Information and stories about environment.

women for bees programAngelina Jolie is widely considered one of the film industry’s most successful and famous stars. In 2020, she was the second-highest-paid Hollywood actress, earning more than $35 million for her work in films such as Marvel Studio’s “Eternals.” Additionally, Jolie’s humanitarian work has received a lot of attention, partnering with the U.N. Refugee Agency and launching the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. She built her reputation as an advocate for global human rights and women empowerment. Recently, the actress joined forces with UNESCO and French perfume company Guerlain to jumpstart the Women for Bees program.

Women for Bees Program

Beginning on June 21, 2021, the global “female beekeeping entrepreneurship” program will send 10 women each year “to a 30-day accelerated training course” in beekeeping at the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie’s (OFA) Domaine de la Sainte-Baume in Provence, France. After five years, the 50 total course participants will have gained a solid foundation of beekeeping skills.

Participants will also form a strong global network of fellow female beekeepers. Furthermore, participants will all be able to run their own professional apiaries, bringing in an income to sustain themselves for years to come. Jolie was appointed “godmother” of the Women for Bees program and will track the progress of the beekeepers. The collaboration between UNESCO, Guerlain and Jolie aims to promote biodiversity and support bees’ crucial role as pollinators while simultaneously empowering women in female entrepreneurship. According to UNESCO, the program “aims to enable women’s social emancipation through an expertise-driven sustainable professional activity.”

As the female participants progress through the Women for Bees program, they will be able to gain critical skills for long-term economic enhancement for both themselves and their larger communities. The initiative will involve UNESCO’s biosphere reserves located in areas such as Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Russia, Rwanda and Slovenia. About 2,500 hives are set to be built within 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves in the next four years.

World Bee Day

On World Bee Day, Jolie generated buzz for the Women for Bees program by partaking in a National Geographic photoshoot with bees roaming her face. Dan Winters took the portraits as a photographer and amateur beekeeper himself. The photos aim to raise awareness of the importance of bees and the ability of the beekeeping industry to contribute to economic growth. During her interview with National Geographic, Jolie spoke about the connection between saving bees and supporting women’s entrepreneurship. Jolie explains that pollinating insects are “an indispensable pillar of our food supply.” Therefore, bees contribute to global food security. The Women for Bees program protects bees while “empowering women in their livelihoods.”

Jolie’s collaboration with the Women for Bees program is a strong example of a celebrity utilizing their social influence to promote social good. Her efforts with the Women for Bees program are sure to help the environment, global food security and the livelihoods of the many women involved.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Unsplash

Agbogbloshie Dump in GhanaThe Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana is a massive e-waste dumpsite. While many discarded electronics found in “the digital dumping ground” come from wealthier countries in the developed world, Ghana creates much of its own e-waste. Imported e-waste usually consists of reusable electronic products. E-waste contaminates the air and soil with detrimental toxins. Despite the environmental and health impacts of improperly managed e-waste, the dump is booming with entrepreneurial activity.

The E-Waste in Agbogbloshie

Ghana imports almost 150,000 tons of electronic goods per year, which contributes to the excessive e-waste buildup in Agbogbloshie. The e-waste dump is now a vital source of income for impoverished Ghanaians and electronic scraps serve as one of the limited resources in the region. Some of the e-waste is burned, some of it is recycled and other electronic products are repaired or refurbished and resold. The problem is not necessarily the business endeavor itself, but the lack of formal recognition and regulations. Formally recognizing the dump as an entrepreneurial hub and implementing regulations could address environmental and health impacts.

The Health Impacts

In the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana, workers strip electronic cables in order to uncover “gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals.” Workers resort to “acid leaching and cable burning” to more easily and economically strip cables, but these practices release harmful chemicals and byproducts that impact the health of people and the health of the environment. Researchers from the WHO Collaborating Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the University of Queensland in Australia confirm the detrimental health impacts of exposure to e-waste. The research confirms the link “between e-waste exposure and thyroid dysfunction, adverse birth outcomes, behavioral changes, decreased lung function and adverse changes that can be seen at the cellular level.”

Reducing E-Waste Globally

On an individual level, it is possible to reduce the amount of e-waste produced. In doing so, consumers can decrease the amount of e-waste that inevitably ends up accumulating at the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana. People can refrain from discarding electronic products in the trash, thereby reducing the electronic material imported to countries like Ghana. Instead, the goal should be to reuse old products and recycle them if they cannot be reused or repaired. If personally reusing the goods is not an option, the goods can be donated to charity or passed on to family and friends.

