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In Photos: Clean Water Initiative Makes Strides in Uganda

Water filter project improving health, supporting women’s leadership, and safeguarding environment

Photos by Joel Lukhovi | Survival Media Agency

Most people in the district of Gomba, Uganda, don’t have access to clean water. About 50 kids under 5 years old die every month from diarrhea and typhoid, both of which are connected to consumption of contaminated water. The women of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative — a partner of Earth Island Institute's Global Women's Water Initiative — recognized that there was a big public health problem, and decided to tackle it.

photo of biosand filtersPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Najjuma Mary and Annette Nakamya pour water into a biosand filter, which is filled with differently textured layers of sand and stones that strain harmful bacteria out of the water. Thanks to the initial project, more than 45 women have learned how to construct the filters in their own households.

In June 2014, the group used a $2,500 grant from Global Greengrants Fund to build 12 biosand water filters in two Gomba elementary and secondary schools to purify kids’ drinking water. Ten mothers and grandmothers participated in building the filters, which effectively remove bacteria by percolating water through various layers of sand and gravel. Although none had ever held a shovel, each was willing to break traditional stereotypes about the type of work done by women and activate for change.

Fast forward to today: The 12 water filters have been installed, and the women say their kids no longer suffer from diarrhea. School absenteeism has dropped by nearly two-thirds now that children aren’t getting sick as frequently, and the women report saving money they used to spend on hospital visits to pay school fees and feed their kids a balanced diet. 

Today almost 800 children have access to clean water; 45 women have been trained on how to build biosand filters in their schools and homes. And Betty Birungi, one of the women who participated in the project, was elected to local government, where she continues to advocate for clean water.

Godliver Busingi of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative also notes the project’s environmental benefits: “Gomba does not have forests, but the trees we do have get cut for firewood and charcoal. Using firewood every day to boil water for a school with 260 pupils is not sustainable at all. The schools are a big consumer of firewood, and so having the biosand filters helps us keep our trees. If we preserve the trees, our environment wins."

To learn more about the …more

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Majority of US Public Against Drilling in ANWR

Oil experts think economics are “suspect”

Republicans may be celebrating their great tax rip off they sneaked through last Friday night, which included the hugely disputed proposal of drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but opening up America’s last true wilderness to oil exploitation is still far from certain.

Caribou in ANWRPhoto by USFWSCaribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop.

Firstly, drilling in ANWR is deeply unpopular with the American public; secondly, it still has to get past the House, where some Republicans are opposed to opening up ANWR; thirdly, even oil industry consultants think drilling now is not economically sensible and fourthly any development will be fought tooth and nail in the courts.

All this means that any drilling is not going to happen any time soon. It is worth remembering that pro-drilling Republicans have tried over fifty times to drill in ANWR already and they have failed.

Firstly, the American public are vehemently against the idea

Yesterday, Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication released a new survey that found that 70 percent of voters oppose drilling in the refuge. Those strongly opposed outnumber those who strongly support the policy by more than 4 to 1. Despite the gleeful scenes late on Friday night by the Republican leadership, a mere 18% of Republican voters “strongly support” the policy.

Secondly, the first hurdle any bill would have to overcome would be the House

Before the Senate vote, 12 Congressional Republicans sent a letter to the leaders of both houses of Congress, objecting the provision which would allow ANWR.

They wrote, in part: “Since the Refuge was originally set aside for the protection in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike have stood together to protect this unparalleled landscape.”

They continued: “For decades, Congress has voted to prohibit oil and gas development in the refuge, with the overwhelming support of the American public. Support for this protection remains strong today. After years of debate, the Arctic refuge stands as a symbol of our nation’s strong and enduring natural legacy.”

If Congress opened up the area to drilling, they warn, “the likelihood that lawsuits would accompany any development is high.”

Since the vote, some Republicans have gone public. Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is one of those who signed the letter and who is co-founder of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bi-partisan group working to address climate change.

His spokesperson, …more

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European Parliament Takes a Stand on Indigenous Rights in Latin America

New group could help put pressure on Brazilian government to protect rights of Indigenous Peoples

Tribal chief Marcos Verón grew up in flourishing rainforest in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul region. His would be one of the last generations of Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá peoples to practice their cultural, spiritual, and subsistence lifeways in the resource- and species- rich Amazonian forest that had shaped them. Their thousands-of-years-old culture abruptly collapsed in 1953, wiped out by a rich Brazilian who bulldozed their homelands and cast their people out to make way for a vast cattle ranch.

photo of Guarani-Kaiowá protestPhoto courtesy of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council) The Guarani-Kaiowá gather in protest of an attack in Caarapó, Brazil in 2016.

