On January 2, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit the mountainous country of Tajikistan. Seven thousand people were affected by this natural disaster. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 20 villages in the Vanj district in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region were badly damaged. Estimates suggest that more than 140 houses were destroyed and 950 were left partially damaged.

Urgent Need for a Change

Nancy Snauwaert, a humanitarian coordination officer in the office of the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Vanj reported that, “There is an urgent need for the total reconstruction of houses. Technical guidance is crucial as over 1,000 houses have been damaged and are in need of becoming earthquake resistant.”

Currently, buildings are being constructed using concrete reinforced with steel rebar. Unfortunately, 50 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day and rebar is financially out of the reach for many of the families residing in this earthquake-prone area.

Sustainable Housing Technology

Starting in 2008 Habitat for Humanity Tajikistan and the Tajik Institute of Seismology began to research alternate means of creating an inexpensive and sustainable house-reinforcing technology. The design created won them the FedEx Award for Innovations in Disaster Preparedness in 2013.

The design has been coined as “Sinj-technology.” Mulberry trees are cut down seasonally to harvest silk cocoons. The twigs of the tree have no other purpose and are free to use. Researchers tied mulberry branches into grids. These grids are then attached to a structural wood frame in mud walls. The grid is plastered with a mix of mud, straw and wool. This design effectively makes the walls able to resist lateral forces.

Preliminary Tests have proven that mulberry grids provide tensile strength equivalent to 80 percent of that of steel rebar. The first earthquake to test this new technology occurred in December of 2008 when the Rasht district was shaken by a 5.8 earthquake. Eighty homes in this region had been previously reinforced with Sinj-technology.

2009 Earthquake and its Effects

The next earthquake occurred in January 2009 when a 6.0 earthquake was felt in the Kumsangir district. Over one hundred homes were reinforced with Sinj-technology. A post-disaster survey found that none of the reinforced houses were damaged.

Another large advantage to this technology is that homes do not need to be rebuilt with the mulberry grids. The structures can be added to existing structures, saving homeowners as much as five times the expense of new construction. It is also 30 percent cheaper to use these materials than the standard techniques used in other seismically unstable regions.

Since receiving the FedEx Innovation Award, Habitat for Humanity Tajikistan has reinvested the money into proof of concept in an effort to create a new business strategy for Sinj-technology. Their intention is to pair this technology with local training of masons and construction workers. This would also effectively provide opportunities for affordable financing of home retrofits through microloans.

This comes as promising news for the 70% of people living in Tajikistan’s rural communities. The materials for earthquake disaster mitigation is easily accessible since it is produced by trees. The communities are now learning the trade in order to create a more sustainable future.

Frederick Wood II

Sources: Interaction, Habitat 1, Irin News, Habitat 2
Photo: Habitat for Humanity

committee on forestry
Forests are one of the world’s most crucial ecosystems, providing a large portion of the world’s population with energy, shelter and aspects of primary health care. However, despite the importance of forests to the development agenda, they are routinely ignored in national policies.

The vast socioeconomic benefits of forests and the need to protect them were discussed at the 22nd Session of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Forestry (COFO) this month.

The United Nations agency report The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) credits forests with the preservation of biodiversity and acknowledges their key role as carbon sinks. Forests are indispensable to environmental preservation, performing erosion control, pollution, natural pest and disease control and climate-change alleviation.

According to this report, the formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million in the informal sector.

Forests are especially important in less-developed regions, where roughly 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect wood fuel and charcoal for their own use. Wood fuel is oftentimes the sole source of energy for impoverished people. The SOFO report estimates that about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries cooks with wood fuel.

Additionally, the report reveals, “at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the worlds population, live in houses built of wood.” Wood homes are key for developing countries, because they are oftentimes the most affordable building option.

Although these figures give us a sense of the world’s use of forests, it does not begin to capture the significance of trees to the poor.

As the SOFO report insists, “Evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development – not only with respect to the environment but for their contribution social issues as well.”

FAO Assistance Director-General for Forests, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, suggests “countries should shift their focus, both in data collection and policymaking, from production to benefits, in other words, from trees to people.”

