Corporates asked to get their hands dirty

Habitat for Humanity calls on corporate assistance on the eve of its Nelson Mandela Day build event.

Habitat for Humanity South Africa, in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, will be hosting its Nelson Mandela International Build Week from 17 to 21 July in Orange Farm, Gauteng. Together with more than 4000 volunteers, the organisation intends to build 67 homes, one for every year of Mandela’s public service.

“South Africa’s urban population is growing at a remarkable rate, while at the same time housing costs continue to increase,” says Habitat for Humanity South Africa national director Patrick Kulati. ”This prevents low-income families from entering the formal housing market.”

Habitat for Humanity South Africa builds not only homes, but communities too. Community members pinpoint the resources they need, while experts in the field focus on finding solutions. “We need the help of corporates to fund community projects from the get-go. This will allow us to strategically allocate the budget at the planning stages, providing communities with the developments they deserve,” says Kulati.

It’s for this reason that the organisation is calling on corporate teams to volunteer their time to help build the homes, and to use their financial resources to assist Habitat in building the community of Orange Farm beyond the build event. Habitat for Humanity South Africa has been involved with the Orange Farm Community since 2008. The current population is estimated to be 1 million – making it one of the largest informal settlements in South Africa. The initial four year engagement focused on building housing with volunteers, as a way to alleviate poverty. Since 2015 the strategy has evolved to include growing strong community-based leadership.

South Africa’s National Development Plan hopes to eliminate poverty by the year 2030 by promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society, among other factors. By helping build new homes, those involved become advocates in action and play a critical role in helping fellow South Africans take vital steps out of poverty. Corporates can use the Habitat for Humanity Build Week as a team-building exercise by getting their employees involved in the building programmes.

Habitat for Humanity South Africa will be celebrating its 21st birthday at the end of this year. With the assistance of dedicated and loyal volunteers over these last two decades, the organisation has been raising awareness of the right of all people to access to decent shelter and in this way positively impacting communities. “I’ve been a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity South Africa for 14 years and the feeling of making a difference in the lives of others never gets old,” says Liyanda Maseko, Habitat for Humanity SA volunteer.

Mandela Day is held annually on 18 July, Nelson Mandela’s birthday.

For more information about the Build Week or to find out how to get involved, visit

South Africa: Silicosis – Unpacking the Gold Mines’ Strategy

The appeal by the country’s biggest gold mining companies against last year’s decision by the South Gauteng High Court to allow sick gold miners to fight for compensation as a group is to be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in May.

The Court ruled in May last year that some 100 representatives of mineworkers affected by silicosis and TB could bring a class action against 80 gold mining operators and mining houses.

The Occupational Lung Disease Working Group, (OLDWG), consisting of the chief executives of the largest gold producers – African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony, and Sibanye – has appealed the decision.

If the Supreme Court upholds the certification by the High Court, OLDWG will likely appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The mining companies’ strategy is to use appeals to delay any trial on the merits of the case for as long as possible while they manage a negotiation process away from judicial oversight. This process brings together senior negotiators and administrators from the Departments of Labour, Health, and Mineral Resources, the five biggest mining trade unions and the gold producers.

The process began under the auspices of the Presidential Task Team on Distressed Mining Communities set up by acting President Kgalema Motlanthe and now under the custodianship of Minister Jeff Radebe, who in turn has entrusted it operationally to Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant.

The mines have commissioned the large International law firm Bowman Gillfillan’s John Brand to facilitate this complicated and cumbersome settlement process. The objective is an out-of- court financial settlement with the claimants’ legal representative, with the money to be used to set up a 10 to 15 year Trust Fund. The fund would pay “top-ups” to workers who have been compensated by the Department of Health for silicosis and/or TB contracted on the mines in terms of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (ODIMWA).

The fund would also be used to help the Department of Health identify and find eligible sick workers through the “one-stop shops” in gold mining and rural areas, and process their claims.

Through the Ku-Riha project, the fund would also help the Department sort out the colossal mess which is the Mining Compensation Fund with a backlog of around 100,000 unpaid claims for silicosis and TB.

And, crucially, all future mineworkers would be brought under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) and the Department of Labour, instead of ODIMWA and the Department of Health.

This shift is to take place without any loss of benefits under ODIMWA. These include lifetime free medical examinations for silicosis/TB, and benefit payouts for these diseases on the basis of heart and lung autopsies when miners die, of any cause, during or after their mine service. These benefits do not currently apply under COIDA.

The move to COIDA would improve the paltry level and type of benefits provided to mineworkers by ODIMWA, by entitling some of them to lifetime pensions, payouts to dependents when they die, and higher compensation in general. But it would also tie them into a cast-iron “no fault” compensation system, which would close the door on any future civil litigation for damages for employer negligence causing silicosis and TB.

As far as OLDWG is concerned, the creation of the Trust Fund implies moving silicosis and TB liability from ODIMWA to COIDA for the future, and the sick workers dropping their class action suit. The main stakeholders in the negotiation appear to agree on the main points above.

After discussions with unions and government last year, OLDWG was confident that the move to COIDA could be achieved by the end of 2016. That deadline has come and gone, and has not been replaced by a new estimate. However, the normal procedure for mining-related legislation is that a draft bill is discussed between the Department of Mineral Resources and the Chamber of Mines, after which it is gazetted for public comment for 30 days, and then goes to NEDLAC for finalisation. Current amendments to the Mines Safety and Health Act – much less complex than the Working Group proposal – have been there for two years, while a badly-drafted amendment to COIDA in 2012 never saw the light of day. From NEDLAC, the Cabinet considers the draft bill, and refers it to Parliament for deliberation, in this case involving the Labour and Health portfolio committees.

