how-small-island-nations-fight-poverty-alongside-pollutionSmall island nations possess a unique perspective in the fight against poverty. Representing some of the most vulnerable areas, their tiny landmasses and isolated locations make them particularly susceptible to climate disasters. This can lead to extreme suffering and hardship for the county’s citizens when their supply routes are cut. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti is an example of this; so is the 2021 volcanic explosion in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. However, they also possess unique economic opportunities to uplift their citizens that rest upon that same tempestuous climate.

The Vulnerability of Small Island Nations

To put into perspective how vulnerable small island nations are, one can consult the Global Risk Report, a yearly study of the countries most susceptible to natural, social and economic disasters. In 2021, 10 small islands ranked in the top 15 most vulnerable nations on the list.

Small islands accounted for the top three most vulnerable nations: Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tonga. The reason being: they possess a dangerous mixture of impoverished people, poor infrastructure and high susceptibility to climate events. Such events are only increasing with time due to climate change. “In addition to cyclones, earthquakes and droughts, the risk profile is also increasingly determined by sea-level rise.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also hit small island nations harder than most. Tourism, an industry that completely dried up during the height of the virus, powered many island economies. Importing and exporting goods also became much more difficult as supply lines around the world strained over new restrictions.

Going Green in the Maldives With Parley

Most small island nations are slowly recovering from the pandemic and looking towards a brighter economic and social future. These countries are trying to strengthen by becoming some of the most environmentally advanced nations on the planet.

The Maldives, a collection of islands near Sri Lanka, began partnering with environmental nonprofit Parley for the Oceans in 2019 in order to help preserve the nation’s famous coastlines.

Parley is implementing the AIR (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) strategy, working with local organizations and communities. Parley prioritized the following:

  • Reducing plastic use
  • Educating communities and youth
  • Combating pollution with cleanups
  • Recycling and plastic interception programs
  • Support an eco-innovative approach to sustainable development

Parley, implemented “plastic interception and baling sites” including more than 70 educational facilities. Hosted “collaborative cleanups” on shores and built the first plastic center and innovation laboratory in the nation’s capital of Malé.

Although this partnership does not directly address poverty in the nation, Parley looks to help struggling people within the Maldives by way of educational programs and “eco-innovative” collaborations with artists and corporations that bring more money and jobs into the country. The program has coincided with a decline in poverty in the Maldives, as the poverty rate rose to 11% during the pandemic-fueled year of 2020 but then fell to 4% a year later in 2021.

Tree Planting in Jamaica

Jamaica, which saw its poverty rate balloon during the pandemic to almost 23% in 2020, is using an eco-friendly approach to support the economies of itself and smaller islands around the Caribbean. In 2019, the nation founded the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance, which aims to pool “financial and other resources” to help Caribbean nations meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This includes the achievement of environment-related SDGs. As such, the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance implemented the Caribbean Tree Planting Project (CTPP) in February 2020, mobilizing young people, local communities and organizations across 22 Caribbean nations to plant at least 1 million trees to speed up progress toward achieving the SDGs.

Seychelles’ Blue Economy

In Seychelles, a collection of islands off the western coast of Africa, the “blue economy,” which the World Bank describes as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs,” has helped the nation and its people grow stronger in recent years. In 2018, Seychelles launched the “world’s first sovereign blue bond” to fund projects to strengthen the nation’s blue economy. In March 2020, Seychelles absolved of its foreign debt by denoting a third of its marine territory as a protected area. It was the first-ever case where foreign debt is paid off by way of environmental change. These changes are part of why Seychelles can expect to see a rise in GDP by 4.6% in 2022 and a decline in poverty ($5.5 in 2011 PPP) from 6.6% in 2020 to 5.1% in 2023.

Moving Forward

These small islands will require more foreign assistance to keep moving forward and reaching their environmental goals. As the U.N. reported in September 2019, “sustainable development in small island developing States will require a major increase in urgent investment.” It is essential for the health of these nations that these programs continue to receive funding. If they are, the islands’ futures, as well as their oceans, will be bright.

