Information and stories about environment.

How Air Pollution Affects Poverty in EuropeAir pollution is disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of people living in poverty, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The report titled “Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe,” calls for improving air quality in Europe by decreasing emissions and adding green spaces. Many consider air pollution to be an environmental issue or a global health concern that affects us all equally. However, the report makes the case that impoverished communities face a higher burden of air pollution and other environmental stressors.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

The Borgen Project held an interview with Catherine Ganzleben, head of the air pollution and environmental health groups at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She said, “Pollution hits poorer communities harder than affluent communities because of lack of access to medical care and exposure to the byproducts of climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to worsen so does air pollution and extreme weather, disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. “In large parts of Europe, [vulnerable communities] are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas,” Ganzleben said. “[They] face higher levels of exposure to air pollution.”

Even when both affluent and impoverished people experience the same exposure, air pollution affects the health of the impoverished more. Ganzlebe continued, “People living in lower-income regions [were found] to be more susceptible to the health effects of [pollutants] than wealthier people living in polluted areas.” Additionally, families with lower socio-economic status face more significant negative effects of pollution. Several factors could contribute to the disproportionate effects of air pollution. These include access to healthcare, underlying conditions and poor housing situations.

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

Traffic and industrial pollution are two of the main factors contributing to air pollution in Europe. But, in some countries, like Poland, the largest contributor to air pollution is burning coal to heat single-family households.

Poland is infamous for having one of the worst levels of air pollution in the European Union, according to K. Max Zhang in his interview with The Borgen Project. Zhang is a professor of energy and the environment at Cornell University. Poland still generates electricity and heat using coal, one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Poland’s reliance on coal can mainly be attributed to its abundance of old, single-family houses built in the 1970s. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Magdalena Kozlowska claimed that these homes remain unrenovated. She is the project coordinator of Polish Smog Alert. She also added that the most impoverished populations in Poland are less able to update their energy sources.

Polish Smog Alert is an organization that is committed to cleaning Poland’s air and meeting the European air quality standards through advocacy and mobilization. It also works to inform the public and help people make their houses more energy-efficient, Kozłowska said. The organization formed in 2013 when they started working to ban the burning of solid fuels in Krakow.

This ban on burning solid fuels came to fruition in 2019, when Polish Smog Alert worked with local and national governments to enact “changes in the national law [and the] city had to cooperate and offer money to exchange the boilers and help people experiencing poverty to pay the difference in bills,” Kozlowska continued. “And still, the city is doing that.”

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

The attention to air quality around the world has been increasing in recent years. However, the EEA wants to see more policy changes and tangible action from the European government, Ganzleben said. These policies should also not have the sole aim of protecting the environment. In addition to environmental efforts, these policies should protect communities that are feeling the brunt of climate change’s effects. “Policies to deliver high environmental quality should be aimed at preventing and reducing the unequal distribution of environmental health risks, ensuring fair access to environmental resources and enabling sustainable choices,” said Ganzleben.

The report also explains the benefits of green spaces, even within polluted city environments. Green spaces, like parks and lakes, can benefit people’s well-being. “Mental and physical [health] are linked,” said Michael Brauer, professor of environmental health at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Reports like this one from the EEA, Brauer said, are a result of a growing urgency related to air pollution. In recent years, there has been much more attention globally to the issue, “[As a] response to increasing awareness of air pollution and the problem,” Brauer continued. “There is really no evidence of a safe level of air pollution.”

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

There need to be policy changes that address the socio-economic effects of climate change. This will alleviate the burden of air pollution on those living in poverty. “At the local level, integrating environmental health concerns into welfare policies, health policies and urban planning and housing policies can help to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of the population,” the report read. “Air pollution not only hurts the environment, but it also exacerbates poverty, and worsens the living conditions for the poor.” While humanitarian organizations like the Polish Smog Alert are working to alleviate pollution in Europe, there is still much to be done to eradicate air pollution and help those disproportionately experiencing the consequences of climate change.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr 

poverty in guatemalaThe Central American country of Guatemala, home to more than 17 million people, has an indigenous population of around 44%, primarily from the Maya ethnic group. Poverty in Guatemala tends to affect the indigenous population disproportionately. USAID estimates that 40% of indigenous people survive on less than $1.90 per day, compared to 24% of the overall population. While social and environmental problems disproportionately threaten indigenous communities, water sources are perhaps the most vitally important area under threat. Guatemala’s second-largest lake, Atitlán, sustains 15 villages. However, for many years, Lake Atitlán’s watershed has been in danger. In 2009, the Global Nature Fund named it “Threatened Lake of the Year” due to a sharp increase in pollution. Thankfully, recent advances in artificial intelligence may be able to help bring Central America’s deepest lake back from the brink. In doing so, they would also help reduce indigenous poverty in Guatemala.

