Information and stories about environment.

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

Bird-friendly coffee
As the market demand for coffee grows in industrializing nations, bird-friendly coffee may offer an eco-friendly solution to an unsustainable industry. The global population consumes approximately 7.5 million tons of coffee each year, and experts expect global coffee consumption to more than double in the next 20 years.

Earth may not have the capacity to keep up with demand. Forests absorb 40% of human fossil fuel emissions, and the destruction of these carbon sinks contributes to a warming climate that diminishes the land suitable for growing coffee and drives coffee plantations into previously intact forests at higher altitudes. This cycle of deforestation and warming perpetuates the loss of the 1.6 billion livelihoods. It also destroys habitats for 80% of terrestrial species supported by forests.

A Possible Future for Coffee Production

Some farmers embrace shade-grown coffee as an environmentally and economically sustainable means of coffee production. Shade-grown coffee production is a method of agroforestry that integrates coffee plantations and forest growth on the same land. Environmental benefits of shade-grown coffee compared to full-sun coffee production include erosion control, better soil health, carbon sequestration and increased bird habitat.

These environmental advantages translate to economic benefits. For example, agroforestry practices reduce nutrient and labor inputs into the soil due to the natural decomposition of leaf matter. Agroforestry also supports bird-friendly coffee production by creating healthy bird habitat. Birds provide free pest control that eliminates or reduces the need for harmful chemical pesticide use. A single bird living on a shaded coffee plantation can protect 23-65 pounds of coffee each year from pests like the Coffee Berry Borer, which inflicts $500 million worth of damage annually to the coffee industry.

Shade-grown coffee plantations typically produce 30% less coffee than full-sun plantations. However, the economic benefits of agroforestry compensate for this loss, saving an average of $2,000 per hectare each year. In fact, a study that researchers conducted at Cornell and Columbia Universities demonstrated that small-scale farmers, including 25 million coffee farmers in developing nations who produce 80% of the world’s coffee, could optimize their profits by converting at least 36% of their plantations to shade-growing practices.

Additionally, shade-grown coffee farmers can benefit by growing tree crops like mangos, passion fruit and guava on their plantations for sale or consumption. In Guatemala and Peru, for example, fruit grown on shaded coffee farms comprises 9-11% of the plantations’ economic value.

Certification Systems

The environmentally-induced economic benefits of practicing bird-friendly coffee production are many. Moreover, consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable, shade-grown coffee. A survey of more than 1,300 coffee drinkers in the U.S. interested in the conservation of bird habitat revealed that the average bird watcher is willing to pay an additional $2 per pound of coffee for bird-friendly coffee. A 50 cent premium per pound of shade-grown coffee can optimize profits on small-scale farms at 85% shaded production.

Certifications like the Rainforest Alliance certification, Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable quality certification and the Bird Friendly Coffee certification from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center all contribute to shade-grown coffee premiums. With additional support to low-income farmers from certification systems and governments, the transition to shade-grown coffee can help to reduce the growing environmental impacts of coffee production while increasing profits and fair market access for small-scale farmers. These measures will contribute to an economically and environmentally sustainable future. All of this can occur without sacrificing one of the most popular beverages in the world.

Avery Saklad
Photo: Flickr

10 billion treesWith Pakistan being one of the countries that environmental challenges most affect in the world, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to be more proactive in combating the problem at the September 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Nearly one year later, it is fair to say that he is on track to fulfill this promise. His 2018 10 Billion Trees Tsunami Initiative aims to plant 10 billion new trees by 2023.

10 Billion Trees and Tiger Force Day

On Aug. 9th, 2020, Khan launched Tiger Force Day, the largest tree plantation drive in the country’s history. The goal of Tiger Force Day was to bring together Pakistanis to plant 3.5 million trees throughout the country as part of Khan’s 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative. According to Khan, this will save six districts in the country from transforming into inhabitable deserts by 2050 as a result of climate change in Pakistan. These districts include Hyderabad, Sukkur, Mirpur Khas, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. The 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative will also inhibit the spread of poverty. Planting trees can help increase honey and wheat production, mitigate floods, protect wildlife and plants from extreme weather. This would create 63,000 jobs during a critical time in which the global COVID-19 pandemic threatens 19 million jobs within the country.

Over 1 million volunteers participated in Tiger Force Day. This includes ordinary citizens like men, women and youth; members of Parliament and chief ministers; singers Ali Zafar and Ali Aftab Saeed and foreign diplomats like Chinese Ambassador Yao Jin and Yemen Ambassador Mohammed Motahar Alashabi. Throughout the day, these volunteers shared photographs of themselves planting trees as well as recording how many trees they planted at their location on the Corona Task Force application. This led the government to conclude that the country hit its goal of planting 3.5 million trees throughout the country on Tiger Force Day, making this achievement a major stepping stone in the 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative.

Plant for Pakistan Day

The incredible success of Tiger Force Day led Khan to declare August 18th as Plant for Pakistan Day. On this day, the government will encourage all citizens of Pakistan, including the armed forces, to harvest plants throughout the country. The World Health Organization will also give Pakistan $188 million for the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami and Recharge Pakistan initiatives, which aim to better utilize floodwater to recharge aquifers that had been used up as a result of unchecked water pumping and drilling. To ensure this money is readily available when needed, it will be kept in the National Disaster Risk Management Fund.

Moving Forward

Details about Tiger Force Day illustrate the incredible progress Khan has made, especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic, in bringing ordinary citizens, celebrities and national and foreign political officials together to fight against environmental difficulties in Pakistan through his 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative. This will inevitably inhibit the spread of poverty in Pakistan and inspire other countries to take a similar course of action, which will undoubtedly change the world for the better.

Rida Memon
Photo: Flickr

Ocean Sole Flip-Flop ArtAlso known also as zoris, pluggers, jandals or thongs, it is commonly thought that flip-flops originated in Ancient Egypt around 4,000 B.C. Over time, the materials used to make these shoes evolved from palm leaves, papyrus and straw to rubber and plastic. As such, modern flip-flops are typically cheap and have an average lifespan of two years. Havaianas, a Brazilian flip-flop brand, produces more than 150 million pairs of flip-flops annually. Worldwide, three billion people purchase new flip-flops every year.

However, these non-biodegradable shoes far exceed their two-year wearable lifespan in the form of polluting oceans, threatening marine life and washing up on shores. In Kenya, where approximately 36% of people live on less than $1.90 per day, the coastal area of Watamu is littered with flip-flops, including those that have drifted to Kenya from areas like India and China. Non-profit organization Ocean Sole works to up-cycle flip-flops into art in Kenya, cleaning oceans and shores while simultaneously creating job opportunities in a country where at least 4.9% of people are unemployed.

Ocean Sole

Founded in 1999, Ocean Sole currently impacts more than 1,000 Kenyans through either direct employment or flip-flop collection. It employs and provides a steady income to approximately 90 Kenyans, and employees recycled over half a million flip-flops in 2017 alone. Per year, about 47,000 kilograms of flip-flop waste are collected.

The collected shoes are washed, blocked together, carved with knives and sanded into colorful sculptures and art pieces. The sculptures include figures of buffalo, lions and giraffes, and are sold online worldwide. For every $20 spent on flip-flop art, Ocean Sole collects and up-cycles 146 pounds of ocean trash while helping Kenyans maintain a steady income.

Ocean Sole’s Community Focus

Julie Church, Ocean Sole’s founder, was inspired to establish the organization after seeing toys that children had made from flip-flop debris. Church encouraged the children’s mothers to transform the flip-flops into art to sell at local markets. Thus, the organization began with a focus on community and works to maintain that emphasis. In recent initiatives, the organization has used flip-flop offcuts to make mattresses for those in need, expanding its community impact.

Between 10 and 15% of Ocean Sole’s revenue goes toward vocational and education programs, conservation efforts and beach cleanups. The organization’s social enterprise pays employee bonuses, as well as welfare programs to help employees educate their children. Kenya’s current literacy rate is nearly 85% for males and about 78% for females, yet over one million children were out of school in 2010, and more than 25% of young people did not have at least a secondary education. Ocean Sole is working to increase these literacy and education rates.

Through his position at Ocean Sole, Raphael Kangutu, one of Ocean Sole’s flip-flop artists, is able to support his wife and six children and pay his nephew’s school fees. Ann Nzilani, another artist, was able to move herself and her two children out of the slums in Kenya. These stories are examples of Ocean Sole’s dedication to equal opportunity employment, helping women like Nzilani, as well as men, put food on the table, pay bills, buy land and educate their children. In an interview for the organization’s blog, one mother and Ocean Sole employee explains, “Before working with Ocean Sole, … my children couldn’t go to school because there was no money to pay the fees. I would try to sell fruit on the road, but there is no tourism, or I would only get one customer.” Ocean Sole helped to change this woman’s life, and many more.

Ocean Sole and COVID-19

Navigating the impact of COVID-19 has been a complex process. After orders for flip-flop art were canceled among customers worldwide and as the pandemic progressed, Ocean Sole had to furlough some of its artists for at least a few months. However, the organization’s management and sales team are working diligently to increase income and bring back furloughed employees.

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ocean Sole’s capacity for growth is striking. The creation of flip-flop art in Kenya has already had significant economic and environmental advantages, playing a small yet important role in the decrease of poverty in Kenya from almost 47% in 2005 and 2006 to around 36% by the end of 2016. Ocean Sole has made great strides toward the transformation of the lives of thousands of Kenyans and will continue to foster employment opportunities, paving the way for a better — and cleaner — future.

Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr

Palm Oil in Indonesia
One can find palm oil in most U.S. packaged products. Indonesia was the top palm oil exporter in 2019 with a record output of 36.18 million tons, making this resource a significant contributor to economic prosperity. However, meeting the high demand for palm oil has taken a toll on the country’s social and natural environment. Here is some information about palm oil production in Indonesia.

The Need for Palm Oil

The market for palm oil quickly became robust following a rise in boycotts of trans fats in packaged food items. Many companies previously utilized trans fats to extend products’ shelf lives, but discoveries of their associated health risks in comparison to other vegetable oils led to a worldwide shift toward safer alternatives like palm oil. Palm oil is cheaper to produce and buy than other oils, costing roughly $2 per 2.2 pounds. Although its low price is certainly beneficial, the heavy demand for palm oil has harmed plantations workers and forest regions.

Deforestation and Reduction of Biodiversity

Indonesia is the largest exporter of palm oil, producing approximately half of the global product. Palm trees are highly efficient, so growers can produce palm oil quickly and in large volumes. Still, the deforestation that is necessary to expanding palm oil plantations is devastating to forest areas and wildlife. Global Forest Watch stated that between 2001 and 2018, Indonesia lost “26 million hectares (Mha) of the forest,” leading to a 25% deforestation rate — the highest in the world. This land clearing releases carbon into the atmosphere, causing wildfires that reduce biodiversity to a mere 15%.

Societal Impacts

To accommodate the growing palm oil industry, many indigenous people had to leave their homes. In addition to losing their shelters, these individuals have lost rights to their land, culture and resources. The Human Rights Watch carefully inspects the devastation that many native families experience.

Local workers within the palm oil industry have experienced a burden from long hours and little pay, sometimes working overtime without proper compensation. For females, the gender divide makes conditions even worse: these workers usually do not receive paid contracts, meaning their labor is abused. Despite a minimum wage requirement set in 2017, women receive 66,000 rupees ($5) a day. Their male counterparts obtain nearly 100,000 rupees ($7.50) a day. Additionally, women often work in maintenance management where they work with harmful pesticides and chemicals, predisposing them to more health problems than men. The accumulation of these negative conditions perpetuates the cycle of poverty for many Indonesian palm oil workers.

Economic Impacts

Palm oil production in Indonesia generates nearly $18 billion annually in foreign exchange, a significant benefit to the country’s economy. In comparison to other vegetable oils, palm oil is the most sustainable, efficient and versatile option. Despite the deforestation that has destroyed much of Indonesia’s forest area, palm oil production remains more environmentally friendly than any of its alternatives. Even with a substantial gender pay divide, the industry lifts locals out of poverty by providing over 4.5 million jobs.

Here to Help

The Asian Agri’s One to One Commitment has helped local palm oil farmers develop smallholder partnerships since 1987, with the ultimate goal of improving land productivity. Independent smallholders often lack access to the newest technology or industry standards. Asian Agri creates partnership opportunities to assist these local farmers keeping their protocols as effective as possible. The One to One Commitment has boosted the efficiency of palm oil farms, improving incomes and living standards for thousands. Given the palm oil industry’s overwhelming success, Asian Agri’s investment in local stakeholders provides hope for the future of palm oil production in Indonesia.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

mauritius oil spillMauritius is an island nation off the east coast of Africa with a population of fewer than 1.3 million people. In 2019, less than 1% of the population of Mauritius lived below the international poverty line. On July 25, the Japanese-owned oil tanker, the MV Wakashio, ran aground and leaked more than 1000 metric tons of oil into the waters at Pointe d’Esny near “two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve.” As the international community comes together to assist in clean-up efforts, human hair could be a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill.

Why the Mauritius Oil Spill Needs Urgent Aid

The economy of Mauritius relies heavily on tourism and ocean activities. The tourism industry makes up almost a quarter of the GDP, and another 10% comes from activities reliant on the water, such as fishing. Tourists visit the island nation for its beaches and marine life.  Since the waters surrounding the country are now polluted with oil, the MV Wakashio spill poses a serious threat to the economy of Mauritius as well as the natural environment.

The Science and History a Surprising Solution

Hair was first studied as a solution after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. After noticing that hair absorbed oil at the salon he owned, Phil McCrory of Alabama began studying human hair as a potential tool for cleaning up oil spills. He was awarded two patents for devices made of human hair that sucked up oil from water.
Hair is highly absorptive and has been shown to take in up to nine times its weight in oil. While hair is a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill, this is not the first time it’s been used for this purpose. Human hair specifically has been used as a clean-up tool after other oil spills. Hair-stuffed nylon stockings were also successfully used in 2010 to assist in clean-up efforts following the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A study released a week before the Mauritius oil spill found human hair to be as effective as synthetic materials in clean-ups. A study conducted by the University of Technology Sydney comparing plastic-based materials commonly used to clean up oil spills to organic materials found that hair is successful at absorbing oil from ocean and solid land environments. According to this study, hair is as good as synthetic materials when it comes to absorbing oil from land and hard surfaces.

How Human Hair Can Help in Mauritius

Hair salons around Mauritius have been offering free and discounted hair cuts in order to donate the trimmings to clean-up efforts. Volunteers stuff the hair into stockings and use it to both corral the oil, preventing its spread, and absorb it from the water. Hair donations from around the world are also being shipped to the country to provide additional assistance.

Human hair is a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill and is a useful tool in clean-ups after any future spills as it is in constant supply, affordable and natural and therefore more quickly biodegradable than synthetic materials such as the plastics traditionally used in clean-ups. The country’s economy relies heavily on the Indian Ocean surrounding it for both tourism and fishing, so finding affordable and sustainable means of absorbing the spillage from the MV Wakashio, such as human hair, is necessary to maintain the economy of the country and prevent the spread of devastation and poverty.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Pixabay

Environment
Esteemed service organization Rotary International describes itself as “a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders and problem solvers.” Running strong for upwards of 110 years, Rotary uses its expansive network to enact positive change for its focus areas: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene, saving mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies. These six areas act as pillars, each sustaining the vast organization by way of focused motivation. On June 25, 2020, Rotary International announced, with unanimous support from the Rotary Foundation Trustees and Rotary International Board of Directors, that it will be adding a seventh area of focus: supporting the environment.

The Decision to Add

This new area of focus did not come about randomly. Rotary has consistently shown support for environmental projects over the past five years, contributing over $18 million in funding from Foundation grants. Before the environment was an official area of focus, Rotary regularly made the environment a priority, recognizing how intertwined the issue is with the other six focus areas. The benefit of officially announcing the environment as an area of focus, then, is that it allows Rotary to directly channel global grants to this issue, creating new projects and innovations. Rotary International President Mark Maloney said of the decision, “I believe strongly that our Rotary Foundation programs now have a valuable added dimension to our efforts.”

Support for the Addition

In January 2020, when discussion of whether to add the new focus area occurred, the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group advocated for its addition, arguing that it would help to maximize the success of environmentally-focused projects. Their reasoning also touched on how other focus areas are impacted by the environment. For example, to effectively achieve the focus of providing clean water, Rotary must acknowledge how water shortages can occur in communities near areas of deforestation. In addition, trash and toxic waste dumped into water sources can undermine Rotary water projects while also spreading disease. On the flipside, Rotarians implementing projects to support the other focus areas must consider their effects on the environment and whether a project as a whole is sustainable.

Sustainability Projects

The Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group oversees a number of sustainability projects running globally. The group’s environment-specific projects show their commitment to this new focus area. Some of the projects include Rotarians for Bees, started by the Rotary Club of Canterbury in Australia to conserve bee populations; Lunch Out of Landfills, created by the Southern Frederick Rotary Club in Maryland to reduce food waste, and Ocean CleanX, which uses technology to increase awareness of ocean pollution. There are many more projects that Rotary clubs have adopted to limit society’s negative effects on the planet. The announcement of the seventh focus area will bring about new environmental projects and increased funding to make this global issue a Rotary priority for years to come.

The Future

Adding the environment as a new area of focus provides Rotary International with the influence needed to continue sustaining humanitarian projects in the long term while also actively working to make the planet cleaner and safer for the communities it serves. This proactive approach to climate change ensures that Rotary International will be able to handle the inevitable changes arising from a warming planet amid increasing levels of pollution, deforestation and extinction. Rotary is not alone. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a partner of Rotary, has also added climate change to its top issues. Humanitarian organizations like Rotary have the network and resources necessary to help vulnerable communities adjust to environmental changes that are on the horizon.

Maria Marabito
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