The disaster of hurricane Matthew in Haiti – a consequence of climate change

Once again a poor country which has contributed insignificantly to climate change has been hit catastrophically by its consequences. As our climate continues to change as a result of our irresponsible actions vulnerable countries continue to suffer from the impacts.

On October 4th hurricane Matthew hit the west coast of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries. Although it was downgraded to a class one hurricane – the least destructive on a scale of one to five- the hurricane caused massive damage. The death toll was last reported to be 877 people but the number is still rising. 350, 000 people are in need of humanitarian aid and 1 million households are without power. In some neighborhoods 80-90% of the buildings have been destroyed and although the Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal of $6.9m the situation is critical as Haiti never truly recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2010. Haiti is poorly prepared and highly vulnerable to natural disasters.  (BBC October 8th 2016).

The correlation between rising global temperatures and extreme weather events is well-known. The risk of hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms related to climate change is high already at an additional temperature rise of 1° C (1.8° F) according to IPCC. With further rise of global temperatures the number of hurricanes and their duration and intensity will increase even more (Webster et al 2005).

Economically less developed countries are in general more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. The risk of devastating events such as hurricanes, floods or droughts increases as global mean temperature increases (IPCC 2014) but the risk is not evenly distributed. The risk of a hurricane occurring is higher in tropical, sub-tropical and coastal regions, but the risk of a humanitarian crisis as a consequence of the weather event is higher in economically less developed countries. According to the Aljazeera (October 8th 2016) Haiti was already weakened by the earthquake in 2010 and the cholera outbreaks that followed and thus the nation was less ready to cope with the disaster of a hurricane.

Not surprisingly the countries of the global South are the main victims of climate change even though their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is relatively insignificant. For instance the 2013 carbon dioxide emissions of Haiti was 0.231 metric ton per capita compared to 7.551 per capita in China and 16.39 per capita in the US (World Bank n.d.).

The consequences of climate change primarily caused by economically more developed countries are already visible before our eyes. The impacts are destroying countries and the lives of people who have done the least to cause climate change. The correlation between climate change and extreme weather catastrophes is being forgotten again and again as the majority of our media reports about extreme weathers events and the disasters caused by them without making the connection to our changing climate. Climate change denial and denial of its effects are major threats to our planet. If we look away from the consequences of climate change, ignoring the changes that need to be made is easy. This is why we need to spread awareness about the connection between our actions and their consequences. The burning of fossil fuels, wasteful use of resources and excessive consumption all cause our climate to change. Thus it contributes to the increasing number and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes that cause disasters with countries of the global South being the main victims. It is in no way just or acceptable and this is where climate justice is desperately needed.  We need to take action to bring our society away from emitting greenhouse gases, towards sustainability and clean energy.




Hurricane Matthew: Death toll soars in Haiti (Oct 8th 2016) Aljazeera. Retrieved from 10-09-2016

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti south ‘90% destroyed’ (Oct 8th 2016) BBC. Retrieved from 10-09-2016

IPCC, 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptions, and Vulnerability. Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

Webster, P. J., Holland, G. J., Curry, J. A., & Chang, H. R. (2005). Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment.Science309(5742), 1844-1846.

Worldbank (n.d.) China retrieved from 10-09-2016

Worldbank (n.d.) Haiti retrieved from 10-09-2016

Worldbank (n.d.) US retrieved from 10-09-2016


“Water for Sustainable Growth” — What are we talking about here?

Guest blog by Galen Hecht

Report from World Water Week, Stockholm, August 28-September 2, 2016

“We need a circular economy,” a different model, one that defies the structures that our lawmakers are accustomed to. To achieve water security and sanitation, we need a model that will create self supporting systems, an economy based not on linear growth, but on natural cycles like that of water. This was the resounding message at the finale of World Water Week, spoken by Pablo Bereciartua, Argentina’s Undersecretary for Water Resources, and Torkil Jonch Clauser, of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) who hosted the event.

Bereciartua, Clauser, and myriad other speakers outlined the need for clear action to be taken in water and sanitation worldwide. In the last year, water and sanitation were finally given status as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). SDG 6 states that by 2030 there must be access to clean drinking water and sanitation for all the world. But SDG status does not mean much without implementation, Bereciartua said “there is consensus on the issue but no course of action.” And to create actions that are economically feasible and can be implemented functionally is a major hurdle.

Before I go on, I will just say that “water” in this context generally applies to drinking water and water for agriculture, and “sanitation” applies to wastewater treatment, clean facilities, clean rivers, lakes, and aquifers, and so on.