Toxic Algae in Lake Atitlán

Toxic algae “blooms” have become relatively frequent in the Lake Atitlán watershed in the past decade. In 2009, Atitlán residents noticed that algal blooms had appeared in the lake. At one point it caused a shocking carpet of algae to appear over 75% of the lake’s surface.

According to the WASH Rotary Action Group, a nonprofit organization that helps indigenous lake communities access clean water and sanitation, more than 400,000 Tz’utujil, Quiche, and Kaqchikel Maya people live near Lake Atitlán. Despite the contaminants they face, they use the lake out of necessity. The algae blooms are caused by the presence of pollutants like phosphorus and E.coli from agricultural runoff and sewage. It changes the water to a green, brown or red color. More importantly, they can cause serious health problems. Fishermen and boatmen who work on the lake have reported skin rashes, while more serious long-term side effects of the bacteria include liver, kidney and brain disease. The indigenous community, whose people work overwhelmingly in the informal sector, may not be able to address these illnesses. They suffer from limited access to health care compared to non-indigenous people, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

How AI Can Save Lake Atitlán

In 2018, Africa Flores, a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was chosen to receive the prestigious AI for Earth Grant, sponsored by Microsoft and National Geographic. This grant awards its “changemakers” $45,000 to $200,000 to help fund their pursuit of AI solutions for the environment. Prior to winning this award, Flores had been working for nearly 10 years to help environmental authorities and NGOs save Lake Atitlán. Flores’ latest endeavor will complement these efforts by developing an AI program to allow for better prediction of toxic algae.

Although artificial intelligence that predicts toxic blooms already exists, is is not available in Guatemala, according to Flores. Although the naked eye can detect algae blooms, AI makes it simpler to understand crucial data about these ecological events. Similar technology in the U.S. provides local authorities with an advanced warning about imminent events, which allows them to pinpoint when and where blooms will occur. This helps prevent contamination of the food supply and allows scientists to learn more about how to prevent harmful algae from forming in the first place. Speaking of efforts to save Lake Atitlán, Flores said, “When we identify key variables that [lead] to algae bloom formation, there is a starting point to take action.”

A Team Effort

Other nonprofit organizations, like Amigos de Atitlán and Vivamos Mejor, have been working to save Lake Atitlán for decades. La Autoridad para el Manejo Sustentable de la Cuenca del Lago de Atitlán y su Entorno (AMSCLAE) is a governmental organization responsible for lake conservation efforts. They provided Flores’ team with valuable data. This new AI project will complement governmental and NGO efforts to help the lake and its communities survive and thrive. Widespread adherence to government plans to implement wastewater treatment is necessary to preserve the watershed. These plans will also stop it from further contributing to poverty in Guatemala.

Hope for the Future

Though the AI application and its informational website are still in development, Flores said that she and her team are working hard to develop accurate prediction models that are accessible to the public. And while many see Lake Atitlán as a lost cause, it is also a well-loved jewel of southeast Guatemala. In 2012, Dr. Sativo, M.C.H.e. and Tzutu Baktun Kan wrote a song called “Lago Negro” (“Black Lake”), written in Spanish and the Maya language Tz’utujiln. The song laments Atitlán’s compromised biodiversity, but also praises the region’s beauty. It also encourages more accountability for organizations guilty of pollution. The song, like Flores, is ultimately optimistic that the lake can recover. It ends with the mantra “Ya se va a sanar”: It will be healed.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

The Correlation Between Environmental Instability and Poverty in India Environmental instability in India is a nuanced and multifaceted issue in terms of multiple causes and effects that hinder the search for a solution. India has the second-highest population in the world, second only to China. This makes India particularly susceptible to poverty because there are not enough resources to sufficiently aid each citizen. In fact, roughly 68.8% of India’s population survives on under $2 per day. Notably, women and children are disproportionately affected by this poverty.

