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boat made of plastic
More than 12 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans annually, and it costs at least $8 billion in damage to the marine life and environment.  Single-use plastic items like grocery bags, drinking bottles, straws and foam takeaway containers comprise the majority of waste. In developing countries, between 400,000 and 1,000,000 people die every year from diseases  related to mismanaged plastic waste. Kenya has taken a radical step in eradicating plastic pollutants and helping its citizens understand the danger of polythene bags. The country is also home to The Flipflopi. The Flipflopi, a large boat made of plastic, serves as a pledge to end the single-use plastic crisis and is a symbol for a brighter and more sustainable future.

The Plastic Problem

Because Southeast Asian countries mismanage 75% of their plastic waste, 60% of marine pollutants come directly from just six different countries. Of this litter, 80% is made of plastic, and it forms large gyres in different oceans around the world. There is an alarming trend of whales dying from ingesting fatal amounts of plastic. Other marine animals suffocate and get entangled in plastic debris and are poisoned by the toxic plastic particulates. Less than 10% of the total amount of plastic ever produced – almost 10 billion tons – has been recycled.

In August 2017, the Kenyan government banned plastic and imposed strict laws against plastic bags. At the time, Judi Wakhungu served as the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Regional Development Authorities in Kenya. With Wakhungu’s help, Kenya embarked on the long-overdue journey of reducing plastic pollution. Now, the imposed punishments for single-use plastic ranges from four years in prison to fines up to $40,000.

In 2015, travel and tourism generated 59% of Kenyan GDP, and the GDP is expected to reach $4.2 billion by 2026. However, Nairobi’s coastlines, the heart of Kenya’s capital and a famous tourist destination, are starting to become polluted with plastic waste. They must be protected at all costs to maintain tourism and GDP growth. Because plastic blocks waterways and ends up in drains, it serves as a direct cause of flooding in developing countries that have poor sanitation facilities. Two billion people live in areas with trash buildup due to the lack of waste removal systems. The trash gets trapped in waterways, causing severe pollution, illness and even death.

The Flipflopi boat made of plastic tackled exactly this issue. It created a system of converting plastic into something valuable. In fact, it is on a mission to reuse all generated plastic creatively until there is a worldwide consensus on stopping its usage.

The Flipflopi Project

In 2016, Ben Morison, Ali Skanda and numerous volunteers began building a nine-meter sailing dhow, all made out of more than 10 metric tons of plastic waste and 30,000 pairs of recycled flip-flops collected on beach cleanups in Lamu. A dhow, which is a traditional vessel with one or two masts, has always been the icon of the Kenyan coast and has sailed the Indian Ocean for more than 2,000 years. The Flipflopi is the first entirely plastic sailing dhow that was launched on September 15, 2018. Coincidentally, its launch fell on International World Cleanup Day.

Morison, who is a tour operator in Lamu, Kenya, understood that plastic pollution is not only damaging marine life but also to Kenya’s tourism. Because more than three billion people wear flip-flops, Morison wanted to make a call to action. In 2016, he reached out to the master craftsman, Ali Skanda, and recruited a team of volunteers to make a change. Two years later, the project came to life, and Flipflopi sailed from Lamu to Zanzibar. Its 650 km voyage marked Kenya’s fight against plastic waste and Flipflopi’s partnership with the United Nations Environment Program’s Clean Seas campaign.

In only 14 days of sailing, the Flipflopi stopped in 12 different communities and hosted seven events ranging from beach cleanups to recycling workshops. Children also attended these initiatives and were taught how to create useful objects out of empty plastic bottles. In the majority of Flipflopi’s port stops, local governments announced their commitment to reducing plastic waste and expanding recycling practices. Kibarani pledged to revive the city of Mombasa, shut down its landfill dump and plant trees in its territory. The Flipflopi was also able to secure partnerships with 22 hotels and 29 businesses in Kenya to minimize their plastic waste usage.

Purpose and Awareness

The Flipflopi bears the symbol of loving, appreciating and taking care of the environment. The boat made of plastic was built with no technological interventions. Because of this, it took two and a half years to complete instead of the typical five months. However, the project’s longevity demonstrates that any person can repurpose and convert single-use plastic into something as grand as a sea vessel. The boat was not built for the sake of building a boat. Instead, it serves as a symbol of commitment to make a change and give plastic a second life. The project was meant to teach the world a lesson on how plastic affects marine ecosystems, the human environment and Earth, as well as what people can and must do about it.

