There is a lot to like about living in Washington, D.C. I am lucky enough to live in a city with reliable public transport, well-kept parks and friendly neighbors. And perhaps my biggest blessing is that my city enjoys good air quality. Typing “Washington D.C.” into BreatheLife’s website reveals that air pollution in my city is 10 percent below the World Health Organization’s guidelines.
Around the world, not all urbanites can say the same thing. In fact, 92 percent of the world’s population live in places where air quality levels exceed WHO guidelines. And startlingly, air pollution – both household and ambient – caused 6.4 million deaths worldwide in 2015, with most of the burden of disease occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Taking an economic perspective, the World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimate that air-pollution-related deaths cost about $5.11 trillion in welfare losses worldwide.
The link between poverty and disasters is becoming clearer – new research shows that extreme weather events alone are pushing up to 26 million people into poverty every year. With forces like climate change, urban expansion, and population growth driving this trend, annual losses have passed more than $500 billion annually, and show no signs of slowing.
With limited time and resources, however, adequate preparedness for these common events is often neglected in developing countries. The result is a pattern of deficient recovery that is imperiling sustainable development, and leaving millions of the most vulnerable behind.
How many school children can be endangered by the schools themselves? The answer was over 600,000 in metropolitan Lima alone.
In the region, fraught with frequent seismic activity, nearly two-thirds of schools were highly vulnerable to damage by earthquakes. Working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education (MINEDU), the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) conducted a risk assessment that ultimately helped make an estimated 2.5 million children safer and paved the way for a $3.1 billion national risk-reduction strategy.
Whether it is building safer schools or deploying early warning systems, disaster risk management is an integral part of caring for our most vulnerable, combating poverty, and protecting development gains.
Over the last 30 years, the world has lost an estimated $3.8 trillion to natural disasters. , and to undo decades of development progress overnight.
In extreme conditions, a human can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. To support a global population that has grown to 7.5 billion, the demand for these essential natural resources is increasing, leading to deforestation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, overgrazing, and over exploitation.
In the quest to survive and thrive, humans have already converted 38% of the world's land area for farming; in addition, we have deforested land for industry, mining and infrastructure, leaving less than 15% of the world's land area as terrestrial protected areas for biodiversity conservation. If there is so much human pressure on protected areas, where can the remaining populations of elephants, big cats, and other wildlife go in search of their own food and water? A rich maize harvest, an unprotected paddy field or a well-fed cow in the surrounding landscape would (understandably) seem irresistible. This conflict over natural resources, especially land and water, is the root cause of human-wildlife conflict.
Over the past decade, commitments and support for Forest Landscape Restoration have grown significantly. As part of the Bonn Challenge, for instance, some 40 countries, sub-national jurisdictions, and non-governmental entities have now pledged to restore forest landscapes across 148 million hectares. Although the environmental benefits in terms of ecosystem services, soil restoration, water, biodiversity and climate resilience are evident, the tremendous economic arguments and the value proposition for poor people living in, or nearby, the forests, are not always at the forefront of the efforts to restore landscapes.
In fact, some 1.3 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihood—that is 20% of the global population. This includes income from the sale of trees and tree-related products. It also includes the value of fruit, fodder, medicines, and other direct or indirect products that they consume. However, the restoration of forest landscape at a global scale needs a new vision for an integrated forest economy which appreciates and understands forests along their entire value chain. Thus it is crucial to see forest landscape restoration efforts as much more than just protecting forests, but as a force for economic growth and poverty reduction.
When I met Esther Nyambe, she was dressed in a vibrant swirl of brown, green and violet and was pedaling a water pump. Nyambe heads a community organization in Mbeta Island, where women are taking the lead to improve access to safe water and diversify their income through climate-smart farming.
Mbeta Island is surrounded by the Zambezi River and faces increasingly unpredictable floods. Climate change is a reality in this landlocked country where more than half of the population lives in poverty. The island has seen floods that can turn communities into swamps.
Globally 2.9 million people died from household air pollution in 2015, caused by cooking over foul, smoky fires from solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and agricultural crop residues. Well over 99% of these deaths were in developing countries, making household air pollution one of their leading health risk factors.
Many women across the world spend their days and evenings cooking with these fuels. They know the fumes are sickening, which is why some cook in a separate outhouse or send the children to play while they cook. Sadly, these small actions cannot fully protect the young. As for the women themselves, they suffer incredible morbidity and mortality from household air pollution.
Along the beach in Mondouku, Côte d'Ivoire, a group of fishermen have just returned with their catch. Many of them come from neighboring Ghana, and they tell us that they come to the Ivorian part of the coast because there are more fish here. Still, they explain that the fish are smaller in size and number compared to previous years. The beach they are sitting on is lined with small hotels and cabanas destroyed in a storm surges over the past few years. A bit further down the coast, near the Vridi Canal, we speak with Conde Abdoulaye, who runs the lobster restaurant that his father ran before him. Even at low tide, the water laps against the steps of the restaurant and a retaining wall which he has rebuilt numerous times. He says he knows it is inevitable that at some point the sea will swallow his restaurant, and he will have to leave. He blames the canal for most of the beach erosion, but also acknowledges that changing weather patterns and increasing storms have contributed to the damage.
Intense drought can devastate a country. . Dealing with both at the same time? That’s just another day for too many countries around the world that struggle to accurately predict weather- and climate-related disasters while simultaneously dealing with their effects.
Today, World Meteorological Day recognizes the benefits of accurate forecasting and improved delivery of hydromet services for the safety of lives and economies. Hydrological and meteorological (or “hydromet”) hazards – weather, water, and climate extremes – are responsible for 90 percent of total disaster losses worldwide. Getting accurate, timely predictions of these hazards into the hands of decision-makers and the public can save lives, while generating at least three dollars’ worth of socio-economic benefits for every one dollar invested in weather and climate services – a win-win. But less than 15 years ago, even the small amount of hydromet investment that existed was fragmented, with little hope of producing sustainable results.
In 2010, 15 days after graduating from college, with nothing but a backpack and an old water bottle, I stood in front of a large gate with a rusted sign welcoming me to the “Pench Tiger Reserve.” The same reserve that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s, Jungle Book. None of the mock interviews or standardized testscould have prepared me for the job at hand. I was there to set up a small nonprofit whose mission was to involve youth from the local community near the tiger reserve and instill in them a love and passion for the environment. Specifically, instill in these young minds a commitment to safeguard the 41 tigers that roamed wild in the reserve.
As a 21 year old, my employers were entrusting upon me this responsibility based on a simple philosophy – if you want to inspire young people – give the opportunity to someone young! In the two and a half years that I spent in the reserve, with the help of the forest department, three local schools and community members, we were able to invite leading conservationists, teachers, innovators and environmental enthusiasts to conduct hands-on workshops with children aged 10-16 from within the community. Every workshop answered questions on the importance of environmental protection and the rationale behind how simple, local efforts can have positive impacts globally. These curious minds absorbed knowledge like sponges and within a few years, we had the next set of forest protectors and tiger champions. They are influencers in the community and are currently involved in small enterprises that help the local economy and preserve the tiger habitat in and around the Pench Tiger Reserve.
Since leaving the Reserve, I have been active in many youth groups around the world. One such organization is the 2041 Foundation whose mission is to provide leadership training to young people especially from developing countries to help preserve the environment. As a part of this training, on an expedition to Antarctica, I was able to see firsthand the effects of climate change on our fragile ecosystems. This experience had a profound influence on my commitment to conservation.