Increasing Temperatures Affecting Agriculture

Unfortunately, India also suffers from environmental instability. Poverty and the state of the environment are very closely linked. Although the two issues feel as if they are completely separate, they function in a symbiotic relationship. As the country’s environmental stability decreases, poverty increases, and vice versa. This is because environmental instability hinders local economies and those economies often utilize more affordable forms of energy which then adds to that same environmental instability.

Consequently, the effects of increased temperatures like extreme weather have severely impacted the country’s ability to produce food for itself. Agricultural communities are unable to predict weather patterns, which negatively affects crop yield and commonly puts those people in direct danger. An example being the death of 2,400 people in 2018-2019 due to floods and cyclones.

These unpredictable weather patterns disrupt agriculture and have a long-term impact on the future of farmers in India. Agriculture takes up 16% of India’s GDP and roughly 49% of those employed are within the agriculture industry. This population’s well-being is entirely contingent on environmental stability and they do not have it. Increasing temperature causes difficulty predicting average rainfall, average temperature and average dry day count. These statistics being relatively consistent is paramount to the success rate of agriculture in India. Due to their extreme fluctuation, India’s farmers could lose 15% to 25% of their income, depending on if the area is irrigated or not.

Pollution Affecting India’s Economy

With India’s dependence on the agriculture industry established, it is important to also note the effect that pollution has on this sector of the Indian economy and the poverty that results. Air pollution is something India hasn’t been able to control due to its reliance on fossil fuels and large population. As this pollution has increased, Indian crop yields have been cut in half.

As a result of the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, a buildup of ozone level 3 has occurred. Ozone level 3 is caused by the combustion of nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhaust and various air pollutants. When this ozone level increases, crops are not able to attain the necessary hours of sunlight to ensure their growth. Crops are also sensitive to the pollutants in the soil. These can arise from a variety of unsafe practices, including chemical use, poor irrigation systems and unhealthy waste management. This lack of consistent crop output puts a heavy strain on the farmers and their families, which leads to poverty in more rural areas.

Pollution generally affects impoverished areas much more than it does other areas, with 92% of pollution-related deaths occurring in poverty-ridden countries. This pollution causes illnesses that are often generational, being passed from pregnant mother to child, which in turn creates a physically weaker population that is at a disadvantage in regard to their participation in the local economy.

Additionally, children born in areas with high pollution have limited learning potential. When these children are limited due to pollutants with the capacity to make them ill, they are at an extreme detriment in terms of education and a successful transition into the workforce. As a result, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty created by a lack of education and high paying jobs. The lack of environmental stability in India has a direct impact on the quality of life of the citizens whether it be illness or subsequent poverty.

Solutions to Resolve Environmental Instability in India

While environmental instability continues to be a significant issue in India; fortunately, there are many small efforts that have taken place to relieve this issue. One such example is the compulsory education on the environment within public schooling, which stresses healthier environmental practices within the daily lives of the students. This was passed by a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 and aims to make the public more active participants in the fight for environmental stability. Another solution has been the alteration of transportation to create less harmful emissions.

In 2013, the India-California Air Pollution Mitigation Program was created by the partnership of a Californian Air Resources board and an Indian Energy and Resources Institute. This program has recommended a set of 12 possible mechanisms to reduce air pollution that focuses on the incorporation of the entire system. These mechanisms include replacing kitchen stoves with cleaner alternatives, reevaluating diesel transport to create cleaner options and restricting the burning of fossil fuels. The group predicts that if villagers were given energy-efficient stoves that air pollution would be lessened by a third.

While India’s environmental history has not been the most inspiring, the future is rife with new possibilities and people who are dedicated to fighting for stability within India’s environment.

– Stella Vallon
Photo: Flickr

France is helping to protect the Amazon
One of the organizations making a large difference in protecting the Amazon is the Agence Française de Développement (AFD). This agency is a public financial institution that operates based on policy given by the French government. Its main objective is to fight poverty and promote sustainable development. Here are five ways France is helping to protect the Amazon.