Rojas-Briales hopes that when more data is collected to confirm the importance of wood to the poor, policy makers, donors and investors will be more willing to protect forests.

In order to strengthen forest and farm producer organizations, FAO signed a four-year agreement with AgriCord to collaborate with the Forest and Farm Facility, and these forest protection issues will be discussed further at the joint World Health Organization global intergovernmental conference on nutrition, to be held in Rome in November 2014.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: UN News CentreFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: World Wild Life

Patagonia Dam Project
On June 10, 2014, Chile’s government rejected the HidroAysén plan for the creation of five dams across the Baker and Pascua rivers.

For eight years, developers have struggled to complete the Patagonia Dam project. Even after obtaining permits and approval for construction in 2011, opposition from environmentalists at home and abroad continued to hinder development.

Chile’s Council of Ministers chose to overturn the permits for the $8 million project after accepting 35 complaints against it.

Had the dam been completed, approximately 5,900 hectares (14580 acres) would be flooded. The consequences of flooding would have resulted in the relocation of 36 families, the habitat loss of numerous flora and fauna and of the endangered Southern Huemul deer and damage to the local tourism industry. Additionally, to power the dams, over 2,000 meters of transmission lines would need to be laid down, possibly encroaching over protected areas, indigenous community lands and private property.

Another concern was the future implications of the dam. Critics worried over the likely possibility of other projects that would follow considering the scope of the dam.

A large factor that contributed to the government’s decision to reject the proposal was the legal inconsistencies. After evaluation, the permit process was said to contain irregularities and possible charges of misconduct. Many components of the environmental impact assessment were incorrect or failed to fully assess the impact of the dam.

However, the most important factor that led to the rejection of the plan was the civil opposition toward the dam, said Monti Aguirre of NGO International Rivers.

Now that the dam project has been rejected, the question of energy remains. The dam would have met one-third of Chile’s current energy needs. In addition, Chile will need to triple its current 18,000 mega-watt power generation within 15 years. A point of criticism brought up by environmentalists is that most of Chile’s energy costs are required for copper mines, not consumers.

To compensate for the energy the dam would have provided, Chile intends to add new terminals to receive liquid natural gas and invest in energy efficiency and renewable sources. They hope to cut the expected energy consumption of 2025 by 20 percent while also producing 20 percent of the country’s electricity with renewable sources by 2025.

These renewable sources would take advantage of the numerous geographical distinctions that can be found in Chile. Ranging from solar panels in the Atacama Desert to geothermal plants around the many active volcanoes, Chile has a number of possibilities to further expand its renewable energy output.

The rejection of the Patagonia Dam project was a victory for many Chileans. The government’s dismissal of the project demonstrates a conscious awareness and consideration toward its people and their concerns.

— William Ying

Sources: DW, National Geographic 1, National Geographic 2, The Guardian
Photo: peakwater.org

indoor air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people lose their lives every year due to indoor air pollution. A report from the U.N. Climate Panel has further stated that the “worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors” – between 30 and 150 times more people die from indoor air pollution than from global warming.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook food and heat their homes using solid fuels – such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes – on open fires or traditional stoves. These inefficient cooking and heating practices contribute to a dangerously high level of indoor air pollution, including fine particles and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated homes, the amount of smoke produced can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles by 100-fold.

Since indoor air pollution is mostly attributed to activities in the kitchen, women and young children who “spend the most time near the domestic hearth” are especially exposed to the health dangers – acute and chronic respiratory conditions (like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,) lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Other risks include adverse pregnancy complications, tuberculosis, low birthweight, perinatal mortality, asthma, middle ear infections and cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract and cervix. These negative health effects are only exacerbated in developing countries.

The cooking and heating practices that are responsible for indoor air pollution are indirectly linked to other health hazards as well. Poorly lit homes and kitchens may contribute to deaths, lifelong disabilities and disfigurement from fire-related burns (which are common when using solid fuel and kerosene stoves.) In low and middle-income countries, kerosene is widely used and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, causing many young children to be poisoned from unintentional ingestion.