International waste reduction is a step in the right direction, but it cannot be the sole response to the issue of e-waste. The United Nations Environment Programme states that Ghana and other countries in West Africa create 85% of the e-waste in Ghana and West Africa. This means that reducing the export of electronics from developed countries will not be enough to address the hazards of the e-waste in the Agbogbloshie dump. Since many people rely on the dump to make a living, a solution must be approached with the locals in mind and their situations of poverty.

Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP)

A Ghana-based organization called the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) takes this idea to heart. The organization encourages people relying on the Agbogbloshie dump to create and repair e-products instead of making a fast profit from recycling materials. This global network helps people create new inventions out of used products and reduces toxic waste in the process. The AMP imparts knowledge and gives advice on how to safely work with e-waste. The organization also developed the AMP Spacecraft, which is a simple blueprint for people to build affordable mobile workshop spaces. Maker Kits are “3D digital downloads of tools and instruments” for crafters to use in their inventions and repairs.

The AMP provides the support needed to ensure that impoverished people relying on the e-waste dump can still make an income in a safe and improved way.

– Esha Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Poverty in Mongolia
The biosphere is rapidly deteriorating and nomadic life in Mongolia is paying a high price. Those who lose their livestock to severe weather conditions also lose their main source of revenue and safety. Many abandon their farms to pursue a life in the cities, where other calamities await. Today, the situation of environmental poverty in Mongolia has grown direr than ever.

The Problem of Landowners

Mongolia’s abrupt transition from a Soviet satellite state into a free market economy left little room for nomads to enjoy fiscal mobility. Shortly after lands were privatized, opportunists secured farmlands and promptly overexploited them. These elites would excessively hoard horses, sheep and yak, who would subsequently mow the grounds down to bare land. Nomads, who had lived as if the land was shared and had known how to properly cultivate and harvest from their farms, were left in the dust. Today, 80% of the country’s livestock belongs to the richest 20% of owners.

The agricultural inexperience of many of these owners came at environmental and economic costs. “Herding is a skill that you learn over a lifetime,” says Dr. Timothy May, professor in Eurasian Studies at the University of North Georgia. “Being a nomad looks like you’re just raising animals and the animals know what to do, but you have to know how to manage the animals. What would work with their pastures and so forth.”

Natural Catastrophes

Overfarming and other sorts of extraction, such as mining, have grown into large-scale issues like pollution and public health conditions. Gers, tent-like structures that serve as portable houses, are often heated by burning raw coal and cheap minerals. Particulate air matter or dust particles clog the air and damage respiratory systems. As a result, pneumonia is currently the leading cause of death in the country.

Possibly the most devastating climate crisis, however, is the largest determinant of nomadic poverty. Dzuds are various natural catastrophes specific to Mongolia’s shifts in weather and are only growing in size and severity. Of the five types of dzuds, the most commonly known is a tsaagan dzud. During these, a layer of ice or snow blocks animals from reaching food or water, leaving them to die in mass groups. In 2010, 20% of the country’s animals were wiped out as a result. This year, many experts are suggesting the risk of a dzud is unnervingly high.

Environmental Poverty on the Rise

With each environmental change, nomads are increasingly vulnerable to the clutches of poverty. Cities like Ulaanbaatar are already saturated with public health concerns like food insecurity and urban populations are still growing. Maternal mortality and water scarcity are further complicating the issue.

Not all hope is lost, however. Dr. May suggests that by empowering skilled nomads, they could start to untangle the economic and environmental damages. “Nomadic lifestyle is better not only for the animals but the quality of the product, there is an industry that can be there,” he says, “because there’s plenty of money to be made with the nomadic life….They can feed the country — they can be self-sufficient, and with plenty to export.” These recommendations, among other solutions, are important to addressing the cycle of environmental poverty in Mongolia.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Movement in Indonesia In Central Java province, Indonesia, a group of Aisyiyah volunteers planted mahogany, sengon and teak trees. Aisyiyah is the oldest Islamic women’s movement in Indonesia, founded in 1917. Aisyiyah has four million members dispersed throughout the country. In March 2021, Aisyiyah pledged to plant five million fruit trees in Indonesian homes and gardens, which will contribute to fighting food insecurity during COVID-19.

