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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Building Cities for People

Only about 150 million people lived in cities in 1900. By 2000, it was 2.8 billion, a 19-fold increase. In 2008, more than half of the global population, 3.3 billion lived in cities, making our kind, for the first time, Homo urbanus – an urban species. By 2030, 5 billion people will live in cities.

Cities probably emerged from a network of villages, established in the Middle East and beyond between about 9000 and 4000 BC, from which the two great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt developed and the city first emerged. But the process of large-scale urbanization has its origins partly in the development of industrialization and through the colonial influence.

London was the first to reach the magic figure of one million, a population not attained by Paris until the mid-nineteenth century, New York until 1871, Berlin until 1880, and Vienna until 1885. At the beginning of the twentieth century, just 16 cities in the world—the vast majority in advanced industrial countries-contained a million people or more. Today, almost 400 cities contain a million people or more, and about seventy percent of them are found in the developing world. And there are 19 megacities with 10 million or more inhabitants.

Cities drive national economic growth. The growth of cities in emerging markets is driving the most significant economic transformation in history. Over 440 emerging cities in the developing world will contribute to $23 trillion or 47% of global growth by 2025. The top 100 American metropolitan areas, home to 65 percent of the population generate 75 percent of the GDP. Home to under 10 percent of Kenya’s population the City of Nairobi generates over 45 percent of Kenya’s $42.5 billion GDP.

Over $10 trillion of additional investments will be needed in cities by 2025. There will be 1 billion new consumers in emerging markets by 2025. 80 billion cubic meters of additional water will be needed by cities in 2025. Globally, and especially in emerging cities, the building boom will require nearly $80 trillion. China plans to spend $6.5 trillion on urbanization to bolster economic growth. The capacity of ports to handle global container traffic will have to grow by 2.5 times from today’s levels.  

As cities grow, managing them becomes increasingly complex. The speed and sheer scale of the urban transformation in the developing world presents formidable challenges. In many ways, rapid growth in Africa’s urban population is associated not with wealth but squalor and poverty. Available data suggest that in a large number of the world’s poorest countries, the proportion of urban poor is increasing faster than the overall rate of urban population growth. An estimated 72 percent of the urban population of Africa now lives in slums.

Moreover, a majority of cities in the developing world have become victims of the their very modest growth. The automobile and the highway have produced neither connectivity nor mobility but gridlock. We have sacrificed the human dimension – open spaces, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and street furniture – at the altar of streets and parking lots. We have forgotten that life really happens on foot.

Regardless of their planning and ideologies and economic growth calculus, those who run our urban areas must remember that life in the city happens not on the superhighways or the automobile or in skyscrapers, but on the streets and sidewalks and in open green spaces. 

Our food, water, energy, solid waste and sanitation systems are stretched to the limit. Neighborhoods and drainage systems are chocked by solid waste; our rivers are open sewers; our air is foul; our soils are poisoned. Pockets of revolting wealth exist side by side with unconscionable squalor, depravation and poverty. Socio-economic inequality threatens to tear our common bonds of humanity and citizenship.

Hunger and malnutrition are marching on our cities. A recent study showed that 44 percent of households in Nairobi were under nourished. In May 2012, the Ministry of Special Programmes, distributed 4,800 bags of rice and soya and another 400 tins of cooking oil to poor households Nairobi, where it was estimated that 65% were food insecure.

Meeting the next round of global targets toward the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal education, equitable access to water and sanitation will depend on how well developing countries manage urbanization. 

What kind of city do you want for yourself and your children? 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nutrition must be the goal of a 21st century green revolution

Globally, agriculture is failing by not delivering sufficient nutritious food to meet the nutritional needs of women, infants and children, especially in developing countries. Today micronutrient malnutrition or hidden hunger afflicts billions of people, resulting in poor health, obesity, increased rates of non-communicable diseases and low worker productivity.

Agriculture is responsible because it has never held nutrition as an explicit objective of its production systems. Agricultural policies, which have promoted cereal led food security goals, have enabled the decline in micronutrient intake and eroded dietary diversity for the poor.

Science led progress in agriculture in the last century yielded technological solutions that raised productivity to provide adequate calories per person. We have developed new cultivars, chemicals ranging from mineral fertilizers to pesticides and synthetic plant hormones. The production paradigm of the last century was essentially the green revolution, an effort for which one of the leaders, the late Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Prize in 1971.

Rachel Carson in her famous book, Silent Spring, showed that indiscriminate use of chemicals and pesticides in modern agriculture was harmful to land, soil, water and living organisms that are critical to maintaining the delicate web of life as we know it. Rachel Carson helped cultivate and energize the sustainability conscience and move modern agriculture beyond the narrow focus warding off starvation.

The monumental failure of our food systems to deliver sufficient nutrition has come into sharp focus. The success of the green revolution must be re-evaluated because hybrid cereals, it magic, has replaced traditional crops, which are higher in iron, zinc and vitamins. It is estimated 26 percent of the world’s children are stunted, 2 billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies and 1.4 billion people are overweight, of whom 500 million are obese.

In the push to deliver calorie security, little attention or thought was given to nutritional value and human health. My view is that the scale of malnutrition, especially in the developing world has created a daunting but not insurmountable challenge for agronomists, nutritionists, healthcare practitioners and policy makers.  

Malnutrition in all its guises – under nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity – imposes high economic and social costs on society at all income levels. The cost to the global economy caused by malnutrition, due to lost productivity and direct health care costs, account for about 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to US$3.5 trillion per year or twice the annual GDP of all African countries.

Improving nutrition and reducing these costs requires urgent and coordinated action. The production paradigm of the first green revolution must be replaced by a new nutrition focused paradigm. More importantly for the developing world, we must elevate micronutrient malnutrition to a population health and human development question. Here is why. The deficiencies of iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc not only undermine the immune system, but also can irrevocably retard brain development in the womb.

The causes of malnutrition go beyond agricultural production. They are complex and multifactorial. These factors include inadequate availability of and access to safe, diverse food; inappropriate child feeding and adult dietary choices, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and health care. Moreover, malnutrition encompasses the wider socio-economic, political, cultural, ecological and physical environment. Addressing malnutrition, therefore, requires coordinated integrated action in broader policy domains. Because the necessary interventions cut across the portfolios of several government institutions, high-level political support is required to sustain the necessary coordination across key sectors.

Building research and development linkages among agriculture, nutrition, population health and economic growth is critical to overcoming the adverse effects of past policy failures of the food security paradigm. In the 21st century, a green revolution must deliver more than food security. A 21st century green revolution must be predicated on a food systems paradigm. A food systems paradigm is about sustainable agriculture that meets environmental, food sufficiency and nutrition goals.

Agricultural research and development in the developing world must ensure productivity growth while paying attention to nutrient-rich foods. In a food systems paradigm, traditional and modern supply chains can enhance the availability of a variety of nutritious foods and reduce nutrient waste and losses.

More importantly, and especially in Africa, high-level political support is needed to support food systems enabling policies, and to promote effective coordination and collaboration through integrated, multi-sectoral action.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Doctoral studentship at the Stockholm Resilience Centre

Doctoral studentship at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Reference number SU FV-2901-13. Deadline for applications: November 20, 2013.
Project title
Middlemen as crucial social-ecological linkages for achieving sustainable small-scale fisheries

Project description
Understanding how global drivers, such as seafood trade, affect relations between fishers and market agents is essential to increase fishers’ returns, reduce poverty and better sustain fisheries resources. Curbing exploitation locally has focused on restricting fishers’ effort, but global demands create exogenous pressure that is hard for small-scale operators to withstand. Hence, management must extend up the commodity chain and middlemen are an important link. They provide fishers with incentives, markets access, and many services but little is known about how these relations affect fishing behaviour, and effects on ecosystem dynamics and income distribution. This project will use methods from several disciplines to understand how global trade affects local ecosystems and how middlemen-fishers relations can channel sustainable practices or lock systems in unsustainable trajectories.