The Guarani-Kaiowá now struggle to survive on the fringes of a society that scorns them. Their homes are plastic tarps that line the side of a highway. They are plagued with malnutrition. At least 53 of their children have starved to death in the last dozen years. Their suicide rate, 232 per 100,000 people, is the highest in the world, according to a 2014 study. Most victims are between 15 and 30 years old. One Guarani man told Survival International, “There’s no future, there’s no respect, there are no jobs, and there is no land where we can plant and live. They choose to die because actually, they are already dead inside.”

Verón gave his life trying to help his Guarani-Kaiowá peoples — he was allegedly beaten to death by employees of the rancher in 2003, though three men were acquitted of homicide in the case in 2011. His was one of the first deaths — it’s estimated that roughly 400 Guarani-Kaiowá have been murdered for peacefully protesting and trying to reclaim their ancestral land.

It’s a situation that’s worsened with the election of Brazilian President Michel Temer, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said. Last year, she issued a statement censuring the Brazilian government for its treatment of the Guarani-Kaiowá, and Indigenous Peoples throughout Brazil.

More recently, the European Parliament (EP) has also taken an active role in standing up for rights of Indigenous Peoples. Earlier this month they launched the ‘EP Friendship Group for Indigenous Peoples of Latin America.’ Their action follows a fact-finding mission to Brazil last year organized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), political groups, and high-level officials.

The mission was confronted with heart-breaking stories of murders and disappearances of Indigenous leaders, and the extreme …more

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Transforming Trash into Treasure

Brazilian institute helps chefs fuel their kitchens with their own trash

In 2010, journalist Fernanda Danelon was working at a publishing company and was involved in awarding people who were transforming their realities. At the time, she had the chance to meet Ana Maria Primavesi, an award-winning Austrian agronomist, based in Brazil. Her meeting with the academic, the head of important publications on the health of the soil and organic agriculture, inspired big changes in Danelon’s personal and professional life. “Some ideas were already germinating in my mind, like economist Ladislaw Dowbor’s thinking about the transition from a consumer society to a society of knowledge. After that meeting with Primavesi, I realized there is a relationship between trash and food production in the big cities, and it is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” she says.

photo of compostPhoto courtesy of Instituto GuanduA bed of herbs grows on composted soil.

Resolved to change the course of her life, Danelon left her work at the publishing company and went on to seek new ways of deepening her knowledge about food production, networking with the group Hortelões Urbanos (Urban Gardeners), which today is made up of more than 60,000 members (at the time there were only 500) and which was the source of inspiration for new business models — that were fairer, more proactive, and sustainable. But the real turning point would come in 2013: São Paulo was undergoing radical changes coming from public groups demanding Zero Fare public transport and a redefinition of urban space, and demonstrations and police violence dominated the streets and news headlines. “In October, I launched the Guandu Institute,” she recalls.

Reusing resources

Based on the concept “From Plate to Plate,” the Institute offers environmental solutions for large restaurants and seeks to inspire restoring the planet’s health. How? By composting organic trash, food preparation excess, and leftovers, which go to landfills. Composting doesn’t only help to diminish the volume in landfills — which are high pollutants of soil and ground waters and a contributor to global warming due to the enormous quantity of methane gas emitted into the atmosphere — but it also produces fertilizer, such a fundamental resource for food production. Transformed into agricultural material thanks to the precious work of worms, the fertilizer completes the cycle that leaves the plate as excess and returns to the plate as food, which Danelon supplies to her clients in little jars of thyme, parsley, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes, among a dozen other ingredients she cultivates herself at the garden …more

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Historic Sites on US East Coast Threatened by Sea Level Rise

By the end of the century the White House, early colonial settlements and other historic places could be inundated

Large tracts of America’s east coast heritage are at risk from being wiped out by sea level rise, with the rising oceans set to threaten more than 13,000 archaeological and historic sites, according to new research.

Lincoln MemorialPhoto by Michael Ciarleglio Researchers found that sea level rise could force the relocation of the White House and Lincoln Memorial (pictured above) in Washington DC and inundation of historic touchstones such as the Kennedy Space Center and St Augustine, Florida, which lays claim to being the oldest city in the US.

Even a modest increase in sea level will imperil much of the south-eastern US’s heritage by the end of the century, researchers found, with 13,000 sites threatened by a 1m increase.

Thousands more areas will be threatened as the seas continue to climb in the years beyond this, forcing the potential relocation of the White House and Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and inundation of historic touchstones such as the Kennedy Space Center and St Augustine, Florida, which lays claim to being the oldest city in the US.

“There are going to be a lot of cultural sites lost and the record of humanity’s history will be put at risk,” said David Anderson, a University of Tennessee anthropologist who led the published research.

“Some sites will be destroyed, some buried in marshes. We may be able to relocate some. In some places it will be devastating. We need to properly understand the magnitude of this.”