During the opening plenary, Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs gave a grounding speech that lit upon the scale and complexity of achieving SDG 6; as a representative of Sweden’s “feminist government,” the first ever government proclaimed as such, Wallstrom highlighted the challenges that women face with water and sanitation, a preface to one of the keystone issues that was discussed during the week.

Wallstrom spoke of how one in four Indian girls drop out of school in 10th grade because of family and home duties, and many more have to skip school every time they have a period, missing up to a week each time. She explained that as many as 60% of women working in major textile factories in Bangladesh do not have access to proper, sanitary menstrual materials and had to use rags from the factory floor during their periods leading to enormous rates of illness and infection. This can be prevented, she said, and it is, already this situation is being addressed in Bangladesh, but there is so much to be done.

What Wallstrom struck on, to the quiet awe and recognition of the audience struck by the agency in her words, is one of the myriad examples of unbalanced consequences that result from water insecurity and unsanitary living conditions. That imbalance, between rich and poor, between genders, between regions of the world, is why water and sanitation present challenges that requires global collaboration. The majority of those most affected by water insecurity, poor sanitation, and resulting injustice are those with the least apparent power to make the needed changes. The mantra of the week looking towards these challenges was “implementation, implementation, implementation.”

India and Bangladesh were frequently used as examples, especially since Indian Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was elected on a platform of environmental rejuvenation, in particular with his promises to clean the Ganges River and provide sanitation to all of India by 2019, an extremely ambitious goal. I am also in India now, preparing to travel along and learn about the Ganges River, so I went to many events focused on South Asia.

I attended a special session on Modi’s program Swachh Bharat, a national sanitation effort to encourage clean water and sanitation for all of India. Led by Parameshwaran Iyer, Secretary of India’s Drinking Water and Sanitation Department, a panel presented on the project and discussed the plans to make India ODF, open defecation free, by 2019. In India only 10% of wastewater is treated, the vast majority of India’s sewage flows unhindered into waterways, creating immense pollution that leads to water borne illness and ecological troubles.

Over 400 children below 5 years die per day in India of illness related to unsafe waters. The panel discussed the challenges of getting people to participate in Swachh Bharat. Efforts are well underway to provide toilets and facilities to villages over all of India, but the greatest stumbling block is getting people to use them. Just building a toilet isn’t enough. What is involved is a shift of culture and consciousness, which is consequently much more difficult to create than a new john. The Indian government provides various incentives such as a program to provide piped drinking water to any village that can prove that it has become ODF. These sorts of incentives are an important facet of implementation everywhere because sanitation generally requires a change in people’s ways of life, and we are creatures of habit.

The issue of changing practice was discussed in many seminars. At “Sigmund Freud: The Missing Link in Water and Sanitation?,” a panel of development officials and activists discussed held a creative forum to discuss ideas about how the understanding of the subconscious from psychoanalysis might be able to help those who work in sanitation. Using strategies to change thinking habits perhaps one can learn to motivate the sort of life-changes it requires to achieve sanitary living. At one point the group cleverly staged a conversation between a man and his poop, and the poop reminded the man of its value as a resource for fertilizing and contributing to a growing world (did someone say sustainable growth?). Jack Sim, “The Toilet Guy” who started the World Toilet Organization (yes, WTO, not to be confused with the world trade o), spoke about making toilets and sanitation sexy, making it more than fashionable, making it a trend, and thus creating the impetus for people to demand toilets and to use them effectively.

We all know that what follows a toilet is pee and poop and what to do with them. As those of us who know Lisa Bjerke and her work in “discarded resources” know, it’s key to treat “waste” not as waste, out of sight and out of mind, but as a valuable resource that can be utilized or minimized, upcycled in some way (If you don’t know Lisa’s work, watch her TEDx here. Part of Lisa’s message is also part of the point that the panelists wanted to make… Let’s make use of these resources in creative economical ways!

From what I learned speaking with scientists and engineers working in sanitation, the most promising way of doing so in places developing their sanitation services is some sort of biodigester or composting toilet.  With these technologies, the solids become either methane gas that can be collected and used for cooking or they become useful, sanitary fertilizer in around five years or for things like forests it can be used even sooner after two or three years.

There is a lot of evidence from the field and science supporting composting toilets and biodigesters as sanitary, on site, and economical ways to make excrement into something readily useful. Though there is also evidence that they can cause groundwater pollution as the liquids seep out of the basins. I spoke to Nishita Sinha at her poster presentation “Experimental Studied in Developing Safe Sanitation Solutions.” As an 11th grader, Nishita was a runner for the Junior Water Prize during the week, and she devoted tremendous time and energy to finding cheap and accessible ways to filter the harmful materials out of the liquid waste in composting toilets. As the technology advances and the benefits are clear, the trouble is, how to get farmers on a large scale to use humanure? Any ideas?

I just learned that the Rich Earth Institute in Vermont partnered with the University of Michigan have gotten a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the potential to use urine for fertilizer on a large scale. They are honing the science and technology now and testing for the effect of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in the urine. Check it out:

I won’t go further into wastewater treatment, but I will just point out one very good question that was proposed during the conversation between the man and his poo: why are humans the only terrestrial mammal that pumps our excrement into bodies of water?

The newly founded High Level Panel on Water was present at WWW for a series of meetings to discuss the group’s role in international water governance. The HLPW is a panel that was formed as a heads-of-state panel to advise UN bodies and federal governments who are making water-related decisions. In the seminar the HLPW delivered, which was the first of their efforts to communicate their work publicly, they asked for recommendations from the participants as to what they should focus on.

Resoundingly, it was clear that those present at World Water Week want the HLPW to make strong recommendations to international and national bodies in order to act quickly and diligently and make the success of SDG 6 a reality. Recommendations included using the frameworks from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a framework to head start work on the SDGs, and to serve as a checks and balances agent, making sure that the allocation of funds and the implementation that is happening is effective and well executed.

One of the best examples of why it is important to have proper implementation is hydropower. There were presentations about dams ranging from small sand-reservoir dams that provide just enough power for a few hundred villagers in Botswana, to those as large as the Three-Gorges Dam in China producing 18GW of power.

A real hot topic now is Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, a 6GW project currently under construction on the Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile River. Ethiopia’s government, managing a very water-stressed nation, is building the dam in hopes of creating major economic growth and new opportunities for the country in addition to having new water-storage capacity to provide for the thirsty nation. However, Sudan and Egypt are concerned with the outcome of this project, the Nile being the major water source for both nations. If the dam is poorly implemented there will be catastrophic outcomes for the nations downriver, including dramatic loss of riverflow, draught, and famine. Transboundary issues are some of the most contended in water governance, and in a number of seminars it was clear that international legal frameworks are challenged by lack of regulators, corruption, and unsatisfactory science and environmental impact statements.

This brings me to the final point that I will summarize from the conference: finance. Water projects are costly, but how do we pay for them? Charging for water is often discussed as a violation of human rights, but already, the world over, people are buying water all the time.The infrastructure to provide clean water access and effective treatment is a major cost, particularly to less wealthy nations, but if water and sanitation are in good shape, the potential for growth is enormous.

The figures vary widely, but in the UN’s “World Water Development Report 2016,” they estimate that up to 115bil USD could be saved if irrigation farming worldwide switches from flood irrigation to water-conserving technologies by 2030. In a report put forward by SIWI in 2005, “Making Water a Part of Economic Development,” they estimated that an 11bil USD investment in water infrastructure worldwide would have an 84bil USD return. The potential to create new opportunities across the world with improved water infrastructure and governance is tremendous, but it takes a strong initial investment, and where is the money? There were non-stop calls during the week for engagement on the part of the public sector, but also the private sector for investment in water.

I attended a seminar on the Jordan River where I learned of work that SIWI is doing with Ecopeace and the governments of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine to formulate a working plan for an investment package in the Jordan River valley that will turn a 4 billion dollar initial investment into a 75 billion dollar return by 2050 from agriculture, tourism, and other industries. It all may sound well and good, but in a region with unstable political relations and potential drought at any time, the risks to investment are significant, not to mention that the initial investors must make inglorious payments for things like wastewater treatment facilities.

With all of that considered, the group presented a compelling model that allows for investor mobility and strong public-private partnerships to get the brunt work investments made like the infrastructure projects in order to get to things like promoting a vibrant tourist industry, growing recreation, agriculture, and industry. The best part is that one of the pillars of the plan is to insure the sustained health of the Jordan River, one of the world’s most threatened waterways. This is a big step for a region that had no water in its river in 2009.

This project exemplifies the potential for water to be a unifying factor rather than a dividing force. With patience and careful planning SIWI and Ecopeace created a model that might be an impetus for areas in many places to structure investment models that can promote sustainable economic growth with an environmental priority. That sort of innovation, we can expect, will become more and more common as population growth and pressure on water increase.

At the close of the week, Dr. Abdeladim Lhafi, the High Commissioner for COP22 in Marrakesh said that water and sanitation would be dedicated one day at the conference. As we look forward to that and what else is to come, it is evermore important that we see water as a nexus point where the expanse of environmental indicators comes together, where the whole earth is tied together in the water cycle, where health meets agriculture meets energy meets pollution meets fisheries, meets, well, a goose.


It can leave a bitter taste to address such staggering figures and difficult challenges, let alone to put a price on water, a most poetic fluid that makes life possible for all of us. The issues in water are often elementary; we are not sending someone to mars, engineering lab-grown beef patties, or creating cars that drive themselves, we are providing comfortable, clean places to go relieve ourselves, turning excrement into food, ensuring that rivers are not overrun with industrial sludge or dammed to oblivion. What is truly sweet is a good glass of water, an enjoyable poop, carrots and hummus (especially grown from pee fertilizer), and a swim.


The work goes on!


Works Cited:


SIWI. 2005. “Making Water a Part of Economic Development: The Economic Benefits of Improved Water Management and Services.”


SIWI. “2016 Finalists, Stockholm Junior Water Prize.”


SIWI. 2016. World Water Week — Various Seminars.


  1. Sustainable Development Goals.


  1. “2016 World Water Development Report: Water and Jobs.”




Why do I [want to] work for climate justice?

Guest blog by Rebecca Haydu

When I ask myself this, I am met with more questions than answers. Where does positive change actually come from, and who decides what that looks like? What does it mean to engage in an international space like the United Nations as compared to working at home? Where does the movement for climate justice begin and end? How does someone like me fit in all of this? It’s easy to find a linear narrative of struggle and hope to latch onto, but much harder to face these nuances and complexities, to challenge even the narratives that we lean on as activists.


If I wanted to tell my life story of what led me to climate justice, I could begin with my upbringing in a liberal Northeastern family, a descendent of immigrants who believed in hard work and honesty. I could tell you that growing up on a farm taught me to live with the rhythms and cycles of nature, how a change in weather patterns affected our daily life or risked our neighbors’ livelihoods. I might also go into depth about my time abroad, and how living with indigenous communities brought the reality of climate change even closer than seeing my mother’s hometown destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Yet, for some reason, this doesn’t quite seem to get to the root of the question: Why climate justice? Maybe the answer is not so clear.


Teresa Zapeta, an indigenous leader from Guatemala, leading a ceremony in her native language at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this March. Photo by Rebecca Haydu

Teresa Zapeta, an indigenous leader from Guatemala, leading a ceremony in her native language at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this March. Photo by Rebecca Haydu


As someone who has not previously identified with the climate justice movement, I struggle with finding an affirmative response. My involvement in local and international activism has been focused on movements for gender equality and sustainable agriculture. While climate justice aims to encompass and unite these diverse efforts along with many others, I still feel lost deciphering the sea of acronyms, names of figureheads, and outcomes of texts from the sidelines. Perhaps in this dilemma lies part of an answer: the importance of unity and solidarity across movements who share the common goal of a more just and equal world. If climate justice is to be the struggle that unifies all struggles, this is an imperative.


But the question remains: why me? why climate? The sheer incomprehensible enormity of climate change can easily send one into nihilistic apathy. I can’t deny that from my particular socioeconomic and geographic position, I’ll be able to quite comfortably ignore the realities of climate change for much of the foreseeable future. I’ve seen enough images of polar bears stranded on icebergs to effectively numb myself into self-centered oblivion for decades. I’ve come to understand the human side of climate change, the failed crops of subsistence farmers, the displacement that creates climate refugees, the rising temperatures that put the sick and elderly at risk. Yet my privilege still allows me to live my life as I normally would, day after day.


My mother taught me that the most important value I can learn is empathy. Empathy is not just being able to sympathize with someone else’s struggle, but to be able to actually feel it in your bones, to walk a mile or a hundred in their shoes. I may never know what it’s like to be on the front lines of climate change, but learning to live and work in solidarity with those who do is a much needed expression of empathy in a world that does everything in its power to rob us of our ability to feel. Through engaging in these spaces, both locally and globally, we might be able to build the bridges needed in order for all of us to stay afloat.

Favianna Rodriguez


by Aneesa Khan (Originally posted on The Odyssey Online)

Climate activism burn-out and rediscovering a sense of hope in the movement for food justice.

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The European Union Directives on Biofuels

by Klever Descarpontriez


Introduction -

What are biofuels and How did they come into existence?

As the climate crisis worsens and we stand closer to the edge of an imminent climate catastrophe, governments of the world are starting to realize the importance of sustainable energy production. Sadly, not all options currently on the table and marketed as green solutions are actually “green”, or solutions to climate change.

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