In less than two months, global leaders will gather in Glasgow for COP26, the most critical meeting on climate change since Paris.
Ahead of the Glasgow meeting, the CVF has issued a manifesto for what the conference must deliver to keep the planet safe and protect the most vulnerable.
Environmental groups have suggested postponing the meeting, on the grounds that vaccine distribution is inequitable and that delegates from poorer countries face huge bills for quarantine hotels when they arrive in the UK.
However, the CVF member states insist the meeting must go ahead in person, and are calling for support and “facilitated access” to ensure inclusive participation.
The UK government has responded to these calls by agreeing to pay the quarantine hotel expenses of any delegate, observer or media from a developing country.
The vulnerable group says that progress on climate change has stalled and COP26 should move forward with what it terms a “climate emergency pact”.
This would see every country put forward a new climate plan every year between now and 2025.
At present, signatories of the Paris agreement are only obliged to put forward new plans every five years.
The vulnerable nations say that richer countries must fulfil their obligations to deliver $100bn in climate finance per year over the 2020-24 period.
The CVF nations want this money to be split 50-50 between cutting carbon and helping countries adapt to the threat posed by rising temperatures.
The countries also want the UK to “take full responsibility” for this aspect of the negotiations, saying it is vital to restore confidence in the Paris pact.
Among the other areas that the most vulnerable nations want to see progress on is the question of debt-for-climate swaps.
Many of the world’s poorest countries have large debt burdens, and these have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has stretched finances even further.
In a debt-for-climate swap, a country can reduce what it owes to international creditors by directing the debt service payments to fund renewable energy or greater protection for nature.
One such restructuring was recently announced by Belize where the debt money will now go to support marine conservation projects instead.
“Vulnerable countries have unique needs – and public-private collaboration will be key to addressing them,” said Nigel Topping, who’s the UK’s high-level climate action champion for COP26.
“Whether it is in debt for nature swaps such as the recent Belize announcement or in increasing public sector capability to structure investment projects to attract private finance, the aim is to accelerate progress in this area so that 2022 becomes the year of climate action solidarity.”
GENEVA, – Hundreds of thousands of people will die of tuberculosis left untreated because of disruption to healthcare systems in poor countries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global aid fund said.
In a few of the world’s poorest countries, excess deaths from AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) could even exceed those from the coronavirus itself, said the head of the Geneva-based aid body, known as the Global Fund.
The Fund’s annual report for 2020, released on Wednesday, showed that the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis in countries where it operates fell by 19%. A decline of 11% was reported in HIV prevention programmes and services.
“Essentially, about a million people less were treated for TB in 2020 than in 2019 and I’m afraid that will inevitably mean that hundreds of thousands of people will die,” Executive Director Peter Sands told Reuters.
While precise death tolls are as yet unknown, Sands said that for some poor countries, such as parts of the Sahel region in Africa, excess deaths from the setback in the fight against diseases such as TB or AIDS might prove higher than from COVID-19 itself.
The Geneva-based Global Fund is an alliance of governments, civil society and private sector partners investing more than $4 billion per year to fight tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. The United States is its top donor.
Sands said services were affected by COVID-19 lockdowns while clinics, staff and diagnostics normally used for TB were instead deployed for COVID-19 in countries such as India and across Africa. He added that he expected further disruptions this year due to the Delta variant.
He said the decline in treatment for other diseases “underscores the need to look at the total impact of COVID-19 and measure success in combating it not just by the reduction in deaths due to COVID-19 itself but to the knock on impact”.
Malaria proved to be an exception to the trend in 2020, and prevention activities remained stable or increased compared to 2019, the Global Fund said.
Ciudad Acuña, Mexico — Clusters of Haitians stood on the riverbank, removing tennis shoes, putting belongings in garbage bags and hoisting children on their shoulders. The waters of the Rio Grande had risen, and the current was gaining momentum. As they plotted their path, they found an unlikely ally that could potentially lead to a better life in the United States: a yellow rope.
The migrants clung to the nylon cord as they forged the river’s chest-deep waters between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 22. Ignoring a row of law enforcement vehicles and a Humvee lined up along the U.S. shore, the procession of immigrants continued toward the international bridge where an estimated 15,000 had once camped, overwhelming immigration officials in the tiny town of Del Rio.
“There was food and shade on the Mexican side, but their dream was to be free in the U.S., so it was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is terrible that we have this whole blockade up,’ ” said Sr. Ursula Herrera, a Benedictine Sister of Boerne, Texas. “People are just seeking a better life for themselves, for their children, and here, they are so close and yet so far.”
Recent images of immigrants crammed under the international bridge, and officers on horseback trying to grab and corral them drew outrage across the political spectrum. The threat of deportation left many migrants in limbo, too afraid to take their chances with the asylum process but stuck in Mexico without work permits or a means to support themselves.
As the number of Haitian arrivals at the border swelled, Catholic sisters, religious organizations, nonprofits and churches banded together with a common goal: provide basic services and restore human dignity.
“If God has allowed these different religions, then we need to support each other. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are. We are all God’s children. We were all created equal, so we need to treat each other with respect,” Herrera said.
On the Mexican shore, other Haitians, aid workers and journalists stood watch over those who ventured into the Rio Grande. When one man swam downstream to rescue a bag that floated off with the current, the crowd gasped. His struggle to return to the rope was fruitless. As he emerged from the bushes further down, sighs of relief arose.
“I always think, knowing the sacrifices they’re going through, they still want something better for their children, and they’re willing to sacrifice their own lives just to get their children over here where they feel they can have a better life,” Herrera said from her home in Eagle Pass, Texas.
The sister joined a team of volunteers from Casa Hogar Getsemaní, a Baptist orphanage in Morelos, Mexico, on Sept. 22 to pass out lemonade and more than 130 plates of hot dogs, rice, beans, tortillas and pork stew to the migrants milling around an immigration camp in Ciudad Acuña.
The call from the orphanage’s director, Paulina Bivens, came amid a tragic week for Herrera, who lost her friend and fellow Benedictine sister Germaine Sutton after a stroke days before.
“I just feel that if God is calling me to do something, he’s going to provide me with the means and the time,” Herrera said.
Throughout September, Matt Mayberry, a pastor at the Southern Baptist City Church Del Rio, said he was inundated with calls from churches across the country offering to support his congregation’s efforts to feed those camped under the bridge. He estimated volunteers handed out more than 16,000 sandwiches and numerous snacks to immigrants and border officials until the federal government stepped in to provide food Sept. 15.
Members from one Baptist church drove four and a half hours to deliver their sandwiches, Mayberry said.
“Our understanding of Scripture is that we were made in God’s image — all humans,” he said. “And so, regardless of our ethnicity or nationality, every human is worthy of human dignity and value. Our church and all the churches who have joined us believe the same thing.”
Herrera and Bivens’ volunteers were among dozens of aid workers feeding several hundred Haitians who were able to spread out under trees across large fields of open space in Ciudad Acuña, a contrast to the thousands who had sheltered across the river under the Del Rio bridge.
All who were interviewed said they had traveled from either Brazil or Chile, where many Haitian expats tried to make a life amid political turmoil at home. The trek to the U.S.-Mexico border took between one to three months by bus and on foot. But soon after arriving, the migrants faced a new threat: deportation.
Around 4,000 Haitians have been deported from the United States in the last two weeks, Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told CNN on Sept. 26. His department estimated that 30,000 had been processed in Del Rio since Sept. 9 and that 8,000 returned voluntarily to Mexico. Currently, no migrants are camped under the international bridge.
After hearing expulsions were possible, some migrants had second thoughts about taking the final step across the river.
“I’m afraid to go back to Haiti,” Fredelin Jean said, leaning against the wall of a small structure that provided shade to a few of his friends. About 10 cellphones sat charging a few feet away. “Right now, Haiti is going through a difficult situation: the earthquake … political problems. I was in danger every day.”
In Haiti, Jean was an elementary school teacher who taught English, Creole and French. He later moved to Brazil for three years, but the lack of work permits kept him from finding a similar job. Tired of the stress, he and his friends headed to the United States, spending around $6,000 each to travel by bus and on foot just to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There were thieves. There were women that had been whipped by thieves because they didn’t have money,” he said, adding that women had also been raped. “A lot of my friends saw a lot of dead people.”
Jean said he wanted to have legal status and hoped he might be able to do that in Mexico. Others had the same idea: Nearby, nearly two dozen lined up to speak to a worker from the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, the National Commission for Human Rights, hoping she could help them secure Mexican work permits.
When about 400 Haitians arrived on foot at San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on Sept. 17, Fr. Francisco Gallardo, a Catholic priest and director of the Casa del Migrante shelter in Matamoros, Mexico, drove almost two hours south to meet them. There, he and Juan Sierra, a lay assistant, joined ministers from other faiths to guide the caravan as it came to a fork in the road, hoping to avoid a repeat of the August 2010 mass killing of 72 immigrants in the town.
As the group neared Reynosa, Mexico, the next day, Gallardo alerted the news media and met them at the town’s immigration checkpoint to facilitate the group’s passage into the border town, Sierra said.
“The whole process was reported live [in the media], so then, the authorities felt forbidden to confront the Haitians,” Sierra said. “We convinced the entire caravan not to be aggressive — to pass with joy, yes, but with respect. “
Sr. Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, regularly visits thousands of Haitians sleeping in the plaza in Reynosa. The Missionaries of Jesus sister praised the way pastors from local evangelical churches and the Catholic Church were working together to find housing for the town’s newest residents because they were more vulnerable to crime.
At a Sept. 23 public hearing for the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, Pimentel called for the state and federal governments to support the community’s efforts to make sure immigrants were treated with dignity and respect.
“Families are coming here because they are afraid for their lives, especially of their children,” she said. “They’re looking not for a better life, but just life. They want to be safe.”
The Canadian bishops are aiming to raise $30 million (USD 23.8m) over the next five years to support the Indigenous peoples of the country, including survivors of residential schools.
“The Bishops of Canada, as a tangible expression of their commitment to walk with the Indigenous Peoples of this land along the pathway of hope, are making a nation-wide collective financial commitment to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families, and their communities,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in a Sept. 27 statement.
The bishops will launch fundraising initiatives throughout the country, to be “achieved at the local level, with parishes across Canada being encouraged to participate and amplify the effort.”
The announcement comes days after the Canadian bishops concluded their plenary assembly. At the conclusion of the assembly Sept. 24, the bishops issued an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system.
Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jerome and Mont-Laurier, who was recently elected president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that there was a “universal consensus” among his brother bishops that “Catholic entities needed to do more in a tangible way to address the suffering experienced in Canada’s residential schools.”
“Comprised of local diocesan initiatives, this effort will help support programs and initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of residential school survivors and their communities, ensuring resources needed to assist in the path of healing,” said Bishop Poisson.
Per the CCCB’s statement, the projects will be funded on a local level, with input from area First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. The individual initiatives will be developed and announced by November 2021.
Bishop Poisson said that he hopes that the initiatives result in a “significant difference” in confronting the “historical and ongoing trauma” wrought by the residential school system.
Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary, vice president of the CCCB, emphasized the importance of working with the Indigenous population on deciding how and when to move forward with these efforts.
“The Bishops of Canada have been guided by the principle that we should not speak about Indigenous People without speaking with them,” said Bishop McGrattan.
“To that end, the ongoing conversations with local leadership will be instrumental in discerning the programs that are most deserving of support. There is no single step that can eliminate the pain felt by residential school survivors, but by listening, seeking relationships, and working collaboratively where we are able, we hope to learn how to walk together in a new path of hope.”
The residential school system was set up by the Canadian government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. Catholics and members of ecclesial communities ran the schools, although the Catholic Church or Catholics oversaw more than two-thirds of the schools.
The last remaining federally-run residential school closed in 1996.
In response to the “grave threat” of climate change, heads of the world’s major religions united at the Vatican to issue an unprecedented joint appeal to government leaders at next month’s United Nations climate summit, calling for “urgent, radical and responsible action” to drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions and for the world’s wealthiest countries to lead in healing the planet.
The nearly 40 religious figures, among them Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders, also pledged to increase awareness of the climate crisis and actions to address it within their own congregations.
“We are currently at a moment of opportunity and truth. We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late,” the declaration read. “Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity.”
“We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children,” the faith leaders wrote.
The joint statement, issued Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, outlined the expectations of the world’s major religions — representing about half the global population — for the COP26 U.N. climate conference, set for Nov. 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland.
“We plead with the international community, gathered at COP26, to take speedy, responsible and shared action to safeguard, restore and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship,” the faith declaration said.
“We appeal to everyone on this planet to join us on this common journey, knowing well that what we can achieve depends not only on opportunities and resources, but also on hope, courage, solidarity and good will.”
A portion of the statement was read at a “Faith and Science Toward COP26” ceremony at the Vatican, where faith leaders, all wearing masks, signed the document. Francis, who signed last, handed the appeal over to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Alok Sharma of Britain, president of COP26. Officials from embassies to the Holy See from both nations, which are co-hosting the climate conference, worked with the Vatican to organize the statement.
Sharma described the appeal as “a powerful call to action for the world.” He called for an alliance of faith leaders, scientists and youth to “turn the tide” on climate change.
“Doing so requires us all to play our part, every country in every part of society mounting a global effort led by those most human qualities, reason and morality, the head and the heart,” he said.
Each religious leader present spoke briefly about the need to protect the environment. Those unable to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic sent video messages. At the conclusion, each poured soil into a potted olive tree to be planted in the Vatican gardens. They met again in the afternoon to discuss how faith and science can work together to raise awareness and cooperate further.
In prepared remarks for the event, Francis said that the world’s religious and spiritual traditions and science both stress the interconnectedness of our world. Recognizing the interrelations among species, he said, reveals not only the harmful effects of human activity on ecosystems, but also possible solutions.
“COP26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. We want to accompany it with our commitment and our spiritual closeness,” the pope said.
COP26 will be the first U.N. climate conference in two years. An abbreviated, virtual meeting was held in December 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s event is viewed as the most consequential climate summit since the 2015 COP21, which produced the landmark Paris Agreement in which the world’s nations committed for the first time to cut emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
The faith leaders, who conferred throughout the year in multiple meetings with leading scientists, including Hoesung Lee, chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that “time is running out” and that this decade may be the last chance left “to restore the planet.”
Average temperatures already have risen by more than 1 C and are on track to reach 2.7 C by the end of the century, based on countries’ current greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, according to a recent IPCC report.
“The degradation of our common home due to climate change is a symptom of deeper social ills,” Joachim von Braun, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences told the gathering. “For this reason, it is essential that in addressing these challenges, science and faith combine forces.”
Climate change solutions must include changes in consumption, technological breakthroughs and policies that recognize that human and ecosystem health are inextricably connected, the scientist said.
The religious leaders urged governments to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.” Wealthier nations, which are the major emitters, must lead that effort, they said, as well as follow through on long-promised financing— $100 billion annually through the Green Climate Fund — to help less-industrialized nations curb emissions and adapt to climate change.
They also urged developed nations to commit to “loss and damage” payments to less-industrialized countries for climate-related destruction that has already occurred.
They advocated a new economic model that prioritizes human dignity, inclusivity, ecologically friendly practices over exploitation and excess, and “one based not on endless growth and proliferating desires, but on supporting life.”
The statement also called for special attention to the rights of Indigenous peoples, an end to biodiversity loss, responsible financing by banks and investors, and a just transition to a clean energy economy, with particular attention to employment for people working in the fossil fuel industry.
Calling climate change a moral issue, they stressed the importance of education and the “crucial” role of religious traditions in bringing about an “ecological conversion” among all people.
The faith leaders also pledged to more active political participation on environmental issues, and to take actions within their own communities to reduce emissions, pursue sustainability in their buildings and properties, encourage simpler lifestyles, seek out ethically produced goods and services, and apply environmentally and socially responsible standards to investments, including shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
An interfaith program called “Faith Plans for People and the Planet,” aimed at leveraging religious groups’ assets and investments, was also launched Oct. 4.
To involve Catholics, the Vatican is creating the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a seven-year roadmap to sustainability for all types of Catholic institutions, from families and dioceses to hospitals and schools.
Climate negotiators have said Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” along with statements from other faith leaders and the world’s bishops, had a positive influence on COP21 in 2015. The hope is that this new interreligious appeal will yield similar results in Glasgow.
Plans for the Oct. 4 faith appeal began in January. Since then, faith leaders have met eight times with scientists, including Lee of the IPCC and the heads of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences.
Before the event, von Braun told EarthBeat he was “pleasantly surprised” with the faith leaders’ openness to scientific advice and is optimistic the statement will deliver “a powerful message” to political leaders at COP26.
“This summit comes at a point in time when the world knows more, is concerned more and wants to see more action. And the people are moving together. That’s why this new alliance between science and faith will matter at the COP,” he said.
LONDON,- Charity food banks in Britain are “preparing for the worst” as the government starts winding up emergency aid measures put in place to cushion the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on millions of workers and low-income households.
Food banks, which hand out staple goods from dried pasta to baby food, are especially concerned about the loss of the top-up to the Universal Credit (UC) benefit, which is claimed by almost 6 million people, according to official statistics.
“You’re going to have parents who are going without food so their kids can eat,” said Garry Lemon, policy and research director at the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1,200 food bank centres across Britain.
“I’ve been speaking to lots of food banks in recent weeks and they are absolutely preparing for the worst … They are doing everything they can to ensure they have got enough food to be able to cope with the increase in need.”
The British move comes as other countries start wrapping up state aid programmes announced last year as COVID-19 battered the global economy.
A British government spokesperson said the income benefit increase was always intended to be temporary and had been effective in softening the pandemic’s impact on family finances, adding that the focus now was on helping people back to work.
But anti-poverty groups said the loss of the benefit bonus would deal a heavy blow to low-income Britons.
It also comes as rising gas prices usher in higher domestic energy bills, with the average household expected to pay 139 pounds more each year.
“The last time I used it (a food bank) the kids hadn’t had dinner for six days,” said Emma, who has three young children and asked to be identified only by her first name.
Emma said the family was behind on paying bills due to financial stresses from the pandemic and the benefits cut would hit them hard.
“Once you’re in that financial downward spiral, it’s so hard to get back out of it because you’re constantly running behind,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“The one bill you can amend from week to week is your food bill,” said Emma, who is sharing her experiences with the Covid Realities research project that tracks the impact of the pandemic on low-income parents and carers.
Emma said she went to a food bank every few months – aiming to minimise visits so as not to deprive anyone in an even worse position.
“It’s going to be more regular (now) – it makes me so upset because it’s something that we never thought we’d have to do. We’re not a well-off family but we’ve never been this bad before. I can’t see a way out of it,” she said.
A fifth of the benefit’s claimants said they would “very likely” need to skip meals once the uplift is withdrawn, found a survey of more than 2,000 people carried out for the Trussell Trust.
A similar number said they would struggle to afford to heat their homes.
“Independent food banks are bracing themselves for a surge in demand as well as the challenges of food supply shortages and a reduction in donations,” said Sabine Goodwin, the coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network.
At Moray Food Plus, a food bank in Scotland, Mairi McCallum said they were already running “at almost full capacity”.
“We’re concerned about the negative impact the UC cut will have and the strain this will put on our organisation,” McCallum said. “There’s only so much more we are able to do.”
At one East London food bank, where a stream of visitors arrived to pick up bags of store cupboard essentials, organisers have already had to limit the total lifetime number of visits to 12 per household.
“We’re always getting new clients,” said Jemima Hindmarch, a spokesperson for The Bow Foodbank, adding that they “constantly” worry about having enough supplies.
The impact of the benefit cut and rising heating costs over the winter months is likely to be “catastrophic” for people already struggling to cope, she said.
“It’s pushing people just a little bit lower below that poverty line.”
NAIROBI, – In the 30 years that Josephine Muthoni has lived in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum, she has never had a steady supply of clean water.
The only way to get water was from vendors dotted around the slum, who charge exorbitant prices for the often polluted water they buy from government water points or steal straight from the municipal pipes, the 62-year-old mother of nine explained.
Muthoni said filling a 20-litre (5-gallon) jerry can cost as much as 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.45) – a potentially crippling amount in a city where the majority of slum dwellers earn less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.
“We would sometimes walk five kilometres to get water. I thought that was how life should be until I worked for a family and saw water flowing full time from their taps,” the retired housekeeper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The more than 600,000 residents living in one of Nairobi’s largest slums have struggled with water access for years, a problem exacerbated by frequent bouts of city-wide water rationing, which has been ongoing since 2017.
But soon, Mukuru residents will be able to fill a jerry can with clean water for as little as 50 Kenyan cents, using token-operated vending machines that the city government is installing in an effort to ease the slum’s water stress.
With the new system, residents will receive plastic tokens – similar to key fobs – that they can charge using the M-Pesa mobile money platform.
They then insert the tokens into a machine at one of the 10 water stations being set up around Mukuru and select how much water they want dispensed.
Kagiri Gicheha, an engineer at the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), which is helping develop the system, said the project is in the final stages, only awaiting the installation of the vending machines.
The dispensers, each costing 200,000 shillings, mean Mukuru residents will no longer be at the mercy of the slum’s informal, exploitative water market, Gicheha said.
“This is a way of controlling the cartels that have long been stealing water in the slums because this is an automated system that is very easy to manage,” he said.
Until the system is operational, residents can fetch clean water for free from boreholes that have been dug for the project, each of which will feed up to four water dispensers.
Since starting the project in April 2020, the city government has drilled nearly 200 boreholes across five Nairobi slums and hopes to expand to more areas depending on funding and demand, Gicheha said.
CHEAP, CLEAN, RELIABLE
Officials decided to launch the system in Mukuru after seeing the success of a similar programme run by the local nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum.
Currently, there are 23 machines dispensing water to Kibera residents, who pay two shillings to fill a jerry can, said Johnstone Mutua, a programme officer at the grassroots group.
“The project is very efficient. Most residents now know how to use the system and we installed solar-powered lights for security at night,” said Mutua.
“This means someone can get water anytime they want.”
Maureen Adhiambo, a 28-year-old mother of three in Kibera, says the vending machines cost half of what she used to pay water vendors and finally offer her a reliable source of water.
“(Before), the queues were too long and water would come only once a week,” she said.
“Now, I can buy five 20-litre jerry cans of water per day … and there’s no queue.”
Mutua said the first attempt at setting up a water vending system was in Mathare slum in 2015.
But the machines were being fed from large tankers, not boreholes, he said, which meant during drought there was no water to fill them with – so now the machines in Mathare stand empty.
RISKY WALK FOR WATER
Fuelled by explosive population growth, demand for water in Kenya’s capital has shot up over the past decade, but broken municipal water pipes and frequent drought leave the city chronically thirsty.
While residents need more than 810,000 cubic meters daily, the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure can only supply 526,000 cubic metres, according to figures from the NCWSC.
Across Kenya, the water crisis hits hardest in slums, where nearly half the urban population lives, according to the World Bank, and where homes are not connected to the water grid.
Before the vending machine project came to Mukuru, Gideon Musyoka, an elder of one of the villages inside the slum, said the taps at the government water points rarely flowed and when they did the water was often tainted by raw sewage.
For women, the search for water was time-consuming, expensive and dangerous, exposing them to sexual assault or rape. “Women were almost getting used to being raped, even in broad daylight, as they went to water points to fetch water,” said Muthoni, the Mukuru resident.
Jamlick Mutie, an independent water and sanitation expert working in Nairobi’s slums, applauds the water dispensers as a safe, affordable and efficient solution.
Mutie noted that at the subsidized cost of 25 shillings per cubic metre, Mukuru residents will be able to buy water for less than half what other Nairobi residents pay to get it piped into their homes.
Efforts to get clean water to the slums are especially urgent during the coronavirus pandemic, with health experts pointing to handwashing as one of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, he said.
“For the slum residents, it would be a disaster without water,” he said.
The price of the water is enough to cover the costs of maintenance and electricity to run the machines, making the project sustainable, he added.
The biggest challenge, Mutie warned, is protecting the machines from the cartels who see the project as a threat to their business.
Mutua at SHOFCO said Kibera residents are tackling that problem by having volunteers guard the water stations.
To discourage tampering with the vending machine pipes, the charity built an aerial water network, suspending the pipes overhead rather than burying them underground, and is encouraging the government to do the same in Mukuru, he said.
As the people in Mukuru wait for their water vending machines to arrive, Musyoka, the village elder, said having abundant, clean water is something many of them never could have imagined.
“Seeing so much water in Mukuru slums is what we call magic. Now, we can say that people are clean and healthy,” he said. ($1 = 109.7500 Kenyan shillings)
Tears flowed down the faces of Abigail “Abby” Agudelo’s classmates, as earlier this year she became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from St. Augustine’s School in Andover, Massachusetts.
“We know other parochial schools in Massachusetts are striving to do the same today,” Abby’s mother, Wendy Agudelo, told CNA in an interview in August. “And because of Abby’s experience, other families who desire a Catholic school education for all of their children, including those containing a family member with special needs, are now looking at parochial school education as opportunistic.”
Because of her own mother’s strong Catholic faith, Wendy Agudelo had always wanted a Catholic education for all of her children. She also hoped Abby would have an academic path with “full inclusion,” and would not be placed in a classroom separate from other students.
After Abby’s time in public preschool, however, her mother was not certain of a combination of Catholic education and full classroom inclusion.
“We noticed a divide between what we wanted for Abigail and what the school felt she should receive given her diagnosis,” she said in an email to CNA.
It was during Agudelo’s search for a school that then-St. Augustine principal Paula O’Dea and pastor Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. stepped into the breach, and decided that St. Augustine’s would accommodate Abby’s needs.
“When Abby and her wonderful parents first made their inquiry to us at St. Augustine School about enrolling, the principal and I were concerned that we might not have available all that Abby would need for a successful experience,” Gori told CNA in an email. “We and Abby’s parents all agreed to give it a try and that there would be no hard feelings if things didn’t work out.”
Gori said that Abby’s parents were “right all along” in believing that Abby would thrive at St. Augustine’s. “We received from her as much or more than she did from us,” Gori said. “It was a delight and a blessing every day and every year to have Abby at St. Augustine School.”
Wendy Agudelo told CNA that, in general, parochial schools may not have a significant amount of resources. She noted organizations that exist to educate and support parochial schools interested in broadening their demographics. She named the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion and the FIRE Foundation as a few examples of these groups.
“Not every parochial school, or administrator for that matter, is interested in this path,” Wendy Agudelo said. “It comes with its set of challenges, but also great reward.”
She said that those who choose the path that St. Augustine’s School chose “ultimately earn the greatest return on investment.”
“Nine years ago,” Paula O’Dea told CNA, “we didn’t have any teachers with a moderate disabilities certification. Now, we have a lot of teachers with that as their second degree, and we’ll have two full-time special ed teachers on site.” O’Dea is currently admissions director for St. Augustine’s.
O’Dea, who was the school’s principal at the time of Abby’s entrance, believes that St. Augustine’s was the only elementary school in the Archdiocese of Boston to accept a student with Down syndrome.
She told CNA that in Abby’s time at public school, her parents observed her in the corner of the classroom with a special education teacher, “not really being included in anything in the classroom.”
When Abby first arrived at the school, O’Dea said the school decided that, in order to properly live out its Catholic mission, it needed to find ways to support any student who wanted to attend.
The school partnered with local Merrimack College to hire a student studying moderate disabilities as a subsidized, full-time teacher to support Abby. O’Dea said the school’s decision was a success, because it was affordable and effective for Abby. St. Augustine continues to have a “Merrimack Fellow” today.
O’Dea said that hiring the Merrimack Fellow was “a very small investment financially for us to have such a great outcome in the end.” She says she would recommend it as an alternative to hiring a full-time special education teacher for the classroom.
Abby’s parents said that they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the administration and staff throughout Abby’s schooling. They encouraged teachers at every grade level to gain more professional development and experience with special needs through local conferences and workshops.
While working full time, both of Abby’s parents spent much of their time at St. Augustine’s volunteering at Kindergarten centers, the lunchroom, as a chaperone on numerous field trips, and as active guild members helping to run events and fundraisers.
Wendy Agudelo said that partnering and collaborating with the school “every step of the way” bore amazing results.
“In my opinion,” Agudelo said, “it’s not about available resources as much as it is a willingness to start with ‘yes’ and work together towards a shared goal.”
“We’re not alone and believe that the more families know, the more armed with opportunity they become,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have found such great academic partners for our children, but pepper in some serious faith and a sprinkling of compassion, and nothing is impossible!”
“Abby’s achievement is very impressive,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, to CNA. “But the biggest impact is the effect she had on the entire school community. They all were blessed to have her as a classmate or student.”
Mozambique seems to be a part of the world many know little about. I certainly knew very little about the East African nation until I traveled there in 2008 as the executive director of the Hilton Fund for Sisters. Traveling from place to place, I witnessed much suffering, particularly in rural areas: lack of water, food, education and health care. At that time the country, including the sisters, were still recovering from the impact of independence from Portugal in 1975 when the government nationalized all the schools and health care centers. Sisters had lost everything and, as often happens without experienced government employees taking over the administration, the institutions began to decline sharply in quality and services.
Consequently, when they can no longer manage, such governments return the educational and health care centers to the sisters, having done little or nothing to build them up. This means the sisters must start over from scratch. Governments rarely offer financial assistance for rehabilitation. Rural areas suffer the most, as they are basically abandoned by governments that focus on city development. This seems to be one reason Cabo Delgado has become the epicenter of the national crisis involving an extremist power struggle.
Day by day, as I listened to the paltry news coverage of the tragedy going from bad to worse, I wondered if any sisters could help us understand what is happening and how they are responding to the crisis there. I eventually found the enlightening story of four Good Shepherd Sisters who are living and serving in the thick of it.
They began by describing the Cabo Delgado region in northeastern Mozambique, where insurgents are causing monumental damage and chaos. Radicalized Islamic groups have been fostering unrest and terrorism along the East African Coast of the Indian Ocean for many years. Conditions worsened in 2017, Cabo Delgado was terrorized and attacked by jihadist gangs. Cyclone Kenneth struck in 2019, exacerbating the instability of Cabo Delgado caused by al-Shabaab, Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaeda. The local people, already frustrated and angry at the government’s unwillingness to listen, began joining al-Shabaab and adding energy to the confusion and terror.
According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, motivation might also have been fueled by the memory of Cabo Delgado as the birthplace of Mozambique’s liberation from Portuguese colonialism. The people grew weary of government corruption; police colluding with illicit gems, wildlife and drugs; human rights abuses; and ancestral land grabs for foreign interests. Radicalized groups have occupied strategic areas of the north, where gas and oil fields have been recently discovered.
Already, nearly 800,000 people, particularly women and children, have left the Cabo Delgado area — some for neighboring countries; those who choose to stay in Mozambique, went to Nampula, the country’s third largest city just to the south.
Four Good Shepherd sisters came to Mozambique in 1997 and to Nampula province in 2002 at the invitation of the local bishop. Later, to allow young sisters to study in local universities, they established a house in Nampula town, where some moved to continue their education. The sisters belong to the Angola/Mozambique Good Shepherd unit, citizens of two of the six Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. Upon arrival in the Nampula region, they settled in Namaponda, a small, rural town that grew as families moved from remote areas.
The sisters began searching for the best way to address the needs of families marginalized by lack of employment and education. They eventually set up an adult literacy program, an informal day school and nutrition program for the children in the neighborhood of Serra da Mesa on the periphery of Nampula. The primary Good Shepherd focus is always on women and children, particularly those marginalized, in poor health, abject poverty and vulnerable to trafficking.
Since 2020, the sisters have been engaged in limited ministry there because of COVID-19, but at the end of 2020 they joined efforts assisting refugees in camps on the outskirts of Nampula town. They began by distributing water, food and medicine. Many family members were traumatized from witnessing parents, siblings and relatives raped, tortured or killed and disappeared.
The sisters, who were not trained, referred people to international NGOs and government ministries. As the crisis grew, the U.N. named it a “Children’s Crisis” because so many children in the camps had no idea where their parents or family members were.
After months of struggling, and overwhelmed as the numbers of refugees and displaced people increased daily, the sisters organized a team of lay mission partners to work with them. With funds from the Good Shepherd International Foundation in Rome, they purchased medicine, water and food, as well as local materials to build temporary shelters and replace roofs on houses. They also set about monitoring the most vulnerable, settled families — those who have been in the camps for many months. They organized home visits and education in hygiene, health and agriculture, giving the residents seeds and gardening implements to improve their diets and nutrition. Fifty-three percent of the people suffer from malnutrition, compared with the national average of 43%, and the illiteracy rate of those arriving is about 67%. This rate confirms that most are from rural areas, where educational opportunities are still minimal, as I witnessed in 2008.
The sisters lament that, even with aid coming into the area, there is not enough drinking water, food or sanitary facilities. Without access to medicines, diseases spread quickly, including cholera and COVID-19. HIV/AIDS is a persistent problem, its management made difficult because of food insecurity. Antiviral medicines do not work without proper nutrition. I remember the rising incidence of HIV in that 2008 visit, and now these same problems are plaguing the people again. As people are forced to move about, the disease will only flourish.
Sisters are also concerned about trafficking, which finds fertile ground in the camps. People struggle to survive and listen to false promises of jobs to provide income for their families. The sisters are working hard to find ways to keep this pandemic under control by staying in contact with families who are vulnerable. There seems to be no end in sight for this terrible situation. How does the country get others to help as hope lags?
Environmental threats are worsening conflicts worldwide and will soon constitute the biggest challenge to human rights, the United Nations has warned.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday climate change, pollution, and nature loss are severely affecting human rights, while countries across the globe fail to take the necessary action.
“The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations,” Bachelet said.
“As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era.”
The comments came as part of a global update delivered by Bachelet at the opening session of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The former Chilean president said environmental threats were already “directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself”, hurting the poorest nations the hardest.
The UN rights chief cited “murderous climate events”, including the fires in Siberia and California, and floods in China, Germany and Turkey. Bachelet warned severe droughts could additionally force millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.
Addressing the environmental crisis is therefore “a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative”.
“It is also doable,” she added.
Bachelet’s office is pushing for more ambitious climate commitments at the 12-day COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, set to begin on October 31.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic offering an opportunity to focus on environment-friendly projects, “this is a shift that unfortunately is not being consistently and robustly undertaken” because of the failure on the part of member states to fund and implement commitments made under the Paris climate accords.
“We must set the bar higher – indeed our common future depends on it,” the UN rights chief said.