Threatened areas, including locations on the national register of historic places, include Native American sites that date back more than 10,000 years, as well as early colonial settlements such as Jamestown, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. Researchers pinpointed known sites using topographical data and analyzed how they would fare in various sea level rise scenarios.

Florida, which has a southern portion particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, has the most sites in danger from a 1m raising of the oceans, followed by Louisiana and Virginia.

A 1m sea level rise by 2100 could prove optimistic, with several studies showing the increase could be much greater. Scientists have warned that the break up of the Antarctic ice sheet could significantly fuel sea level rise, pushing the global increase to around 6ft by 2100.

The latest US government estimate predicts a worldwide increase of 1ft to 4ft by 2100, although an 8ft rise “cannot be ruled out”.

The eastern seaboard …more

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There’s Never a Dull Moment for Vancouver Airport Falconer

A conversation with Falconer Kristine Kirkby

Kristine Kirkby is a falconer. But she doesn’t use raptors to hunt, as is typical with falconry— the ancient practice of hunting wild game using a trained bird of prey. She works with them to scare other birds away from Vancouver International Airport for the airport’s wildlife management program.

Falconer Kristine KirkbyPhoto by Emily FlemingKirkby is part of a team of falconers who use trained, captive-bred raptors to help prevent wildlife collisions with aircraft at Vancouver International Airport.

Kirkby is a part of a highly trained team of humans and raptors that keep the runways and airspace safe by chasing away the many geese, ducks, and other birds that like to congregate at the airport. Airplanes collide with birds on a regular basis. The US Federal Aviation Association reports that there were nearly 180,000 bird strikes in the US with civil aircrafts between 1990 and 2015. The strikes are generally fatal to the birds involved and can cause damage to aircraft, even leading to crashes such as the 2009 US Airways Flight 1549 that resulted in an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in New York City.

Kirkby and her team are applying falconry in an innovative way to prevent such strikes. By using falconry, they are keeping the runways safe with environmentally minded methods and fostering a dialogue of non-lethal wildlife management at airports in Canada and the United States. I spoke with Kirkby recently about how a practice that originated in Mongolia and dates back to 4,000 to 6,000 BC is being applied in the field of wildlife conservation, and about the moral challenge of working with captive animals.

How did you come to be a falconer? What does it mean to you professionally and personally?

When I was three, Golden eagles became my favorite animal. From watching The Rescuers Down Under, a cartoon where a little boy rides on the back on a Golden eagle, I thought that you could ride them. A couple of years later I saw Golden eagles at the Ontario zoo for the first time and thought, “I cannot ride that bird.” I was a little let down but they were still my favorite. During the same trip, I was five, I was picked out of the audience to have an owl to fly to my glove.

In Ontario, my university had a raptor center. They had some un-releasable birds that needed care, so I volunteered there throughout university. It kind of snowballed …more

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EPA Holding Only Public Hearing on Clean Power Plan Repeal in Heart of Coal Country

Coal miners and environmental advocates will face off over landmark climate regulation

Sarting Tuesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold its only public hearing on the proposal to dismantle the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in the coal-producing state of West Virginia. 

photo of coal mine in west virginiaphoto by Delta Whiskey, FlickrA mountain-top removal coal mine in West Virginia. The CPP, which hasn't taken effect, limits carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“The EPA is headed to the heart of coal country to hear from those most impacted by the CPP and get their comments on the proposed Repeal Rule," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said this month about the hearing.

In comparison, former President Obama's EPA held eleven public listening sessions before it proposed the CPP in addition to four hearings during the public comment period, Reuters observed. 

Former Obama EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia Gannon told Reuters that Pruitt is "just checking a box ... and making it more difficult for Americans across the country to weigh in."

But the EPA has criticized the Obama administration for avoiding a hearing in West Virginia and denying coal workers a chance to testify.

The Clean Power Plan, Obama's signature climate strategy, limits carbon emissions from coal-fired plants. The CPP never took effect due to extensive legislation from states opposed to it.

President Donald Trump and Administrator Pruitt have called the CPP a "war on coal" and vow to bring back coal jobs. But experts say that coal's return is unlikely as demand has dropped steadily due to cheap natural gas, new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency initiatives, and other market forces.

Coal miners, lobbyists, environmentalists, and others will offer testimonies over the two-day meeting in Charleston. Coal stakeholders will argue that the CPP increases costs to utilities and will result in loss of mining jobs.

"This is the first time in history, I think, that I'll testify in favor of something [the] EPA is doing," Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Maybe we're going to have a chance to sit down and talk about preserving our jobs and our communities and our people."

In contrast, proponents will argue how the CPP will avert dangerous climate change and how enacting the plan will save billions of dollars due to the public health benefits of slashing polluting emissions.

Dr. Jeremy Richardson, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists will testify. In prepared remarks, he'll argue: "It is the job of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health and the environment. It is …more

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