Chinese environmentalist Dai Qing warns that Beijing's "Green Olympic" makeover, combined with a decline in rainfall, is straining the capital's water resources to the breaking point. According to Probe International, the city's 200 rivers and streams are drying up, reservoirs are being depleted, and If the current level of development and population growth continues, the ciy could collapse in five to ten years. To slake the capital's growing thirst, Beijing has begun draining water from neighboring provinces, and the proposed North-to-South Water Diversion Project will divert Shanghai-bound "surplus" water from the Yangtze.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Zambia provides a useful case study in how to make delivery of urban water services more efficient. As Hulya Dagdeviren writes in the latest IPC One-Pager, the solution is simple: jack up the price and provide less water. Sinze Zambia's water sector was commercialized in the mid-1990s, tariffs have increased by a magnitude of seven, while the percentage of the population with access to clean water dropped from 72% to 57% over ten years. What happened? Dagdeviren examined this in depth earlier this year:
A major study was funded by the government, the World Bank and the UNDP and undertaken by a private consultancy firm, Coopers and Lybrand Co., to assess the issues in the water and sanitation sector and inform the government about the possible reform strategies. The study found that the revenues of urban suppliers covered 83 per cent of total operational and maintenance costs in 1987. When this is compared to the average cost recovery of 67 per cent in 2005 it becomes pertinent to ask what has gone wrong in the process of commercialization.But just what is UFW? Transparency International has some ideas. Corruption in the water delivery sector occurs everywhere from the design phase to safety regulation to under-the-table service delivery, adding 25-30% to the costs of water and irrigation.
Apart from the fact that each water and sanitation company has a different cost structure, the failure to cover costs after the commercialization of water services and variations in performance can largely be explained by two factors. First, and perhaps most important, all existing providers suffer from high levels of unaccounted for water (UFW) that make cost recovery a mission impossible. UFW reflects the difference between the amount of water produced and the amount that is billed.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Amy Goodman has a great column today on the tragically late George Carlin. Although the obits have focused mainly on his Seven Dirty Words sketch, Goodman talks about Carlin the dissident, railing against the power of the political/corporate machine, and his seminal role in bringing listener-supported public radio to prominence:
It was neither accident nor coincidence that this iconoclastic comic would have some of his most controversial material broadcast over Pacifica Radio’s WBAI. The Pacifica Network was founded in Berkeley, Calif., in 1949, with KPFA as the first truly listener-sponsored radio station.
Back then, radio was so overwhelmingly commercial that Pacifica founder Lew Hill and others found it worthless. As Hill wrote in his “Theory of Listener Sponsored Radio,” “If we want an improvement in radio, the basic situation of broadcasting must be such that artists and thinkers have a place to work—with freedom.”
Monday, June 23, 2008
While the pundits are punding and the White House is wanding and certain Presidential candidates are itching to drive some long, hard shafts into some subterranean sex holes over the unprecedented $4.00/gallon price of gas nationwide, Kevin Ummel of the Center for Global Development provides a bit of much-needed perspective. First of all, drivers in the United States are still paying far less per gallon than drivers in many other industrialized countries. Secondly, the $4.00 we're paying at the pump doesn't factor in all the social and environmental costs of crude:
How much does gas really cost?Before we give the oil industry a parting gift from BushCo that won't impact the price at the pump, we need to also look at the other effects of drilling in wildlife refuges, offshore ecosystems, national parks, and human lives. The people of the Niger Delta can tell you all about the impacts of oil drilling on human lives.
The answer is different than the one on the pumping station billboard. Let's try to discern the full cost of our addiction to gasoline: the healthcare costs associated with air and water pollution caused by the nasty compounds released from gasoline, the damage to crops, buildings, and forests, and the tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies. Terry Tamminen (energy advisor to California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) tallies these social and environmental costs in his book Lives Per Gallon and comes to the following conclusion:
So there it is, the final Devil's invoice, the amount we pay to keep the needle from hitting ‘empty’: well over $100 billion each year and perhaps closer to $1 trillion. That comes to as much as $2,700 for every man, woman, and child in the United States every single year. That works out to $1 per gallon and possibly as much as $6 per gallon added to the actual price of every gallon…For that kind of money, we could provide health insurance for the forty-five million Americans who have none and build fifteen hundred new schools in every state in the union.
Those figures don't include the sizable military costs of keeping the oil flowing in less than desirable places, nor does it include the impacts of future climate change in the U.S. due to the 20 pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide released from every gallon of gasoline. But even this conservative estimate suggests that the true price of a gallon of gasoline right now is not $4 but at least $5 and as much as $10.
Instead of looking for new ways to feed our addiction, we need to be weaning ourselves off of the petrochemical teat. Measures such as switching to organic farming and better urban design and serious alternative energy investment.
In the wake of pre-election violence that has left 86 supporters dead and 200,000 displaced, Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change has pulled out of the June 27 runoff election. This will guarantee President-For-Life Robert Mugabe a nearly uncontested victory in the sham election. Of course, this is just the latest slice of the human-rights violation pie that is Zimbabwe today, with torture, mass evictions, and economic insanity just a tragic part of daily life.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
So first the good news - the day-old Israel-Hamas truce is holding, for now. However, while the rocket attacks and military incursions have halted, the massive food insecurity crippling Ghaza and the West Bank has not. Rising food prices, massive unemployment, restricted movement in the West Bank, and the complete closure of Ghaza are having a devastating effect on the Palestinian population. According to a new World Food Programme report, West Bank residents are spending on average about 56% of their income on food, while Ghazans are spending 66 agorats per sheckel to eat. With about 1/3 of the population unemployed, Palestinians are having to rely on dwindling credit, and international assistance to keep their families fed:
To add injury to injury, Palestinians hoping to distract themselves from their massive unemployment and chronic food insecurity through religious, educational, or cultural activities are shit out of luck. According to a recent UN Human Rights Council report, Israel's restrictions on movement severely impede Palestinian cultural and religious rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions:
- There is excessive use of negative coping strategies by the population. Having already sold disposable assets, 59 percent of households are now relying on credit to buy food. However this coping mechanism is increasingly exhausted and only available to those with a reliable income. There is progressively less informal credit availability (due to retailers’ own uncertainties) and traders are extending credit only for essential items.
- The majority of Palestinians have not paid their utility bills (water and electricity) for many months. 31 percent still rely on this strategy, however almost half of Palestinian households have already exhausted this possibility.
- Food aid and other safety nets have played a major role in preventing an even higher number of people falling into poverty and food insecurity. In the GS, 60 percent of households cite emergency assistance as a secondary source of income. The corresponding figure in the WB is only 1.6 percent.
- 76 percent of households in the GS have received some type of in-cash or in-kind assistance in the past three months, with higher levels of coverage for refugees, particularly amongst the poorest segments of the population. 23 percent of households have been assisted in the WB.
- The majority of assisted households received food assistance (almost 90 percent). Health care and cash/job assistance were received by 59 percent and 51 percent of the households who reported receipt of assistance, respectively
During the reporting period, the measures adopted by the Government of Israel to restrict freedom of movement of both people and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites, notably in Jerusalem, cultural exchanges and events. The justification for the closure regime repeatedly cited by the Israeli authorities was the need to provide security and protection to all people within its jurisdiction. While the security of the population is undoubtedly an important consideration, the relevant measures should be proportionate to that aim and non-discriminatory in their application. A considerable part of the restrictions were introduced to ensure and ease freedom of movement for the inhabitants of Israeli settlements, which have been established in breach of international law, creating intolerable hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians attempting to exercise their right to freedom of movement inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory.But hey, good luck with that whole cease-fire thing!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Five former Guatemalan paramilitaries were sentenced to 30 years in prison for their roles in the Río Negro massacre, one of the most brutal events of the Guatemalan civil war. Although this sentencing comes as a relief to survivors of the event, it is unlikely that the real perpetrators will be brought to justice, according to The Advocacy Project:
The Río Negro massacre occurred after an indigenous community at Río Negro refused to relocate and make way for the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, a massive government energy project supported by The World Bank. After 74 villagers were killed in February 1982, most of the men fled to the hills. Early on March 13, 1982, army soldiers and a civil patrol from the nearby village of Xococ arrived at Río Negro, and murdered 177 women and children. Many of the victims were raped and tortured.
The sentences bring to eight the number of individuals who have now been jailed for the Río Negro massacre, and the new verdict represents a vindication for the persistence of ADIVIMA and the relatives of those who died. "Justice was served," said Juan de Dios García, the Director of ADIVIMA.
Ms [Heidi] McKinnon [Heidi McKinnon, a Peace Fellow from The Advocacy Project] agreed: "What I witnessed was a historic event in Guatemala. It was a victory for every survivor." But she also concedes that the victory was bittersweet: "When you are seated a few feet away from a murderer who is over 70, speaks no Spanish and has trouble even walking, it can make one pause and wonder whose definition of justice is being served by such a sentence. Who is more culpable, the man who pulled the trigger or the man who bought him the gun and told him who he should kill if he wanted to stay alive and keep his family safe?"
To date, neither the ranking officer who ordered the Río Negro massacre nor any soldiers have been tried, although there is an order for capture outstanding on an army colonel who participated in the violence.