Finn Hartnett

Photo: Flickr

Effects of Water Pollution in Egypt
Since the days of the pharaoh, the Nile River has long served as the heart of the Egyptian community and provided 97% of the country’s water. However, currently, the Nile River is in a dire state due to massive strain from pollution and changing weather patterns. Being the lifeline of the nation, the state of the Nile River is not only symbolic of the current state of Egypt but all the water supply that runs through the city. The effects of water pollution in Egypt are now impacting the entire country and making it harder to access clean water.

Water Pollution in Egypt

To call the effects of water pollution in Egypt pernicious is an understatement, as the country has continued its struggle to access clean water. Being that most of Egypt depends on the Nile as its source of water, the fact that the river is being continuously contaminated with overwhelming amounts of items such as discharge, toxic chemicals, fertilizer residue, radioactive waste and oil pollution is truly horrific and dangerously deadly.

Another large cause of pollution in the water of Egypt can relate to certain Egyptian traditions. These customs include ridding their waste by casting it into the river while bathing and cleaning their animals in this same river water. These effects lead to mass breakouts of diseases, such as schistosomes, according to Save The Water.

In northern parts of Egypt, many citizens gain their water access from the Mediterranean Sea. However, according to Dr. Abu Alaa Abdel Moneim in his studies on the Mediterranean Sea, “720,000,000 tons of sewage, 142,000 tons of mineral oil, 66,000 tons of mercury, 4,200 tons of lead and 40,000 tons of phosphates” all end up in the sea, Save The Water reported. People then use this water for drinking and other daily activities, which can lead to illness, diseases and even death.

Facing Water Deficit

Another issue that plagues Egypt is its lack of rainfall. On average, Egypt receives less than 80 mm of rainfall a year and only 6% of the country is arable and agricultural land, with the rest being desert. The effect of this is large water wastage such as an outdated method of irrigation where farmers pump gallons of water over the crops.

The largest effect of water pollution in Egypt is the scarcity of water that it leads to. According to the 2021 UNICEF report, “Egypt is facing an annual water deficit of around 7 billion cubic meters to the mass pollution of Egypt’s water sources.” Later in the analysis, UNICEF stated that according to its projections, it is highly possible that the country could run out of clean water entirely by 2025. This would affect 1.8 billion people worldwide, who will be living in complete water scarcity.

Reaching a Stage of Water Poverty

In January 2022, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared that his beloved nation “has reached a stage of water poverty.” According to Mohamed Nasr al-Din Allam, who is a former Egyptian irrigation minister, “Water poverty, as defined by the World Bank, is when a country’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita are less than 1,000 cubic meters annually.” This is the bare minimum to successfully meet the people’s needs for water and food. It has not been since 1991 that Egypt reported living with less than the minimum water share.

Although the current effects of water pollution in Egypt are dier, there are possible solutions that the government is implementing and are in place to assist the citizens. In August 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation revealed a four-step plan, which could assist in reducing the water crisis. The four-pronged strategy extends until 2050, with promises made to solve all water-related problems and effects of water pollution in Egypt, Al-Monitor reported.

With this plan in place, the water which flows through the Nile River appears a little clearer and the citizens of Egypt could soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief as well as drink a clean glass of water.

– Austin Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Waste Management
Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of the most impoverished countries in Southeast Asia. However, over the last 20 years, its economy has been one of the fastest-growing in the region, resulting in an increase in the amount of waste generated. Waste management systems struggle to keep up with this increased waste. Waste management in Laos is “limited to urban centers” and tends to be poorly managed with just 40%-60% of waste collected. Pollution affects the Lao people negatively, resulting in around 10,000 deaths per year, according to a 2021 study by the World Bank. With waste management emerging as a dire issue, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) are offering support to address the issue.

The Larger Part of the Issue

Around four million tonnes of plastic waste discharges into the world’s seas annually, mostly originating from rivers in Asia such as the Mekong, which goes through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. About 70 million people rely on this river for food and resources, especially in Laos, though it is “one of the dirtiest in the world.” The Laotian lifestyle is transitioning from a “traditional and subsistence-based lifestyle” to a more urban lifestyle that focuses more on consumerism and imported goods.

The lack of waste dump sites and formal infrastructure significantly and directly impacts the health of citizens, especially when resorting to disposal practices such as burning, burying trash and discarding waste in rivers. Testing of the water sources across more than 3,000 households in Laos shows that  E.Coli in drinking water contaminated 86% of the household population. Furthermore, even for homes using bottled water, a staggering 85% of individuals had E. Coli in their bottled water.

Making the Effort

Laos citizens view plastics as a luxury item, portraying a sign of economic progression. However, this mindset also contributes to plastics becoming the second-largest type of waste, accounting for up to 24% of total waste generated by Laos. But, even as plastic and other wastes are prevalent, cities such as Luang Prabang are making an effort to keep the area’s streets clean. With the locals taking action to actively keep the city clean, these city-dwellers set the example for other city-dwellers in Laos. Responsibility is on communities and households, especially as Laos has a small budget for addressing the waste management issue.

A World Bank 2022 Get CLEAN and GREEN – Solid waste and Plastic Management in Lao PDR report recommends strategies to resolve the waste management issue. One strategy is to move from a linear to a “circular economy.” This would reduce waste by “reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products.”

The UNDP’s Work

The UNDP gathered a focus group of around 30 university students from diverse economic backgrounds, finding that close to 90% of students realize how poor waste management impacts the planet. The organization gave students suggestions for taking action, such as establishing task forces in communities and using social media to share information on helping as green advocates.

The UNDP also found that students who learned to separate waste in schools were eager to follow waste separation procedures. An online UNDP survey shows that social media would influence the mindsets and behaviors of more than 80% of respondents. The UNDP considers the immediate banning of plastic as critical.

The GGGI is aiding in solid waste management in the capital city of Vientiane, formulating a 10-year Strategy and Action Plan. It also has created four project activities:

  • Decentralized garbage collection services
  • A Waste Bank and the designation of the role of waste pickers
  • Organic waste segregation systems and private composting companies
  • Glass recycling involving 10 elementary schools to maximize waste disposal

Looking Ahead

While the Lao PDR transitions to a more urban economy and struggles with waste, organizations have offered solutions to support a more sanitary Laos, which will benefit the health and well-being of people. As education reaches citizens and offers them pathways out of poverty, Laos can create a safer, cleaner and more prosperous country for its populace. And if the country does lean more toward a “circular economy,” Laos could be on its way to reaching a net carbon neutral status by 2040.

Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Pollution in the Philippines
Although plastic consumption is higher in more developed countries like the United States, a 2021 report from Our World in Data states that roughly a third of all plastics in the ocean comes from the Philippines. Plastic floods the Philippines’ beaches and rivers. Although people might associate this level of litter with overconsumption, plastic pollution in the Philippines is both the result and cause of poverty.

How Plastic Links to Poverty

Plastic and global poverty interlink in several ways. For one, the prevalence of plastic pollution and other waste in less developed countries is a direct consequence of the global waste trade as more developed countries “export” their waste to less developed countries that lack the means to properly recycle or otherwise dispose of it. The lack of sufficient waste management infrastructure in less developed countries hinders proper plastic disposal as mismanaged plastics move from population hubs into rivers and coastal ecosystems.

In the Philippines, discarding rather than recycling plastics leads to a loss of revenue of more than $890 million annually, which equates to “78% of the material value of the key plastic resins.” Plastic pollution also worsens conditions for the world’s impoverished. Consumption, inhalation and any other exposure to additives in most plastic can cause birth defects, disturb hormonal functions or lead to cancer, among other detrimental impacts.

Plastic pollution in the Philippines also threatens local economies, which are reliant on fishing, shipping and tourism. This pollution notably decreases overall biodiversity, interferes with shipping equipment and mars otherwise beautiful beaches and rivers.

NGOs Tackling Plastic Pollution in the Philippines

Despite the dire situation, several organizations are taking a stand against plastic pollution in the Philippines. These include the Plastic Bank, The Plastic Flamingo and the Blastik Project.

  1. The Plastic Bank. This international organization promotes ethical recycling systems along coastlines and provides additional sources of revenue for those living in poverty. As of Jan. 26, 2022, the Plastic Bank recovered 41.64 kilograms of plastic, the equivalent of 91.8 pounds or roughly “2 billion single-use plastic bottles.” The organization allows individuals to collect plastic waste in exchange for money, basic family necessities and access to social and training programs. A branch of the Plastic Bank centered in the Philippines has stated on Facebook that people from local communities can collect plastic waste in exchange “for bonuses that help to provide basic family necessities like groceries, school supplies for their children, digital connectivity, and more.” By equipping individuals with these opportunities, the Plastic Bank gives them the tools necessary for greater economic mobility.
  2. The Plastic Flamingo. This social enterprise spreads awareness of plastic pollution through webinars and educational campaigns and offers public drop-off points for plastic disposal. However, it primarily focuses on converting plastic waste into building materials. People throughout Manila can get rid of their plastic waste at collection sites for the organization to collect and recycle into “Eco-lumbers.” Through its creation of Eco-lumbers and its participation in many construction projects, The Plastic Flamingo transforms a source of economic concern into a valuable, sustainable resource that people could use as humanitarian housing material alternatives. In 2021, the group notably made its first prototype of an “Eco-shelter” made entirely out of recycled products.
  3. The Blastik Project. Similar to the Plastic Bank, the Blastik Project equips farmers to reduce plastic pollution in the Philippines and create a more circular economy. The project also educates local communities on the potential economic benefits of recycling. The organization also offers to teach Filipinos how to recycle plastic bottles and caps into home decor, wallets, tiles and more. This supplemental income could make a significant difference, especially for those struggling with poverty. People also use plastics as bottle planters in the organization’s farms, which provides the project’s contributors with organic food. As of November 2021, the Blastik Project recycled more than 17 tons of plastic waste.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, pollution and poverty intertwine in a self-feeding cycle. It would be impossible to tackle one without tackling the other, especially because of the global waste trade, which forces less developed countries to bear the consequences of overconsumption in wealthier nations. However, a greater shift to recycling and sustainable development could turn the tide on plastic pollution in the Philippines.

Lauren Sung
Photo: Flickr

the 15-minute city addresses poverty
The 15-minute city is an urban mobility concept that allows for “people [to] meet all their needs in a 15-minute commute.” This city concept encourages neighborhood connectivity that centers around the needs of the people. The 15-minute city is a decentralized space that allows people to reconnect with their neighborhoods. Latin American cities, such as Bogota in Colombia, have begun integrating the 15-minute concept into their urban spaces with projects such as “the installation of bike racks in bus and subway terminals” and creating bike lanes to promote cycling over driving. Through active and sustainable mobility practices such as those in Bogota, the 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging cities to be more democratic by creating an accessible city for all.

Increasing Accessibility Alleviates Poverty

One of the first steps in poverty reduction is increasing accessibility to basic resources and services. Lack of accessible socioeconomic services negatively impacts the quality of life for marginalized communities. Limitations, such as inadequate access to health or educational benefits and opportunities, result in an unhealthy populace that lacks the skills, knowledge and mobility that education could provide. A strong urban policy requires a person-centered approach that especially focuses on the needs of marginalized communities. Proximity to resources is just one element of the 15-minute city concept. The 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging an urban space that is equitable, inclusive and offers an array of opportunities and resources to a diverse set of people expeditiously and within a short distance.

How the 15-Minute City Addresses Poverty in Bogota, Colombia

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, Bogota introduced 52 miles of temporary bicycle lanes to encourage transportation options that support social distancing. The new bike lanes expanded the decades-old Ciclovía bicycle lane network that stands as one of the largest in the world. The 15-minute concept also encourages the use of public transportation. In Bogota, experts consider the bus system, Bus Rapid Transit, “one of the best in the world” and the Colombian government funds part of these bus ticket costs for impoverished people. The city also offers vehicle rides for people who live in neighborhoods that the Bus Rapid Transit system does not cover.

Benefits of the 15-Minute City

  • Increased Health and Nutrition: Access to healthy food options increases overall health and lowers disease rates. This is especially beneficial for communities that typically do not have easy access to nutritional foods. In 2020, an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that while hunger is a major issue, nutrition is as well because “in low-income countries, 87% of people cannot afford healthy diets.” The 15-minute city addresses poverty by providing a sustainable and viable solution to food insecurity. Increasing accessibility benefits the overall health of the community.
  • Better Quality of Life: The 15-minute city encourages neighborhood connectivity, which results in lower rates of isolation and loneliness while encouraging strong social cohesion and socialization. Green space is an important element of the 15-minute city because it offers social space and hosts vegetation that contributes to cleaner air and also serves as a preventative measure for heatwaves and floods.
  • Cleaner Air: Decreased vehicle traffic results in cleaner air for city-dwellers, which ultimately lowers respiratory illness and disease. Low-income urban areas, in general, have higher cases of respiratory illnesses and the concept of closing the road for pedestrian or bike traffic lowers these rates, bringing health benefits to urban regions.

