Information and stories about environment.

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
Photo: Flickr

Conservation and PovertyConservation efforts aim to preserve nature and ensure the proper utilization of natural resources. In recent decades, conservation has grown in popularity as the number of organizations fighting for it has increased substantially. Global poverty alleviation is another big cause with a large number of organizations fighting for it. Typically, conservation and poverty alleviation are considered conflicting forces; however, these three organizations are bringing the two together by turning environmental education into a poverty alleviator.

Aid for Africa

Aid for Africa is a network of many poverty organizations working to improve the communities in Africa. This alliance work aims to make a difference in every area of life in Africa, including fighting against environmental issues in the continent.

In its mission, the organization stresses the importance of finding solar solutions to fix environmental issues to ensure it will not hinder the economic development of the continent. Combining its efforts in conservation and poverty alleviation allows Aid for Africa to simultaneously take multiple approaches towards helping communities in need.  It focuses on fixing environmental problems on a broad scale through community-based programs to protect the rich biodiversity on the continent.

Children in the Wilderness

Children in the Wilderness focuses its efforts on conservation and protecting wildlife in multiple African nations; however, it is more specific in its cause than the previous organization. The non-profit centers around preserving the environment in Africa by educating young children, promoting leadership positions, and training programs. These opportunities help African children economically as it could connect them to job options and provides assistance programs and scholarships to those participating in the organization.

The organization shows success in uniting conservation and poverty relief as it changes the trajectory of many youths’ lives through scholarships and leadership positions. For instance, in 2018, Child in Wilderness awarded 602 scholarships to children at different education levels. Its leadership program also shows its success as the non-profit trained 249 individuals to become Eco-Mentor leaders within Children in Wilderness.

Solar Sister

Solar Sister is an organization that brings together conservation and poverty eradication by empowering women. It focuses on rural African communities and provides women entrepreneurs with education on clean energy. The organization encourages community-based leadership as the entrepreneurs go back to their communities to share solar technology with others in their towns.

The organization’s work creates a cycle of poverty alleviation. When the organization teaches individuals to run businesses in their communities, it increases women’s economic independence, allowing them to escape poverty. As a result, their rural communities benefit as clean energy gives them a safer power with helping the environment. For example, 90% of those who received solar power felt safer after buying it and the equipment reduced their cookstove fuel usage by over 50%. It also allows customers to become entrepreneurs themselves. For instance, 14,000 of those who bought solar products became Solar Sister entrepreneurs.

Although the organizations have different plans of approach, all are making a difference in the fight for conservation and poverty alleviation. Thus, revealing how fighting two distinct issues can be solved together in a mutually beneficial way.

– Erica Burns

Photo: Flickr

hybrid solar dryerFruit preservation is essential in Jamaica and Haiti due to relatively brief bearing seasons that produce popular fruits like mangos and breadfruit. Additional factors such as extreme poverty and natural disasters significantly increase Caribbean food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme, 30% of the Caribbean population lives in poverty. Michael McLaughlin, the co-founder of Trees That Feed, designed a hybrid solar dryer to combat food insecurity and preserve approximately 100 pounds of fruit in nearly four to eight hours. Trees That Feed is a nonprofit organization based in Winnetka, IL that planted close to 25,000 fruit trees across Jamaica, Haiti, Ghana, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Uganda and Barbados in 2019.

Hybrid Solar Dryer Design

Trees That Feed distributed 12 hybrid solar dryers in Jamaica and Haiti. Each dryer comprises six modules to ease assembly and material transportation. The modules include three solar collectors, a lower and an upper cabinet and a roof. The three solar collectors capture heat and feed warm air into an upper cabinet that holds five shelves of sliced or shredded fruit. The roof of the hybrid solar dryer contains a solar exhaust fan to pull moisture from the air and protect against harsh weather conditions, dust and insect contamination. Excess space is provided in the lower cabinet to include an optional fueled heater that functions in the absence of sunlight.

Passive Solar Thermal Technology

Solar thermal technology captures heat energy from the sun and uses it to produce electricity or provide heat. Likewise, the hybrid solar dryer uses passive solar thermal technology to rely on design features when capturing heat. The dryer operates without photovoltaic panels or fuel to provide an efficient, hygienic and inexpensive method of food preservation. However, the hybrid design includes space for an optional kerosene or propane heater to incorporate alternative forms of heat energy. While fuel increases the cost of operation, it prevents crop spoilage that can occur on a day with minimal sunlight.

Fruit Dehydration Benefits

Fruit moisture content must be reduced below 20% to ensure a secure shelf life.  The design of the Trees That Feed dryer decreases fruit moisture content by 60% and increases fruit shelf life for over a year. Temperatures between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit dehydrate fruit at a rapid rate that removes moisture content and inhibits the growth of mold or bacteria.

The benefits of fruit dehydration in developing countries include:

  • Access to fruit consumption during non-bearing seasons
  • Reduced dependence on imported fruit and grain
  • Increased variety of food production
  • Access to sustainable production methods
  • Increased shelf life that retains nutritional value

Breadfruit is a highly perishable fruit grown in Jamaica and Haiti. Tropical regions across the world cultivate over 120 varieties of the high-yielding breadfruit crop. The hybrid solar dryer extends the initial three-day shelf life of breadfruit to approximately one year.

Dehydration preserves the nutritional benefits of breadfruit such as riboflavin, protein, potassium and vitamin C. Also, dehydrated breadfruit is ground and used to produce high-value products such as flour, pastries and pasta that sell across local and national markets.

Moving Forward

McLaughlin reported the success of a hybrid solar dryer located at the Sydney Pagon STEM Academy, a Jamaican agricultural school in the parish of St. Elizabeth. Once Sydney Pagon extended dryer access to members of the community, St. Elizabeth locals noticed the efficiency of the hybrid solar dryer and requested an additional model. Trees That Feed recently provided the parish of St. Elizabeth with a second dryer to increase access to food preservation in the community.

Trees That Feed has designed a dryer that provides opportunities for economic activity in impoverished nations like Jamaica and Haiti. Efficient and successful food preservation allows Caribbean farmers to make small profits by selling excess dehydrated fruit. In turn, farmers can increase their economic independence and stimulate their local economy by selling surplus dehydrated fruit across community markets.

McLaughlin told The Borgen Project that “empowering people to become independent” is a crucial step in alleviating poverty and increasing economic opportunity. While Jamaica and Haiti are the only nations with current access to the hybrid solar dryer, Trees That Feed plans to implement its design in Kenya and Uganda to extend this unique method of food preservation to additional countries in need.

– Madeline Zuzevich
Photo: Flickr

Women Leaders in IndonesiaThis summer, the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) began its second annual Indonesia Accelerator for Grassroots Women Environmental Leaders. The Accelerator program supports 60 initiatives across 28 regions of Indonesia. It provides resources and training for women leaders in Indonesia to support the environment and their communities through grassroots programs.

Why Focus on Indonesia?

Indonesia is currently the fifth largest producer of greenhouse gases. The country’s emissions rose 3% just last year. WEA finds that “in this moment of environmental crisis, Indonesia is ground zero.” The large and rising greenhouse gas emissions in the country counters progress that other countries are making to limit emissions and prevent global warming.

Global warming has effects on all sectors of society, including agriculture and the economy. This issue especially impacts women, so WEA plans to lift up women leaders in Indonesia who are both the most affected by and the most determined to fix these environmental and societal issues.

What the Accelerator Program Does

The program focuses on the pillars of impact, awareness, and access. Women leaders in Indonesia apply to the program with a project plan to fix a certain issue in their community. Those who are accepted go through a comprehensive training program. This program teaches them to maximize the impact of their efforts, gain awareness and support from the public and strengthen community networks. This knowledge will allow these women to influence others to rise up and implement social projects of their own.

Program participants go through a four-month curriculum that is hands-on, teamwork-oriented and doesn’t interfere with daily life or jobs. They come together over group video calls for webinars or small group discussions and receive mentors, as well as tools and other resources for learning or extending their impact.

The curriculum includes movement-building skills such as networking and campaigning. It also includes economic skills like building a revenue stream, environmental skills and social skills like how to best care for their communities. The program assists them in building a comprehensive Action Plan to grow their proposed initiatives into professional movements. Additionally, they receive guidance through a global network of WEA alumni, mentors, and supporters. The women leaders in Indonesia also receive some funds to implement their initiatives.