5 Ways France is Helping to Protect the Amazon

  1. Contribution through Grants: Since 2019, AFD gave 15.5 million euros in grants to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. These grants aim to help the local population and governments increase protective measures for the environment. To make these grants possible, AFD combined efforts with other public development banks, including the Inter-American Development Bank. The Inter-American Development Bank aims to promote biodiversity in the Amazon, which is one of the AFD’s objectives as well.
  2. TerrAmaz Program: Another way that France and the AFD are protecting the Amazon is by giving money to the TerrAmaz program. This program is located at five different sites in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. TerrAmaz is working on new models of large-scale ecosystem conservation with a focus on low-carbon economic development. Additionally, TerrAmaz monitors deforestation at each local site and promotes sustainable agricultural practices to lower deforestation effects. The grant given to TerrAmaz from AFD is worth 9.5 million euros.
  3. Supporting Indigenous Tribes: The third way AFD is helping to protect the Amazon region is by supporting the local tribes that inhabit the land. AFD gave one million euros to help the Kayapo and Kapoto tribes in Brazil. Indigenous communities in the Amazon face tremendous pressure from those looking to seize and deforest the land. In response, AFD supports tribes to prevent that from happening. This project is led by Conservation International with the help of other local organizations that support the indigenous community. These organizations will help rehabilitate the land after fires, create a monitoring system for fires and introduce new sustainable agricultural activities to the tribes.
  4. Sustainable Cocoa Production: AFD, along with the French Facility for Global Environment, is giving a total of 7.5 million euros to support sustainable cocoa production. The project is focused specifically on the production of cocoa in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Conservation International has partnered with Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières and Kaoka, an organic fair trade chocolate company. The aim of the project is to increase cocoa sales, while also preserving the biodiversity in the area. One method is to combine the farming of cocoa with tree planting.
  5. Political Pressure: The final way that France is helping to protect the Amazon is not on the ground but in the political sphere. President Emmanuel Macron of France has openly criticized the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, over his lack of effort and action towards protecting the Amazon rainforest after the devastating forest fires. President Macron committed France to a $500 million package to save the Amazon, which includes other South American and European countries, but not Brazil. Macron would like to work with Brazil, but is determined to help save the Amazon regardless of an agreement between the two nations.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily paused some of the work that AFD has funded, it is nonetheless a major step for a big European power to support the Amazon. France and the AFD have set an example for the rest of the world through its work to protect the Amazon. Hopefully, other countries will also make saving the Amazon rainforest a priority of their efforts.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

EcovillagesGreen growth refers to economic growth through the use of sustainable and eco-focused alternatives. These “green” alternatives benefit both the economy and the environment all while contributing to poverty reduction. Ecovillages are a prime example of an environmentally conscious effort to address global poverty. They are communities, rural or urban, built on sustainability. Members of these locally owned ecovillages are granted autonomy as they navigate a solution that addresses the four dimensions of sustainability: economy, ecology, social and culture.

The Global Ecovillage Network

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) recognizes that all four facets of sustainability must be addressed for maximum poverty reduction. Solely focusing on the economic or environmental impact will not yield optimal results. Embracing, not eliminating, the social and cultural aspects of sustainability should the aim of all communities in order to move toward a better future.

The development of sustainable communities around the globe is a commitment of the GEN. The organization’s outreach programs intend to fuel greater global cooperation, empower the citizens of the world’s nations and develop a sustainable future for all.

Working with over 30 international partners, GEN focuses on five defined regions. GEN Africa was created in 2012 and has overseen developments in more than 20 communities across the continent.

A Focus on Zambia

Zambia is one the countries garnering attention. Over half of Zambia’s population — 58% — falls below the $1.90 per day international poverty line. The majority of the nation’s impoverished communities live in rural regions.

Zambia’s government addresses these concerns by integrating the U.N.’s sustainable development goals into its development framework. With a focus on economic and ecological growth, Zambia could lay the groundwork for the success of its’ ecovillages.

Planting the Seed

The Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (ReSCOPE) Programme recognizes youth as the future keepers of the planet. As well as Zambia, the program has chapters in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The focus is on establishing regional networks to strengthen sustainable efforts. The Zambia chapter along with its 17 newly joined organizations work toward the goal of educating and encouraging communities to find sustainable methods of food production.