A People-Centered Approach

Latin American cities have been implementing elements of the 15-minute city in their urban policies even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the pandemic saw a surge in the 15-minute city concept in response to social distancing restrictions and outbreak containment. The World Economic Forum has said that the desire for a more equitable and sustainable world could potentially materialize with the implementation of these strategies but limitations are apparent. The 15-minute city concept addresses poverty through a people-centered approach and many cities are starting to take note.

Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Water Pollution in IndiaIndia is infamous for its heavily polluted air. However, with up to 80% of its water contaminated, water pollution in India is just as prevalent and dangerous. Polluted waterways affect the standard of living of many Indian families, especially those within impoverished communities. Additionally, contaminated water creates unsustainable environments for aquatic life. Toxic waste such as discarded plastic and domestic sewage is damaging the fishing industry, which makes up a large portion of India’s economy. In an effort to combat water pollution, the Indian state of Kerala has started an initiative to recycle ocean plastic into materials for road construction, saving the jobs of fishermen and protecting the environment.

Water Pollution’s Impact on Livelihoods

Urban areas in India generate approximately 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage water. With the capacity to only treat 23,277 MLD, more than 70% of the sewage in urban areas does not receive treatment. The untreated waste often ends up in nearby water bodies such as the River Ganges, one of 10 rivers accounting for “90% of the plastic pollution that ends up at sea.”

Because of the water pollution, India’s rivers are in a dire state and citizens suffer health and economic impacts. The pollutants entering the water leave it contaminated and unsafe to consume. In 2018, more than 163 million people in India did not have a source of safe drinking water, leading to people relying on rivers for drinking water.

The polluted water also affects the fish that rely on healthy bacteria to survive. As a result, incidents of mass fish deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. Without fish in India’s waterways, millions of people will be out of work. As of 2020, India ranks third globally in fishery production and the fishing industry employs more than 145 million people.

Small-scale fisheries, which supply 55% of the total fish production, are critical for reducing poverty and food scarcity in local communities. Freshwater fisheries also help improve water quality and soil conditions on land, positively aiding agriculture. For this reason, water pollution in India is harmful to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Repurposing Plastic Pollution

Concerned for their futures, fishermen in Kerala, India, are taking part in an environmental initiative to keep their waters clean. In 2017, the local government put out an order to minimize water pollution. Fishermen in Kerala have answered the call. Kerala relies substantially on the fishing industry, which brings in approximately $14 million in revenue.

The government passed the Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) project, requiring harbor authorities to distribute nylon bags to fishermen so that they can store the plastic pollution that gets caught in their nets instead of throwing it back into the sea. Construction companies buy the collected plastic in shredded form and use it to build new roads. Cleaning and sorting the gathered plastic provides jobs to local women in Kerala.

When mixed with asphalt, the plastic component makes India’s roads more resistant to intense heat. In addition to helping the environment, the process is saving India money by reducing the cost of building roads by “8–10% per kilometer of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road.” Every kilometer of road utilizes about 1 million plastic bags. As of April 2021, the project has collected about 176,000 pounds of plastic and has built 135 kilometers of road, creating many employment opportunities in the process.

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Properly developed roads contribute to economic growth. By building and maintaining roads to rural communities, India can ensure the economic development of these areas. Roads to rural communities improve access to education and reduce costs for transportation, trade and production. However, funding for rural infrastructure is usually low on the list of budgetary priorities for the Indian government. Repurposing ocean plastic for use in building materials reduces the cost of roads while simultaneously combating water pollution in India, thus reducing poverty overall.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Uru People
For many years, Lake Poopo, Bolivia’s second-largest lake, has supported the Uru people, also known as the “people of the lake.” Large in size, the lake has always fluctuated, from a mere 1,000 square kilometers to over 3,500 square kilometers in its peak in the late 80s. With such a sizable resource, the Uru people were able to create a unique culture that enabled them to dominate the lakeshore and surrounding regions. In their culture, when two Uru would decide to marry, traditional customs called for the building of a “family of reeds” on Lake Poopo, surviving off what they could forage along the lakeshore. Fish, eggs and hunted birds supported the local populace, keeping the environment in a rich, harmonic relationship that the Uru people thought would last for their entire lifetimes.