Indoor air pollution has adverse environmental effects as well. The reliance on wood fuel can heighten deforestation and put “considerable pressure on forests,” leading to forest degradation and a loss of habitat and biodiversity. Additionally, using biomass and coal stoves is inefficient, and a large percentage of energy is lost as products of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion produces pollutants like black carbon and methane, both of which have a significant impact on climate change.

In addition to creating indoor air pollution, traditional biomass fuels and appliances limit the time available for families to concentrate on generating income and educating their children, contributing to a “vicious cycle of poverty and reliance on polluting.” For instance, those who rely on inefficient fuels may spend a large portion of the day on fuel collection, and homes with limited access to a clean and reliable source of lighting would not be able to pursue economic and educational opportunities outside of daylight hours.

To reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, solid fuels should be replaced by cleaner and more efficient fuels: liquid petroleum gas, biogas, producer gas, electricity and solar power. However, biomass is still the most realistic fuel source for poor communities due to the scarcity of alternative fuels. In those areas, indoor air pollution could be downsized through improved stoves and ventilation.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Eco-Business, Forbes, WHO
Photo: WordPress

Economists, public officials and humanitarian leaders across the globe are all echoing a new stance on foreign aid: treat it like an investment.

Sure, many areas of the world still require immediate relief in the form of solid goods, but what these communities absolutely require is the stability and means to sustain themselves long-term. In order to break the cycle of poverty, impoverished people need a new cycle altogether characterized by improved economic infrastructure and stability.

The best aspect of the investment approach is that it promises profit. Business executives are now realizing the untapped workforce potential of the world’s destitute. By developing interest in these areas from an economic standpoint, companies are not only opening up access to the world market, but they are seeing positive returns as well.

Companies like Samasource, a Silicon Valley-based startup, have illustrated success in the private sector. Samasource’s model involves big data projects that they break down into manageable tasks for their overseas workers. American tech giants such as Google and LinkedIn benefit from the work and finance of the paychecks of their outsourced employees. As a result, Samasource is profitable and growing while people in rural areas have new access to the technological world market.

Now, imagine taking the approach a step further and funding industries that directly address the critical issues impoverished people face, such as global health investments. Could financing ventures that treat HIV, malaria and infant mortality help those in need and actually boost the economy? More and more people are answering this question with a solid “yes.”

The solution won’t be so simple, however. Devex editor Rolf Rozenkranz recently sat down with Annie Baston who is the chief strategy officer at PATH, an international nonprofit that specializes in long-term solutions to break cycles of poverty. Baston explained the common challenges faced when determining a “best buy” for global health investment. Multiple factors come into play involving technological solutions and systemic reform. These elements need to be carefully orchestrated and illustrated to investors to generate interest and maintain longevity.

In fact, organizations such as The Lancet and their team of researchers have laid out a complex global health investment plan, titled “Global Investment Framework for Women and Children’s Health,” that will secure high health, social and economic returns. Through simulation modeling, The Lancet has found that “increasing health expenditure by just $5 per person per year up to 2035 in 74 high-burden countries could yield up to nine times that value in economic and social benefits.” Their models, published late last year, approach maternal and newborn health, children’s health, malaria, HIV/AIDS, family planning and immunization.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DEVEX(1), DEVEX(2), The Lancet, Samasource
Photo: University of Delaware

In IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Dr. Jeanette Garcia accidentally created a new class of thermosetting plastic.

This new plastic is lightweight, stronger than bone, completely recyclable and self-healing.

While working in the lab, Garcia discovered that a solution in a flask hardened. After many attempts to break it and once her stirring bar got stuck, she found that it was both incredibly strong and stable.

After her accidental discovery, Garcia worked with IBM’s computational chemistry team to replicate the discovery and learn more about the plastic.

The new thermosetting polymer, called polyhexahydrotriazine (PHT,) is formed from a reaction of paraformaldehyde and 4,4-oxydianiline (ODA,) which are both used in current polymer production. This means that the production of PHT could be easily achieved through a simple adaptation of current processes.

