UNESCO Study: More Investment Needed in ‘Green’ Water Management Systems

Population growth, changing consumption patterns and development are taking their toll on the world’s water supplies, and governments need to rely more on ‘green’ water management to ensure a healthy planet and meet the needs of the fast-growing global population. 

That’s one of the messages in a new study by the U.N.’s cultural and scientific organization, UNESCO, presented today at a world water conference in Brazil.

Water demand is increasing by about 1 percent a year, even as climate change, pollution and erosion threaten its quality and availability. But until now, most countries have relied on traditional, man-made water management systems such as reservoirs, irrigation canals and water treatment plants. The study considers the many benefits of natural water “infrastructure” — like wetlands, urban gardens and sustainable farming practices — and finds that very little investment has gone into these greener water management options. 

Stefan Uhlenbrook, coordinator of UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Program, which authored the study, notes, “Green solutions can meet several water management solutions at the same time — improving water management, while also reducing floods or droughts. Improving access to water.” He also points to multiple benefits outside the water sector, to “help store carbon, create jobs — particularly in rural environments. They can also help increase biodiversity, which is also very essential.”

Striking a balance

The goal, UNESCO says, is not to scrap traditional water management options like dikes, but instead to strike the right balance between man-made systems and those relying more on Mother Nature. 

Some places are starting to do that. New York City saves hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in water treatment and maintenance by protecting vast, natural watersheds. China plans to build pilot initiatives that recycle rainwater for urban consumption. 

Some communities are building artificial wetlands to fight flooding and pollution. Others, like the Indian state of Rajasthan, have adopted more sustainable soil and water management practices that boost harvests and fight drought — growing challenges in the future. 

Uhlenbrook says these are important steps. “We have to grow some 50 percent more food in the next 30-40 years. We have to think of how to do that without cutting more forests, cutting more trees and trying to develop more land — which is hardly possible in many places around the world.” 

Experts say greener water management can help to increase agricultural production by 20 percent — which may prove key in feeding a global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050.


Indonesia to Effectively Continue Fuel Subsidy

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has instructed ministers to keep fuel prices stable over the next two years, said Energy Minister Ignasius Jonan, which would, in effect, continue a controversial fuel subsidy scheme that analysts say has negatively impacted growth and the environment. 

The Ministry said it would increase the per-liter subsidy for diesel and regular petrol from 500 Indonesian rupiah (about $0.35) to 700-1000 rupiah ($0.49-$0.70) while keeping pump prices unchanged.

The measure indicates how protectionist measures have been hard to shake for the initially reform-minded Jokowi, who made several inroads against subsidies in 2014 and 2015. 

Meanwhile, the rupiah continues to sink in the global market, due in part to Indonesia’s widening current-account deficit. On Monday, Credit Suisse said “the rupiah is among the most vulnerable emerging market currencies in Asia.”

Political Context

“Subsidizing fuel does tend to exacerbate currency depreciation, because the bulk of Indonesia’s petrol is imported,” said Kevin O’Rourke, a veteran Indonesian political analyst. “Fixed retail prices cause over-consumption, as the price remains the same even though the currency is declining; ordinarily, what should happen is that petrol prices rise as the currency declines, thereby discouraging consumption of the imports.”

In 2014, the year he was elected president, Jokowi raised fuel prices and capped the diesel subsidy within months of taking office. Last year he also pushed to phase out electricity subsidies, but was already facing pushback from consumers amid rising inflation. Consumer expectations are perhaps looming larger now that he is in the latter half of his term, and gearing up for a competitive reelection campaign in 2019. 

“Widodo hopes to keep retail prices stable through the April 2019 election, despite the gap between the Indonesia Crude Price (ICP) and the budget’s oil price assumption,” said O’Rourke. “Ostensibly, this subsidization aims to preserve consumer purchasing power; in reality, Widodo clearly hopes to avoid sacrificing popularity ahead of his re-election bid.” Ironically, he said, artificially low fuel prices end up creating inflation anyway, since people tend to then over-consume imported petrol, which further sinks the rupiah.

The subsidy may also imperil Indonesia’s public transport ambitions, said Jakarta-based energy policy researcher Lucky Lontoh. “Jokowi’s massive infrastructure development actually was started with a fuel subsidy reduction back in 2014, which freed some fiscal space needed to fund the infrastructure projects. More subsidies means the government will have less money to fund other development activities.” 

Environmental Impact

Fuel subsidies are considered a regressive form of spending because their benefits are captured by people wealthy enough to drive and own vehicles, said Paul Burke, an economist at Australian National University who focuses on energy and transportation. 

But they also aggravate traffic jams — including in cities like the notoriously traffic-choked Jakarta — air pollution, and oil dependence, said Burke, citing a recent paper he authored on the topic. 

Burke said Indonesia’s substantial progress on electricity subsidies are a hopeful sign and possible roadmap for fuel subsidy reform. 

“Over recent years, Indonesia has achieved substantial success in reducing electricity subsidies, by increasing some electricity tariffs to cost-reflective levels,” he said. “Poor households are among those that have been exempted from the reforms… [which] have made an important contribution to improving the efficiency of Indonesia’s electricity use. As electricity prices have increased, electricity use has shifted to a lower-growth trajectory. This has helped Indonesia to avoid the need to build too many expensive new power stations.”

In the fuel realm, Burke said a reform option that economists often suggest is a “fuel excise,” which is a tax on the sale of fuel and the opposite of a fuel subsidy. “Fuel excise would be a progressive form of revenue raising, would help to reduce pollution and traffic jams, and would help Indonesia reduce its budget deficit and fund key priorities.”

Fossil fuel subsidies have existed in Indonesia since its independence in 1949 and, per the International Energy Agency, accounted for nearly 20 percent of fiscal expenditure by the 1960’s. In that context, the reforms of modern-day Indonesia and the Jokowi administration are not inconsiderable: by 2014, about 3 percent of the GDP was spent on fossil fuel subsidies, and by 2016, after Jokowi’s initial spate of reforms, it was less than 1 percent. 

But, due to consumer expectations, the political climate, and the unique challenges of the fuel industry — Indonesia both has a lot of natural resources itself and a burgeoning consumer class — the current subsidy apparatus may prove sticky for the near future. 


Біатлон: Юлія Джима завершила сезон п’ятим місцем у гонці переслідування

Лідер збірної України з біатлону Юлія Джима фінішувала п’ятою в гонці переслідування, яка завершила жіночу змагальну програму на восьмому етапі Кубка світу в норвезькому Голменколлені. Джима припустилася двох промахів на вогневих рубежах.

Перемогла в гонці білоруска Дарія Домрачева, яка випередила на останньому колі іншу сильну екс-росіянку, Анастасію Кузьміну зі Словаччини. Третьою стала американка С’юзан Данклі.

Для Джими етап у Голменколлені став дуже успішним – вона фінішувала серед найсильніших в обох особистих гонках, у спринті в четвер Юлія стала бронзовою призеркою.

На відміну від неї, українська естафета, в якій також змагалися Анастасія Меркушина та сестри Валя й Віта Семеренки, зробила крок назад, фінішувавши 17 березня восьмою.

У програмі змагань у Голменколлені 18 березня залишилася одна гонка – чоловіча естафета. У ній Україну представлять Артем Прима, Руслан Ткаленко, Дмитро Підручний та Володимир Сємаков. Початок змагання – о 15:45 за Києвом.

Для збірної України змагання в Голменколлені є останніми в сезоні. До російської Тюмені на фінал сезону команда не їде.


Polio Vaccination Team Members Killed in Pakistan

Two vaccination workers were killed and two were seriously wounded, officials said 

Militants ambushed a polio vaccination team in a remote tribal region in Pakistan, killing two of the medical workers and seriously wounding another two, officials said Sunday.

The gunmen also attacked tribal police and the paramilitary Frontier Corps when they responded to the attack late Saturday, killing one paramilitary and wounding another.

Polio workers have come under attack on several occasions since it was revealed that the CIA used a polio vaccination campaign as a ruse to get information on Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011.Those revelations fed into claims by Islamic extremists that the vaccinations are part of a Western plot against Muslims.

Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where polio is still endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.


An official in Pakistan’s restive Mohmand Agency, Younus Khan, said two workers from the seven-member polio vaccination team went missing after the attack but later returned unharmed. He says security forces are still searching for the attackers.


Jamaatul Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed the attack.


Khan said the bodies of the polio workers were handed over to relatives and their funeral will take place later in the day.


Provincial Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra condemned the attack, calling the polio workers heroes.


US Investigates Deaths in Hyundai-Kia Cars When Air Bags Failed

Air bags in some Hyundai and Kia cars failed to inflate in crashes and four people are dead. Now the U.S. government’s road safety agency wants to know why.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s investigating problems that affect an estimated 425,000 cars made by the Korean automakers. The agency also is looking into whether the same problem could happen in vehicles made by other companies.

In documents posted on its website Saturday , the safety agency says the probe covers 2011 Hyundai Sonata midsize cars and 2012 and 2013 Kia Forte compacts. The agency says it has reports of six front-end crashes with significant damage to the cars. Four people died and six were injured.

Electrical circuits 

The problem has been traced to electrical circuit shorts in air bag control computers made by parts supplier ZF-TRW. NHTSA now wants to know if other automakers used the same computer.

On Feb. 27, Hyundai recalled nearly 155,000 Sonatas because of air bag failures, which the company blamed on the short circuits.Hyundai’s sister automaker Kia, which sells similar vehicles, has yet to issue a recall.

In a statement Saturday, Kia said that it has not confirmed any air bag non-deployments in its 2002-2013 Kia Forte models arising from “the potential chip issue.” The company said it will work with NHTSA investigators.

“Kia will act promptly to conduct a safety recall, if it determines that a recall would be appropriate,” the company said.

But a consumer complaint cited in NHTSA’s investigation documents said Kia was informed of a crash near Oakland in which air bags failed to deploy and a passenger was killed.

In October 2015, the complainant told NHTSA that a 2012 Forte was involved in a serious front-end crash that occurred in July 2013. A passenger was killed and the driver was injured. According to the complaint, Kia was notified, the air bag computer was tested and it was “found not to be working.”

Kia spokesman James Bell said he could not comment beyond the company’s statement.

Hyundai recall

In addition, no deaths or injuries were disclosed in Hyundai’s recall documents, which were posted by NHTSA in early March.

Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor says the problem occurred in rare high-speed head-on collisions that were offset from the center of the vehicles. “It’s very unusual to have that kind of collision,” he said Saturday.

Dealers will consider offering loaner cars to owners until the problem can be repaired, he said. “We certainly would do everything we can to help our customers,” Trainor said.

Hyundai said in a statement that the air bag control circuitry was damaged in three crashes and a fourth crash is under investigation.

ZF-TRW said in a statement that it is prevented by confidentiality agreements from identifying other automakers that bought its air bag control computers. The company said it is working with customers and supports the NHTSA investigation.

According to NHTSA, Hyundai investigated and found the problem was “electrical overstress” in the computers. The company didn’t have a fix developed at the time but said it was investigating the problem with ZF-TRW. Hyundai does not yet have a fix for the problem but said it expects the Sonata recall to start April 20. The problem also can stop the seat belts from tightening before a crash.

In the documents, NHTSA said it understands that the Kia Fortes under investigation use similar air bag control computers made by ZF-TRW. The agency noted a 2016 recall involving more than 1.4 million Fiat Chrysler cars and SUVs that had a similar problem causing the air bags not to deploy. Agency documents show those vehicles had air bag computers made by ZF-TRW.


In California, Men Can Get Their Blood Pressure Checked in Barbershops

Visiting the doctor to get your blood pressure checked might be stressful and time consuming, but what if you could get a check-up at your regular barbershop instead? That’s the idea behind a recent study in Los Angeles, where pharmacists are working with 52 barbershops to try to help African-American men, who have higher rates of high blood pressure than other ethnic groups. Faiza Elmasry has the story, narrated by Faith Lapidus.


Women ‘Weed Warriors’ Leading the Way in US Pot Revolution

The pot revolution is alive and well in the state of Colorado where recreational cannabis has been legal since 2014. While the full impact of legal marijuana in Colorado has yet to be determined, what is clear is that cannabis has become a giant moneymaker for the state. And as Paula Vargas reports from Denver, women entrepreneurs — weed warriors, as some have called them — are leading the way.


Merkel, Xi Agree to Work on Steel Overcapacity Within G-20

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday discussed overcapacity in world steel markets and agreed to work on

solutions within the framework of the Group of 20 industrialized nations, Merkel’s spokesman said.

The two leaders emphasized close ties between the two countries, which are both facing planned U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, and agreed to deepen the strategic partnership between them, Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

He said Merkel invited Chinese officials to visit Berlin for consultations, and Xi invited Merkel to visit China.

They also discussed the situation in North Korea regarding its nuclear and missile development efforts.


Breakthrough Reported in South Africa’s Worst Listeria Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a major breakthrough in efforts to contain South Africa’s longest and largest recorded listeria outbreak.

The current outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa began more than one year ago in January 2017. As of March 12, the WHO has recorded 978 lab-confirmed cases of this foodborne disease, including 183 deaths.

WHO food safety expert Peter Ben Embarek says it is very difficult to investigate outbreaks of listeriosis because the disease has a very long incubation period. He says it can take several weeks before people show any symptoms, get sick and are hospitalized.

“Two weeks ago, food was identified as the primary source of this large outbreak. It is a meat, ready-to-eat meat product, a type of sausage very commonly consumed in South Africa and in the region – Polony product. Since then, recall of the incriminated product has been initiated both in South Africa, but also in 15 countries that have imported this product from South Africa,” he said.

Embarek said the WHO is facilitating the exchange of information between South Africa and countries who have imported this contaminated product. He says it is important to recall the sausage and remove it from the shelves to prevent further cases from occurring.  

Now that the source of this foodborne disease has been identified, he told VOA he expects the number of new cases to quickly drop.

“With regard to the case fatality rate in this outbreak, among the cases where they have been able to follow them and see the outcome of their disease, it is about 27 percent. And it is within the norms. Listeriosis outbreak has a case fatality rate of between 20 and 30 percent. It is a very severe foodborne disease” he said.  

Embarek said listeriosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics if caught promptly, particularly in the case of high-risk populations, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and the elderly.  

He says the WHO is not recommending any restrictions on travel or trade.