This thought is now little more than a memory to Luis Valero, a local Uru community leader who remembers when his grandfather saw the Lake as sustaining him and his people for all of their lives. The memory is now slowly draining away as Lake Poopo suffers from human-accelerated pollution. It is leaving the waters dried up and the Uru people are floundering and grasping for anything to sustain them.

How Poverty Began

For generations, the Uru people lived off the bounty of the Lake, but after Lake Poopo dried up in 2015, things took a turn for the worse, forcing the Uru people to settle on what remains of a lakeshore. The Uru people survived largely from an independent lifestyle tin which they did not need to generate extraneous products for trade. The men would support their families through hunting and fishing while the women largely worked in small crafts and trades. Now, with Lake Poopo suffering from human-accelerated pollution, many of the local men, unable to sustain their families or entertain the possibility of one, leave and look for work elsewhere. The results of water diversion projects for farming have drained Lake Poopo of its vitality and accelerated the Uru people to poverty as more continue to face a new reality they did not anticipate.

Effects of a Global Pandemic

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only strained community bonds as the Uru people strive to replenish their cultural identity in the midst of deterioration. One of the consequences of the Lake’s accelerated pollution is the migration of cultural identity in the form of language. Speakers of the Uru-Cholo language have become less plentiful as young men, unable to find work around the lake as it dries up, explore opportunities outside the community in the mines and surrounding towns. This slow migration dissipates the community structure, leaving many women and men fighting to stay out of poverty. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, though, as the Bolivian government has teamed up with local organizations in an effort to keep the Uru people’s language alive.

The Good News

Bolivia’s industrialization has created more wealth for the country and its workers. However, as more Bolivians have moved to the cities for opportunities working in salt and mineral mines, more pollution emerged. The level of pollution has deeply affected Lake Poopo and the surrounding shoreline communities of the Uru people, so when a severe drought in 2016 deeply depleted Lake Poopo of water, local volunteers banded together with one goal in mind: clean up the surviving lakes.

The humanitarian effort to clean the lakes drew hundreds of diligent volunteers from around the world, even attracting a French social media personality. Many people are hopeful the Lake can be improved, with some like local volunteer Magali Huarachi saying, “I think that if we all do our little bit, by picking up our garbage or coming to help here, then we are going to make this place beautiful in a while.” The Bolivian government is on their side, taking steps along with local organizations to continue preserving the community’s language to the Uru children through local teachers.

Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal 14 in VietnamVietnam is a tropical country in Southeast Asia with a coastline along the South China Sea. The livelihoods of Vietnam’s people and much of its economy depends on oceans for fishing and tourism. It also has a connection to the global economy through shipping lanes. SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water became a top priority for the Vietnamese government in the past few years. Updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam show that the government believes in a multilateral approach to protecting marine life. Achieving SDG Goal 14 would prevent the collapse of one of Vietnam’s largest industries and protect citizens from slipping into poverty.

Overview of SDG Goal 14

SDG Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of all marine resources. The U.N. finds that “improved regulations, together with effective monitoring and surveillance, have proven successful in reverting overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels.” The U.N. also finds that such conservation efforts are low in developing regions. A commitment to SDG Goal 14 is also imperative because, economically speaking, the global value of marine and coastal resources amounts to $3 trillion annually. This equates to an estimated 5% of global GDP. Vietnam’s multilateral approach to implementing marine conservation efforts could have a significant impact on SDG Goal 14.

The U.N. identified several targets for SDG Goal 14 with individual timelines for each. Upcoming deadlines for targets include reducing marine pollution significantly by 2025 and sustainable management of fishing and tourism industries by 2030. SDG Goal 14 indicates that Vietnam successfully prevented overexploitation of ocean fish stocks. However, the U.N. found that major challenges remain for Vietnam in achieving clean ocean waters. The setbacks on ocean cleanliness counteract the progress on marine life protection. Because of this, the U.N. determined in 2019 that Vietnam’s progress on SDG Goal 14 is stagnant. To achieve the 2025 target and make progress on SDG Goal 14 overall, Vietnam must prioritize marine pollution.