ReSCOPE seeks to connect schools and their local environments through the Greening Schools for Sustainable Communities Programme. The program is a partnership between GEN and ReSCOPE and has received funding from the Scottish government. Through education and encouraging sustainable practices, Zambia’s youth have an active role in ensuring future growth.

Greening Schools

Greening Schools strengthens the communities of four schools — the centers of resilience and a source of community inspiration. Beginning with nutrition and food security, students are able to play a part in developmental change. Their hard work includes planting of hundreds of fruit trees. The schools became grounds for hands-on agricultural experience and exposure to the tending of life.

However, the impact was not restrained within the schools. The greening schools inspired local communities to make seed security and crop diversification a commitment. In 2019, these communities “brought back lost traditional crops and adopted intercropping and other agroecological practices.”

As part of their sustainable development goals, the U.N. recognizes the value of investing in ecovillages. Goals 11 and 12 stress the importance of sustainable communities and responsible consumption and production respectively. Educating and advocating for youth to take part in ecovillages addresses this matter.

Coming generations will determine the future, and the youth wield the power to address global concerns like sustainability and poverty. Ecovillages are a great new way to break the cycle of poverty.

Kelli Hughes
Photo: Unsplash

Snack Against Hunger and PovertyPeople can often feel hopeless nowadays when addressing global poverty and hunger on a personal level. One can only donate so many times before it feels pointless. For decades there was a decrease in poverty and hunger all around the world. However, with the pandemic in full force, the numbers are once again increasing.

So what should can each individual consumer do to help those in need and bring these statistics down? They must change daily patterns, so nearly all of their “normal” actions start benefitting someone else. One way is to switch up the food consumers eat. Many brands in a variety of food categories use their profits to fight global poverty and hunger. Switching to one of these brands allows people to effectively snack against hunger and poverty. Below are just a few of the brands aiding in poverty and hunger-reduction.

1. Bobo’s

Bobo’s donates their profits from selling oat-based products to eight organizations. Two of the organizations focus on food security in the U.S. (Community Food Share and Conscious Alliance), and one nonprofit provides housing for low-income families (Habitat for Humanity). Get in a dose of nutritious oats to snack against hunger and poverty.

2. This Saves Lives

This Saves Lives has something for everyone. They have 10 different flavor options, a variety of kid’s options and five types of crispy treats. For each purchase, This Saves Lives provides a calorie-dense packet of paste filled with nutrients to a child in need. So far, over 24 million packets have been sent out!

3. Barnana

Barnana is a company that produces plantain-based chips in normal chip form, tortilla style and flavor bites. All consumers can find a chip that will satisfy whether that’s salty or sweet. The plantains used for the chips are upcycled from those that were deemed not perfect enough for mainstream market standards. By upcycling the produce, Barnana fights food waste and secures extra income for small scale farmers that depend on every sale.

4. Project 7

Project 7 is a healthy candy brand that makes gummies, lollipops and everything in between. They partner with nonprofits to help the seven areas of need: healing, saving, housing, food, drink, teaching and hope. Make chewing a life-giving activity and snack against hunger and poverty.

5. Beanfields

Beanfields is another company that creates chips both sweet and salty, similar to Barnana. The company — centered in a kitchen and not a boardroom — cooks up a variety of bean-based tortilla chips and cracklings. They get creative by producing an environment-conscious snack while also supporting people in need. Beanfields partners with Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps ex-gang members find peace and stability in their new lives. Homeboy Industries partners with many nonprofits fighting hunger and poverty that provide ex-offenders jobs and a sense of community.

Buying snacks and snacking are often mindless activities. Helping people should have that same ease and it does. Yet, it often falls on the back burner and gets forgotten. Buying from companies donating to those in need is one easy solution. People can enjoy their favorite foods in a more effective way. Why just snack when one can snack against hunger and poverty?

Anna Synakh
Photo: Flickr

organizations helping LebanonOn August 4, 2020, one of the largest peacetime explosions to ever occur happened in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut. More than 2,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut. The explosion killed many and left others in serious conditions. People lost their homes, livelihoods and lives in seconds. Beirut was already struggling through an economic crisis and grappling with COVID-19 along with the rest of the world. Several organizations have been on the ground since the explosion. Here are three organizations helping Lebanon recover from this disaster.

