Greek wildfire tragedy: world must ‘step up efforts’ against deadly fire risk, says UN disaster reduction chief
E-governance plays a critical role in building inclusive, resilient societies both before and in response to disasters, according to a United Nations report issued this week.
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UN agriculture agency digs in to help forests and farms build resilience to climate change
On Friday, the Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) and partners launched the second stage of a successful international partnership that supports forest and farm producer organizations across Africa, Asia and Latin America during the gathering, known as COFO 24.
The Forest and Farm Facility initiative, or FFF, began in 2013 as a way to help rural women’s groups, local communities and indigenous peoples’ institutions, among others, bolstering their technical and business capacities to fight climate change and improve food security.
The initiative’s second phase is now being rolled out over the next five years across 25 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, from the original pilot group of ten.
“These groups make up a large proportion of the rural poor and rely on farming, forests and agro-forestry systems to grow food and make a living. Rendering their lands resilient to climate change is key to their livelihoods and identity,” said Daniel Gustafson, FAO’s Deputy Director-General for Programmes.
The initiative scales up the effort to help forest and farm producers develop climate resilient landscapes, strengthen enterprises and generate work opportunities for women and youth, and encourage better policies to help the rural poor, according to FAO.
Some 1.5 billion forest and farm producers make up 90 per cent of the world’s farmers, which provide about 80 per cent of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa’s food supplies. That adds up to 500 million family farms and 30 percent of forests in the global south.
The FFF’s second phase will provide financial and technical support to strengthen organizations which represent forest and farm producers. It will also increase access to markets, finance and training – with a focus on vulnerable groups, such as women and youth.
So that forest and farm producers can better manage their land to withstand climate impacts, FFF will roll out adaptation and climate resilience activities as well.
“Forest and farm producers are more powerful when organized,” stressed Mr. Gustafson.
“By building their capacity, the Forest and Farm Facility initiative will help more producers and their organizations withstand the effects of climate change, create opportunities for their most vulnerable members, access benefits, and influence policies to better address their needs,” he concluded.
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E-Governance: A powerful tool to combat, mitigate and sustainably manage disaster risks
The 2018 E-Government Survey highlights the complex challenges and varied opportunities of deploying e-government services.
Contributing to the global report, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) highlights that the use of information and communications technology during all phases of disaster risk management presents “substantial opportunities to reduce disaster risks, enhance coping capabilities, and provide inclusive preparedness and response.”
Several regional case studies illustrate that it is critical to integrate emerging innovations in digital technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), social media, space applications and geospatial information for e-resilience efforts.
To ensure undisrupted services and information to citizens before, during and after disasters, the report also reiterates the urgency of embracing e-resilience in e-government initiatives.
The findings and recommendations come against the backdrop of several recent disasters, such as landslides in Japan, an unpresented heatwave in Pakistan and monsoon flash floods in Bangladesh and India, all of which serve to remind us how disaster risk is outpacing disaster resilience in Asia-Pacific.
As the Asia-Pacific region is among the world’s most disaster-impacted, governments have stepped-up disaster risk reduction efforts through digital connectivity and innovations.
“Digitally-driven emerging frontier technologies, such as AI, are expected to offer unparalleled levels of data availability, insights and coping capabilities to support countries address this formidable challenge and advance the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said ESCAP.
Broadband connectivity for all remains critical to the success of e-governance.
Towards this end, ESCAP continues to support the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative to seamlessly increase the regional availability, affordability and resilience of broadband networks as a platform for e-resilience.
Its implementation will be reviewed and discussed by countries and partners in Bangkok, from 27-28 August, followed by an ESCAP intergovernmental meeting of the Second Session of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation on 29 to 31 August 2018.
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FROM THE FIELD: Weather reports come to aid of Uganda’s farmers
The majority of farmers in the East African country rely on rain to grow crops, but as that rainfall becomes less reliable and drought conditions increase, agricultural production has suffered.
These changing weather patterns across the region are testing age-old farming practices, and making it harder for some growers to make a living and feed their families.
The Government of Uganda has responded by embarking on an ambitious plan to revolutionize its weather, water, and climate monitoring systems in order to provide farmers with better information about growing conditions.
It’s hoped the initiative will help build resilience when rainfall fails to arrive.
Click here to see exactly how the climate information is helping Ugandan farmers.
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Small and sustainable: “Tiny houses” could be solution to world’s housing problems
Measuring just about 22-square-meters, or some 200-square-feet, a demonstration unit for the eco-friendly and affordable housing, debuted on the UN Plaza in New York this week.