Vietnam’s Actions Toward SDG Goal 14

The Vietnamese government identifies plastic litter as a significant cause of marine pollution. This creates a barrier to achieving SDG Goal 14. In 2020, Vietnam developed the National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter, which sets ambitious goals to reduce pollution in government-controlled waters. This plan aims to reduce plastic litter in oceans by 50% by 2025 and by 75% by 2030. To do so, the government developed strategies to target the pollution from the source. This includes eliminating single-use plastic in coastal tourist areas and cooperating with international partners to find better ways to manage land waste.

This long-term strategy for combating marine pollution builds upon the progress made from short-term initiatives. For example, Vietnam hosts a national Sea and Islands Week every June since 2009 to motivate citizens to engage in ocean-conserving activities. This inspires local action to stop marine pollution such as beach clean-ups and behavior-changing campaigns to reduce litter.

Partnerships for SDG Goal 14

In addition to national initiatives, Vietnam engages in multilateral strategies to combat marine pollution. Vietnam signed on to the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The declaration commits Southeast Asian countries to protecting oceans and promoting international cooperation to achieve sustainable management of shared ocean space. Cooperation on the issue is crucial for Southeast Asia as much of the coastlines overlap and are governed by multiple authorities. In line with targets set by the U.N. for SDG Goal 14, the declaration aims to greatly minimize marine pollution by 2025.

To accommodate the goal, ASEAN released the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in May 2021. The five-year plan offers countries very specific strategies for reducing marine pollution. Some strategies mirror Vietnam’s national initiatives such as reducing the inputs to marine pollution that originate from land and finding alternatives to plastic. However, ASEAN also developed highly specific guidelines for long-term projects, such as phasing out single-use plastics and improving the measurement and surveillance of marine debris. Partnering with multilateral institutions increases Vietnam’s ability to achieve SDG Goal 14.

Sustaining the Economy

As a coastal nation, Vietnam relies heavily on oceans to sustain its economy and support its population to rise out of poverty. SDG Goal 14 directs developing countries such as Vietnam to conserve marine life and restore clean waters to oceans. The Vietnamese government’s plans of action show its commitment to fully achieving this objective. Overall, the updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam look hopeful. With plans in place, Vietnam is set to make significant progress on SDG Goal 14 in the next few years.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Waste in IndonesiaPlastic waste in Indonesia is a significant problem but the government and other actors are now taking action to address it. Indonesia’s plastic waste problem causes multiple environmental and economic issues, which exacerbates poverty. New measures and efforts could help get the country on the right track and improve the prospects of many.

The Plastic Waste Crisis

Indonesia is currently dealing with a waste crisis both on land and in the oceans surrounding the country’s islands. Indonesia is the second-largest contributor to the abundance of plastic waste in the ocean. This waste has harmful economic consequences for the country and its people.

Indonesia currently produces 6.8 million tons of plastic waste per year, with only about 10% of it ending up in recycling centers. About 625,000 tons of annual plastic waste ends up in the oceans. Landfills are typically in very close proximity to communities, leading to toxic wastewater seeping into nearby farmland and hindering the growth of crops.

This also flows into rivers, impacting the livelihoods of those who depend on the river’s water. The fishing industry also suffers from the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans as marine life is affected. Viral videos of trash-choked beaches in tourist destinations like Bali also alarm the tourist industry, a huge boon for Indonesia’s economy. There is concern about the potential impact of this excessive pollution on tourism. Fortunately, the issue has received acknowledgment and there are plans to address the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia.

Individual and Community Action

Individuals, groups and the government are stepping up to end and mitigate the plastic waste crisis in Indonesia. Awareness of the problem is the first step. Local Indonesians have played a significant role in starting movements and increasing awareness.

For example, Melati and Isabel Wijsen established the environmental nonprofit Bye Bye Plastic Bags when they were just 12 and 10 years old. Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become one of the largest environmental nonprofits in Bali and is helping to educate children on the environmental harm of plastics.