The Impact of COVID-19

In the last few decades, Indonesia has reduced poverty significantly. The poverty rate has been reduced by more than 50% since 1999, with a poverty rate of 9.78% in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic has disrupted the country’s poverty progress. Between March and September 2020, the national poverty rate increased from 9.78% to 10.19%. Approximately one million more people fell below the poverty line due to the pandemic, reversing three years of progress. The Indonesian Government has taken swift action by implementing emergency monetary aid to support households and companies, ensuring a sufficient vaccine supply and improving social benefits and healthcare systems. In addition, the government promised to reduce emissions by 29% in nine years. Most of Indonesia’s emissions come from land conversion so the government intends on implementing reform to protect land and forests.

Aisyiyah has a quest to plant millions of fruit trees, which will help reduce the pressure on forests and feed families. The group cooperates with the national government and other organizations, enabling Aisyiyah to extend its outreach. The women’s movement in Indonesia has strategically multiplied its impact, becoming a powerful force for change.

Aisyiyah’s Environmental Wing

In 2015, the organization created its environmental wing known as the LLHPB to help women respond to natural disasters and climate-related issues. The sector has since expanded its horizons, helping the country reach its emission goals and fight against natural disasters. In the Kalimantan area of Indonesia, volunteers help prevent wildfires. In rural areas of Indonesia, reforestation efforts have faced numerous roadblocks, including weak seedlings and failure to maintain trees after the seeds were planted. Since the close of 2020, Aisyiyah volunteers have planted 4,700 tree seedlings.

Addressing the drought in the Sukoharjo area of Indonesia, members of Aisyiyah purchased gallons of water for affected families. The LLHPB plans to collaborate with the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency to rehabilitate destroyed forests and land in the province of Riau. Together, the organizations and others will replant 600,000 hectares of mangrove forests by 2024.

Aisyiyah’s Connection to the Muslim Faith

Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim so Aisyiyah caters its environmental activism to the Muslim audience. The organization uses teachings of the Muslim faith to explain to people why environmentalism is important. According to the Muslim faith, humans are guardians of nature. Aisyiyah promotes this teaching through “Green Ramadan,” a nightly informational session about plastic waste reduction that lasts through the month of Ramadan. Muslims do good deeds during this month so Aisyiyah promotes environmental consciousness as an easy good deed. LLHPB members consider environmental work as elemental to their faith, which corresponds to a message that spreads to the “Green Ramadan” audience.

History of Aisyiyah

Aisyiyah was founded in 1917 as a female education movement in response to the lack of formal schooling for girls. Today, it operates thousands of schools, supports healthcare centers and runs social programs to promote breastfeeding and improve child and maternal health. The organization encourages its international members to advocate for reproductive rights and discourage child marriage. As a non-governmental organization, donations and fundraising activities fund Aisyiyah’s work.

The Aisyiyah women’s movement in Indonesia now works in 33 provinces and more than 7,500 rural Indonesian villages. As of 2016, it has supported more than 1,000 family business ventures to improve household poverty. Through its Empowering Indonesian Women for Poverty Reduction Program (MAMPU), Aisyiyah reached almost 9,000 women and provided training to more than 1,000 local leaders.

Aisyiyah is addressing issues of poverty and the environment in Indonesia by planting trees and dedicating efforts to education, women’s empowerment and child and maternal health, among other issues. Aisyiyah is an inspiring example of a local organization making a significant impact.

Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Sustainability in Croatia
By way of investing in environmental sustainability in Croatia, hotels like Villa Dvor are serving Croatia’s poor beyond job creation. Some efforts include the creation of urban gardens as well as improved sanitation, among other factors of aid. As a result, hotels and NGOs are driving eco-friendly innovations that make for a healthier Croatia, from delivering affordable, healthy food to impoverished communities to preventing pollution within neighborhoods.

Urban Gardens for Hotels

As towns turn into tourist hotspots, hotels are moving toward increased environmental sustainability in Croatia. A nearly century-old castle-turned hotel in Omiš, Croatia, is now home to some of the newest advancements in environmental technology. Complete from water flow reducers to solar-powered thermal panels, the Villa Dvor has committed to an eco-friendly operation that is now benefitting the Adriatic coastline and beyond.

Upon its 2013 entrance to the European Union, the city of Zagreb, Croatia, announced a piece of legislation planning to reserve 2,000 land plots in 10 locations for urban gardening that encompasses several of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since then, the number of urban gardens in the city has steadily increased. The practice of urban gardens has become so successful a waitlist is needed specifically for these gardening-related plot allotments.

Facilitating sizable monthly savings on healthy food products makes urban gardens of particular benefit to the poor. Eight pounds of tomatoes at the supermarket cost about $20.48. However, when one sources them from a single home-grown tomato plant, that cost comes to just $4. According to Energy Cities, the European government network, disadvantaged groups are now some of the primary beneficiaries of the project and in turn, receive priority access.