This structure is a type of “tiny house” which is traditionally comprised of one room with a loft or pull-out bed, complete with hidden storage, and condensed amenities, such as a kitchen, that maximize the space available to live in.
The design, created by UN Environment and Yale University in the United States, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, is meant to get people thinking about decent, affordable housing that limits the overuse of natural resources and helps the battle against destructive climate change.
The design is created specifically to be compatible with New York’s seasonal climate of cold winters, and hot summers. New designs have also been drawn up to suit the climate in Quito, Ecuador, and another major world capital, Nairobi, in Kenya.
The design was created in collaboration with Gray Organschi Architecture.
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Dress the world in wood, UN says in its ‘Forests for Fashion’ initiative
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)-FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) “Forests for Fashion” initiative, links forest-based materials from sustainably managed forests, with the world of fashion.
“Sustainability of a society is both an individual and a collective responsibility,” said UN Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh, at UN headquarters on Monday.
“The fashion industry is responsible for producing 20 per cent of global waste water and 10 per cent of the global carbon emissions – more than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined,” said the star of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In addition, the textiles industry has recently been identified as a major polluter, with estimates of around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibers ending up in the world’s oceans as polyester, nylon or acrylic are washed each year.
“Fashion is often a synonym of dangerous working conditions, unsafe processes and hazardous substances used in production,” she continued, citing the cruel abuses of modern slavery and child labour.
Although the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious blueprint for governments, Ms. Yeoh stressed that everyone must make a conscious choice to change habits and plan for the future.
“Today we count around 3.2 billion people in the global middle class,” she said. “By 2030, this number will rise to about 5.4 billion with the major part of the growth occurring in Asia. The 2.2 billion people entering the global middle class will aspire to a similar lifestyle as we know it today – which includes a similar consumption pattern with respect to clothing.”
A fashion revolution
Calling fashion “a major development challenge,” Ms. Yeoh sees clothing as “an essential element for the transition towards sustainable societies.”
While acknowledging the need for governments’ involvement in shifting the fashion industry to in the right direction, she put the main onus on individuals to start the fashion “revolution”.
“Many of us would also think that forests are best left untouched, however is often by adding value to their products that we can best protect them, and in many cases restoration efforts can be coupled with productive forests,” she attested.
Moreover, forests can create productive ecosystems, to support local and rural communities. According to the UNDP envoy, ‘forest fibers are already a reality and textile businesses are growing or buying large forest extensions.”
“New fibers are highly sustainable, their carbon and ecological footprints are low, and there are different fast-growing species suitable for different places and climates,” she indicated.
“Let’s face it,” concluded Ms. Yeoh, “changing the production and consumption patterns of the fashion industry will have a domino effect on many aspects of development and provide a visible and meaningful contribution to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.”
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Fragile countries risk being ‘stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster,’ Security Council told
“Climate change is inextricably linked to some of the most pressing security challenges of our time,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed during a debate intended to deepen understanding of climate-related security risks.
“Fragile countries are in danger of becoming stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster. Where resilience is eroded, communities may be displaced and exposed to exploitation,” she added.
Ms. Mohammed is just back from her trip to Africa’s Lake Chad Basin with Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, which chaired today’s Council meeting.
Where resilience is eroded, communities may be displaced and exposed to exploitation – Deputy Secretary-General
The region is “experiencing a crisis brought on by a combination of political, socio-economic, humanitarian and environmental factors,” Ms. Mohammed explained.
She noted that the drastic shrinking of Lake Chad by more than 90 per cent since the 1960s has led to environmental degradation, socio-economic marginalization and insecurity affecting 45 million people.
Exacerbated competition over scant resources and the vicious cycle of risk and vulnerability have decreased the resilience of populations to cope with humanitarian crises. Declining economic activity and agricultural loss have led to a lack of employment opportunities across the region.
The resulting socio-economic marginalization, she said, has exposed populations, in particular the young, to the risk of violent extremism and provided breeding ground for recruitment by groups such as Boko Haram.
The Boko Haram insurgency in north-east Nigeria and neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has left over 10 million people displaced and resulted in massive destruction of basic infrastructure, health and educational facilities, commercial buildings, private houses and agricultural assets.
“The multidimensional nature of this crisis underlines the complex relationship between climate change and conflict,” she stressed.
“We must understand climate change as one issue in a web of factors that can lead to conflict. Within this web, climate change acts as a threat multiplier, applying additional stress on prevailing political, social and economic pressure points,” she added.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that over the last 18 months, the Security Council has also recognized the adverse effects of climate change on stability in other geographical areas, including West Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.
The UN system is increasing climate-related security risk assessments and management strategies, she noted.
For example, the Secretary General’s forthcoming report on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel will report on recent developments involving the climate-security nexus in the region. The recalibrated UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel is similarly climate-oriented, she said.
Ms. Mohammed also emphasized the importance of supporting programmes that place women and Youth at the heart of efforts.
“Desertification means women must travel larger distances to fetch water and food, forcing them to miss out on education and economic opportunities in the long term. Youth without jobs will take alternate route to terrorism,” she said.
In conclusion, she warned that climate change is moving faster than responses, urging the Security Council to do its part to help humankind keep pace.
Also addressing the Council was Hassan Janabi, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, who said that major river basins in Iraq and the rest of the region are subject to the greatest ever threat, resulting from climate change, as well as competition for shared water resources.
He said the absence of implementable bilateral and multilateral agreements or regional frameworks for the equitable use of shared water is contributing to potential conflicts that could and should be avoided.
Iraq fully supports diplomatic means to solve water scarcity issues, including through “water diplomacy” and similar initiatives intending to maintain the security of the planet with a view to creating an environment of trust and cooperation, he added.
Hindou Ibrahim, International Indigenous People Forum on Climate Change, said that the Security Council must address climate change as a security risk.
She said that in the Sahel, where 90 per cent of the economy relies on agriculture and pastoralism, a heat wave and drought has the potential to immediately hurt the economy and the people.
At the regional level, she added, climate change contributes to reinforcing terrorist groups as they take advantage of poverty to recruit the youngest and most fragile.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom chaired the debate.
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Thai cave boys spared thundershowers, highlighting extreme climate disruption: UN weather agency
Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), was speaking in Geneva amid reports indicating that all 12 boys and their coach had been freed in a daring rescue operation by a team of specialist divers.
“It is the start of the monsoon season in Thailand,” she said. “I’ve been looking at the weather forecast there for Chiang-Rai, for the region, every day for the past week. Every day it has consistently shown the risk of thundershowers; now they haven’t, fortunately, materialized.”
Commenting on several other extreme weather events around the world, Ms. Nullis noted that in Japan, flash floods across the country had claimed at least 150 lives, according to authorities, and that the toll “is likely to rise” in coming days.
The situation is significant given Japan’s high level of preparedness against natural catastrophes, the WMO spokesperson said, noting that around 10,000 houses have been inundated or destroyed by the worst flooding in decades.
“Japan is one of the best prepared countries in the world when it comes to disaster risk reduction, disaster response — they are supremely well prepared,” said Ms. Nullis. “So, the magnitude of the casualties, of the destruction we are seeing now, really is an indication of just how big and how extreme this was and how heavy the rainfall was in such a short period of time.”
Among the areas affected between 28 June and 8 July, West Japan and Hokkaido experienced record rainfall, the WMO spokesperson said, citing the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).
This was caused by huge amount of water vapour from a stationary rainy front, in addition to damp air left over from Typhoon Prapiroon, JMA said.
Elsewhere in Japan, a different weather system, Typhoon Maria, has hit the south-west Ryukyu islands.
The storm has put nearby Taiwan, Province of China, on “lockdown”, the WMO spokesperson said, noting that at its peak in recent days, Maria had developed into a category 5 storm.
Although it has weakened to a category 3 event, Ms. Nullis said that it is still capable of sustained winds of 175 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 250 kilometres per hour.
“Taiwan is basically in lockdown today and Taiwan is expecting really to take the brunt of this. The China Meteorological Administration has issued a red alert and is … mobilizing all its emergency response teams.”
The west coast of the United States is also in the grip of “high-impact weather” systems, Ms. Nullis continued, noting record temperatures in downtown Los Angeles:
“Los Angeles area just set a whole new string of temperature records last week,” she said. “Just for an example, 48.9° (Celsius), which is 120° Fahrenheit, in Chino, which is a suburb of Los Angeles; 47.8° in San Bernardino.”
Turning to Europe, the WMO spokesperson told journalists that the agency’s Regional Climate Centre on Climate Monitoring, located in Germany, had predicted “a continuation of the drought situation and above-normal temperatures” of between 3° and 6° Celsius, above average.
“Almost daily warnings about forest fires” had been issued, Ms. Nullis said, noting that it was “very unusual” for this to happen so early in the year.
No specific event can be associated with climate change but current weather patterns are “consistent” with it, the WMO official said, citing “extreme heat, consistent heat, persistent heat and heavy precipitation”.
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Forests ‘essential’ for the future, UN agriculture chief spells out in new report
Halting deforestation, managing forests sustainably, restoring degraded forests and adding to worldwide tree cover all require actions to avoid potentially damaging consequences for the planet and its people, according to the State of the World’s Forests 2018, referred to as SOFO 2018.
Forests and trees contribute more to human livelihoods than most people know – playing crucial roles in food security, drinking water, renewable energy and rural economies.
Moreover, they provide income for some 20 per cent of rural households in developing countries as well as cooking and heating fuel for one-in-three people globally.
“Forests are critical to livelihoods” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Healthy and productive forests are essential to sustainable agriculture and we have proof of the significance of forests and trees for the quality of water, for contributing to the energy needs of the future, and for designing sustainable, healthy cities,” he added.
This year’s report documents the importance of forests for the 2030 Agenda – ranging from tackling climate change to conserving biodiversity, reducing inequalities and improving urban habitats.
“Trees and forests contribute to achieving multiple targets across the 2030 Agenda and need to be incorporated into strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Eva Mueller, FAO Forestry Director.
This year’s report documents just how essential forests are for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – ranging from tackling climate change to assuring drinking water and improving urban habitats.
Forests are critical to livelihoods – José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General
SOFO 2018 emphasizes the importance of clear legal frameworks on forest tenure rights; applauds the growing trend in local governance; and calls for effective partnerships to pursue sustainable goals.
Given that deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change, the report calls corporate responsibility for zero deforestation “key.”
While there is much work to be done, the publication points to numerous examples that indicate growing awareness and a gradual increase in sustainable practices to preserve the world’s forests.
For example, more than half of paper is recycled today and by constructing wood panels from discarded materials, production has grown four-times faster than fresh timber requirements over the past two decades.
What’s more, one-in-five people globally count on non-wood forest products for food, income and nutritional diversity – the mainstays of human life – generating more than $88 billion in income, according to SOFO 2018.
While many of the world’s major watersheds have lost tree cover, the report notes a worldwide increase over the past 25 years in forest areas now managed for soil and water conservation.
Further underscoring their value, wood fuel accounts for as much of the world’s renewable energy supply as solar, hydroelectric and wind power, and forests contain the equivalent of 142 billion tons of oil – roughly 10 times the annual global primary energy consumption.
SOFO 2018 has been released prior to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will begin on 9 July in New York.
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Fisherwomen of Lake Chad show optimism in face of multiple challenges
In her nets she has perhaps fifty fish, a good enough catch, given she started fishing just five hours earlier. But, it is not sufficient to feed her eleven children.
“I can sell this fish and use that money to buy grain to feed my family,” she said, “but the grain doesn’t go far. I have been fishing for twenty years and it is becoming more difficult to catch fish.”
Fishing has traditionally sustained communities in the Lake Chad Basin area, supporting nearly 30 million people living along its shores in Chad, but also Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger.
However, the once huge lake which covered 250,000 km2 has now shrunk to one tenth of its original size, largely due to unsustainable water management and the corrosive effects of climate change.
With fish now more scarce, and fishermen needing to travel further to find them, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has stepped in to offer support.
“We have been helped by a project which has supplied new nets, so my catch is increasing,” said Falmata Mboh Ali, “so I am hopeful that my family’s life can improve.”
The precarious situation local people now find themselves in has been compounded by insecurity related to the activities of the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist group, across the whole Lake Chad region.
The insurgency the group has mounted in north-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries has displaced more than 2 million people and led to humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that around four million people don’t have enough to eat.
And if more refugees flee into Chad from the conflict in the Central African Republic, the food and nutrition crisis is likely to worsen.
Perhaps not surprisingly the Lake Chad region is amongst the poorest in the world, where access to food, health services and education is extremely low.
Fisherwomen including Falmata Mboh Ali, explained the challenges they face to a high-level joint United Nations-African Union delegation, visiting Bol on Thursday; a visit which also included the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström.
The African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop who was part of the mission said: “The challenges are great but we can act. Gender roles are changing, women now go out to fish, when before it was men, so they are playing a bigger role in society.”
The steps being taken by fisherwomen are small but significant, according to the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, who is leading the delegation to Chad.
“Women’s economic empowerment is a critical tool for their access to leadership and decision-making positions,” she said. “I encourage the women to take part in all political, peace, security and development processes that will sustain their communities.”
The UN and the wider international community is supporting efforts by countries in the Lake Chad Basin to regenerate the region.
Ultimately, it’s hoped that Lake Chad itself could be given new life with rising water levels, allowing fisherfolk to carry out their traditional activities of years gone by, while providing them with a more secure and stable economic and political future.
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