The Flipflopi is only getting started. Its co-founders and volunteers plan to construct a 20-meter plastic dhow and sail it to Cape Town, South Africa, not only to advocate for new worldwide policies but also to continue the legacy of traditional and sustainable dhows.

This boat made of plastic is a symbol of change and serves as a light at the end of the long plastic tunnel. It is a promise that future generations will treat the planet lovingly and kindly.

– Anna Sharudenko
Photo: Abdalla Barghash

Deforestation in Senegal
For the vast majority of people in the United States, it would be difficult to imagine a life without electricity. However, for many nations in the developing world, the primary source of energy – be it for cooking, keeping the house warm or industrial fuel – is charcoal, and the process of harvesting wood and making charcoal has created a livelihood for thousands of people around the globe.

Unfortunately for Senegal and other countries that rely heavily on charcoal production, it is also terrible for the environment. According to a statement by the United Nations Environmental Program, Africa as a whole is losing more than nine million acres of forest per year, putting the continent at nearly double the world’s average deforestation rate.

Deforestation in Senegal and the world can open the door for a host of other environmental problems. Forests are essential for maintaining local water cycles; deforested areas often see a decrease in rainfall, and experts say that the increase in droughts in East Africa in recent years are the result of heavy deforestation rates. In addition, tree roots play a role in maintaining soil by holding it in place; without tree cover, rain or wind can wash rich soil away and turn arable land barren.

Compared to the rest of the continent, Senegal is not doing too badly. An estimate by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. states that the country is about 42 percent forested land as of 2016. However, deforestation still poses a significant problem, in no small part due to the charcoal industry; more than half of Senegal’s 13 million people are still relying on charcoal for fuel and thousands of people in rural areas of Senegal have built their livelihoods on harvesting wood to make charcoal.

Flooding and the Women of Kaffrine

In Kaffrine, a region of Senegal where many families rely on charcoal, deforestation has taken its toll on the residents. In 2016, the region was scourged by heavy flooding during the summer. Heavy rain had always been common in Kaffrine during the summer months, but 2016 brought a level of flooding not seen for decades. The floods destroyed at least 100 houses and damaged at least 1,500 other homes on a massive scale. In addition, the flood waters swept away crops, resulting in farmers losing their livelihood for the year – a devastating blow in a region where agriculture is the main source of income. Experts claimed that deforestation may have been partially responsible for the flooding and that reforestation might be the key to preventing similar disasters in the coming years.

However, as deforestation in Senegal continues, the women of Kaffrine have been at the head of the movement to salvage what is left. Senegal has long considered the process of making charcoal to be men’s work, but in recent years, women have been taking the initiative to reduce the negative impact of charcoal.

The Female Forestry Association and PROGEDE 2

Part of the job is reducing the harm done through reforestation. The Female Forestry Association, led by Fily Traore, has been leading the way in this undertaking; in 2018 alone, the organization planted more than 500,000 trees in Kaffrine. One of its goals is to revive several types of fruit trees, which have become scarce in the region as forests disappear.

Furthermore, in areas which are dependent on charcoal production for money, women have played a massive role in finding other, more sustainable ways for communities to support themselves. Aside from the work of reforestation, which provides jobs for many women within the Female Forestry Association, women have been instrumental in developing alternative sources of income besides charcoal production. In particular, the village of Medina Degouye has taken huge steps toward developing horticulture; the community’s vegetable gardens not only provide food for the village, but several residents have begun selling excess produce throughout the region and even in the capital city of Dakar.

These advancements have happened partly because of the support of the United Nations’s Second Sustainable and Participatory Energy Management Project (PROGEDE 2) in Senegal. Under PROGEDE 2, women in Kaffrine are empowered to take charge of the local economy, including charcoal production and the management thereof. PROGEDE 2 also offered training in forest management, beekeeping and horticulture for men and women, allowing women to support their families while also finding alternative sources of income.

Aside from the environmental impact of charcoal, the work of PROGEDE 2 and the women of Kaffrine are addressing a much more direct result of overusing forests: if deforestation in Senegal continues, eventually nothing will be left to harvest. In addition, the long-term effects of deforestation could easily ruin life for many people in the rural areas of Kaffrine if left unchecked. However, between the work of the Female Forestry Association and the empowerment of rural women under PROGEDE 2, Senegal may be able to avert this scenario as the area sees a regrowth of its forests. The women of Kaffrine are taking the future into their own hands.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

Climate Change Refugees
Given the contemporary discussion about refugees, which focuses primarily on those who have been forced from their homes because of conflict or persecution, it is important to evaluate other push factors for refugees around the world. Here are five facts you should know about Vanuatuan refugees — the first climate change refugee.

  1. Officially, Vanuatu has no refugees, either ingoing or outgoing.
    According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which provides the international legal definition of refugee and establishes states’ responsibilities to them, Vanuatu is not home to any refugees. Vanuatu’s official refugee population reached a high in 2010, with a total refugee population of four.
  2. However, Vanuatu is home to the world’s first “climate change refugees.”
    In 2005, the U.N. Environment Programme reported the forced inland movement of nearly 100 villagers in the province of Tegua in northern Vanuatu, citing the people as the world’s first climate change refugees. People in Vanuatu inhabit 65 of the 80 islands in the archipelago, and many live in coastal cities or villages.
    Because most of the infrastructure of small island nations is located along shallow coasts, countries like Vanuatu are vulnerable to rising sea levels and ever-increasing tropical storms. Since 2005, thousands of Pacific islanders, such as those from Kiribati, have been forced to move to larger islands like Fiji, where they often experience difficulty integrating into society.
  3. This may be just the beginning.
    A 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that climate change could cause sea levels to rise by as much as 3 feet by 2100. For low-lying island nations, this change could be catastrophic. In Vanuatu, a rise in sea level of this proportion would require the forced relocation of thousands. And Vanuatu wouldn’t be alone; its population of 277,000 represents just a small portion of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who live along coasts.
  4. Open-Source data provides hope and information for potential climate change refugees. Collaboration between the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the governments of Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea created The Vanuatu Globe. This open-source data platform maps low-lying coastal areas to help citizens and governments alike identify areas facing the greatest risk of coastal flooding from rising sea levels.
    Over 1,000 people accessed the data set within days of Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. The platform aided recovery efforts and initiatives to improve infrastructure and prevent future devastation.
  5. Work is being done to prepare in Vanuatu and elsewhere.
    The Capacity Building for the Development of Adaptation Measures in Pacific Island Countries Program, established in 2002, represents just one of many initiatives working with island nations to reinforce infrastructure and make sound development decisions under the looming threat of climate change. Capacity-building programs such as this, complemented by expanded access to mapping data, will help citizens and leaders prepare for large-scale environmental shifts.

Laurel Klafehn

Photo: Flickr

vegan diet
Abundant meat-eating in the U.S. and other western nations is not only linked to health, animal welfare and global warming; it is also implicated in world hunger and water shortages.


One of the largest, most talked about, most controversial industries is the meat industry in all of its facets. From rumors of pink slime in fast food restaurants, to studies that diets high in meat and dairy could be as bad for your health as smoking, as well as the ever-present issue of animal welfare on factory farms, everyone (expert or no) seems to have an opinion on meat.

In recent years, a United Nations Environment Programme report states that, “a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger.”

Beef, as well as other sources of animal protein, are an inefficient means of feeding the planet due to the large amounts of grain and fresh water livestock consume. By the time a cow is ready for slaughter it has consumed approximately 2,700 pounds of grain, but weighs less than half that much. This means that 157 million metric tons of vegetable protein is needed to create 28 million metric tons of animal protein. (Source). Many more populations could be fed if they ate the vegetable protein directly.

Additionally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources,” with 70 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption going to animal agriculture in the meat and dairy industries. With many wealthy nations projected to go to war over water in the next century, this could mean devastation for impoverished nations already suffering from water scarcity.

In addition to all of this, it takes much more land to raise livestock than it does to raise grain and vegetables. And it takes fewer grains and vegetables to feed a human than it does a cow. This means that if wealthy nations around the world chose veggies over meat, they could raise twice as much food on half as much land, and increase foreign aid in the process.

The good news is, the number of vegans and vegetarians is on the rise, and has doubled in wealthy nations since 2009. And in modern western societies it is easier than ever to be vegan—with stores like Whole Foods and other retailers providing an abundance of vegan options and information for the average consumer. And organizations like Food For Life Global are striving to alleviate global hunger using only vegetarian foods.

The resources are out there. Advocates need only to research their choices, and learn to implement The Borgen Project’s directive to divert decisions away from meat in an effort to create more food for the world.