It is the first thermosetting plastic that can be recycled. Typically, thermosetting plastic begins by being shaped and then cured (baked.) Once the plastic is cured, it can no longer be altered or recycled. After its life, thermosetting plastic is always thrown out. However, this new plastic can be reverted back to its base state with the use of sulfuric acid.

Thermosetting plastic is used for a variety of purposes including automobiles and aircraft due to its resilient but lightweight qualities. The polymers are usually mixed with carbon fibers to form composites.

Dr. James Hedrick, in charge of research at IBM, is excited by the prospective directions the plastic could take.

For the large and expensive aircraft materials alone, the ability to recycle and reuse would save a great deal of money and reduce waste.

“We’re at the discovery phase,” Hedrick said. “There are many new applications for the plastic with potential industries such as aerospace, transportation, electronics, cosmetics and architecture/construction. Almost every industry has the potential to be impacted by this discovery.”

“Every time you discover a new polymer-forming reaction, it leads to all sorts of new materials,” he said. “Applications are running like water.”

While adapting the process, the researchers also discovered flexible, self-healing gels that could be used for the production of drug capsules in particular, due to its solubility properties.

Although this new discovery does not directly affect poverty, the simple reduction of plastic waste would greatly help the environment and the economy and, in turn, poverty. The contamination of the oceans and sea life from plastic can begin to be reduced. Numerous industries would benefit economically and create more jobs, which would help reduce poverty around the world.

– William Ying

Sources: BBC, Wired, Extreme Tech, Gizmodo
Photo: Altairenlighten.com

Althelia Climate Fund

On May 28, 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced their financial support for the Althelia Climate Fund.

The Althelia Climate Fund is an organization that works to curb deforestation and unsustainable land use because they believe that “natural capital—our ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources—is fundamental to the well-being and sustainable development of our societies.”

USAID has agreed to lend $133.8 million to the Althelia Climate Fund that will provide commercial loans to thousands of forest-based businesses whose livelihoods depend on the sustainable management of land use. This large sum is the first private sector fund of this scale allocated to forest conservation.

Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for nearly one fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions and has an immense impact on all of the world’s citizens.

“Over 1.5 billion people rely on forests to meet their day-to-day needs, and the majority of these are poor rural communities, including some 60 million indigenous people,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah stated. “By creating incentives to better manage these forests, we provide a pathway out of extreme poverty for families who depend on forests while helping preserve critical ecosystems.”

The deterioration of ecosystems hurts everyone, in both developing and developed countries. Althelia estimates that the “annual value of services provided by nature is in the trillions of dollars.”

The financial support from USAID will make it possible to give commercial loans to ecotourism and agroforestry businesses that will enable them to expand their operations. The funds will also protect 20 rainforests and help reduce an estimate of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, or the equivalent of taking 18.5 million cars off the road for one full year.

“This guarantee provided by USAID allows private capital to flow at scale toward financing sustainable land use models that drive livelihood improvements, ecosystem conservation and climate change mitigation,” said the Managing Partner from Althelia Climate Fund, Christian del Valle.

USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) works to mobilize financing locally in developing countries. Through the DCA, credit guarantees reduce risk for private lenders and provide incentive for them to include underserved borrowers in new sectors and regions.

DCA covers up to 50 percent of the risk in lending toward programs that work to achieve USAID’s development objectives. The USAID guarantees cumulative default rate is only 1.85 percent, which means entrepreneurs and businesses in developing countries are being funded at little cost and risk to U.S. taxpayers. Already $3.1 billion dollars has been mobilized to finance private local finds.

As businesses around the world increase their profits, not only is the standard of living increased, but an added bonus is the expansion of the world’s middle class. This expansion in turn results in an increase of U.S exports, of which already 45 percent go to developing countries.

In a video message to the Carbon Expo in Germany from Washington DC on May 28, 2014 when USAID announced its financial support, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that, “If we act now, we can not only save our forests, we can create jobs and economic growth, we can clean up our air, we can improve our health, we can create greater security… and we can live up to a fundamental responsibility that we all share: leaving future generations with a planet that is clean, healthy and sustainable.”

– Kim Tierney

Sources: Althelia Ecosphere, UNEP, USAID, Youtube
Photo: Pinterest

A port owned by a mining company in northeast Brazil is helping the local economy but polluting the region.