Another individual, Mohamad Bijaksana Junerosano, founded the social enterprise Waste4Change. It educates the populace on sorting and sustainably managing waste.

Community cleanup initiatives have also become popular recently. Beach cleanups are simple and effective ways to get people involved. In August 2018, more than 20,000 people mobilized in 76 locations across Indonesia for a one-day beach cleanup that also raised awareness of the waste crisis.

Government Action

Both local and national levels of government have taken the most important steps to end the crisis of plastic waste in Indonesia. The island of Bali banned all single-use plastics at the end of 2018. The capital of Jakarta also banned single-use plastic bags in its shopping centers and street markets in 2020.

Indonesia’s national government has rolled out a very ambitious plan to end the plastic waste problem. It aims to minimize marine plastic waste by 70% by 2025 and be entirely rid of plastic pollution by 2040. Indonesia created five action points to make it easier to meet these overall goals:

  • Reduce or replace plastic use by avoiding single-use plastic packaging
  • Rethink the designs of plastic products and packaging to allow for multiple-use and recycling
  • Double the current plastic waste collection of 39% to 80% by 2025
  • Double current recycling capacity by investing in infrastructure capable of processing an additional 975,000 tons of plastic annually
  • Develop or expand on proper waste disposal infrastructure that can process an additional 3.3 million tons of plastic waste annually

Though reducing plastic waste in Indonesia and its oceans is a challenge, ordinary people and the government of Indonesia are taking proactive steps. These efforts will have a positive impact on livelihoods, the economy and the health of people. The future looks bright for a cleaner Indonesia.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

gas flaringSince the area’s first oil well was drilled into the Ecuadoran Amazon in 1967, the surrounding population has been plagued with pollution and has suffered various health risks. This is primarily due to the gas flaring that has been ongoing for decades. It is impossible to reverse the harmful effects of the oil industry, but the situation is being addressed as Ecuador fights to eradicate gas flaring.

What is Gas Flaring?

Gas flaring is the controlled process of burning excess natural gasses for more efficient fuel extraction and production. Although in some cases it can be more cost-effective, the process of gas flaring is ultimately more harmful than advantageous. The issue with gas flaring relates to the harmful pollutants it emits. There is currently no standard chemical composition of flare gas. Almost all flare stacks release methane and black carbon into the air. The emission of black carbon, in particular, has negative impacts on human health and contributes to more than seven million deaths a year.

Today, there are 447 gas flares in the Ecuadoran Amazon. These flares have been in operation for decades and impact the health of the local population. These flares burn at a dangerous 750 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 hours a day, all year round. The surrounding communities lack proper protection against dangerous pollutants. The most destructive effects include not only cancer but miscarriages and severe genetic deformities.

Poverty in Ecuador

A majority of communities affected by the gas flare stacks are based in rural regions of Ecuador. These areas are more affected by poverty. In trying to develop protection from the harmful pollutants that gas flares emit, the communities are unable to progress economically. The poverty rate of Ecuador, last documented at around 24% in 2018, only continues to increase as gas flaring creates health impacts that further stress the country’s financial situation. The burning of natural gas results in significant losses in potential revenue.

Eradicating Gas Flaring

The path to first recognizing and finally beginning to assess the situation began with the uprise of cases involving the violation of basic human rights that gas flaring creates. Several gas flares are located within residential communities with effects spanning more than 180 miles. Local citizens sued the state-owned oil company, PetroAmazonas, and other relevant parties, for the use of gas flaring and the damages it has caused. The court ruled that the action violates constitutional rights to health, a healthy environment and sustainable development. Furthermore, the court expressed that the state has an obligation to implement policies that protect people against negative environmental impacts. The case builds upon the 26-year lawsuit against oil giant, Texaco-Chevron, to demand reparation in the same region for what is deemed the “Amazon Chernobyl,” one of the most severe oil-related disasters globally.

Looking Ahead

Ecuador is addressing the situation with the first step being a court order to end gas flaring in the Ecuadorian oil industry. Compensation and reparation to those affected are also essential parts of achieving justice. The ruling is a victory not just for the victims but the country as a whole. The decision shows Ecuador’s commitment to protecting the health of its people and its environment while upholding the human rights of Ecuadorians.

– Caroline Kratz