Government mismanagement and rampant corruption already plague the lives of Lebanese citizens. Furthermore, COVID-19 has only exacerbated all of the country’s issues. Subsequently, the people are likely to continue to question authority after reporting revealed that the store of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion had been sitting in city warehouses for more than six years near a highly-populated residential area. With the explosion, economic crisis and pandemic, people in the country need help.

3 Organizations Helping Lebanon

  1. The Lebanese Red Cross: The Lebanese Red Cross is providing ambulance services to citizens who have been seriously injured from the blast. Unfortunately, limited resources mean that at least one in five emergencies is left untreated. Every year, the organization responds to more than 140,000 calls. Those who are concerned and able can donate to the organization to help facilitate these services here. With the decimated major port in Beirut, Lebanese citizens have lost a major source of goods, including food. Food prices are expected to increase as a result.
  2. The United Nations’ World Food Programme: The United Nations’ World Food Programme is providing necessary sustenance to those in Beirut who may need it at this time. And as a result of the blast, many have lost their primary source of income, leaving them to go hungry without any alternative resources. The WFP provided 50,000 people with “cash assistance” in September. The families received a little more than $1,000 a month for six months. The organization is accepting donations here.
  3. The Amel Association: The Amel Association is a non-profit that helps with physical and psychological health. One day after the explosion, the organization mobilized in Beirut to help. It is providing food and hygiene kits as well as medical support. It is currently accepting monetary and other forms of donations. The organization operates a few primary health care centers in the city. These are continuously in need, even months after the explosion as people slowly begin recovery. This is especially true for those who suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The Amel Associations is accepting donations here.

Those affected in Beirut now must try to recover and move on from this disaster. As Lebanon finds itself in a time of need, those who can contribute to this worthy cause should do so. These three organizations helping Lebanon exemplify just how to provide in a time of need.

Tara Suter
Photo: Wikimedia

Air Pollution in Nepal's Kathmandu ValleyLocated in a bowl-shaped region enclosed by four mountain ranges, the Kathmandu Valley is Nepal’s most populous and developed metropolitan area. However, with the valley’s population density, level of industrialization and geographic location, a host of problems afflicts the region. In recent years, the international and domestic communities have paid increasing attention to the worsening issue of air pollution in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. In Nepal, air contains five times more pollutants than the amount considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO); the air in the Kathmandu Valley contains ten times the pollutant concentration set forth by WHO guidelines.

Causes of Air Pollution

The Urban Health Initiative (UHI), an on-the-ground pilot program initiated by the WHO, has identified four primary sources of air pollution worldwide:

  • Solid waste
  • Transport
  • Industry/brick kilns
  • Household energy sectors

The geographical location of the Kathmandu Valley exacerbates all four sources of pollution. Since tall mountain ranges enclose the region, the valley does not get enough wind to disperse air pollutants. Furthermore, Nepal’s location between China and India means that the contaminants from both countries flood into Nepal and vice versa.

Effects of Air Pollution in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley

Air pollution has had a massive impact on Nepalese people. Every year, 35,000 people in Nepal die from illnesses related to air contaminants. Air pollution frequently causes osteoporosis, heart attacks, dementia and kidney diseases. Furthermore, the life expectancy in the Kathmandu Valley is four years less than that of other Nepalese regions.

While the government has taken little action to reduce the region’s concentration of air pollutants, the Nepalese people have taken matters into their own hands. People have started to wear face masks day-to-day, cancel outdoor activities and frequently monitor air pollution levels. Although individuals have shown an admirable degree of agency in protecting themselves, the Nepalese government must take greater action to reduce the risk of air contaminants for its people.

Action Items So Far

To address air pollution in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, the Nepalese government has released a National Plan for Electric Mobility (NPEM) that contains several time-oriented goals. The NPEM includes several objectives: increasing the share of electric vehicles to 20% by the end of 2020, cutting fossil fuel use in the transport sector 50% by 2050 and developing a hydroelectric powered rail network by 2040. The NPEM focuses on pollution caused by transportation, and this emphasis has shown promising results.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, automobile use has decreased significantly in Nepal. The air quality index in April 2020 showed a noteworthy improvement compared to April 2019: the air on April 30, 2020, contained about 50% fewer contaminants than the air the year prior. Therefore, the government should be able to achieve significant improvements in air quality by targeting automobile emissions.

Efforts by USAID

In 2015, USAID launched the five-year, nearly $10 billion Nepal Hydropower Development Project (NHDP). With this project, USAID aimed to assist in the development of hydroelectric power services. Nepal has impressive hydroelectric capabilities and, if the country harnesses its full hydroelectric potential, it could even have an energy surplus to export to neighboring countries and gain additional revenue.

Working in tandem with various Nepalese governmental organizations, the NHDP focuses on private sector development and investment in hydroelectricity. By creating viable power services, the NHDP hopes to permanently transform Nepal’s energy sector to include more sustainable sources.

Moving Forward

As Nepal and international organizations improve the country’s air quality, a successful continued response will require cooperation. Given Nepal’s landlocked location, collaboration with other countries such as India and China is also necessary. However, in light of the efforts of the Nepalese government and USAID, Nepal is taking steps in the right direction to improve its air quality for the benefit of everyone in the region—especially those in the vulnerable area of Kathmandu Valley. Ultimately, there is hope to combat air pollution in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley and protect the health and safety of thousands. 

– Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Wikimedia

African vulture poisoningOf the 22 unique species of vultures, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCN) categorizes over two-thirds as near threatened, threatened, endangered or critically endangered. Seven of the 11 African vulture species are endangered or critically endangered. Vultures face a variety of threats across Africa, including direct and indirect poisoning due to poaching and human-wildlife conflict. However, African vulture poisoning does not just affect the birds themselves; it also affects human populations.

Decline of African Vultures

In just three generations, populations of endangered African vultures have plummeted by more than 80%. Because females may only lay a single egg in two years and hatchlings don’t reach sexual maturity for at least five years, this population trend may bring several species of African vultures to the brink of extinction.

Vultures play an important role in their natural environment. They can consume over two pounds of meat per minute, making them the most effective of all vertebrate scavengers. Their acidic stomachs allow them to consume diseased animal carcasses without any harm to themselves. This unique function makes vultures essential for recycling matter in an ecosystem as well as reducing the spread of diseases like anthrax, rabies and tuberculosis and bacteria.

Vultures also prevent other scavengers from spreading disease. For example, in 2006, vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal fed on diseased cows treated with an anti-inflammatory medication. This led the vulture population to decline by 96%. Further, the population decline led to an increased population of carrion-eating feral dogs, causing human rabies contraction to skyrocket. This led to approximately 48,000 human deaths.

African Vulture Poisoning in a Human Society

African vulture poisoning, intentional or not, happens more than one might think. An interdisciplinary study conducted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) out of the University of Maryland (UMD) by researcher Meredith Gore and collogues from organizations including the Peregrine Fund and the Endangered Wildlife Trust made this clear.

The researchers focused on the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) in southern Africa. They found that farmers there use herbicides and pesticides as poisons. The chemicals they use often contain substances known to pose environmental and human health risks. However, farmers lace water and dead animals with these poisons to kill large predators that attack their livestock. Some also target large herbivorous animals like elephants that may trample or otherwise damage their crops. Although outside the intended purview of these poisons, vultures die as a result of consuming the victims after they die.

The researchers also found intentional African vulture poisoning by poachers, predominantly in eastern Africa. Circling vultures can signal the death of a protected animal to law enforcement, so poachers may lace a carcass with poison to kill the birds as a self-protective measure. More than 500 vultures may feed on and die from a single poisoned elephant carcass. Gore and her collogues believe that a solution to African vulture poisoning will rely on collaboration between local agencies, non-profits and science and criminology experts. They propose several measures to reduce poisoning.

Ending African Vulture Poisoning

First, the researchers recommend increasing efforts to stop African vulture poisoning. These may include licensing and certification of the sale of chemicals used to poison vultures, campaigns to raise awareness on safe handling and disposal of chemicals and diligent tracking of chemical movements. They also recommend increasing the risks associated with intentional African vulture poisoning. This could include creating a phone number and reward system to alert authorities to vulture poisoning and aiding local organizations’ abilities to enact preventative vulture poisoning measures.