In addition, according to Paul Benjamin, the labour lawyer assisting the Minister of Health on this issue, a socio-economic impact study must also be completed for major labour legislation of this kind. So the whole process would take years, perhaps even as long as the miners’ class action hearings on the merits of the case for damages, should these ever take place.

So far, the first step, a draft bill, is conspicuous by its absence.

The question of how long it will take is crucial because the death rate of the sick workers involved in the litigation is high, and their claims will die with them, unless the Trust Fund settlement is expedited.

OLDWG has stated that is “possible” by the end of 2017, and that it may include settlement for dependents of claimants who die without receiving anything, despite the fact that OLDWG has appealed the ruling to this effect along with every other aspect of judgement on the class action certification by the South Gauteng High Court. Death of claimants without settlement was the main reason why their lawyers settled for R464 million for 4,365 former mineworkers with silicosis in the Qubeka versus Anglo American and Anglogold case in 2016, establishing the Qhubeka Trust to pay out the workers in that litigation. Similarly, in Blom versus Anglo American in 2013, the first-ever private settlement of a silicosis damage suit in South Africa, 23 silicotic former mineworkers were paid out an undisclosed sum with no admission of liability on the part of Anglo, again because they were dying fast.

Delays to compensation for mineworkers are built into the complex negotiations under way. If the “top-up” payouts by the Trust are to be combined with compensation via ODIMWA, this would greatly extend the period of waiting for financial relief.

GroundUp put this question to Alan Fine of Russell and Associates, the public relations firm hired by OLDWG to liaise with the media and public over its silicosis/TB class action resolution strategy. “Payouts of the ‘top-up’ will be dependent on proof of compensable illness, but claimants will not necessarily have to go through the entire ODIMWA award process,” he said. This implies that the “top up” may be paid to claimants before they receive – at some unspecified future time – what they are owed under ODIMWA. “Down payment” would seem a more appropriate term in this instance than “top-up”.

Fine also said that OLDWG and the Chamber of Mines had put tens of millions of rands into the Ku-Riha project and the one-stop shops, into funding staff positions in the Mines Compensation Commissioner’s office in the Department of Health, and had seconded a chief operating officer, project manager, and medical staff to the Commissioner’s office, as well as financing digitalisation of hundreds of thousands of mineworkers’ records, and assisting with one- stop shops to find and help claimants. “The combined effect of this has been to triple the rate of payments to claimants between the years 2014-6,” he said.

This statement should be interpreted however with caution, because to this day, there are still only two “one-stop shops” up and running, with others promised in Burgersfort and Kuruman not yet operational. Worse, Dr Barry Kistnasamy, the Mines Compensation Commissioner, told the Parliament’s portfolio committee on Health on 7 September 2016, that it would take 19 years to get through the backlog of unpaid medically certified claims sitting at the Commissioner’s office. And, he said, compensation would cost not tens, but hundreds of millions of rands – his estimate to the Committee was R500 million.

Graham Briggs, former CEO of Harmony, speaking at the recent International Mining Indaba in Cape Town, said that although an academic study had estimated the number of potential claimants at 280,000, the figure was likely too high. He did not explain which study he was referring to, and exactly how it was flawed, or perhaps outdated because of death of potential beneficiaries from their occupational disease. Even an estimate of 100,000 was too high, he said.

This suggests that the amount of money the mines are considering putting into the Trust Fund will be based on a very conservative estimate of the number of eligible claimants, rather than on what the in-principle criteria should be for payouts irrespective of the actual number of claimants who come forward. A court would consider, for each claimant, factors like income lost both by former mineworkers and by those who care for them due to their disease, and medical and transport costs already incurred, as well as pain and suffering. That is the crucial difference between a negotiated settlement out of court, and a court determination of damages.

The snail’s pace at which the ODIMWA machinery is being fixed despite OLDWG’s limited financial and other assistance, and and similarly halting progress on identifying beneficiaries because of the slow roll-out of one-stop shops suggest that the number of ultimate beneficiaries identified will be a small proportion of those who are sick and dying.

The immense backlog in silicosis/TB benefit disbursement is not the only backlog in social security money owed to ex-mineworkers. The other is the matter of mineworkers’ provident fund payouts. On 30 May 2014, Deputy Minister Oliphant estimated that the Mining Industry Pension Fund, negotiated by the NUM with the Chamber of Mines in the 1980s, had accumulated R30 billion in unpaid pension and provident fund payments for around 200,000 retired or retrenched mineworkers. Pilot projects were underway to find the mineworkers, Olifant said, but cautioned that despite inquiries to TEBA (which possesses 1.5 million records of African ex-mineworkers going back decades) and a public radio campaign in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Kwazulu, the North West Province, Botswana, Mozambique and Swaziland which yielded 25,500 responses, less than one hundred back-payments of provident fund benefits had been made. He promised to redouble efforts to reduce the backlog, in a mirror image of the same situation around the silicosis/TB issue.

Huge numbers of living ex-mineworkers and their families therefore continue to wait to be paid what they are owed in social security benefits due to rampant disease and long service in the gold mines. They are the descendants (literally in many cases) of people from all over the region who built modern industrialised South Africa. They are owed a lot of money by the mines and by the South African state. It is to be hoped that neither will sneak out of the restaurant after their century-long slap-up meal of profit, foreign exchange, and fiscal treasure, without settling the bill.

