wetlands, while unemployment and poverty have remained a persistent problem in slum areas, writes Bonnardeaux. Through the government-run Working for Wetlands program, both the environmental and socioeconomic problems of development are being targeted for improvement. The program hires “the most marginalized from society” to clear wetlands of invasive plants in order to improve its natural filtration capabilities and, in turn, improves the quality of water feeding the burgeoning urban areas.
Although Working for Wetlands, now 17 years old, has been “hugely successful,” Bonnardeaux warns that such economic incentive programs are, more often than not, extremely difficult to carry out effectively. “While there is great potential for this incentive-based conservation approach,” Bonnardeaux notes, “the reality is there are many barriers to its effective implementation.”
Building Long-Term Support for Conservation With Near-Term PHE Successes
Building support for conservation can be a difficult task. The impacts of conservation programming are “often undervalued,” Bonnardeaux writes, in part because results tend to become apparent only over the longer term. By pairing conservation efforts with nearer-term programming, like PHE efforts targeting immediate health needs, development workers can foster the kind of local support that is essential for pursuing long term goals.
The Jane Goodall Institute’s Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education Project (TACARE), in northwest Tanzania, offers a case in point. Established in 1994, TACARE began as a conservation program meant to protect the areas around Gombe National Park, where Goodall first began her chimpanzee research in the 1960s. Local communities, however, were more interested in better health, “with an emphasis on clear water and reduction in water-borne diseases like cholera,” writes Bonnardeaux.
By adopting local health and poverty priorities, he writes, TACARE was able to establish trust and goodwill with the communities it served, which in turn enabled it to pursue longer-term conservation goals aimed at protecting the region’s natural biodiversity.
Bonnardeaux’s work shows that regardless of how policymakers choose to combine WASH and conservation goals, well-implemented integration can yield immense benefits for practitioners, funders, and local communities.
“Linking various sectors such as WASH, forestry, agriculture, population, and community development,” he writes, “can result in cost and effort sharing which in turn can increase the effectiveness of the project including improved conservation and improved livelihoods and health.”
Sources: Bonnardeaux 2012.
Photo Credit: “Intaka Island towards Table Mountain,” courtesy of flickr user Ian Junor.
›“We established [the Climate Change Security Program] as a methodology of exposing the defense community in the U.K. and Europe to some of the more nuanced security debates that are going on around climate change, environmental change, and resource shortages,” said Tobias Feakin, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI) in an interview with ECSP.
What they found when they first approached the U.K. defense establishment in 2006, was surprising. “They opened [that] door wide open and said, ‘actually, you know what, we’ve been looking at this, we’ve been concerned about this for a long time, and we’ve already started including it in our long-term planning and strategic thinking.’”
“One of the reasons that the defense community has been looking at this issue is that they have a longer-term vision, if you like, than other departments,” Feakin said. “They have to think about procurement decisions which are going to be stretching out…up to 30 years into the future, so there are bigger demands on them to be thinking about these kinds of strategic issues.”
Feakin co-authored International Dimensions of Climate Change, a 2011 report for the British government which highlights the security threats and challenges, both internal and external, that the U.K. will face as result of climate change.
While the defense community acknowledged the need to include climate change in their planning processes, members of the policymaking community expressed concern that they did not, “have enough detailed understanding of what this [climate change] is going to mean in a security paradigm,” said Feakin. To meet that need, RUSI has been conducting regional and country-based studies in order to determine how things might play out.
Dialogue on the issue has transcended Great Britain and is now taking place among member states of the European Union, although Feakin notes that, “there’s perhaps more hesitancy in terms of framing the debate in the security paradigm and perhaps a slight perception that it might be leading us down the wrong path when mitigation efforts should be at the top of the order of play.”
Despite these ongoing debates, Feakin believes that the security aspect of climate change helps to “make a comprehensive case that we have a situation that does have to be dealt with and there are going to be multiple players in that.” Efforts to address climate change will be civilian-led, but the defense community will play an important supporting role in the future, he said.
“It’s something we have to plan for and we will be part of the response.”
›Over the past year and a half, USAID has been busy reinventing itself. The announcement of its USAID FORWARD initiative and the release (jointly, with the State Department) of the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in late 2010 signaled significant changes for the organization, including several reforms designed to modernize operations and improve transparency. Part of that effort is making data collection and dissemination more open.
Thus far, the results have been encouraging.
September of last year saw the launch of an awareness campaign focused on the Horn of Africa, co-sponsored by the Ad Council and called, somewhat confusingly, USAID FWD (famine, war, drought). As part of the program, USAID published a collection of regional maps, aggregating the organization’s substantial data pool and showing everything from food and water security to the movement of refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons).
Using data from its own FEWS.NET site, USAID created the maps with open-source tools, allowing other organizations and concerned individuals to leverage the data for additional aid and outreach activities. Many, including the ONE Campaign and InterAction, were quick to incorporate the maps and underlying data into their own activities.
In order to promote greater data access and transparency, USAID also collaborated with the Department of State to create the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a website that provides sortable aid budget allocation data to the general public. Launched in late 2010 with frequent updates since, the site allows users to see easily how aid is apportioned by region, sector, initiative, or other categories.
For instance, visitors can see that USAID more than quadrupled its humanitarian assistance to Pakistan in 2010 as a result of that country’s devastating flooding. Aid then fell back to near 2009 levels the following year.
Recently, USAID has also taken its open data efforts to the Web. Faced with 117,000 records of development loans provided by its own Development Credit Authority and lacking proper geographic coding, the organization undertook a pioneering experiment in crowdsourcing this June. Civilian volunteers from the online technical communities GISCorps and the Standby Task Force pitched in to help code the data, as did unaffiliated citizens attracted by social media campaigns.
The end results were outstanding: the volunteers finished the job in just 16 hours, although USAID had initially expected the operation to take 60.
Representatives from USAID recently published an illuminating case study about the crowdsourcing experiment and launched it at the Wilson Center. “By leveraging partnerships, volunteers, other federal agencies, and the private sector, the entire project was completed at no cost,” the report noted, adding that USAID hoped to have “blaze[d] a trail to help make crowdsourcing a more accessible approach for others.” One of the case study authors, Shadrock Roberts, noted that “we need to be working as hard to release relevant data we already have as we are to create it.”
USAID’s recent experiments with transparency and greater civilian participation appear to be part of a larger organizational shift toward greater openness and collaboration. Administrator Rajiv Shah seemed to confirm this in a March interview with Foreign Policy, when he spoke at length about the benefits of partnering with the private sector as well as other NGOs.
The recently reported demise, or at least great diminishing, of President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), which closed its doors amid a heated turf battle between USAID, the State Department, and PEPFAR, lends credence to this theory as well. The official GHI blog stated last week that it would “shift focus from leadership within the U.S. Government to global leadership by the U.S. Government.” This appears to indicate greater future emphasis on collaboration, with an eye toward enabling non-USAID actors to play a greater role in the development process.
It remains to be seen how USAID’s role and strategy will change over the next few years. However, results from the organization’s initial attempts at open data and open government policies have been positive in many respects, and there is reason to hope they will continue to push the boundaries in these areas.
Sources: Center for Global Development, Foreign Assistance Dashboard, Foreign Policy, Global Health Initiative, USAID.
Image Credit: Foreign Assistance Dashboard.
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