The Ponta da Madeira terminal was established in 1986 by Vale for the shipment of iron ore while simultaneously guaranteeing job stability for young people in Itaqui-Bacanga, an impoverished location in Brazil.

“Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajas, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made vale the world leader in iron ore production,” said Global Issues. “The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.”

However, George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB), said Vale and other companies located around the area brought the wrong type of development into the region.

“We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” said Pereira. He believes that sanitation and education developments are more important for the community.

According to the article, ACIB was ironically created by Vale a decade ago to clean up the Itaqui-Bacanga area. However, Vale’s own creation is being awfully easy on the corporation.

On the other hand, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) calls Vale the worst corporation in the world today.

The organization claims that the mining company is also among the largest producers of raw materials and has reported a profit of $17 billion in 2010.

But a FoEI study also found that Vale failed to help keep the environment clean.

“Despite setting out in 2008 its intention to cut its carbon dioxide emissions, Vale emitted – according to tis own figures – 20 million tons of CO2 in 2010, an increase of a third on 2007 levels (15 million tons),” said FoEI.

Moreover, FoEI also said that Vale has representatives both in the Brazilian government and the UN delegation who work hard to promote policies that “undermine global action on the climate crisis”.

Although Vale was able to create jobs for the impoverished in Itaqui-Bacanga, the company is actually causing more damage to the earth in the long run.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Global Issues, Friends of the Earth International
Photo: Panoramio

A common misconception is that protecting the environment exacerbates poverty in poor nations because it prevents agricultural development and the ability to harvest natural resources. This is far from the truth. In fact, environmental protection initiatives actually help alleviate poverty.

A study done in Costa Rica reveals that ecotourism efforts contribute to decreased poverty levels in regions situated near protected parks and natural areas. Thanks to the economic opportunities provided by the ecotourism sector, these regions have seen nearly 66% reduction in poverty. Paul Ferraro, professor of economics and environmental policy at Georgia State University, finds three triggering factors that show a direct correlation between poverty reduction and environmental conservation.

Triggers of Poverty Reduction Linked to Environmental Protection

  1. Changes in tourism and recreational activities
  2. Infrastructural changes (e.g. roads, health clinics and schools)
  3. Changes in ecosystem services (e.g. crop pollination and nutrient cycles)

A similar study was done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on protected areas of Thailand and Costa Rica established 15 years ago. The study concluded, “the net impact of ecosystem protection was to alleviate poverty.” Communities around protected areas in Costa Rica experienced a 10% decrease in poverty, while the communities in Thailand saw almost a 30% reduction. As in the previous study, PNAS finds that tourism revenue and job opportunities directly contributed to reduced levels in poverty.

Protecting biodiversity is critical for 75% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and depend on sustenance farming and fishing for survival. Disappearing or declining species in an ecosystem directly impacts people’s ability to provide food for their families. Local villagers in the Sierra Leone region of West Africa, for example, experienced direct effects of biodiversity loss as a result of overfishing and pollution. As fishing makes up their main source of food, the coastal community struggled to sustain their protein-rich diet with the loss of diversity in fish stocks. The World Bank helped restore the marine ecosystem by improving fishing regulations and introducing sustainable fishing techniques in the area.

The World Bank invests over $1 billion in nature and wildlife protection, and an additional $300 million in environmental and natural resource law enforcement. Moreover, investments in biodiversity help create jobs and raise incomes around the world. The Bank has already helped boost income levels in communities within rural regions of South Africa, Kenya and Honduras. The long-term impacts of these investments contribute simultaneously to two of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals:

Eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

The protection of natural ecosystems from environmental degradation, such as pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss, ensures the safety and stability of local impoverished communities that rely on those precious natural resources for survival. Environmental protection has proven to be a key factor in poverty reduction around the world, and it is critical that international organizations, like the World Bank, continue to support global initiatives in hopes of making the UN Millennium Development Goals a reality.

– Gloria Kostadinova

Sources: Nature World News, National Geographic, Triple Pundit, World Bank, United Nations
Photo: Maag-Uma