Source: allafrica

Africa makes great strides towards Zero Hunger, despite hurdles

Climate change and conflict pose challenges; joint action to deliver on commitments needed – FAO Director-General.

Africa has made great strides in tackling hunger — achieving a 30 percent drop in the proportion of its people facing hunger over the 1990-2015 period — but climate change, conflict and social inequality continue to present major challenges in the continent’s quest for a future free from hunger and want, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.

While the overall proportion of Africans who are food insecure has dropped, there are “significant variations” in the numbers of food insecure can be seen from country to country, he noted.

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“Africa’s economic performance remains robust with growth rates above the global average. However, vulnerability to climate change is high, post-harvest losses are considerable, natural resources are being depleted, and not everyone is benefiting from the proceeds of the current strong economic growth. Access to remunerative income, social protection systems and decent employment opportunities remain narrow for too many rural households,” FAO’s Director-General said.

He was speaking at the official opening of the FAO’ Regional Conference for Africa, taking place this week in Abidjan with the participation of the Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, Daniel Kablan Duncan..

Graziano da Silva urged his listeners to continue to work together to harness the power of the food and agriculture sector as a catalyst for inclusive growth, poverty reduction and fighting hunger, saying: “In spite of the many hurdles along the way, today I urge you to look at how far we have come in the journey to end hunger in our lifetimes.”

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The conference’s theme ”Transforming African Agri-food systems for inclusive growth and shared prosperity” mirrors the vision of the African Union and its NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency to realise a renewed vision for Africa’s agriculture sector.

“This conference adds momentum to the push for a fundamental shift in the orientation of Africa’s agricultural and rural development towards transforming the lives of Africans under the 2014 Malabo Declaration and outlined in the Africa’s Agenda 2063”, the FAO Director-General said.

More than 300 people are participating in the event, including 51 African ministers of agriculture and related sectors, as well as technical experts and development specialists, representatives of regional organizations and institutions, members of civil society, and the private sector.

El Niño and other crisis pose challenges

Graziano da Silva highlighted climate change and conflict as two particularly pressing challenges for Africa.

The ongoing El Niño cycle is affecting large parts of the African continent, especially the southern sub-region as well as parts of East Africa, notably Ethiopia and Tanzania, and has taken a major tool on agriculture, he noted, while conflicts in the Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan continue to have serious food insecurity repercussions.

FAO is working in all these hotspots, providing farmers with seeds, tools, and other support vital to maintaining and strengthening their ability to produce food and earn income.

“These crisis vividly remind us of the importance of scaling up resilience interventions targeting vulnerable populations whose livelihoods mainly depend on agriculture, livestock, fisheries forestry and other renewable natural resources,” according to Graziano da Silva.

He also underscored the importance of preventing future disease epidemics like Ebola, which impacted food security and people’s livelihoods in West Africa. FAO has recently launched a five-year programme in Africa to monitor and tackle emerging pandemic threats at their source in animals, working in 13 countries, he said.

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Africans for Africa

Delivering on the 2025 Zero Hunger challenge as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require the efforts of an alliance of partners, and

“FAO stands ready to support Africa member states in the delivery of the SDGs in firm collaboration with the African Union, other regional institutions and humanitarian and development partners,” Graziano da Silva said.

In support of CAADP, FAO has participated in the formulation of 95 agriculture and food security investment projects in 40 countries in Africa, with financial support from partners such as the AfDB World Bank and IFAD, the agency’s Director-General pointed out.

And in 2012 FAO helped pioneer the innovative Africa Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF), which mobilizes funds donated by African countries in support of food security projects in less-well off parts of the continent. So far, $34.5 million have been allocated to 15 programmes and projects in 36 different countries, boosting efforts to eradicate hunger.

He encouraged governments to continue to resource the fund, which is working to transforming African agriculture and make it an engine for shared growth and prosperity.

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Bayer commits to sustainable farming in S Africa

Chemicals and pharmaceuticals company Bayer has joined forces with the Howick-based Future Farmers Foundation to show its support for the Future Farmers initiative. This reinforced Bayer’s commitment to local agricultural development through sustainable food production, skills development and job creation.   Participants of the Future Farmers programme would gain real-world experience on local commercial farms for two to five years to ensure that they had a full understanding of what farming entailed. Once ready, trainees were given the opportunity to hone these skills through international mentorship opportunities or to share their knowledge within their communities to transfer skills, boost agricultural productivity and promote a system of sustainable food production.

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“Bayer is committed to the development of the agricultural industry in South Africa, and this partnership will enable us to contribute to the sector in a meaningful way,” said Bayer communications head Tasniem Patel. She noted that Bayer’s support of the foundation’s vision to develop commercial farming skills for sustainable food production not only helped create jobs but also created opportunities for skills transfer and the development of the overall industry. Ultimately, this could contribute to increased farm output in the future, as farmers were learning to use Africa’s agricultural resources more effectively.

Patel added that the sustainable production of high-quality food should be a top priority on Africa’s development agenda, not only for the continent to meet the needs of its growing population, but also for African countries’ economic trade commitments and growth potential.   “Addressing some of the major challenges in modern agriculture requires fresh answers and we are committed to helping tackle these challenges through our expertise and partnerships,” concluded Patel.

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Better Water Use Can Cut Global Food Gap

LONDON—Although growing human numbers, climate change and other crises threaten the world‘s ability to feed itself, researchers believe that if we used water more sensibly that would go a long way towards closing the global food gap.

Politicians and experts have simply underestimated what better water use can do to save millions of people from starvation, they say.

