Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

EARLY in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face. Continue reading

In Zimbabwe, Subsistence Farmers Face Water Woes

At a public borehole in Zviyambe, a village in the backyard of Zimbabwe, approximately 250 kilometres away from Harare, the capital city, butterflies, goats, cattle and human beings mix and mingle in edenic fashion all in search of the precious liquid: water. Under a blazing sun, Sekai Mabika (not her real name) and her sister take turns to fill up buckets with water all the while shooing the goats away while the butterflies flutter hither and thither sipping at the water spilled to the ground and the cattle standby for their turn to drink water.

According to Sekai, she makes three trips everyday to fetch water at the public borehole, approximately four kilometers away from her homestead.

“It’s a painful trip, but it has to be done otherwise we will have no drinking water at home. All our homestead wells are dry,” she says, wiping sweat from her brow. “And, tomorrow, I have to do this again.”

The mid-afternoon sun, hot like a possessed devil, casts a shadow across her face as she balances the bucketful of water on her head and walks towards her homestead, her sister trailing her. Throughout the day the sun blasts across the landscape in this area literally skyrocketing daytime temperatures, and in the process, wilting young crops and drying up water sources, making subsistence farming very difficult. Continue reading

Governments should apologize for human rights abuse

In spite of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations 60 years ago, governments throughout the world continue to violate human rights with impunity.

Amnesty International reports that restless, angry and disillusioned, people will not remain silent if the gap continues to widen between their demand for equality and their governments’ denial.

As it is, governments have exhibited more interest in the abuse of power or in the pursuit of political self-interest, than in respecting the rights of those they lead.

US, the world’s most powerful state, has distinguished itself in recent years through a disregard of human rights thereby setting a bad example for other countries.

In fact, US’ disregard for human rights has resulted in the emergence of both leaders and movements in many parts of the world that abuse human rights.

“The human rights flashpoints in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar demand immediate action,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance,” she added. Continue reading

Bicycle Green Lessons From Zimbabwe

Bicycles have been touted as one of the best ways to stem the over-reliance oil powered transportation and, at the same time, can significantly improve people’s health.

In Zimbabwe, bicycles are increasingly becoming popular, albeit for a different reason: money and economics. With a current world record inflation of 11,2 million percent and rising on a daily basis, many people in Zimbabwe are struggling to make ends meet with very meager salaries.

As a means to cope with high transport costs (a product of the Zimbabwe’s hyperinflationary economy), many workers have taken to bicycling in their hordes. Previously stigmatized as a sign of poverty, bicycles have taken on a new form as a means of affordable transportation to work. Continue reading

Europe Seeks to Harvest African Sun

Harvest of the Sun

Harvest of the Sun

According to a news report recently published in the United Kingdom’s Guardian, European nations are planning to harvest the sun in the Sahara desert in Africa to “provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe” but there is no mention of how such a development will also benefit Africa.

Vast farms of solar panels in the Sahara desert could provide clean electricity for the whole of Europe, according to EU scientists working on a plan to pool the region’s renewable energy,” reports the newspaper.

As the world continues to investigate energy sources that are environmentally friendly, there is a need for developed countries to promote the transfer of both technology and skills to poorer nations. The fact is that the problem of climate change is a sum of its parts. If one part of the world lacks appropriate solutions, the problem will still come back to haunt even those countries that have access to perceived technological solutions.

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Why kicking the plastic habit is good for the environment

No More Plastic

No More Plastic

At food stalls and in supermarkets in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, plastics of all shapes and sizes are dolled out like confetti when you make a purchase of items. The fascination with plastic is so amazing that with a single purchase of several items you can end up with over five plastic bags when less could do.

What is surprising is the plastic bags come at no cost, so customers gladly accept the packaging.

There is no doubt that the plastic bags which are probably handed out in their millions throughout Chiang Mai, and other parts of Thailand come at a great cost to the environment.

In Thailand, as in many parts of the world, the use of plastics is at epidemic levels with serious consequences for the environment. According to, a website that promotes fighting the massive over-consumption of plastic shopping bags, the world has consumed over 276 billion plastics this year and the number is rising by the second.

Kicking the addiction to plastic bags is one of the single most important positive things that individuals can do to both protect and keep the environment clean. But it appears that it will take the world a long time to rid itself of the plastic habit because there are too many financial interests vested into the continued production of plastic.

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In Chiang Mai, Social Attitudes Crush Bicycling Prospects

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, you bicycle at your risk in spite of the clear advantages to the environment and physical health.


Crushed Bike


Next to the pedestrian, the bicycle is regarded as the lowest in the mode of transportation chain.


Chiang Mai’s roads team with vehicles of all sorts and ubiquitous motorcycles that screech, hoot and zig-zag through the traffic.


If anything, the undefined movement of the motorcycles poses the biggest threat to bicyclists. They are forced to stay on the edge of the road where they can potentially ram into the curb. The absence of bicycle tracks on many roads further worsens the situation.

Apart from this practical life and death consideration about bicycling, this mode of transport in Chiang Mai, like in many developing country cities, is regarded with disdain because it supposedly reveals low economic status.Many people are reluctant to turn to bicycles because of the social attitudes that demean human powered modes of transportation, including walking.

But there is an additional problem that it is intolerable to bicycle under the hot and sometimes humid weather conditions that prevail in Chiang Mai city. A bicycle ride of anything more than two kilometers can leave the rider practically drenched in sweat.


That prospect is highly undesirable especially for professionals. A way to resolve this issue, at least, for professionals would be for workplaces to provide shower places for their workers who opt to cycle.


In addition, the overall design of the bicycle will have to be improved to make bicycling easier, less demanding on physical energy, and protected from the elements of the earth.


As it is, bicycling in Chiang Mai is largely a preserve for tourists, a hangout or weekend pastime.

Bicycling, compared to other forms of transportation can absolutely play a major role in cutting the emissions from vehicular traffic.


In order for cycling to become an everyday reality in this city, the society will have to undergo major paradigm shifts at the attitudinal, city planning and policy making levels.


To make bicycling safe and easy, city planners have a key role to play in designing bicycle tracks and parking spaces.


Educating the public about the benefits of bicycling, particularly the physical benefits, is also essential. But, as the old adage says, it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks.


What that means is that efforts must be targeted at young people to ensure a greater return on investment in awareness raising of the advantages of bicycling.


At government level, policy makers must provide incentives for people that choose to bicycle. In the absence of perceived incentives, it will be difficult to get a critical mass of people taking up this form of human powered transportation.


Whatever the case, bicycling can certainly improve physical health, reduce energy consumption and the associated degradation of the environment, and has a part to play in resolving one of the major problems facing humanity today: climate change.


Image credit: bcballard at Flickr 

Urban Growth in Africa and Asia

At almost every other corner in this sprawling city, there’s some banging and clanging as construction of new buildings takes place.


The pace of urban growth in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, is breath-taking.


Mary Poynter, a U.S. citizen who has been visiting this Northern Thai city for the past 30 years says the city has undergone a transfiguration since she first visited.


“I have been visiting this city for the past 30 years and today it’s not in any way near what it was then,” she said in an interview.


Karunee Wathinnee, a life-time resident of Chiang Mai, confirmed that there had been a lot of changes in the city, accompanied by an incursion of people from foreign countries.


“This city has changed a lot with new buildings coming up everyday, and there are also a lot of foreigners that are living in this city now. Many buildings are coming up, very tall buildings,” she said.


What is happening in this city is not happenstance; it mirrors what is happening in many cities across Asia and Africa, where there’s a growth explosion influenced by economic and development booms as many countries adopt new economic models.


Around the world, especially in developing countries, towns and cities are growing at a break-neck pace, with both negative and positive consequences for humanity.


Economic growth breeds urbanization and urban centers provide people with an escape route from poverty but, ironically, also serve as incubators of poverty for others.


According to a United Nation Population Fund report (UNPFA), between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population is expected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa’s from 294 million to 742 million, and that of Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million.


This is enormous growth. If governments do not adopt appropriate policies, it spells disaster for the future with cities becoming havens of human strife, disease and insecurity.


“In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: for the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas,” says the report titled “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.”


“By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.”


But, surprisingly, 60 percent of the growth will be driven not by rural to urban migration but by higher rates in natural increase.


The report notes that a combination of the re-designation of formerly “rural areas” and residents as “urban” plus migration will account for 40 percent of the urban growth.


Increased crime, unorganized urban planning, slum dwellings, disease, poverty and environmental damage, among other issues, urbanization will put severe challenges on the plates of policymakers.


“The unprecedented urban growth taking place in developing countries reflects the hopes and aspirations of millions of new urbanites,” notes the report. “Cities have enormous potential for improving people’s lives, but inadequate urban management, often based on inaccurate perceptions and information can turn opportunity into disaster.”


Many of the people that will find themselves in urban centers will be the poor and voiceless. Migrants, for example, significantly expand urban populations and provide cheap labor but usually fall through the cracks, eventually becoming a security threat.

Women and children, key to the projected urban growth, remain largely out of the reach of key services, including health and education.


In many cities of the world, slums continue to crop up, and are significant havens of disease, crime and poverty.


“The poor settle in the worst living space, on steep hillsides or river banks that will be flooded, where nobody else wants to live and speculators haven’t taken control of the land,” the New York Times quoted George Martine, author of the report. “They have no water and sanitation and the housing is terrible. And this situation threatens the environmental quality of the city.”


The growth of urban areas will be a key definer of human development in the 21st century yet surprisingly little is being done to maximize the potential benefits of this transformation or to reduce its harmful consequences, notes the UNFPA report.


“Realistic planning for future urban growth calls for explicit consideration of the needs of the poor. It also requires gender analysis: The particular needs and capabilities of poor women and girls are often unaccounted for and assumed to be the same as those of poor men and boys,” says the report.


“And, as population structures change, attention to youth and the needs of the elderly will become ever more important.”


The report urges a rethink in urban planning policy to reflect the new dynamics of urban growth as well as to consider the needs of the poor and marginalized populations. 

Why Asia’s Motorcycles Must Go Green

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, motorcycles screech, drone, and dangerously define their way through cars, in the process, discharging a wide range of pollutants into the atmosphere and human lungs.


Motorcycles in this part of Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, are a basic form of transportation.


Motorcycles constitute 70 to 80 percent of the vehicular traffic fleet of Asia. As many parts of the region undergo economic boom, it is expected that the number of motorcycles will continue to grow which will significantly increase the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.


According to the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, motorcycles produce 16 times the amount of hydrocarbons and three times the carbon monoxide emitted by a conventional passenger car.


The impact of motorcycle emissions on the environment as well as human health are severe and given the fact that motorcycles are widely accepted as a convenient and cheap mode of transport, there is little to no action being taken to combat their hazardous emissions either by citizens or governments.


In fact, in Chiang Mai, it appears that motorcycles have escaped environmental regulation, and it is not rare that a motorcyclist can be fined for not wearing a helmet as opposed to the amount of emissions that their motorcycle produces.


Besides the emission of pollutants, motorcycles also contribute significantly to noise pollution, a factor largely ignored by politicians and policy-makers.


A study conducted by the Asia Institute of Technology, Thailand in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan revealed that “under business-as-usual conditions, regional emissions of sulphur dioxide are expected to increase fourfold by 2030 over those of 1990; while emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to increase threefold.”


The omnipresence of motorcycles in the region contributes a huge chuck to the environmental pollution in the region and therefore an alternative transportation system needs to be incorporated into the overall, integrated package to deal with the problem.


According to an environment engineer with the World Bank, two and three-wheelers constitute three-fourths of the Asian vehicular fleet, and these emit up to 70 percent of the total hydrocarbons, 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide and a substantial part of the particulate pollution in the region.


Making matters worse, motor-cycles equipped with two stroke technology are inefficient at combustion and emit hazardous forms of unburnt hydrocarbons, which damage human lungs.


Investing in clean technology in indeed a key priority that governments in the region need to put high on the agenda for the sake of future generations.


Replacing two-stroke technology equipped motorcycles in favor of four stroke technology can significantly cut emissions in the region.


“On average, a motorcycle with a 4-stroke engine consumes 30 percent less than one with a 2-stroke engine. The emission of particulate matter from a 2-stroke engine is 1.0 gram per passenger kilometer whereas it is 0.2 grams per passenger kilometer for a 4-stroke one,” states the Asia Institute of Technology and National Institute of Environmental Studies report titled “Alternative Policy Study: Reducing Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific.”


The report adds that investing in non-motorised, public transport systems can save “significant quantities of energy and reduce pollution levels.”


There is also a need for increased public awareness of the damage that is caused by motorcycles to both the environment and human health so that more people can opt for options that are environmentally friendly.


A key indicator of Asia’s step towards a greener future will undoubtedly involve taming its wild motorcycle population.


And hopefully, in Chiang Mai, as in many cities across Asia, there will be less but clean-technology powered motorcycles weaving their way through the sea of equally clean technology powered vehicular traffic.

The Imminent Threat of Global Water Wars

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner.

According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”