— Paige Frazier

Sources: The Borgen Project, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, USA Today, Global Issues, The New York Times, FAO Newsroom, Maywahnyc.com, Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, Sustainable.org, Food for Life Global, Whole Foods
Photo: Flickr

Meat-Alternatives
Vegan option. Meat alternative. Fake meat. From labels to a wide array of dishes conceivable, a slew of faux-meat products are not new to the market. Yet the innovators at Beyond Meat have created a faux-chicken alternative that is described to look, feel and more importantly, taste like chicken.

Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown and his team have high ambitions for their product—hoping to market the faux-chicken in the meat aisle section of the grocery stores as opposed to being placed alongside tofu and other vegan options.

Whole Foods, a distributor of Beyond Meat, currently sells the meat alternative product although not necessarily in the meat aisle section.  Currently, Beyond Meat’s beef alternative is in the process of wide release.

Located in Columbia, Missouri, Beyond Meat has in its employ, Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff, University of Missouri professors who have spent a decade developing their pea protein and soybean based product into imitating a chicken-y likeness.

A study found the likeness of a food is just as important as the actual ingredients within regarding drawing consumers to meat options.

The process requires cooking the protein mixture in varying degrees of temperatures, which is then lengthened into strip to be grilled at the end of the process. In total, the method requires 90 minutes of cooking time in comparison to the energy and time it takes to produce factory farm chicken.

As a result, the chicken-like muscle fibers have drawn the attention of individuals such as Twitter Founder and long time vegan Biz Stone, former president Bill Clinton and even former professional boxer Mike Tyson.

A United Nations Environment Programme study reports that agricultural livestock is the source of 25 percent of green house gasses (GHG.) With the rising increase of meat consumption towering over production, satisfying meat consumers proves to largely be unsustainable. Meat consumption from 2009 to the next 40 years is predicted to increase by 65 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Furthermore, about 50 percent of the water used in the United States alone goes towards raising livestock. A pound of chicken can use up to 468 gallons of water.

At $5.29 per package, Beyond Meat’s faux-chicken product hopes to draw a wide appeal given the chemicals infused in the market variety meat products as well as the environmental impact of our meat-eating tendencies.

Beyond the environment, Oxfam America’s GROW Campaign aims to diminish global hunger by reducing meat consumption. The land usage and water consumption that essentially drives meat production which results in a competition for the world’s resources. For this reason, individuals living in dire poverty levels face the brunt of meat consumption. Reducing a meal to meatless staves off pressure to the Earth’s resources and saves what would otherwise have been an equivalent of 12 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Pretty soon, the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, will prove irrelevant. Beyond Meat hopes to revolutionize our diet beyond meeting our carnivorous choices.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: Al-Jazeera, Care2, Farm Progress, Huffington Post Taste, Huffington Post, Slate, CNN, Oxfam America
Photo: Joe-Yonan

united_nations_intern
The United Nations receives about 3,000 applications for each internship session, and only 250 of them are hired as interns, according to Darragh Murray, who interned for the UN in the spring of 2010.

But that shouldn’t discourage you. There are six sections of the United Nations that take interns, and they are as follows:

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA)

United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

United Nations Environment Programme

Each one offers a different experience and there are locations at several important cities across the world: New York, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut and Santiago.

“The United Nations is pretty much the jewel in the crown for students of international relations, international development, or international humanitarian law,” Murray said on his blog. “It is a great water-cooler topic of conversation. It is something that will make all your friends jealous.”

There are a few key qualifications an applicant must first fulfill. You must be enrolled in a master’s or Ph.D. level program at a graduate school, and be able to obtain the necessary visas and make your own travel arrangements. An applicant must also cover the cost of travel, accommodation and living expenses, be fluent in English or French, and be medically insured.

The United Nations gives their interns a first-hand impression of the environment inside the organization. As an intern, you will work with career professionals and senior management, and “be exposed to the high-profile conferences, participate in meetings, and contribute to analytical work as well as organizational policy of the United Nations.”

Interning at the UN does not guarantee you a position for permanent employment. In fact, you cannot be hired at the UN for six months after your internship ends, if they want to keep you on staff. There are three internship sessions per year, and most positions require a minimum of five years of experience, thus, interns are not typically adequately experienced.

The process to apply for a UN internship can be found here: https://careers.un.org/lbw/Home.aspx.

– Alycia Rock

Sources: United Nations Careers, Darragh Murray
Photo: Caribbean Environment Programme