Gardening and Nonprofit Organizations

In regards to education on seasonal and harvesting techniques, nonprofit organizations such as Udruga Oaza are here to help. The nonprofit educates children and youth on environmental sustainability in Croatia via school gardening programs. In 2017, it started the “Oasis for Kids” initiative. Mile Drača, head of Udruga Oaza, told The Borgen Project that while cooking workshops on veganism and vegetarianism have slowly, they surely incorporate healthier options into school lunches.

Irena Burba, the president of NGO Zelena Istra, emphasized urban gardening’s potential to assist the poor in her own district. “Our local community is also a tourist center and food prices are very high. Markets are becoming inaccessible to poor citizens. Even fish, an important source of protein, although we are at sea, is too expensive for many citizens because they are tourist prices,” explained Burba. “In times of crisis, communities need to find quick and efficient solutions, so urban gardens are certainly one of them.” With limited food availability due to the novel coronavirus, more citizens are vouching for the establishment of urban gardening areas.

Improved Sanitation

With urban gardens uniquely serving each community, they have the ability to promote environmental sustainability in Croatia via contribution to nationwide improvements in sanitation. Attracting some 21,000,000 tourists in 2019 alone, Croatia has experienced rapid development of its tourism industry and subsequent sanitation. Thus, industrial developments are also growing, such as hotel complexes which have increasingly aroused alarm as they continue to proliferate.

For instance, in the summer of 2019, protests regarding mayor Milan Bandić’s Urban Development Plan largely characterized Zagreb. It sought to double or triple the cost of waste collection. Additionally, Croatia’s easternmost region encountered issues surrounding illegal landfills, which nearly always tops the list of concerns, reported Burba.

Despite being the second most sought-after tourist destination, the Splitsko-dalmatinska counties remain home to the highest percentage of Croatia’s poor. When analyzing the effects of pollution in Croatia, the burgeoning tourist industry constantly hits low-income districts the hardest. This includes access to commercial fish. Overfishing and pollution have led to a substantial decrease in commercially important fish species like the Surmullet, further hurting the prospects of local fishermen who are a mainly self-employed group. They are two to three times more likely to experience “in-work poverty.”

Certifications for Eco-Friendly Hotels

Evaluating these statistics prepared another NGO, Sunce Dalmacija (“Sun Dalmatia”), for one of its most well-known projects yet: certifications for eco-friendly hotels. With the name “Dalmatia Green” diplomas, Sunce Dalmacija issues these certifications to incentivize hotel owners’ adoption of environmental sustainability in Croatia via techniques like energy-saving lights.

E.U. funds generally upheld eco-friendly practices. The Croatian Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection was able to chip away at its 2007-2015 Waste Management Plan, which saw the centralization of waste management in national facilities. Whether these practices undergo enforcement on the individual level is a different matter, Mile Drača reported. Although institutions like Hrvatske Vode have facilitated a stricter public oversight of environmental sustainability in Croatia, privatization of the coastline by large hotel chains remains a glaring concern to NGOs like Zelena Istra.

Moving Forward

Numerous challenges related to balancing tourism with environmental sustainability in Croatia exist. However, despite these obstacles, the E.U.’s newest member continues to make progress with its urban gardening and waste management initiatives. Moving forward, “broad, quality public debate,” together with transparency, has the power to develop quality solutions to this age-long struggle, said Burba.

She concluded that “Citizens are ready to unite and jointly respond to the problem in their local community through actions, petitions and protests. We, as an association, provide them with support and help with our knowledge and experience.”

– Petra Dujmic
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Change in Chad
In the 1960s, the country Chad had one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Chad. Since then, Lake Chad and the rest of the country have undergone a dramatic environmental change. Environmental change is a widely-understood concept, but too many only know this through media portrayal. Media often presents it as a local rather than a global issue, and solutions tend to suffer from the same presentation. Here is some information about environmental change in Chad.

Lake Chad

Rural communities in the Lake Chad region depend on agro-pastoral and fishing activities. The water loss has made this highly dependent hydro-climate area difficult to live in. Its 430,000 inhabitants have had to adjust to the constant environmental change and new challenges. In the 1980s, the annual maximum flooded area of the lake varied from 25,000 kilometers. Today, that has reduced to 10,000 kilometers.

Correlation between the hydro-climate, increased violence and population growth could provide insight into detection challenges, such as shortfall of agricultural production, and identify solutions to prevent food insecurity. Seasonal changes, lake levels and local rainfall are essential to understanding future adaptations.