Initiatives in Action

This year, Winda Arianti of West Sumater is participating in the Accelerator program in the hopes of using alternative economic development strategies, such as encouraging ecotourism, to support women in Indonesia. She is currently a leader at Wahli Sumbar, an NGO in Padang, Indonesia. Arianti oversees about 500 people who support these economic development projects.

Arianti’s project aims to stimulate her local economy using environmentally-friendly strategies while employing underprivileged women along the way. WEA’s program will help her grow her impact, help more women and move the economy towards sustainability.

Maria Patricia Wata Beribe, a facilitator at Campus Without Walls, hopes to use this opportunity to encourage local youth to be activists and stewards in their own communities. Her experiences as a field officer for the Tananua Flores Foundation and VECO Rikolto Indonesia exposed her to women’s lack of access to education, skill-building and healthcare in agricultural communities. She also gained experience in sustainable development and local government issues.

Beribe currently works to bring college students and village youth together in order to reconnect with their culture and homes. Her initiative aims to assist Indonesian youth in becoming activists who love their communities and work hard to support them using business ventures, sustainable practices and more.

WEA’s Indonesia Accelerator for Grassroots Women Environmental Leaders program amplifies the voices of women leaders in Indonesia.  The initiative provides Indonesian women with the support they need to make large scale positive changes in their communities.

– Kathy Wei
Photo: Wikimedia

  Microgrid technology in African countriesIf you take a trip to Google Earth’s nighttime view of the world, you’ll see areas like the United States, Europe and Japan bursting with light. In these countries, electricity freely flows through a massive electrical grid, whirring through power plants and millions of electrical wires. Alternatively, satellite images of the African continent’s 54 countries show vast dark areas with a few scattered hotspots. However, this unequal spread of electrification may change in the near future. Microgrid technology in African countries is powering thousands of community’s electrical needs. The African continent’s electrification illustrates the broader trend of sustainable energy’s emergence in the developing world.

What is Microgrid Technology?

In simple terms, microgrid technology is a decentralized version of the massive electrical grids that exist in most developed nations. More definitively, a microgrid is “a local energy grid with control capability” that can work autonomously to both produce and supply power to small communities. The autonomy of microgrids limits the negative aspects of larger power grids, such as rolling blackouts.

In developed countries, certain essential businesses use microgrids to ensure a stable power source. For example, hospitals use microgrids in case a natural disaster would cut off power to large scale power grids. In many developing nations, governments are eagerly implementing microgrid technology in areas without pre-existing infrastructure.

Another benefit of microgrid technology is the easy integration of renewable energy sources. Presently, companies building microgrids in developing nations tend to rely on solar or wind energy due to their growing cost-efficiency. Peter Ganz, who studied microgrids through his master’s program in environmental management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and currently works as Senior Energy Storage Analyst at EDF Renewables North America, said that “The idea that many businesses have in developing countries is to make these microgrids sustainable. This is so that, as developing countries gain energy access, they’re not stuck with this large fossil-reliant grid that we’re dealing with here in the United States, the EU and other large, developed nations.”

Africa’s Need for Electricity

Many companies like PowerGen, Energicity and Tesvolt are installing microgrids in several African nations to power homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Many regions of Africa provide the ideal environment for sustainable solar energy. In addition, the overall cost of installing microgrids has dropped an estimated 25 to 30% since 2014.

Centering on Africa for microgrid technology development is necessary for worldwide electrification. Today, 13% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost two-thirds of the world’s population without power.

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations without existing electricity infrastructure see some advantages. Due to this lack of infrastructure, developing communities can begin to electrify local homes, businesses, and services with renewable sources. The integration of renewable energy into the grid will effectively prevent any future need to rely on fossil fuels.

PowerGen’s Work in African Nations

Founded in 2011, PowerGen is one of the main organizations serving on the frontlines of microgrid development in African nations. With a mission striving to provide “cleaner, smarter” and “decentralized” energy to Africa, PowerGen has installed sustainable energy utilities for more than 50,000 Africans who previously lacked electricity. The organization is far-reaching, deploying microgrids in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Benin and Niger. PowerGen has also set up offices and planned projects in several other African countries The company also develops commercial and industrial (C&I) solar power for more widescale, sustainable electricity.

According to a statement by PowerGen CEO Sam Slaughter, the organization’s microgrids “typically serve 100-500 connections” and “have a geographic radius under one kilometer.” The grids can power anything running off electricity including refrigerators, TVs, electric cars and mobile phones. The payment is affordable for African users who use an easy “pay-as-you-go” system via “mobile money telecoms services” or cash.

PowerGen hopes to expand energy access to one million more Africans by 2025. One of the biggest challenges in installing new power in the continent is government cooperation and acceptance of microgrids, but the organization is actively working to broaden its microgrid coverage everywhere.

Importance of Smart Power in Developing Nations

In the mass movements for sustainable energy around the world, developing nations are actually at an advantage; since many developing communities have no or unreliable access to electricity, they can begin their energy journey with renewable sources, effectively cutting off reliance on fossil fuels in the future.

“Our electric grid is very much the product of a time before renewables when most, if not all, generation was from carbon-intensive fossil fuels,” said Ganz. “Now that we have developed technologies that are carbon-free or carbon-neutral, it would be great to help these [developing] countries achieve the levels of grid resiliency and electric reliability that we [in developed countries] have without the carbon intensity.”

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in North Korea
Poverty in North Korea has been persistent for decades. North Korea is one of the most secluded countries in the world, both socially and economically. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, the nation has followed an ideology of self-reliance, called Juche in Korean. According to the official website of the North Korean government, Juche has three tenets: political independence, economic self-sufficiency and self-reliance in national defense. Adhering to these principles, North Korea withdrew from contact with other nations, gradually developing into the closed-off state it is today.

However, poor economic policies and the misallocation of resources have caused much of North Korea’s population to fall into poverty. One study estimates that the poverty rate of North Korea is around 60%, and another puts the percentage of undernourished North Koreans at 43%. The country suffers from chronic food shortages and has some of the worst income inequality in the world. Here are four influences on poverty in North Korea.

4 Influences on Poverty in North Korea

  1. Resource Misallocation: North Korea is notorious for its obsession with nuclear weapons and its military. The Korean War created high tensions between the country and its neighbors, leaving North Korea feeling threatened. As a result, North Korea funnels large amounts of resources into developing and maintaining weapons and the military, when it could better use those resources to fight famine and improve the economy.
  2. Environmental Collapse: To become self-reliant in food production, North Korea has employed intensive agricultural methods, using copious amounts of chemicals and cutting down forests to create farmland and increase crop yields. The loss of forests has led to erosion and flooding, costing the country much of its food supply. In addition, people chop down trees for firewood and eat wild animals to survive, leading to an imbalance in the ecosystem. With land growing less fertile, North Korea struggles to produce enough food for its people.
  3. Government Decisions: In 1995, the government cut supplies to the north of the country to provide more food for the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to garner support for the regime there. This decision hurt the regime greatly. Farmers began hoarding food and selling it independently of the state. Citizen support of the regime fell, decreasing even further when the regime used force to maintain its power. The Juche ideology backfired, as the country had to rely on international aid during the famine.
  4. Decreased Foreign Aid: During the Cold War, North Korea received Soviet aid. However, the country refused to pay its debts to the USSR, which responded by withdrawing support for North Korea. The fall of the Soviet Union forced North Korea to rely more on China for imports. In the 1990s, however, China decreased its grain exports because its own population needed the crops. In response, North Korea condemned China as a traitor. Without foreign aid, poverty in North Korea has only worsened.

These four influences on poverty in North Korea show that it is the product of ill-advised governmental decisions. Fortunately, the global community has begun to take note of the country’s struggles, and other nations are offering help. China has been the most generous donor, sending over 200,000 tons of food in 2012 and $3 million in aid in 2016. South Korea has also been generous to its neighbor, pledging 50,000 tons of rice and $8 million in 2019. The U.N. asked donors for $120 million to give to North Korea, eliciting responses from countries like Denmark, Norway and Germany. Non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross and the World Food Programme likewise commit to helping North Koreans in need. Hope remains for the people of North Korea.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr