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November 2011

Looking through the window of opportunity and seeing gender equality

Margaret Arnold's picture

Within the disaster risk management community, we often speak about the window of opportunity that opens after a natural catastrophe. This is an opportunity to do things differently, going forward. The idea is that while devastating, the disaster brings a momentary period of raised awareness of risk, monetary resources, and both a real and metaphorical blank slate upon which people can build more resilient communities or initiate social changes on issues that may not advance during “normal” times.

After Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, there were resounding calls for “transformation, not reconstruction.” We heard about “building back better” after the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the “peace dividend” that the tsunami brought to Aceh after decades of fighting between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).  

Experience has taught us that this window of opportunity is not a given and must be managed carefully. For example, the pressures to get people out of tents and back into houses, or to spend donor money quickly, often trumps the need to ensure quality in construction or adequate engagement of communities to ensure sustainability. Most would agree that Central America has yet to be transformed, and that the tsunami failed to deliver a peace dividend in Sri Lanka.

A key area, however, where much progress has been made after disasters is gender equity. Practical steps to promote gender equality can often be integrated easily and speedily in the recovery process. These include issuing deeds for newly constructed houses in both the woman’s and man’s names, including women in housing design as well as construction, and promoting land rights for women. Other steps include building non-traditional skills through income-generation projects, distributing relief through women, and funding women’s groups to monitor disaster recovery projects.

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Save the chocolate and the planet

Alan Miller's picture

With Durban climate change meetings around the corner, discussion on the long-term risks to Africa and the severity of recent extreme events has understandably increased – for example, hot, dry weather that could make farming more challenging for large parts of Africa.

These changes will almost certainly affect all of us at least indirectly, as populations are forced to migrate, disaster relief costs escalate, and increased uncertainty lowers market returns and economic growth.

But it may help to appreciate the true meaning of the expected changes from climate change to consider some of the less dramatic – but far reaching – smaller impacts that will affect all of us in a myriad of ways in our daily lives. A good example is recent predictions of climate impacts on some of our favorite foods – not necessarily life shattering, but a big part of our daily rituals and pleasure in life. Consider three in particular: coffee, chocolate, and wine. The first two are particularly important agricultural exports for Africa.

Starbucks recently announced concerns about the future of its supply chain due to the impacts of climate change. Short-term impacts are already evident due to floods in key coffee growing nations such as Columbia. The Union of Concerned Scientists observes that coffee growing is tied to specific locations such that even small changes in temperature can affect production and increase exposure to pests and disease.

Island gathering highlights the many ways of seeing REDD

Benoît Bosquet's picture

This past September, we were invited to an unusual event with Indigenous Peoples in the territory of Guna Yala on Panama’s Caribbean coastline recently. A dozen representatives of the World Bank, including the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) secretariat, met up on the tiny island of Gaigirgordub, which is part of the San Blas archipelago.

These islands are specks of land no more than two feet above the water line, surrounded by crystal clear waters, and the verdant mountains of the mainland on the horizon. The Guna people become islanders because of a conflict a century or so ago, but they have not lost their attachment to their forests. You just have to look at the landscape as you drive through Guna Yala to see how dense the forests are, in stark contrast to their adjacent province of Panama, where agriculture and urban expansion have taken their toll. So what better place than Guna Yala to talk about the role of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+ (the acronym for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and conservation of forest carbon stocks)?

Cool work with heat in Iceland inspires Africa

Vijay Iyer's picture

Iceland’s journey from being a developing country until the 1970s, to a modern, vibrant and developed economy owes much to its ability to tap into and develop geothermal energy. Its inspirational example in this regard can be replicated elsewhere, including East Africa, where geothermal potential is abundant. With this in mind, I visited Iceland last week, to assess how its story and unique expertise might provide lessons for others.

Iceland has achieved global leadership in geothermal technology and business in all its manifestations. It has an installed geothermal generation capacity of 665 megawatts, a remarkable achievement for a country with only 300,000 inhabitants. While 74% of Iceland’s electricity is generated from hydropower, about 26% comes from geothermal resources.

Iceland is also a leader in tapping waste heat from geothermal power plants to heat over 90% of its buildings at low-cost. Given the worldwide push for energy access and low-carbon energy solutions, geothermal is an attractive option where it is available.

One of those places is Africa’s vast Rift Valley, which stretches from Djibouti to Mozambique and takes in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, among others. Lying under this expanse are 14,000 megawatts of geothermal potential—enough to deliver power to 150 million people. Properly exploited, geothermal could deliver at least a quarter of the energy these countries will need by 2030. And this would be a renewable source, clean and climate-friendly. Can Iceland’s experience provide guidance as East Africans seek to exploit their resources? I think it can, and so do the Icelanders.