Community and Violence

In the 1960s, it was easy to share the water of Lake Chad, but today there is competition for the little water that remains. The rise in extreme weather conditions, which for Chad are primarily heat-related, links to conflict and violence. Moreover, the lack of shade in the area contributes to competition and violence. Human behavior becomes just as complicated as the environment undergoes further destruction. The temperature reaches over 40 degrees Celsius and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Violence has taken many forms in Chad and has led to the genocide of many Chadians. Here are some examples:

  • Children: The political conflicts have led to extreme violence against children that often results in death. Children are vulnerable to becoming child soldiers and victims of human trafficking. Many children end up orphans because of widespread diseases including AIDS. Those who live in rural areas experience these dangers the most because they often perform work that leaves them alone and vulnerable. Children also suffer from malnutrition and, due to the lack of advanced healthcare and healthcare workers, a high infant mortality rate exists. It is common for women to give birth without the assistance of medical professionals.
  • Religion: Opposing religious groups in Chad have taken matters into their own hands. They are deciding what is sinful and enforcing punishment that results in the death of and violence against young girls. Education has become a source of violent attacks against Chadians as religious groups prevent growing western education in these communities.
  • Poverty: About 63% of Chad’s population lives in poverty. The struggle to find food makes people living in poverty extremely vulnerable to extremism. With such a high percentage of the population struggling to find food day-to-day, community members can also become competitive with one another.

Women

Indigenous women who are suffering from the declining resources due to environmental change in Chad have taken lead in promoting change, using their own experiences as examples of the consequences of a deteriorating climate. Illiteracy among Chadians affects 32% of the population, as does the scarcity of medical health care workers. Large-scale agriculture is not directly affecting Chad, since it is practically non-existent. While it is true the men control what happens within these communities, women are often the heads of the family. In terms of the number of challenges that they struggle with to solve to protect their families, they are better able to provide insight into the needs of their communities.

The shifting climates often mean that the men who do work have multiple livelihoods as the seasons change. Women and children have to adapt to finding water and natural remedies to illnesses. Many often overlook their significance and not just in their communities. Some also see them as victims, as opposed to the communities who work hard to adjust to changes that are a result of their environmental degradation. Women have both knowledge and experience that provides the world with opportunities to better understand the importance of protecting and caring for the environment. In many instances, the communities have already learned to survive.

The future of Chad will depend on preventative measures and promoting peace. One should not interpret violence in communities as the fault of the community, but rather the community’s need to survive. It is difficult to maintain reason when fighting for one’s own life and one’s family. Understanding communities in countries such as Chad not just as unfortunate but as an example of the urgency for change in how the world approaches environmental change and solutions.

World For TCHAD

Guy Boypa is the founder of World for TCHAD. He was born in Chad but spent most of his life in France. When he visited Chad as an adult, he found his friends and family living in ruins due to lack of water and harsh living conditions. Boypa initiated the change he wanted to see as many women have been taking action in pursuit of change.

World for TCHAD is working in Chad to provide wells that make free water obtainable to Chadians, in addition to collecting donations to provide children and families with education and self-care supplies. Local French artists, including musicians and comedians, stay involved and raise awareness in the French community. Aligning with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), World for TCHAD is addressing environmental change while taking action. The organization recognizes the burden this is particularly on women and children who take on the pursuit to collect water every day.

So far, the organization has provided over 20,000 Chadians with clean drinking water from 26 wells, with the 2021 goal of adding 10 more. It is currently active in Chari-Baguirmi and Hadjer-Lamis regions and plans to expand into the Mayo-Kebbi East region. Between 2014 and 2015, 208 community wells were drilled and 14 human motor pumps supplied 13,000 villagers. About 74% of Chadians currently have access to unclean and unhealthy drinking water. World for TCHAD wants to provide for more than half of them.

Zoe Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

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 significant 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 in grants to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. These grants aim to help the local population and governments increase environmental protective measures. 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.
  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 €1 million to help the Kayapo and Kapoto tribes in Brazil. Indigenous communities in the Amazon face tremendous pressure from those looking to seize and deforest their 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 to support sustainable cocoa production. The project focuses 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 toward protecting the Amazon rainforest after the devastating forest fires. President Macron committed $100 million on the part of France to a $500 million package to save the Amazon, funded by donors Colombia and Chile as well as Germany, Britain and the European Union. 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 the AFD funds, 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 their work to protect the Amazon. Hopefully, other countries will also make saving the Amazon rainforest a priority of their efforts.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr