Archive for category international
Is good news boring? Is there a severe shortage of hopeful, inspirational stories outside of the sports section? Would it violate journalistic standards if the media served up more stories that motivated us to be better people and brightened our days a little?
The answer is you can find stories of hope and inspiration if you look hard enough for them. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be a small part of some pretty amazing stories from around the world as editor of the TPRF blog for the past two years. I’d like to pass my good fortune along to anyone in the mood for something out of the ordinary.
The TPRF blog began with a mandate to cover the developing story of the third Food for People facility planned for construction in the small village of Otinibi, outside of the metropolitan city of Accra in Ghana, West Africa. Food for People is a proprietary hunger relief program initiated by TPRF. These facilities feed a nutritious daily meal to children and village elders in areas of extreme poverty.
Our first posts covered the Ghana Food for People project in detail beginning when the facility was an undeveloped piece of land awaiting governmental approval of the documents transferring title of ownership to the local charity set up to manage and run the FFP. We literally watched the facility rise up out of the ground, culminating in a triumphant opening one year later. The FFP in Otinibi has materialized thanks to the dedication of mostly local volunteers, an expert construction team, funding from TPRF, and donations from individuals following the story on the Internet.
Five hundred children and adults will eat every day in Otinibi. The same thing occurs at two other Food for People centers in Bantoli, India and Tsarapu, Nepal, opened in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
The logistics and effort required to establish and keep the FFP facilities operating boggles the mind. Food and hygiene standards must be established and maintained. A chef has to plan the menus. The meals have to be balanced nutritionally and tailored to the tastes of the people in the area. Managers have to train and supervise staff and volunteers. The list goes on. Yet it is happening.
Thanks to these Food for People centers, children go to school instead of doing manual labor (like crushing rocks to support their families.) The nutritious daily meals allow the children to grow and develop normally. Plus, they learn proper sanitation habits and enjoy watching educational television programs while eating.
With healthy bodies and the opportunity to learn in school, these children have a vastly improved chance to realize their dreams later in life. And something more. I have seen through these stories that Food for People is an oasis for these children, a place where they can flourish and enjoy their precious childhood.
Six months after the first TPRF blog post, we decided to open up the scope of the blog to other feature stories while still reporting on the progress of the project in Ghana. We regularly cover stories about TPRF’s Peace Education Program in prisons, independent fundraising efforts, disaster relief, clean drinking water initiatives, and other humanitarian efforts undertaken by TPRF’s partner organizations.
Here’s a thought. Maybe you are what you “tune into” as much as you are what you eat.
Food for People photos by Francis Ahore. Ethiopia photo courtesy of International Relief and Development Organization (IRD)
The Adventure Project set an ambitious goal. Blog writers and their readers worldwide responded with enthusiasm, compassion and generosity.
The idea came to Becky Straw and Jody Landers, Co-Founders of the Adventure Project, from members of their organization, known affectionately as “The Tribe.” One week before World Water Day (March 22nd) blog writers proposed a challenge to raise $10,000 in one day by promoting The Adventure Project’s latest initiative: repairing broken water pump handles in northern India. The anticipated results of the initiative are twofold. By bringing wells that have fallen into disrepair back into use, 300 more people per month (3,600 per year) will have access to clean water. In addition, the initiative will provide training and jobs to enable unemployed people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Becky thought the tribe members might be able to recruit 50 bloggers to promote the fundraising effort. Jody, an eternal optimist, suggested 100 bloggers. One week later, 137 bloggers had signed up to participate. As the final seconds of World Water Day elapsed, the amount raised reached $11,390. Donations are still rolling in, by the way. All funds collected go to WaterAid, a charity that takes a unique approach to providing the poorest communities with potable water.
“It all came together like magic,” Becky reports. She asked her friend and colleague, Nicole Skibola, to find a company that might be willing to provide matching funds to the promotion. In her role as a “Social Innovation Strategist” with Apricot Consulting in New York City, Nicole works with corporations to create and execute effective programs for social change. A former attorney, Nicole also serves as a “Social Enterprise Advisor,” for the Adventure Project.
Nicole e-mailed a list of her friends and business contacts in an effort to locate a matching funds sponsor. Kathya Bustamante’s name happened to be on the list from a position she previously held with UBS. Kathya, among other interests, now volunteers for TPRF as Manager of the Fundraising Team. Kathya recognized a common thread between both organizations: “Clean Water” and “Dignity.” She forwarded Nicole’s request to decision makers at TPRF. Within twenty-four hours, TPRF committed to providing up to $10,000 in matching funds. “Awesome,” Nicole commented in an e-mail to Becky and Kathya, “the fastest foundation response in history.”
One final footnote—Although TPRF agreed to provide up to $10,000 in matching funds, we surprised the girls by cutting a check for the full amount of the funds raised on World Water Day: $11,390.
“Your response was so amazing and so responsible,” Becky said about TPRF’s participation.
*Photos courtesy of Esther Havens for The Adventure Project
The earth is one big ecosystem. Think of it as a human body. Every cell, every organ, every system of organs is interdependent. Think of the water in the earth’s rivers as blood in the body’s circulatory system. What happens to the body when infection invades the blood stream? What happens when the body cannot produce enough cells to maintain a sufficient, systemic blood level? The answer, of course, is illness.
Industrialization, urbanization, and global warming have adversely affected the rivers of the world. Pollution and insufficient water levels pose a serious health threat to all life in the surrounding regions. The problem is common to big cities as well as rural areas. The best way to illustrate this point is to cite specific examples.
From approximately 1947 to 1977, the General Electric Company poured an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River from manufacturing plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.
The health of area residents is at risk due to the accumulation of PCBs in the human body caused by eating the river’s contaminated fish. Since 1976, high levels of PCBs in fish have led New York State to close various recreational and commercial fisheries and to issue advisories restricting the consumption of fish caught in the Hudson River. PCBs contain carcinogenic substances known to stimulate the growth of cancer cells in humans. Additional adverse health effects include low birth weight, thyroid disease, nervous and immune system disorders. PCBs in the river sediment also affect fish and wildlife.
Runoff in urban and rural areas can easily affect a river’s health, putting local wildlife and human life at risk. Nitrates from fertilizers and pesticides collect in rainwater draining from surrounding land into rivers. These chemicals stimulate the growth of algae, throwing delicate, ecologic relationships out of whack. The result is a clogged, dysfunctional river system.
Runoff from acid rain and rain falling through polluted air is another source of contamination. A recent report states that pollution from urban runoff has become the Potomac River region’s fastest-growing water quality problem, threatening the quality of drinking water for 86 percent of local residents.
Several Abandoned mines located in England and Wales have caused significant pollution in nearby rivers. Dangerous metals such as iron, aluminum, tin, lead, mercury and cadmium from old mine workings contaminate drinking water extracted from regional rivers fed by polluted tributaries.
Phosphorous from detergents in sewage flushed into rivers is another dangerous pollutant. The chemical stays in the system for a long time, threatening plant life by taking up oxygen and poisoning the drinking water of animals and humans alike. The impact of a slow buildup of river pollution in a wide area can be devastating. In the 1950’s, the otter population in England was nearly wiped out by the accumulation of toxic wastes in major rivers throughout the country.
Rising weather temperatures caused by global warming have had a dramatic effect on fresh water levels in rivers around the world. Persistent drought conditions in Australia’s major farming region, the Murray-Darling river basin, threaten the nation’s food supply. The Murray-Darling crosses most of southeastern Australia and is one of the region’s most important river systems. It provides water for growing 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Corey Watts, of the Australian Conservation Foundation in Melbourne, told reporters that drought conditions were becoming the norm in the area instead of occurring once every 20 to 25 years.
“We’ve had a string of official reports over the last fortnight painting a pretty grim picture for the climate and the future of our economy and our environment,” Watts said. “So now we’re looking at a future in the next few decades where drought will occur once every two years.”
The 2,000 year-old Yamuna is a river that “fell from heaven,” according to Hindu mythology. The residents of New Delhi worship the river and depend on it for life. Residents tossing coins and sweets into the river, or scattering the ashes of dead relatives from bridges jutting across the waters are a common sight. Unfortunately, the actions of the citizenry and the New Delhi governmental water board do not coincide with this feeling of reverence.
As the Yamuna enters the capital city, its waters are still relatively clean after a 246-mile descent from atop the Himalayas. New Delhi’s public water authority, the Jal Board, extracts 229 million gallons from the river daily for drinking water. As the river leaves the city, residents pour an average 950 gallons of sewage into the Yamuna every day.
As it winds through India’s capital city, the Yamuna transforms into a filthy band of black ink with clumps of raw sewage floating on the surface. Methane gas bubbles to the surface. The river is hardly safe for fish, let alone bathing or drinking water.
A recent government audit condemned the Jal Board for spending 200 million dollars on the construction of sewage treatment plants with minimal results. One of the city’s Pollution Control Board Directors said the situation “has not improved at all because the quantity of sewage is always increasing.” The regular occurrence of power failures adds to the problem.
The above examples are only a tiny representation of the problem. The health of the world’s rivers and their effects on plant, animal, and human life is a complex problem difficult to summarize in one short article. Governmental water management boards worldwide are struggling to deal with the problem now to avoid catastrophic water shortages in the next twenty years. Bold, new initiatives are under consideration along with traditional methods. One point is clear, however. Change in the way we treat the environment, collectively and individually, is essential.
The new movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” explores this theme. The story posits the theory that painful and necessary change can occur when it becomes obvious that doing things the same old way will lead to certain destruction. Certainly, we have reached this point with respect to the environment. Two questions remain. Will we change? Can we change in time to prevent a complete breakdown of the earth’s life sustaining ecosystem?
Sources: Gertner, Jon, “The Future Is Drying Up,” Time Magazine, October 21, 2007; Government of Australia — Waters and Rivers Commission, “Water Facts,” July 1997; Sengupta, Somini, “In Teeming India, Water Crisis Means Dry Pipes and Foul Sludge,” The New York Times, September 26, 2006.
Modern India is much like a newly minted land mass; cooling on the surface while bubbling with volcanic activity underneath. Red-hot economic growth masks the nation’s underlying socio-political problems.
The utter economic desperation of Indian pastoralists has provided verdant soil for Marxist Leninist ideas to flourish in rural hamlets. Maoist guerillas recruit these tribal villagers in their crusade to replace the Indian Democratic Republic with a socialist state by means of armed insurrection. The urban-centered Indian press has chosen to downplay this story, preferring instead to focus on the country’s recent industrial boom. Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister, stands apart from the Indian Establishment in his assessment of the matter. He calls the Maoist guerilla activity “the biggest internal security threat” the country faces.
The Maoist activists, known as “Naxolites,” have found a receptive audience in the Indian pastorals, known as “Tribals,” for two major reasons. The Tribal population of eighty million is the most disadvantaged segment of Indian society. Twenty-three percent of them are illiterate. Another fifty percent lives below the poverty line. In addition, the Indian Government, acting solely in its own interests, has expropriated Tribal land rich in minerals and other natural resources. The politically powerless Tribal people have nowhere to turn, except to the Naxolites, who press them into bands of roving militias, hunted and killed by government forces.
The Tribal people are not alone in their economic and political plight. A relatively thin veneer of privileged middle and upper class citizens covers a population of more than eight hundred and fifty million people who exist on two dollars a day or less. India’s corrupt and overly bureaucratic government cannot begin to cope with the nation’s staggering poverty. The outdated Indian caste system makes it more difficult for the poor to improve their lives. The predicament of India’s massive underclass is a persistent disease that constantly threatens the future well-being of the country’s entire society.
Another flashpoint of tension within India’s borders is the struggle with Pakistan for control of the Kasmir territory. After India won its independence from British rule, the country’s princely states enjoyed the freedom of choice to join either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja of Kashmir chose to join India because he was a Hindu. This decision was a bitter pill to swallow for the majority of the Kashmiri people who are Muslims. The agreement to annex Kashmir included a provision for a plebiscite to confirm the Maharaja’s decision. India never allowed the plebiscite to occur.
These seeds of conflict have erupted into three wars between India and Pakistan over control of this beautiful, northeastern territory. Tension has escalated even higher with the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both countries. In addition, militant Islamists in the territory are waging a bloody struggle for an independent state of Kashmir. With the separatist militants folded into the mix, the situation is as unstable as homemade nitroglycerin.
The conflict in Kashmir is indicative of a deeper, more serious problem; an innate hatred and distrust between Indian Hindus and their Muslim counterparts. This centuries old antagonism is rooted in religious intolerance. The rift began when Islamic fundamentalists invaded India in the sixth century. A noted scholar deemed this war as “probably the bloodiest in history.”
There is a basic incompatibility between the aggressive, xenophobic tenants of Islam, which proclaims Allah as the only God, and the polytheistic nature of Hinduism. Throughout the history of India’s independence movement, a series of political clashes between Muslims and Hindus echoed the animosity between the two groups. Even a great leader like Mahatma Gandhi failed to generate lasting cooperation between these factions. Splitting off Pakistan from India as a separate Muslim state has similarly failed to provide a solution. The hatred and distrust doggedly endures.
Undoubtedly, India faces major challenges in its quest for a peaceful and prosperous future. Surely, a more streamlined and efficient government would provide part of the answer. However, it is the people of India themselves who must learn to cooperate and share with one another to move forward into a brighter future.
One can imagine George Herbert Bush’s military advisors telling him not to go after Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Overthrowing Hussein, the advisors explain to the erstwhile president, will create a power vacuum and a country splintered by bloody civil war. In addition, the advisors remind the president that the United Nations has not issued a mandate allowing military forces on the ground to topple the Hussein government. George Herbert Bush decided to listen to his advisors and obey the will of the international community. It was not a popular decision at the time.
In retrospect, it is obvious to even a casual observer that our incumbent president was itching to finish what his father started. George W. Bush figured he could secure his place in history by exporting democracy to Iraq with an iron fist. The results have been catastrophic for the Iraqi people and the citizens of the United States.
Here are the simple facts. Despite opposition from international and domestic leaders, President Bush convinced enough people in government to green light the invasion of Iraq. The military intelligence used as a pretext for the invasion turned out to be bogus. Five years later, the war rages on. Thousands of U.S. Military personnel have died or have received serious, life-changing injuries. Thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens have needlessly lost their lives or suffered serious wounds. More than five million Iraqi refugees have lost their homes, jobs, and entire way of life.
No one in the United States government wants to take responsibility for this destruction. It is now the responsibility of the people in this country to do the right thing.
Nothing speaks more eloquently about the suffering the war in Iraq has caused than the stories of the refugees themselves. Kareem, a history professor, suffered disfiguring wounds to his face when American airplanes bombed the University where he teaches. Forty-five students and teachers died when the second floor of the building collapsed into the first floor. More than a hundred people reported injuries from the attack.
“The Americans are a peaceful and honest people,” Kareem says. “That’s what I’ve seen through the television. They refused the war and this war has been destructive to both countries…For the last four years, it has gone from bad to worse.”
Ahmad worked as a loyal employee of the US Coalition Forces in Iraq. He bonded with the Marines he worked with as a translator and cultural liaison. He felt as if the Marines had become his family. After a Shiite militia murdered his fellow translator and friend, Ahmad fled the country in fear for his own life.
This story is all too familiar to seven thousand other young Iraqis who worked faithfully in official capacities for U.S. troops in Iraq, mostly as translators and cultural advisors. Insurgent factions have marked these young Iraqis for death. The United States Government refuses to grant visas or political asylum to these former employees.
Hiba is a young woman who fled Iraq with her family a few months after the war began. Jordan’s government denied asylum to this family of seven. They spent four years living in a tent in Ruwayshed, a refugee camp on the border of Iraq and Jordan.
Unfortunately, Hiba’s story is similar to the experience of a majority of Iraqi refugees. Syria, Lebanon and Jordan routinely deny access or status to homeless families and refugees fleeing from religious or political persecution from within their own country. There is no government infrastructure or private sector relief programs established in bordering countries to deal with the refugee crisis. The situation is analogous to the Jewish refugee crisis after World War II when more than four million people lost their homes and way of life in the Holocaust.
These are but a handful of the refugees stories. There are thousands of stories, many too horrible and brutal to imagine. We are the only source of help the Iraqi refugees can call on at this time. “The List,” an independent citizen action group, helps Iraqis living under the threat of death to find safe haven outside of the country. UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, urgently needs funding. This agency relies on private contributions for over 95% of its budget. To find out how you can support organizations like these, please visit http://www.iraqirefugeestories.org/
“It’s not going to happen.” This will be the short and tragic answer to the question if governing bodies throughout the world continue to side-step the troubling reality of our planet’s shrinking fresh water supply. The challenges of global warming, pollution from industrial waste and sewage disposal, and the deterioration of water delivery systems must be faced now in order to avoid a worldwide water crisis within the next ten to fifteen years.
As the world population grows, more fresh water is needed for drinking water and sanitation. As a result, the water available for agriculture and industrial uses is plunging below demand levels. The effects of global warming are causing water shortages and droughts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Water mismanagement by government agencies adds to the shortages. Dumping treated and untreated human waste into bodies of water is a suicidal policy that is reducing the worldwide fresh water supply on a daily basis. Poisonous industrial waste products continue to find their way into lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers.
The world’s supply of fresh water hasn’t increased since biblical times. We’re destroying an irreplaceable commodity essential to life while increasing demand at an uncontrolled, alarming rate.
While 75 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water. O.3 percent of the fresh water is found on the surface. The balance is buried deep underground.
The burgeoning water crisis is not confined to third world countries or the desert nations of the Middle-East. In Atlanta, Georgia for example, there are days the tap water is so murky residents are afraid to bathe in it much less drink it, even though city officials claim the water is safe. The discoloration of the water is a result of under-serviced mains and pipes, many more than a century old, reaching the end of their useful life spans. When pipes in a water delivery system crack or break, dirt, bacteria, and other pathogens are sucked into the complex underground arteries of a system like Atlanta’s. The problem is usually handled by flushing out the contaminated pipes and upping chlorine levels in each, isolated instance. Few Officials see this as a viable solution for the future. Atlanta’s water problems exemplify similar situations in major cities across America. The Country’s water delivery systems are failing due to old age. A massive infusion of capital (100 to 150 billion dollars per city) is needed to install new systems.
Most of us are too consumed with our daily struggle for existence to worry about global problems like the water crisis. This has to change. Citizens of every country in the world have to take steps to force their governments to enact social programs and legislation to address the water crisis right away in order to avert a catastrophic decline in the quality of life we have become used to.
The situation is bad enough already. One person out of six people alive today doesn’t have easy access to a safe, fresh water supply. Two out of six people in the world (approximately 2.4 billion individuals) do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. This increases the instance of water-borne diseases astronomically. One child in the world dies every fifteen seconds due to a water-related illness. Studies have estimated 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases. Half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-related health problems. 1.8 million Children die each year from diarrhea. Millions of women and children in under developed countries are forced to trek long distances every day to collect water from sources that are often polluted.
It will take unprecedented cooperation between world governments to solve the world-wide water crisis. But the effort has to begin with individual citizens. Governments will not move quickly enough unless there is a loud outcry from the people most affected — you and me.
Let’s take the issue of carbon dioxide emissions for example. The U.S. Government has been too slow in lowering emissions standards. We would all be driving cars running on hybrid and even non-gasoline based fuels today if the original schedule for emissions reductions had been adhered to. We face the imminent threat of crop failures, coastline flooding, extensive droughts, and other serious problems resulting from global warming because this issue has not been managed properly by our government. It is not a problem of adequate technology. It is a problem of mandating change.
Another issue world governments are avoiding is the disposal of raw sewage. We need an environmentally friendly method of treating and disposing of human waste. The necessary funds can be raised and the technology implemented quickly if people force their governments to mandate change.
We need more projects like the “One Water” documentary film sponsored by the University of Miami to raise public awareness of the growing world water crisis. In addition, governments and people around the world must cooperate in developing educational programs, incentive programs, and the distribution of birth control devices to slow population growth to a responsible rate.
Cooperation, innovative ideas, comprehensive solutions, and immediate action are required. We must not put off until tomorrow what desperately needs to be done today.
Sources: U.S. News and World Report; “The Coming Water Crisis,” August, 4, 2002, Web edition. National Geographic News; “UN Highlights World Water Crisis,” June 5th, 2003, Web edition. Water Partners International (http://www.waterpartners.org/.) World Water Council (http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/.) “One Water” (http://www.onewater.org/.) (www.1h2o.org.)