For the first time, scientists have assessed the global potential for growing more food with the same amount of water. They found that production could rise by 40%, simply by optimising rain use and careful irrigation. That is half the increase the UN says is needed to eradicate world hunger by mid-century.

The lead author of the study, Jonas Jägermeyr, an Earth system analyst at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), says the potential yields from good water management have not been taken fully into account.

Climate resilience

Already parched areas, he says, have the most potential for increases in yield, especially water-scarce regions in China, Australia, the western US, Mexico and South Africa.

“It turns out that crop water management is a largely under-rated approach to reducing undernourishment and increasing the climate resilience of smallholders,” he says.

In theory, the gains could be massive, but the authors acknowledge that getting local people to adopt best practice remains a challenge.

They have been careful to limit their estimates to existing croplands, and not to include additional water resources. But they have taken into account a number of very different water management options, from low-tech solutions for smallholders to the industrial scale.

“Our study should draw the attention of
decision-makers at all levels to the potential
of integrated crop water management”

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Water harvesting by collecting excess rain run-off in cisterns—for supplementary irrigation during dry spells—is a common traditional approach in regions such as Africa’s Sahel. But it is under-used in many other semi-arid regions in Asia and North America.

Mulching is another option, covering the soil with crop residues or plastic sheeting to reduce evaporation. And upgrading irrigation to drip systems can play a major part.

Water management becomes increasingly important to food with continuing climate change, because global warming is likely to increase droughts and change rainfall patterns.

Wolfgang Lucht, co-author of the study and co-chair of PIK, argues that the global effect of proper water use has been neglected in the discussion about how to feed the world.

“Since we are rapidly approaching planetary boundaries, our study should draw the attention of decision-makers at all levels to the potential of integrated crop water management”, he says.

Another, less optimistic study from the Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland, examines climate change effects on the Tibetan Plateau.

It finds that global warming affects glacier melt, soil erosion and the release of sediments into rivers and lakes, damaging water quality. This is already having a significant impact on 40% of the world’s population, which lives downstream in India and China.

Transport of pollutants

The study found that concentrations of mercury, cadmium and lead in high-altitude lake sediments in areas with low human activity were significantly higher than in more densely populated low-altitude areas. This shows, the authors say, that atmospheric long-range transport of pollutants in remote Himalayan areas may deposit them at high altitudes.

The plateau has extensive permafrost cover, storing a lot of carbon. The temperature in the area has been increasing for the past 500 years, and the climate in the central plateau has been warming more than other regions in the last century.

Water from the plateau feeds the Yangtze, Yarlung Tsangpo (known in India as the Brahmaputra) and Ganges rivers, on which more than one billion people depend for their water.

Professor Mika Sillanpää, the director of the university’s Laboratory of Green Chemistry, calls for urgent research to understand the carbon cycle in the Himalayas.

“Global warming is releasing increasing amounts of carbon matter from permafrost to waters and then to the atmosphere,” he says. “This will intensify regional and even global climate change. It will affect human livelihoods, rangeland degradation, desertification, loss of glaciers, and more.”

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Source: truthdig

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Rebuilding Trust After Flint: What About the Water in Your City?

With the unfolding horror of Flint’s water crisis, filling a glass of tap water suddenly feels risky.

Throughout history, water quality has been a challenge – cholera, dysentery, and other diseases have felled great cities. Today, more than a billion people remain without safe water access around the world.

And yet, internationally, water is now recognized as a human right, and how to manage it equitably and sustainably is highlighted in climate change agreements as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Climate change and energy conservation imperatives are driving changes. As cities learn to protect source water, capture rainwater, recycle grey water, involve the public and establish watershed committees, creativity in urban water management is taking off.

In the end, though, water consumers want results – clean water gushing from their faucet. They wonder: Is my city a leader or a hazard to my health?

Flint can be looked at two ways. It may be an exception, a story of a callous governor making cost-saving decisions at the expense of Flint’s mostly black and brown children. Or it could signal the beginning of a systemic breakdown within the more than 50,000 water utilities in the United States.

So far, despite decaying infrastructure and budget pressures, water utilities have delivered on their promise of healthy water. Many cities have taken positive steps to avoid what has happened in Flint.

Flint is preceded by plenty of disasters, most the result of bad management decisions, that have eroded public confidence and prompted utility action. In 2014, algae blooms, fed by heavy nitrate use, ruined the water supply in Toledo, Ohio. A dramatic chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, left that city’s water undrinkable. These calamities are free advertising for the United States’ $13 billion bottled water market.

But before giving up on public water, there’s evidence to consider. As tragic as the news is out of Flint, said American Water Works Association Communications Director Greg Kail, almost all of the nation’s water utilities are in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act’s Lead and Copper Rule. The utilities would have to acknowledge any violations in annual Consumer Confidence Reports. “In the vast majority of cases,” said Kail, “water professionals discharge their duties with seriousness and protect public health. When something like Flint occurs, it strengthens their commitment.”

On the heels of Flint, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) circulated reassuring letters to legislators and customers describing their water quality measures. The DEP proactively distributes 1,000 test kits per year to customers to collect household-level data on lead and other contaminants. The MWRA and DEP both rely on feedback from customers, what Stephen Estes-Smargiassi, the MWRA’s director of Planning and Sustainability, described as “building confidence at the retail level. We want customers to have a good feeling about their water after they interact with us.” The MWRA, like many water utilities, tracks and publishes water quality data on its website, and has a water quality hot-line with a public health professional to respond to inquiries. In Flint, the switch to a new water source was not disclosed, and customer complaints were routinely ignored.

In-house and regulatory safeguards shouldn’t stop alert water citizens from making a nuisance of themselves at City Hall, but in the vast majority of cases, public urban water meets EPA standards. While the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure a “D” grade – raising red flags about the $3.2 trillion the United States needs by 2020 to upgrade water infrastructure nationwide – the report also says that outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.” While that is not a ringing endorsement, healthy water advocates can point their public officials to smart cities that manage their water well, investing in transparent governance, “grey infrastructure” – piping and treatment – and “green infrastructure” – rehabilitating ecosystems to ensure water quality and quantity.

New York City’s water system is emblematic of this trend, frequently featured at water-management conferences around the world. Its innovative planning began in the 1800s with gravity-fed pipes carrying pristine water to the city from the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. In the 1980s, facing contamination from industrial agriculture and encroaching suburbanization, rather than build a $6 billion treatment plant, the water utility pioneered urban-rural collaboration in what came to be known as “payments for environmental services.” In return for healthy drinking water, the city transferred cash to rural areas to improve animal-waste management on farms and sanitation in towns.

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Although New York City likes to claim title to the “champagne” of drinking water, in 2014 it was edged out by Boston in the American Water Works Annual Tap Water Taste Test. Similar to New York City, Boston keeps water clean at its source. Whereas New York primarily forges land-use agreements with private landowners, Boston concentrates on protecting public lands in collaboration with state agencies. Conserving the forest around the Quabbin and Wachusetts reservoirs means that, to achieve Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, Boston water requires only minimal treatment.

The city’s good tasting water isn’t just an aesthetic bonus: It means that when water smells bad or is discolored, customers call the utility to complain.

Upstream and downstream, watersheds are home to competing economic interests, many of which can compromise water quality. Governments have used both carrots and sticks to ensure responsible water and land use that yield clean water. After stirring a hornet’s nest of angry farmers with strict regulation enforcement, New York’s water utility switched tactics and offered direct aid to farmers who voluntarily engaged in watershed-friendly farming.

A similar challenge emerged in the Midwest. Iowa’s $30 billion grain trade is fattened by a multimillion-dollar infusion of chemical fertilizers, only a portion of which actually ends up feeding corn and soy plants. Much of the rest of it is washed into the Raccoon River, a principal Des Moines water source. Bill Stowe, the chief executive of Des Moines Water Works, said that the state failed in its efforts to get farmers to willingly reduce nitrate runoff. “It’s very clear to me,” Stowe said in a New York Times article, “that traditional, industrial agriculture has no real interest in taking the steps that are necessary to radically change their operations in a way that will protect our drinking water.” Treating the nitrate-filled water to potable water standards isn’t cheap, so in 2015, the water utility served the farmers the bill via a lawsuit against two upstream counties. While this may sound like the makings of an urban-rural civil war, the lawsuit has set in motion an important public debate in Iowa about who ought to pay for clean water.

Self-taxing may seem unlikely today, but California voters in 2014 approved a $7.5 billion bond to repair and replace aging and vulnerable water infrastructure. Parched lawns, made more visible by Governor Jerry Brown’s vocal leadership on water conservation and climate change, shook voters from complacency; water can’t be taken for granted. The bond meant that water bills will likely spike, but voters put thirst before wallets. Funds will be used to, among other things, shore up water reliability, meet safe drinking-water standards, and clean up groundwater. Some $260 million will go to the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund’s Small Community Grant Fund, run by the State Water Resources Control Board. In the Bay Area, a 2002 voter-approved bond has helped the San Francisco Public Utility Commission blend groundwater with Sierra Nevada snow melt and incentivize San Francisco builders to collect and treat water onsite, part of what Paula Kehoe, director of Water Resources at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, describes as “a new water paradigm.”

Such a paradigm may not come without a struggle. When United Water won the contract to manage Atlanta’s water system in 1999, they halved the workforce and increased rates. Brown and orange water dripping from city faucets led to boil-only alerts. Then Mayor Shirley Franklin canceled the contract in 2003 and restored municipal management of the water system. Around the world, citizens are forcing re-examination of private contracts and pressuring city governments to take back control of water services. Faced with rate hikes without service improvements, communities question how returning profits to private shareholders squares with managing water for the public good. The Transnational Institute’s remunicipalization tracker reports that in the past 15 years, 235 cities in 37 countries have brought water systems under public control.

Flint has moved the country like no other water crisis. When one water utility betrays the public trust, Estes-Smargiassi said, “it damages confidence everywhere.” The injuries in Flint will persist well beyond its scarred children. It may be some time before families feel reassured enough to drink from their tap. And yet every day and everywhere, there are examples of committed water workers and forward-thinking city officials demonstrating that, with enough investment and public oversight, water can be managed for the public good.

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Source: truth-out

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Africa: Weak Links Hamper Knowledge Sharing in Agriculture

Agricultural systems are changing. They need knowledge networks, not independent brokers, says Benjamin Kwasi Addom.

Agricultural extension services are part of most countries’ rural administrative structure, helping to deliver information and development projects. For decades, they have taken on an intermediary role within the networks of organisations and individuals creating and managing new agricultural resources – loosely called agricultural innovation systems (AIS).

Agricultural extension agents routinely communicate researchers’ new knowledge and innovations to farmers to help improve agricultural production. In essence, they have been knowledge brokers – mediating between those who produce knowledge and those who need it, and sometimes repackaging or adding value to existing knowledge on specific topics.

But AIS are becoming more complex: agricultural processes and stakeholder demands are changing and information technologies are becoming more prominent. This has brought new challenges, such as rising costs, widening the gap between those who have new knowledge and those who need it.

Filling the gap

Many independent intermediaries – from the private sector, NGOs, research institutes or farmers themselves – have emerged to fill the knowledge gap. But, despite good intentions, their independent efforts are not enough. Closing the gap requires partnership and coordination.

In reality, intermediaries mostly duplicate each other’s work. Instead, they should be working as well-coordinated components of a process, each with a specific mandate.

Public sector providers, for example, are closest to the ‘end users’ and should concentrate on this strength to better understand farmers’ needs. NGOs should then focus on the supply of services to meet those needs – in close coordination with the public sector – by looking to cement networks and ensure that knowledge services are provided effectively. And the private sector’s entrepreneurial, result-oriented, and creative capacities justify a focus on taking the lead to create and identify new innovations.

This is what knowledge brokering should be about – a set of clearly defined and linked activities performed either by individuals or organisations to facilitate co-creation and sharing of knowledge.

‘One broker’ doesn’t work

I believe that no one organisation or individual can efficiently undertake all the activities involved in AIS knowledge brokering. It requires networks of experts and it requires complex partnerships – something that the international development sector tends to avoid.

Since such partnerships rarely exist, research institutes often take on the task of providing extension and advisory services specified in their grants. In most cases they are not willing to work with extension specialists or institutions.

But it’s not just research institutes that have taken on this role. IT experts, who should concentrate on developing new ICT innovations, have also begun to deliver extension services to farmers.

Most of these intermediaries have identified a knowledge gap and a potentially useful innovation or technology that could help bridge it. But either they cannot identify the right partners to take their innovations to the farmers, or they see extension work as an opportunity to generate revenue even though they have little or no experience in this field.

This trend brings real consequences. I have seen farmers overburdened with daily questionnaires and conversations, sometimes for projects that duplicate previous work.

Who should do what?

A stockbroker may understand financial markets, just as a real estate broker knows the housing market and a power broker can influence people to lean towards a particular ideology. But knowledge brokering within international development should be construed differently.

The complexity of systems such as the AIS means there are distinct roles for different individuals and institutions. This should be reflected in how knowledge brokering is practised: partnerships, rather than individual brokering, will have better impact.

This can be done in a number of ways. Firstly, I strongly believe that donors and investors need to be more strategic when supporting the implementation stage of projects.

The Netherlands Space Office’s (NSO) initiative on Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) is an excellent example of how knowledge brokering roles can be nurtured effectively. The NSO has invested over 30.5 million Euros into agricultural systems in selected countries across Africa and Asia. And it has made complementary partnerships a requirement so that for each project, appropriate expertise and experience are combined along the journey from data to knowledge to extension service.

Other funders should follow this lead and evaluate partnerships based on how the members complement each other and how they contribute to the overall knowledge brokering process.

Secondly, policy and decision makers in countries requesting international development assistance need to learn to say ‘no’ to independent, isolated, disconnected and fragmented development projects that duplicate (and waste) effort. If there are policies and regulations that detail the requirements and guiding principles for implementing projects, fewer organisations will reach out to end users alone. Instead, they will be encouraged to join hands with others and build on on-going activities.

Thirdly, AIS complexity means that ICTs and knowledge management should be recognised as critical components of every activity or project that aims to take innovation to farmers’ fields. ICT and mobile applications are making knowledge brokers’ engagement with rural farmers easier, faster and cheaper. And they are making partnerships easier to manage.

Source: allafrica

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SA’s water treatment works in critical state

Pretoria – SA’s water treatment works are in a poor to critical state and monitoring water quality was also becoming an increasing problem.

These were among some of the issues the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR] raised on Wednesday.

CSIR senior researcher specialising in water quality and aquatic ecology James Dabrowski said there were 8 000 different pesticide products registered in the country.

“The Department of Water Affairs is responsible for registering them, but does not look at how it will impact water quality. The water department has to try and figure out how to monitor and deal with those things,” he said.

Monitoring the country’s water quality was also “an incredibly difficult task logistically”.

This was done by collecting regular samples from the hundreds of monitoring points that formed part of the water department’s National Chemical Monitoring Programme.

All the samples had to be sent to one laboratory for testing. Dabrowski cited research that only 41% of the samples collected as part of the programme were of an acceptable quality.

He said about half the country’s waste water treatment works were in a poor to critical state, due to infrastructure, capacity, and governance issues.

Due to urbanisation, the treatment plants could not handle the volume of effluent.

“It’s an infrastructure problem that will need large amounts of money to sort out.”

Other problems related to the manner in which water was managed, with CSIR researchers saying that players in the water sector were responding to problems in a fragmented way.

The National Water Act and the Blue and Green drop certification process was helping to create pockets of success, but there were problem areas, it said.

“At local government level, there are serious challenges. We are not addressing inefficiencies [in terms of how it is managed],” said Harrison Pienaar, the CSIR’s competency area manager for water resources.

Marius Claassen, principal researcher of resource specific scientific measures, reiterated the sentiment, saying it seemed as though government was caught in a “short term spin”, where problems were dealt with but there were no long-term solutions.

One example of the fragmented response in dealing with problems like water pollution caused by farming was in the lack of integration between the departments of water affairs and agriculture.

Source: news24

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13 ways to provide water and sanitation for nine billion people

How can water be better managed to ensure enough supply for a growing global population? Our panel of water experts have their say.

Calculate the water available: We need a better accounting of our “water balance sheet”. In many places, we don’t have any idea how current and near-term future demand matches up with the available surface and groundwater supplies. The WRI’s Aqueduct tool has a water supply/demand indicator – called “baseline water stress” – that gives a good preliminary read on whether local water use is sustainable or not. Betsy Otto, global director – water programme, World Resources Institute, Washington DC, US, @wriaqueduct

Link global water use: Although the Swiss are quite efficient at using water within our country, we have a huge water footprint because of all the food and goods we import, often from very water stressed parts of the world. Globalisation means there is a global water economy at play. Government regulation or taxation could nudge behaviours onto a more sustainable path. Sean Furey, water and sanitation specialist, Skat, St Gallen, Switzerland, @thewatercyclist

Think across sectors: Currently, those who work on “water services” think almost exclusively in terms of access, and those who work on “water resources” think in terms of sectors and water usage. I think the water service people (myself included) need to think harder about where the water for increasing coverage is going to come from, and how we can best implement sanitation services that protect water resources. Sophie Trémolet, director, Trémolet Consulting, London, United Kingdom, @stremolet

Treat water resources better: For a long time we treated water as limitless, and the incentive structures in cities and rural areas pushed people towards unsustainable practices. Water distribution being highly subsidised by governments doesn’t help create awareness about its actual value. We must make measurable efforts to change water-use habits in a global scale. Carlos Hurtado Aguilar, manager – sustainable development of water resources, FEMSA Foundation, Monterrey, Mexico

Develop water monitoring and regulation: Governments can provide both regulatory sideboards – such as requirements for full cost recovery on water tariffs – and incentives – such as cost-share on water reuse and rainwater harvesting systems. For developing countries (and many developed countries) this may feel like a daunting task, but governments do this sort of thing for education, energy, and other sectors. It’s high time to do the same for water. Betsy Otto

Establish accountability mechanisms: To secure a safe water supply for the poorest people, service providers should get into trouble when they fail to provide the services the poorest need. There should be cross-subsidies between the rich and the poor but most importantly cross-subsidies that work in reverse should be eliminated. With the money saved, direct subsidies can be given to the poor. We should also encourage the poorest people to be more self-reliant (e.g. encourage rainwater harvesting practices) and to demand good quality services as customers. Sophie Trémolet

Construct better water points: I’ve been looking at water point data in various countries and the number of boreholes and wells that are reported dry or seasonal only is shocking. In places like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Tanzania, more than 15 to 20% of water points fail in the first year after construction. That’s why we are working with Wateraid and Unicef to improve water well drilling practices. Poor communities often have to contribute a great deal for a new water point, so it clearly isn’t right when they are left with a dud. Sean Furey

Invest in simple, efficient irrigation technology: Some means of beating water scarcity in agriculture – for example, farming close to rivers – are cheap but unsustainable. This could of course be prevented if there is an effort to invest in simple but efficient technologies for irrigation. This would break the vicious cycle where water scarcity leads to the invasion of marginal lands near rivers, which in turn undermines the ability of the river system to replenish its water resources, leading to further scarcity. Greenwell Matchaya, researcher and economist, International Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, @IWMI_

Promote rainwater harvesting: We need to challenge the way that rainwater harvesting is thought of. Everyone knows about it, but its use and implementation is piecemeal and I don’t see any big agencies or donors pushing it forward. Can we have a ‘reinvent rainwater harvesting’ challenge? Sean Furey

Secure sufficient financing. To guarantee future populations have reliable access to water and sanitation, the top priority is securing the money to ensure that systems are built and adequately maintained over the years. Sophie Trémolet

Work with communities: The sustainability of water interventions is essential if we want communities to actually have better opportunities for development in the future. Helping community leaders take ownership of their water solutions and transferring that to their neighbours is one of the best ways to ensure projects remain a part of people’s lives. Carlos Hurtado Aguilar

Invest in staff skills and capacity: To get good water data requires skilled hydrometric staff. It isn’t sexy and it is often the first budget line to be cut when departments are squeezed but it’s essential. I worked in Liberia (before the Ebola outbreak) last year and one of the major challenges for managing water resources we found is that there are hardly any measurements of anything and it’s difficult to guarantee the quality of the information that does exist. Sean Furey

Apply smart strategies: WRI’s global analysis is finding that future water stress is driven far more by demand than supply. Even in areas that will experience big hydrologic impacts from climate change, unmanaged demand will be a bigger impact. Ironically, that is cause for some optimism. If we apply the smart strategies that we already know work in the urban, rural and agricultural contexts, we can reduce future conflict and secure more water for equitable development and growth. Betsy Otto

Source: theguardian

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SA needs a concrete Brics strategy

HEADS of state of the Brics countries will gather in Ufa, Russia, this week for the grouping’s seventh summit, which comes at a particularly challenging time for Russian diplomacy. Precipitated by the conflict in Ukraine, Russia is barred from Group of Seven/Group of Eight processes and increasingly estranged from the West.

It intends to use the Brics summit to project itself as a major global power.

By holding the summit at the same time as the annual meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), Russia is attempting to impress its Central Asian neighbours and highlight its growing strategic co-operation with China, co-organiser of the SCO. This also sends a message to the West that Russia has other platforms on which to challenge for global power. Russia’s agenda preferences can be conceived along two axes: global security and politics; and economics.

Brics national security advisers are meeting regularly, discussing a range of international issues such as the rapidly evolving situation in the Middle East. To the extent that the Brics can agree on co-ordinated positions on such difficult issues, this will presumably build the group’s coherence over time.