Furthermore, the researchers suggest reducing rewards related to vulture poisoning. This could mean withholding livestock and crop damage compensation when farmers poison vultures. Similarly, the researchers endorse provocation reduction measures like education about non-poisonous measures of human-wildlife conflict resolution. They do note, however, that the underlying socioeconomic issues linked to African vulture poisoning include poverty, food insecurity and resource deficits. This means that solving poverty may be key to ending African vulture poisoning. 

The Future of African Vulture Poisoning

Gore and her colleagues also believe that governments should minimize valid excuses for poison use. This may include creating cheap or free chemical disposal programs and responsible corporate buy-back schemes. These would operate in addition to publicized national and regional poison response plans. Finally, the researchers encourage increasing incentives to conserve vultures by prioritizing local conservation efforts that are culturally appropriate and account for traditional and indigenous knowledge.

Without intervention, vulture population decline will lead to the spread of disease and disrupted food chains, both of which have far-reaching ecological and human-health consequences. Fortunately, scientists, criminology experts, community groups, governments and non-profits have a myriad of ways to inspire engaging and effective solutions to reducing African vulture poisoning. By doing so, they will reduce the spread of disease that plagues many African countries.

Avery Saklad
Photo: Unsplash

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Brazil
Brazil is the largest country in South America and is home to more than 210 million people. As of 2020, almost 7 million people in Brazil are living in poverty, approximately 3% of the total population. While this is already a significant decrease from previous years, recent innovations have helped lower poverty rates even further. Here are the most notable innovations in poverty eradication in Brazil.

Going Low Carbon

It is no secret that greenhouse gases have a significant environmental impact. Brazil has taken responsibility by rethinking its economy and discussing some potential solutions, including going low carbon. This change targets big infrastructure by encouraging green investments in industrial buildings, cutting down deforestation rates, as well as promoting the growth of agriculture.

Economically, by eliminating carbon emissions, more than $500 billion will go towards Brazil’s gross domestic product. These new funds will create around two million new jobs for the unemployed population. Because Brazil is an underdeveloped country, it relies heavily on foreign aid to boost its economy; attaining foreign investments from private companies has allowed for the creation of new environment-friendly markets. Through promotion of low carbon emissions, Brazil’s economy increased its GDP, indicating an improved economy.

Educating Brazil’s Future

In Brazil, 70% of children attend public schools. An average school day is around four and a half hours, but dilatory activities such as passing papers out or attendance often decrease the valuable time that could be dedicated to education. Only around 2% of impoverished Brazilian students will obtain enough education to improve their opportunities and livelihoods.

In 2017, the Connected Education Innovation Programme was started in order to provide technological resources for students. These resources include screens and reliable internet to help children achieve better quality education. In 2018, over seven million students profited from the Connected Education Innovation Programme. As the world progresses technologically, including these innovations helps improve a child’s likeliness to willingly participate in learning. Expanding these resources would go a long way in fostering a fun and safe learning environment.

Conditional Cash Transfers

In Brazil, the main conditional cash transfer program is called Bolsa Familia, or BFP. Conditional cash transfer programs are used in developing countries to provide welfare services for impoverished communities. BFP has helped Brazil’s impoverished population by improving the electronic monitoring of social services and the eligibility of low-income families.

BFP reduced Brazil’s extreme poverty rates by almost 60% and poverty by 30% between 2004 and 2014. By 2018, the program had reached more than 45 million people and created more than 20 social programs. By improving cash transfers, low-income individuals are able to gain access to services that benefit them financially.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence in Brazil is a recent addition to the country’s innovations. By the year 2030, Brazil predicts that around $15 trillion will be contributed to the world’s economy by the use of artificial intelligence technologies. Public transportation is a big factor where artificial intelligence comes into play in Brazil, as well as disease control.

In 2035, Brazil hopes to increase its gross value to more than $430 billion. Manufacturing makes up 12% of Brazil’s economy, which is another category in Brazil that is experimenting with new artificial intelligence machinery to benefit the economy. Through the usage of artificial intelligence in Brazil, higher levels of productivity are seen which helps increase the flow of Brazil’s economy.

 

These four innovations in poverty eradication in Brazil will help the nation further reduce its poverty rate. Increasing jobs, providing high quality education, offering cash options and bolstering the economy are all essential to this goal. Moving forward, it is essential that the Brazilian government and humanitarian organizations continue to prioritize poverty reduction.

– Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr