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River Thames ‘severely polluted with plastic’

Getty Images Image caption Plastic on the banks of the River Thames

The River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world.

Scientists have estimated that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places.

The quantity exceeds that measured in other European rivers, such as the Danube and Rhine.

Tiny bits of plastic have been found inside the bodies of crabs living in the Thames.

And wet wipes flushed down the toilet are accumulating in large numbers on the shoreline.

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, are calling for stricter regulations on the labelling and disposal of plastic products.

They warn that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution worse.

“Taken together these studies show how many different types of plastic, from microplastics in the water through to larger items of debris physically altering the foreshore, can potentially affect a wide range of organisms in the River Thames,” said Prof Dave Morritt from Royal Holloway.

“The increased use of single-use plastic items, and the inappropriate disposal of such items, including masks and gloves, along with plastic-containing cleaning products, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, may well exacerbate this problem.”

The scientists point out that the Thames is cleaner than it used to be with respect to some pollutants, such as trace metals.

What plastics were found in the River?

Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames, including glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items.

The bulk of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source.

“Flushable” wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming “wet wipe reefs”.

Study researcher, Katherine McCoy, said, “Our study shows that stricter regulations are needed for the labelling and disposal of these products. There is great scope to further research the impacts of microplastics and indeed microfibres on Thames organisms.”

Where does the plastic come from?

Fibres from washing machine outflows and potentially from sewage outfalls, plus fragments from the breakup of larger plastics, such as packaging items and bottles, which are washed into the river.

Katharine Rowley of Royal Holloway said it’s unclear why there’s such a high density of plastic in the River Thames, but called for people to think about the plastic they use and throw away.

“People can make much more of a difference than they might think,” she said.

What is the plastic doing to wildlife in the river?

Some animals living in the river are ingesting microplastics, including two species of crab.

Crabs contained tangled plastic in their stomachs, including fibres and microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.

“Tangles of plastic were particularly prevalent in the invasive Chinese mitten crab and we still don’t fully understand the reason for this.”

Clams near the wet wipe “reefs” contained synthetic polymers, some of which may have originated from the wet wipes and other pollutants found on the site such as sanitary items.

How do the findings compare with other rivers?

Much of the work on microplastics has been carried out in seas and oceans rather than rivers.

By comparison, the Thames has higher quantities of microplastics than levels recorded in the Rhine in Germany, the Danube in Romania, the River Po in Italy and the Chicago River in the US.

However, levels appear lower than those reported for China’s Yangzte river.

Other scientists previously tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found “microplastics everywhere”.

The latest research was carried out in collaboration with the Natural History Museum and Zoological Society, London.

Dr Paul Clark of the Natural History Museum said, “What our students have shown in this collaboration is that although the Thames is certainly cleaner with regards some chemical pollutants, eg. heavy metals, the River is severely polluted with plastic. And once again our wildlife is threatened.”

The research is reported in two papers in Environmental Pollution and in one paper in Science of the Total Environment.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53479635

Sr. Patricia Chappell has long been a leader. Now she’s being honored for it

Following the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell was asked to speak on behalf of the Catholic community at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She is at the podium. (Provided photo)

Decades in nonviolence and anti-racism work has prepared Sr. Patricia Chappell for this tense moment in United States history, as her lifelong passions have become part of mainstream conversation in the country.

Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was the executive director of Pax Christi USA for eight years and president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference for five years. Now the co-coordinator of her community’s anti-racism team, she has long been involved in anti-racism work, helping religious communities confront the systemic racism within their congregations.

And right now, she’s especially hopeful that communities of women religious can move toward “being in right relationship with those who think and look differently than the majority of us,” she said.

As she’s attempted to right the injustices she saw around her, Chappell said she never thought the Leadership Conference of Women Religious noticed her ministries until they called to tell her she would be the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award, though the award ceremony has been postponed until next year because this year’s assembly will be virtual.

Though the honor came as a surprise to Chappell, her friends who spoke with Global Sisters Report said her tenacity, open-mindedness and dogged pursuit of justice make her a natural and effective leader.

Victoria Virgo-Christie*, an old family friend of Chappell’s, said the fact that she’s been “a consistent advocate for the underserved is what allows her to stand out.”

“She’s not willing to just stay comfortable,” she said.

By diving into those awkward conversations, Chappell, 67, “brings other members of the religious congregation into situations that they wouldn’t necessarily” choose to be in.

Chappell’s spirituality, as Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau said, is grounded in a God of liberation: “She wants all people to have the fullness of life as Jesus promised.”

Indeed, Chappell said she takes issue with how Catholic theology often responds to sorrow and adversity in this life by pointing to the salvation that awaits.

“You can’t tell me that I should be willing to suffer in this world and to anticipate that in the next world, I’m going to put on my long white robe and experience freedom,” she said. “Why can I not experience freedom and empowerment while I’m on this side of the world and not have to wait till I’m dead to experience that?”

Chappell has dedicated decades of her life’s work to embodying that desire to empower others while also advocating nonviolence and racial justice — work aimed to reform unjust institutions one painful conversation at a time.

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell, center, holds a Black Lives Matter sign at a rally with Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. (Provided photo)

A lifelong interest in social justice

Born Sept. 19, 1952, Chappell grew up in a tight-knit Black community in New Haven, Connecticut, where “it takes a village to raise a child” was a lived concept, she said.

“That greatly influenced who I am today, this sense of, you don’t live in a vacuum, but you live in relationship to others, being available to serve one another.”

The oldest of seven children, Chappell said her family’s home parish, St. Martin de Porres, was the center where social justice and community issues were raised, the source of her “cultural and spiritual development.”

It was also where she learned leadership, as her school and church regularly called upon youth to lead activities and encouraged “a sense of speaking up and speaking out,” which came naturally to her given her interest in local justice issues, she said.

While at St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Connecticut, she had the opportunity in the early 1970s to engage in youth ministry, particularly with Black Catholic youth.

The idea was to lift them up spiritually while emphasizing mission and service to others, Chappell said. For many, the youth group was their introduction to Catholic social teaching, connecting moral responsibility with their Catholicism.

“These youth were on fire,” she said. They became a voice that challenged the church: “These hymns are nice, but times are changing, and we’re starting to wear our Afros, and we’re now speaking about the contributions that we bring as Black youth. So, what about gospel choir?”

They also started to ask why nobody depicted in the church — Jesus, Mary, saints — looked like them, then asked adults to teach them more about the long history of Black Catholics.

Growing up, Chappell said she experienced discrimination whenever she left the “safety net” that was her neighborhood, Dixwell Avenue. Not being served in restaurants, being followed around in stores — “all that is certainly part of my history.”

In high school and college, Chappell was drawn to the Black Power movement, wearing her Afro and dashikis and joining student movements that, for example, called for more Black faculty members. The more she was educated, she said, the more she began to “understand how systems were set up to keep some people marginalized and oppressed” to the benefit of others.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/religious-life/news/sr-patricia-chappell-has-long-been-leader-now-shes-being-honored-it

Japanese Sisters Contribute to Peace

Sr. toshie Nakashima engages students in a reflection on St. Julie Billiart’s spirit of peace-making.

By Sister Masako Miyake, SNDdeN

“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”
Pope John Paul ii

In Japan, the ministries of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
(SNDdeN) are now mostly in the Hiroshima Diocese. In 1981,
during a visit to Hiroshima as a pilgrim, Pope John Paul II gave
his impressive Appeal for Peace to the world. Collaborating with the
Church in Japan, Sisters of Notre Dame are challenged to be peacemakers. With our co-workers, we are educating young people to be peacemakers. Although most of our students and staff are not Catholics or Christians, in all Notre Dame schools, we do have religious education classes, pray together, study the Gospel and the spirit of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Peace study is an essential part of religious education in our schools. We teach and encourage students to be peacemakers. In 1950, with the prayer for peace, Japanese and American Sisters opened Notre Dame Seishin Junior and Senior High School (NDSH) in Hiroshima. Today, this school has a six-year program of peace studies.

Students bring peace cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Senbazuru ~ Symbol of Peace

Students have opportunities to hear experiences of the atom bomb from graduates; Sr. Agnes Hirota, SNDdeN is among these witnesses. All students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park “to remember Hiroshima.” Before their visit, they prayerfully make paper cranes. After sustaining serious injuries from the atom bomb, a girl named Sadako, as a prayer for her recovery, made 1,000 paper cranes (Senbazuru) before she died at age 12. Since then, other young people fulfill her desire and continue this practice with paper cranes which have become a symbol of peace. Every year, more than ten million Senbazuru are offered to the Peace Park. Students in our school join the Recycling Project of Senbazuru by creating mosaic arts with messages for peace and send them to Catholic Schools in Korea and the Philippines; to our Heritage Centre in Namur, Belgium as well as to a Junior High School in the Japan Disaster Zone

young people, as peace-makers of the satellite parish Higashi Hiroshima, and Sr. Masako Miyake, SNDdeN welcome the new Bishop of the Hiroshima Diocese, Bishop Manyo Maeda.

Challenge from the Disaster Zone

On March 11, 2011, the Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami
devastated Japan with many deaths and heavy immediate and long-term economic and environmental damage. Official records list 15,882 deaths; 2,668 people are missing and 315,196 people are still taking refuge after two years. The tsunami caused destruction to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and released wide-spread radioactivity that has become a severe health hazard. Even now, the 100,000 people, evacuated from this area, live in fear and anxiety. People worry about the effects of radiation on their children. After World War II, Japan chose The Peace Constitution and economic development instead of strong military power. The choice resulted from an earnest desire never to send Japanese children to the battle field nor allow the children ever to starve again. Eventually, the priority for this goal changed to profitability and efficiency, strengthened by the progression of Globalism. With these trends, national policies promote more nuclear power plants, even though scientists predict new disasters, due to other earthquakes or tsunamis. All 50 functioning nuclear reactors in Japan, with some on the active fault, are at risk for more horrific accidents. Without a more secure environment, the people doubt survival for the next generation.

SNDdeN Collaborate with the Church

As Catholics, we are only 0.3% of the whole population. Yet, in 16
dioceses in Japan, we are united and challenged to respond to the call from the Disaster Zone. The Sendai Diocese (three disaster prefectures) organized the Support Center for victims and formed 9 bases. All dioceses send volunteers and raise money for the Support Center. Caritas Japan supports the Center financially. All Catholics, including bishops, priests, religious and lay people are serving together and sharing resources. At first, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Sisters sponsored a “Sisters’ Relay” to have Sisters from each Congregation join the volunteers for one week or more at the Support Center. During the second year, the women religious had a relay of prayer. Many Catholic schools collected donations and sent the students as volunteers. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan proclaimed: “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately.” Many dioceses encouraged parishes to study more about nuclear power.

To help victims of natural and nuclear disasters and to change our
own life styles are constant challenges. Sisters in Japan are responding to the call. Each community decided on concrete targets in daily life to save electricity and live more simply. We sent Sister Mitsuko Shoji to the Sendai Support Center as a runner of Sisters’ Relay for a month and other Sisters joined with her in prayer. Notre Dame schools also sent volunteers. Sister Johanna Saiko Nakamura joined with ten students last summer in efforts to remove the debris. These experiences help the students to think about their own lives now and in the future.

Sisters in Higashi Hiroshima belong to a satellite Parish Church.
At a gathering to understand more about the plight of the victims,
a graduate of our school described her work mostly for children.
The local welfare commissioner, responsible for taking care of the
families from the Disaster Zone, shared her experiences. All attending the meeting, Christians, Buddhists and other denominations prayed the Rosary together. At the opening of the Year of Faith, the Bishops pointed out the current social situation in Japan. They asked Japanese Catholics to “share ideas with each other, and search for measures and expressions for New Evangelization with people inside and outside of the Church, while listening to the voices of suffering people.”

Indian nuns aid migrant laborers stranded on way home during lockdown

Mothers and children wait at Kaushambi Bus Terminal on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border to go to their villages in eastern India hundreds of kilometers away. (Jessy Joseph)

New Delhi — Sr. Sujata Jena could not sleep after seeing a picture of a young girl with a heavy load on her head in a WhatsApp message. “Her stained face, wet with tears, haunted me,” the member of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary told Global Sisters Report.

The photo was being circulated to illustrate the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who hit India’s highways following a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

As Jena saw on social media platforms pictures and videos from around India, the 38-year-old lawyer and nun set out to help migrants reach home. One video clip showed 10 workers crammed into a room in Kerala, a southwestern Indian state. The men said their employer had locked them up and that they desperately needed help to reach their villages in Odisha, more than 1,000 miles northeast.

As the lockdown confined her to her convent in the Odisha capital of Bhubaneswar, Jena on May 17 joined a social media network that helps the stranded migrants.

By June 24, more than 300 migrants, including the 10, stranded in southern Indian states reached their native villages in states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal in eastern India, thanks to Jena’s efforts.

Jena is among hundreds of Catholic nuns who are on the front lines as the church reaches out to migrant laborers affected by the initial 21-day lockdown Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed on India’s 1.3 billion people from midnight of March 25 with only four hours’ notice.

The lockdown, considered the world’s largest and toughest attempt to contain the pandemic, has been extended five times with varying degrees of relaxation until July 31.

The lockdown suddenly rendered jobless millions of migrant laborers in cities.

“As they lost the job, they had no place to stay, no income and no security,” says Salesian Fr. Joe Mannath, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, the association of men and women religious major superiors in the country.

As the lockdown halted India’s public transport system, migrant laborers in cities swarmed highways and roads within a few days. Most walked and some cycled to their native villages, hundreds of miles away.

Mannath says the fear of starvation and contracting the coronavirus led to a “chaotic exodus” of workers from cities.

Church groups are among those trying to help these workers.

On June 6, Caritas India, the Indian bishops’ aid agency, informed a webinar that the church reached more than 11 million people during the lockdown period, including many migrant workers.

Mannath, who coordinates India’s more than 130,000 religious, including nearly 100,000 women, claims the bulk of that service was carried out by the religious.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/indian-nuns-aid-migrant-laborers-stranded-way-home-during-lockdown

Coronavirus comes to a migrant tent city at US border

A child hugs a volunteer teacher at a camp for asylum seekers on Dec. 8, 2019 in the Mexican border town of Matamoros. Credit: John Moore/Getty

More than 1,500 people live in a tent city without running water or adequate sanitation at the border of Texas and Mexico, while they apply for asylum in the U.S. Coronavirus has arrived in the camp, a religious sister has said, which should call attention to the condition in which asylum seekers are living.

“These families are living in donated tents at the mercy of extreme weather. Here, the temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, and when it rains, the downpours knock down their only refuge and leave them in mud pits,”Sr. Norma Pimentel wrote in a July 5 op-ed for the Washington Post.

“Imagine living in such uncertainty, where even such basics as running water and a place to shower are nonexistent; where you have to depend on outside organizations for food, which you have to cook over a campfire. Like the prisons and nursing homes that have been breeding grounds for the virus in the United States, the camp is crowded with people who for now are not going anywhere.”

Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas.

“Do not ignore the suffering occurring here,” she urged, explaining that the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has more than 1,500 men, women, and children, in a make-shift tent city, as they wait for their applications for admittance to the United States to be processed.

The camp has been in existence since last summer, after the federal government initiated the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which allow U.S. officials to return undocumented migrants to Mexico pending adjudication of their claims for asylum.

Addressing the situation is more, not less urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said, noting that the camp recorded its first positive case last week.

That the camp has remained free of coronavirus for so long was, she said, was “remarkable” and a testament to the dedication of volunteers working to serve the people enduring emotional and practical hardship.

While the one patient in the camp, a woman from the interior of Mexico, was quickly isolated and removed to a nearby medical center run by Doctors Without Borders, Pimentel said that the conditions make the camp a potential outbreak waiting to happen, and that because of the pandemic, the camp has become less safe.

Because of the pandemic, volunteer activity in the camp is limited to a small number, who are able to provide assistance with nourishment and some health care needs, Pimentel wrote.

“All this makes it even harder to keep the camps safe from the cartels and gangsters who continue to prey on these largely defenseless asylum seekers.”

The camp’s existence, said Pimentel, was the unnecessary consequence of the government’s asylum protocols, which itself fail to “address people with dignity.”

“We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity.”
 
Pimentel said that “the story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.”

“It is time that we put an end to it, and to end the MPP policy. Until that happens, we will continue to help those who are defenseless, whose only real ‘crime’ is trying to seek protection for themselves and their families.”

The Trump administration has made several changes to asylum and immigration policy over the past 18 months, all of which have come under sustained criticism from the bishops of the United States.

In September 2019, after the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in those countries passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a strong critique of the change.

Vásquez said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”

In November 2019, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency signed a joint statement on the Trump administration’s changes to asylum policy.

Administration policy “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region,” they said.

“To preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we cannot turn our back on families and individuals in desperate need of help.”

“In light of the Gospel, let us always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person.”

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/snddenjpic.org/17086

Coronavirus seen threatening global goals to end poverty, inequality

People queue to receive food aid following a 14-day lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Abuja, Nigeria April 3, 2020.REUTERS/Afollabi Sotunde

NEW YORK, – Ambitious global goals set out by the United Nations to end poverty and inequality are under threat from the coronavirus pandemic, even as they are most needed, experts have warned.

A 2030 deadline to meet the U.N.’s development goals is at risk as economies suffer in the fight against the virus, public financing dries up and international cooperation wanes, said experts interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From ending hunger, gender inequality and violence against women to expanded access to education and health care, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved unanimously by U.N. member nations in 2015, with a 15-year deadline.

“They’re a really incredible symbol of international unity and agreement on what is important for underlying social and environmental and economic health,” said Sara Enright, director of collaborations at BSR, a global nonprofit that focuses on sustainable business strategies.

“Coming into a crisis … I think it’s more important now than ever to have a North Star,” she said.

Earlier critical assessments predicted that conflict or climate change would slow progress, but the pandemic marks the biggest obstacle yet, the experts said.

Reported cases of the coronavirus have crossed 2.3 million globally, according to a Reuters tally.

Businesses have closed, myriad jobs have been lost and global economies have taken an unprecedented blow.

The fallout could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8% of the world population, according to research released last week by the United Nations University.

“This really could put us into a very negative spiral,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

“If we then get a breakdown in international cooperation, that’s even worse.”

Experts said nations responding to the coronavirus by tightening borders, bickering over limited resources and blaming one another may not bode well for the international cooperation needed for implementing the global goals.

“My greatest fear is the breakdown in international relations,” said Enright.

“What I fear is as we become more insular, as we become more national in our approaches to the crisis, as we close our borders …. My concern is that that underlying partnership might be in danger.”

The pandemic has exposed failings that the goals were intended to address, said Natasha Mudhar, co-founder of The World We Want, an SDG advocacy organization.

“Countries globally have been exposed to the fragility of their health care systems, the economy and society,” she said.

“Had we worked towards strengthening these, precisely as called for by the SDGs, we would have potentially been better placed to handle the current pandemic crisis.”

Alexander Trepelkov, a top SDG official at the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the goals “will be more essential than ever during and after this crisis.”

“The SDGs are a commitment to leave no one behind, and this includes ensuring everyone is able to take measures to reduce their exposure to the disease and have the means to cope and recover,” he said in an email.

Countries that have incorporated the global goals’ inclusive and sustainable values will likely fare best in the pandemic, while those with poor public health systems, vast inequality and weak social nets will struggle, Green added.

“The optimistic scenario is perhaps this is going to be the kick in the pants we need to take some of this stuff seriously,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200420151405-u26ba

UN ‘horrified’ by killing of five aid workers in Nigeria

Aid groups provide a vital lifeline for some 7.9 million people who, the United Nations says, need urgent assistance in the region [File: AFP]

The United Nations has said it is “utterly shocked and horrified” by the killing of five aid workers by unknown armed groups in northeastern Nigeria.

The statement late on Wednesday by Edward Kallon, UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, followed the release of a video showing the murder of the humanitarian workers who were kidnapped last month in Borno state.

The Nigerian government identified the victims as employees of the country’s State Emergency Management Agency as well as international aid organisations Action Against Hunger (ACF), International Rescue Committee and Rich International. 

“They were committed humanitarians who devoted their lives to helping vulnerable people and communities in an area heavily affected by violence,” Kallon said.

The aid workers were abducted while travelling on a main route connecting the town of Monguno with Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

Kallon said he was troubled by the number of illegal checkpoints set up by non-state armed groups along the region’s main supply routes.

“These checkpoints disrupt the delivery of life-saving assistance and heighten the risks for civilians of being abducted, killed or injured, with aid workers increasingly being singled out.” 

Northeast Nigeria has been ravaged by a decade-long armed campaign led by the armed group Boko Haram that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced about two million from their homes.

Last year, fighters from a Boko Haram splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province, abducted a group of six humanitarian workers – including a female ACF employee – in the region.

Five of the hostages were later executed and the ACF worker remains in captivity.

Aid groups provide a vital lifeline for some 7.9 million people in the region who the UN says are in need of urgent assistance.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/horrified-killing-aid-workers-nigeria-200723081635932.html

COVID-19 exposes ‘distorted picture’ of global poverty gains, U.N. envoy says

FILE PHOTO: Philip Alston, at the time the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, attends a news conference in Beijing, China, August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

NEW YORK, – The coronavirus pandemic has exposed complacency and “misplaced triumphalism” by international aid organizations that have taken credit for progress on eradicating extreme poverty, a top United Nations rights official said.

Global entities have failed to end severe hardship around the world, and COVID-19 will plunge even more people into dire economic straits, said Philip Alston, the outgoing U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“Even before COVID-19, we squandered a decade in the fight against poverty, with misplaced triumphalism blocking the very reforms that could have prevented the worst impacts of the pandemic,” he said in a statement accompanying his final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“The international community’s abysmal record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life far precede this pandemic,” he added.

COVID-19 has exposed how vulnerable poor people are, unable to practice safety measures like staying home and forced to risk getting sick because they need to keep working, said the report, which was to be presented to the Council on Tuesday.

“When you look at what COVID-19 has done, which has really been just to pull the Band-Aid off the poverty wounds, we see all too clearly that in fact it was very far from being eliminated,” Alston told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview ahead of the presentation.

He pointed to a 2018 World Bank document declaring “remarkable and unprecedented progress” in reducing extreme poverty.

It said 10% of the world’s population, some 736 million people, were living in extreme poverty in 2015, compared with nearly 2 billion people or 36% in 1990.

The report used the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty as living on $1.90 a day or less.

A similar assessment of a drop in extreme poverty to about 11% of the population from 35% was made in a 2017 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

‘SLEEPWALKING TOWARDS FAILURE’

But Alston, a professor at New York University School of Law, said a poverty line of $1.90 a day “provides a distorted picture.”

“That in turn made people complacent,” he said. “$1.90 a day is really miserable subsistence and by no means amounts to eradicating poverty.”

More accurate measures show only a slight decline in extreme poverty over the last 30 years, he said.

A separate report published in June by UNU-WIDER, part of the United Nations University, said economic fallout from the pandemic could swell the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to as many as 1.12 billion.

Alston, who was appointed U.N. special rapporteur six years ago, also criticized the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved in 2015 by U.N. member states to end poverty, inequality and other global woes by 2030.

The global goals rely on economic growth and shared prosperity to solve problems, rather than seeking structural solutions such as wealth redistribution or a taxation system that does not encourage tax avoidance, he said.

“The U.N. and its member states are sleepwalking towards failure,” he said in the statement.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200707170510-1izgn/

Climate woes growing for women, hit worst by displacement and migration

Flood-affected women are seen in a temporary shelter on a nearby dry land in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

BARCELONA, – From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work and greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, a global aid group said on Tuesday.

Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius, CARE International noted in a new report.

“This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts bearing the heaviest consequences,” said CARE Secretary General Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro.

For example, women and girls uprooted by Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019, are still facing serious health threats due to poor access to basic services and sanitary products, the report said.

And in Ethiopia, where about 200,000 people were forced from their homes last year by drought and floods, women living in overcrowded shelters face higher levels of sexual violence there and on longer, more frequent trips to fetch water and firewood.

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s global policy lead on climate change and resilience, said displacement linked to climate stresses was already “a harsh reality for millions of people today”.

If global warming continues at its current pace towards 3C or more above pre-industrial times, “the situation may irrevocably escalate and evict hundreds of millions more from their homes”, he added.

Climate change impacts are likely to strengthen and “unfold over the next couple of years, and not only in the distant future”, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Failure to prepare for them will lead to more suffering and people having to abandon their land, he said. Many places already are affected by multiple climate shocks and rising seas, making it harder for those displaced to return, he added.

“(Climate extremes) may mean more men are leaving to try to find income elsewhere, and that puts additional burden on the women who stay back and have to try to earn (money) while taking care of the family,” he said.

MEANS TO ACT

The report said governments and aid agencies needed to gather more data on how women and girls are affected by climate-linked displacement and migration so they can better understand and try to alleviate their situation.

It also called for more women to lead efforts to respond to climate threats, including in their own communities.

And it said more funding should be allocated to help women adapt to changing conditions on a hotter planet, such as by choosing resilient crops or being able to access micro-credit, so that fewer will be uprooted from their homes.

In most countries, climate measures supported by public finance do not adequately prioritise women, CARE noted, calling for at least 85% of funding for adaptation projects to target gender equality as an explicit objective by 2023 at the latest.

But some projects are making women a priority, it said.

In two rural districts of India, CARE worked with 4,500 tribal women in 50 villages whose rice harvests were falling as rains became erratic, water scarcer and soils less fertile.

Over the past seven years, it helped them set up and run self-support groups that gave them greater confidence and financial skills to start addressing the problem.

They also received seasonal and weekly weather forecasts so they could plan farming activities.

The aid agency said agriculture production rose by a third, food insecurity declined and the number of days women had to work away from home to make ends meet more than halved.

In Somali villages, women were given business training and organised into groups that pooled and gradually built up savings that were then used to offer loans to their members.

The groups helped their communities ward off economic shocks and hunger during Somalia’s 2016 drought, the report said.

“CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found,” said Sprechmann Sineiro.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200707051425-a5d5v/

Revisiting integral ecology amid the heat wave and surging coronavirus

Map provided by National Weather Service/New Orleans

Months ago, before we were imagining months to come in lockdown, some experts predicted that summertime heat and humidity would ease the pandemic. Instead, rising temperatures have intensified the crisis, especially for the poor and for anyone in one of those long queues awaiting a COVID-19 test. 

As the Washington Post reported, the south and southwestern U.S. were especially hard hit by the heat this week at the same time those regions were struggling with a surge of coronavirus cases. Heat warnings and advisories were in effect for 11 states from Southern California to the Florida Panhandle, and the National Weather Service was predicting the excessive heat would continue for another two weeks. 

Citing this 2019 study, the Post reported: “In general, heat waves are one of the clearest manifestations of long-term human-caused climate change, with numerous studies showing that such events are becoming more likely to occur and more severe.”

Extreme heat is one of those things you need to experience to fully grasp. I got mine in Baghdad, where I spent a month reporting during the summer of 1991 in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. I can tell you that walking around in temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit is a lot more than 20 percent worse than doing so in 100 degree weather. Most nights, though, I was able to return to an air-conditioned hotel and never experienced what it’s like to face unrelenting heat with no relief in sight.

It’s difficult to imagine current conditions in Iraq, where the summer heat is accompanied by spiking coronavirus cases and dwindling medical supplies. 

All of which brings me to the topic of integral ecology, the interconnectedness of so many of the circumstances fueling “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

This sent me to chapter four of Laudato Si’ and to a couple of excellent explorations of integral ecology, one by columnist Thomas Reese and the other by contributor Samantha Panchèvre.

Written five years ago, shortly after Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Reese’s column takes on renewed relevance in our current circumstances. 

He describes this section of the pope’s document  as “flowing from his understanding that ‘everything is closely related’ and that ‘today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.'”

Reese also points to Francis’ account of “indigenous communities being pressured to ‘abandon their homeleands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degration of nature and culture.”

By way of underlining the lasting wisdom of the pope’s message, the Trump administration this week dramatically weakened the role of local communities in determining whether environmentally dangerous projects can be built in their midst.

Integral ecology is at the heart of any discussion of environmental justice, and EarthBeat contributor Samantha Panchèvre examined Laudato Si”s fourth chapter in the course of exploring intergenerational solidarity. She points to Francis’ assertion that “the notion of the common good also extends to future generations,” quoting him further:

The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at this differntly…Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice…”

And in the meantime, the people most in need are also the hardest hit by the extremes of climate, as Maddie Kornfeld reports in this InsideClimate News article we published today as part of our collaboration with Covering Climate Now.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-revisiting-integral-ecology-amid-heat-wave-and-surging-coronavirus