Offsetting this potential is their disagreement on how to reform the United Nations Security Council — a key gap since it is at the apex of the global security architecture. Accordingly, Russia emphasises economic co-operation.

Discussions at the Ufa summit are broadly divided into two parts: the financial co-operation package and the evolving Strategy for Brics Economic Partnership.

The strategy is too general and vague and unlikely to grow in substance at Ufa. Perhaps, for this reason, the Russians are pushing for a move beyond a strategy “on paper”, to identify concrete trade and investment projects up to 2020.

Nonetheless, three top priorities appear to have been identified in the Brics economic strategy discussions.

FIRST is co-ordination on e-commerce, and Russia proposed the establishment of a working group. This was apparently downgraded to a limited agreement to convene a dialogue leading, possibly, to the establishment of a working group.

More cynical observers of the Brics believe Russia wants to use this discussion to market a cellphone operating system they have developed.

Second are ongoing discussions about trade facilitation. These centre on the creation of a virtual working group on trade and export promotion agencies. There have also been discussions about establishing a single window for electronic processes connected to trade.

Third, China has proposed closer collaboration on intellectual property rights regimes. Observers are understandably sceptical of the prospects and co-ordination possibilities, since the focal points in each country are not obvious. But agreement has ostensibly been reached to exchange information on member states’ systems.

At Ufa, there will be much discussion of the two signature Brics achievements to date: the Contingency Reserve Arrangement and the New Development Bank.

Given the closed nature of Brics processes, it is difficult to discern SA’s positions on the grouping’s economic agenda but some contours are apparent.

SA seems to regard the economic partnership strategy as being weak and less of a roadmap of how to get things done than a “ticking the check box” exercise for Russia to notch up some “success”.

For SA it is not clear how the strategy will promote more value-added exports and attract investment in minerals beneficiation or processing at source. The draft trade ministers joint communiqué is seemingly noncommittal and soft.

SA has some challenges with agreeing to create a single window for trade facilitation. It has to navigate through legal arrangements within the Southern African Customs Union, especially on external agreements SA has with third parties that may see the free movement of goods in the common customs area.

Although the government supports India’s proposed business travel card, modelled on the Schengen visa arrangement, SA views it as unfair that its liberalised visa arrangement for the Brics countries has not yet been reciprocated.

SEVERAL working groups have been set up under the auspices of the Brics Business Council: for manufacturing, ICT, small business and finance. The president of the South African delegation to the council, Brian Molefe, proposed new working groups for deregulation and agribusiness.

South African business is interested in common issues affecting Brics trade and investment and specific issues pertaining to particular companies and industries — such as pharmaceuticals — for which they want to identify important platforms for joint technology development.

They support the trade facilitation agenda in principle, but want progress in promoting transparency in the financial incentives each country makes available to its companies, and progress in approvals for businesses from other Brics countries.

They want to promote “fair” trade. The concern is that SA has the lowest average import tariffs of all Brics countries, but implements the fewest nontariff barriers.

South African business representatives to the Brics Business Council are concerned about how the government is managing the Brics process.

It is regarded as too bureaucratic and there is a strong feeling that the government is not prepared to tackle the real issues, such as “fair” trade.

There are problems within the council. Brazil has not been driving the process, and Russia and China are represented primarily by state-owned enterprises — unlike India, Brazil and SA — with the interests of the private and state sectors not being sufficiently aligned.

The Brics process seems to be of limited use to South African business.

Promoters of the Contingency Reserve Arrangement argue that it will provide “insurance” to SA in the event of investment status downgrades by the ratings agencies, and an ensuing capital flight — an increasingly likely proposition. SA could tap these resources during balance of payments crises, enabling the government to cover calls on forex reserves.

However, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement is not capable of providing more than an initial first line of support. The amount SA could call from it is capped at $6.5bn — 130% of its contribution of $5bn — a small fraction of the daily turnover in South African currency markets.

Clearly, a lot more money would be required to prevent a run on the rand, assuming the South African Reserve Bank wishes to intervene to prevent a slide in the currency, which it does not. In the extremely unlikely event that such funding was to be sought, it would come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Contingency Reserve Arrangement rules explicitly provide for this. The idea put forward by some Brics promoters, that the Contingency Reserve Arrangement will enable the Brics countries to avoid IMF conditionalities, therefore holds no water.

SOUTH African officials have indicated they will seek to revive African infrastructure development as an important issue for the Ufa communiqué. They are of the view that this lost momentum during the 2014 Brics summit. There is much speculation about the New Development Bank’s Africa Regional Centre, whose agreed establishment is regarded as a diplomatic victory for SA.

The government is still working on the Africa Regional Centre’s articles of association. There seems to be agreement it will be located in Johannesburg. It could, in effect, be a “mini New Development Bank”, targeted at African markets, but it is not clear how it will relate to the New Development Bank’s head office in Shanghai, and what autonomy it will enjoy.

The Brics Business Council has expressed an interest in playing an advisory role in the New Development Bank, as it wants more say in project selection and the disbursement of funds. But there is no clarity on the interest rates that will be charged; how small and medium enterprises will be treated; the methodology to be applied in selecting projects; and how considerations such as sustainability will be integrated into project design and selection.

Further complicating matters, the government recently decided to join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will be heavily focused on infrastructure projects in Asia. It is not clear what the strategic value of this move is — apart from earning kudos from China. But it could erode the effectiveness of the New Development Bank and the Africa Regional Centre.

The Brics agenda for Ufa is ambitious. It is important SA identifies its clear interests and thinks carefully about its allocation of resources vis-à-vis potential returns.

Source: bdlive

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