The aim of the project is twofold
  1. to examine the role of seafood markets and middlemen in mediating interactions between social and ecological components in local small-scale fisheries (SSF) systems, as well as their role in channeling incentives from global to local levels;
  2. to analyze the implications of these interactions for social and environmental outcomes at the local level, and the sustainability of SSF.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Five Ideas for a sustainable future

Mankind’s triumph is unequivocal. By standing on the shoulders of the aviation pioneers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, we have put time and distance in chains. Louise Pasteur gave as the germ theory, supplanting primordial explanations of disease such as poisonous air. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch made possible the nourishment of our soils and detonated the human population time bomb.
In less than two centuries: we have concentrated unprecedented wealth in the hands of a few and produced a dangerously unequal world; we have fouled, gravely, our atmospheric commons; we have triggered unparalleled mass extinction of invaluable plants and animals; we have poisoned our soils water and atmosphere in order to feed and cloth ourselves; our ignorance stoke the fires of religious, racial, ethnic and gender intolerance; our greed and governance failure on global scale threaten the world’s economic stability.
There is no bigger and more urgent challenge facing our civilization than attaining a sustainable future. Essentially, sustainability is about bequeathing posterity the same or even better livelihood opportunities than we enjoy today. That sustainability entails trade-offs presents a veritable obstacle for action. Individuals and societies often discount the needs of future generations, savoring the pleasures of consumption in the present moment. Discounting is largely a testament of how uncertain we are about the future.
The United Nations Conference on sustainable development held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil did not go far enough in advancing ideas that recognize and match the scale of the sustainability challenge. A fundamental obstacle to attaining the “Future We Want”, a vision advanced at the Rio+20, is the fact that we are unclear about an agreeable discount formulae for the wellbeing of the future generations; our children. We are unable to contain our present consumption, chart a path toward sustainability and secure the interest of future generations.
Overburdened by the enduring failure of global collective action to achieve a sustainable future, a band of scholars, policy and decision makers, business leaders and politicians have begun to frame a new a broader vision for a sustainable future. In January 2013, the King of Bhutan convened an international expert group to frame a New Development Paradigm.
At the core of this paradigm are equitable and sustainable wellbeing of human beings and the rest of nature. This radically challenges mankind’s pre-ordained supremacy and power over all creation. The philosophy of the New Development Paradigm is inhered in Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness idea, which maintains that faced with ecological and social devastation wrought by the world view of the last century, we can re-embed economic life in the social community and within the integrity of nature.
Writing in Solutions, a new hybrid academic online journal, a group of global thoughtful individuals led by Robert Costanza – a leading ecological economist and professor of public policy – have proposed five ideas upon which to build a new paradigm for the future we really want. These ideas include:
1.     Achieving well-being and happiness by strengthening social support networks through family, community, and workplace, hence promoting holistic life-long learning to enhance civic, cultural, ecological, health, and financial literacy;
2.     Attaining ecological sustainability through investing in sustainable infrastructure, such as renewable clean energy, energy efficiency, support for green businesses, public transit, and transition to sustainable agriculture to feed the earth’s population without destroying soil, water and biodiversity resource and hasten progress toward low carbon growth pathway;
3.     Building a sustainable economy through implementing integrated bottom line reporting for private sector companies and governments to enable them to identify and manage the business benefits of more sustainable practices; reforming national accounting systems, and ensure that prices reflect actual social and environmental costs goods and services;

4.     Creating an equitable society by recognizing that greater equality enriches our pursuit for happiness, strengthens social cohesion and reduces status competition and reduces differences in living conditions an other well-being outcomes;
5.     Fostering dynamic and inclusive communities in which the values of inclusion, thoughtful reflection, mutual and distributed accountability infuse every sphere of public life as well as strengthening the voice of citizens in decision making by augmenting formal representation in governance with enlightened participation.
As always, the devil is in implementation. What is needed now is to galvanize national accountability and local action at the community level to secure our children’s future. It begins with you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

International Climate Protection Fellowships

International Climate Protection Fellowships

For young climate experts from developing countries interested in conducting a project in Germany and developing long-term collaborations
The fellowship allows future leaders to spend a year in Germany working on a research-based project of their own choice in the field of climate protection. Fellows are free to choose their own collaborative partners. Submit an application if you come from a non-European transition or developing country (see list of countries) and are involved with issues relating to the scientific, engineering, legal, economic or social aspects of climate change.
During a three-week introductory phase, you will have the opportunity to make contact with other climate protection fellows and visit companies, research institutions and cultural events in Germany. An intensive German-language course before you begin the fellowship will smooth your way into everyday life in Germany whilst a continuing education event lasting several days in the course of the fellowship will enable you to acquire not only practical knowledge of climate protection but also expertise in management.
Subject to final agreement to provide funding, 20 fellowships can be granted.
Submit an application by 15 March 2014. The fellowship will begin on 1 March 2015.


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