The Human Consciousness Now...Our World in the Midst of Becoming...to What? Observe, contemplate Now.
Patricia Jones is Senior Programme Leader for the Human Right to Water, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Jasmine Omeke and Mariel Borgman of the University of Michigan survey an abandoned lot on the east side of Detroit. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties. Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment/cc by 2.0
- United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque and Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha were in Detroit, Michigan Oct. 17-20.
What they saw and heard in a city struggling to emerge from historic bankruptcy were mass water shutoffs and conditions they described as “a perfect storm.” The U.N. experts issued a call for a national affordability standard that would protect the poorest and most vulnerable.
After speaking to hundreds of consumers, local authorities, and City of Detroit water and sewerage utility staff, the U.N. experts reported the scale and impacts of the shutoffs as unprecedented in their experience.
Freedom of information act responses from the City of Detroit showed that in 2014, 27,500 water shutoffs took place. The utility was not able to say how many persons were affected, how many residences were vacant, nor the impacts of the mass water shut off programme.
How could this be? This was the United States. This was Detroit — in previous years, one of the nation’s thriving manufacturing cities. As the third largest water and sanitation public service provider in the United States, Detroit’s utility serves 40 percent of the state of Michigan’s population, similar to large urban utilities around the world.
The City of Detroit, the state of Michigan and nations worldwide are on the cusp of making decisions that will lock generations to come into trillions of dollars of water and sanitation infrastructure investments requiring staggering increases in water rates to households, small businesses and communities.
Detroit is the tipping point, and the lesson we must learn. Water is the great equaliser. Everyone must have access to survive.
Water availability, quality and affordability are increasingly global issues, in developing and developed countries and particularly within major urban areas like Detroit. More than half the worldâs population now lives in a city.
A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan âOur Strengthâ emphasises the countryâs Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet
- From small villages to big cities, wherever you go in Kazakhstan these days, billboards offer reminders that Astana is gearing up to host Expo 2017, the next Worldâs Fair. Kazakhstan helped secure the right to host the event with a pledge to emphasise green energy alternatives. But now it appears that Kazakhstan is red-lighting its own green transition.
Green energy has been the rage in Kazakhstan in recent years, but the countryâs strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, seemed to shift gears out of the blue in late September.
âI personally do not believe in alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar,â the Interfax news agency quoted Nazarbayev as saying on Sep. 30 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Caspian city of Atyrau. And echoing a familiar Kremlin refrain, Nazarbayev added that âthe shale euphoria does not make any sense.â
For a country where the decisions of one man set the political agenda, it was a stunning change of course. Only last year, Nazarbayevâs office pledged to spend one percent of GDP, or an estimated three to four billion dollars annually, to âtransition to a green economy.â
âKazakhstan is facing a situation where its natural resources and environment are seriously deteriorating across all crucial environmental standards,â stated a widely touted âStrategy Kazakhstan 2050â concept paper. A âgreen economy is instrumental to [a] nationâs sustainable development.â
Moreover, a switch to renewables would free oil and gas for more lucrative exports, rather than subsidised domestic use.
While Kazakhstan generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal, state media has trumpeted the potential of green energy, showing Nazarbayev touring a solar-panel factory under construction or an official promising Kazakhstan will build the worldâs first âenergy-positiveâ city.
Officials often talk of weaning Kazakhstanâs economy off its hydrocarbon dependence. Ultimately, if Nazarbayev wants to fulfill a pledge to make Kazakhstan a middle-income nation by 2030, officials have acknowledged that Kazakhstan must diversify its energy sources.
So Nazarbayevâs comments have left analysts scratching their heads: Is Kazakhstanâs focus shifting, or was Nazarbayev just reminding trade partners â especially Russia â that oil and gas will remain a priority for Astana? Nazarbayev concluded by saying that âoil and gas is our main horse, and we should not be afraid that these are fossil fuels.â
Mallika Aryal contributed to this report from Kathmandu, Kanya DâAlmeida from Colombo and Ashfaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan.
A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
- The goal is an ambitious one â to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that âevery last childâ is immunised against the crippling disease.
Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the worldâs population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries â Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic Peopleâs Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste â joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.
United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.
Mourad Ahmia is the Executive Secretary of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations
- When the Group of 77 commemorated its 50th anniversary recently, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency was not far behind.
Established in 1964 as the largest news agency of the global South, IPS has been the voice of both developing nations and the Group of 77 for the past 50 years.
Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77
Both are linked together by a single political commitment: to protect and represent the interests of the developing world.
Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP
- Rafiqa Kazim and her husband Kazim Ali had a simple dream â to live a modest life, educate their four children and repay the bank-loan that the couple took out to sustain their small business.
Until early last month, their plan was moving along steadily but now Kazim says they have âhit a roadblockâ, which took the form of deadly floods that swept through the north Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sep. 7, killing 281 people and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.
- Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstanâs capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.
Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. âIf I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,â she complained.
A sharp decline in the value of Russiaâs ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.
The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil â Russiaâs main export â dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.
In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstanâs northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.
In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstanâs economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistanâs. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.
- As Juan Evo Morales Ayma, popularly known as ‘Evo’, celebrates his victory for a third term as Boliviaâs president on a platform of âanti-imperialismâ and radical socio-economic policies, he can also claim credit for ushering in far-reaching social reforms such as the Bolivian âLaw against Political Harassment and Violence against Womenâ enacted in 2012.
âIn many countries women in the political arena, whether candidates to an election or elected to office, are confronted with acts of violence ranging from sexist portrayal in the media to threats and murder,â says the World Future Council (WFC), which monitors the gap between policy research and policy-making.
Speaking to IPS after the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls ceremony, organised by WFC, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women on Oct. 14, WFC founder Jacob von Uexkull told IPS that the Bolivian law âis a visionary law, particularly for protecting women against political harassment and violence.â