Caring for wetlands takes care of water

Today, 2 February 2013, is World Wetlands Day, the first of the big water celebrations of the year forming part of the 2013 United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation.

The 2013 theme is ‘Wetlands and water management’. The slogan is ‘Wetlands take care of water’, which succinctly positions wetlands as a key component in environmental water management programmes, and explains why taking care of wetlands form an essential component in the delivery of sustainable water management. As stated by Anada Tiega, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, “It is well recognized that access to a clean and adequate water supply is critical for human survival. Less well understood is that wetlands, as defined by Ramsar, are fundamental regulators of water regimes. Without adequate management of wetlands from the mountains to the sea there is no water of the right quality and quantity where and when it is needed.”

A wetland, dominated by wire rush and sphagnum moss, between Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau in the Southern Otago region in New Zealand. The unique wetlands in the Te Anau area were used for the 'Dead Marshes' scene in Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie.(© All Rights Reserved)
A wetland, dominated by wire rush and sphagnum moss, between Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau in the Southern Otago region in New Zealand. The unique wetlands in the Te Anau area were used for the ‘Dead Marshes’ scene in Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The role of wetlands in water management is well explained in the ‘Wetlands Take Care of Water’ information leaflet, available online in PDF format. Given the importance of wetlands in regulating water regimes, one of the worrying facts stated in the booklet is that “Impacts from changes in land use, water diversions, and infrastructure development continue to drive the degradation and loss of wetlands.” It is because of this that there is an urgent need to communicate the importance of wetlands as an essential element of water infrastructure – they are water providers, serving as water filters and purifiers. To continue supplying filtered and purified water, however, they need a continued input of water to maintain the system, and if water is dammed up or diverted for other uses, these critical components in the earth’s water system dry up and disappear. To address this within the wider water crisis facing the world’s growing population, “There is a need to place water at the heart of the green economy and to recognise that working with wetlands as water management infrastructure can be a cost-effective and sustainable way of meeting a diversity of policy, business and private objectives.”

Do you know where your nearest wetland is? And when last did you pay it a visit? Take today to appreciate these wonders of nature. Learn about them, and share your knowledge with those you know. The more people know about and understand the critical role wetlands play, the better the chances that these natural water purifiers may be maintained for future generations.

Outer space … and the peaceful use thereof

I am sure more than enough blogs today will be denoted to the date 12-12-12, and the significance of this date in numerology, the Mayan calender and who knows what other esoteric contexts.

So, let me rather discuss another event celebrated today – on this day back in 1959, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs set up it’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, also known as COPUOS.

Space - a big topic for an UN subcommittee.(© All Rights Reserved)
Space – a big topic for an UN subcommittee.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The mandate of COPUOS is “to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.”

While this may seem a bit ‘out there’ to most of us earth-bound human beings, it is quite an interesting concept, and I guess in a way nice that there is at least some body responsible for keeping human extraterrestrial activities in check – we all know what silly things us humans can do with new things and domains that we don’t yet fully comprehend, and where we don’t quite understand the potential consequences of our actions.

The idea for the committee came up shortly after the launch of the first artificial satellite in 1958, right at the time when human interest (among both the scientific community and the general public) in outer space started seriously picking up, and about a decade before the first moon landing. Starting with 24 members, the committee has since grown to 71 members, making it one of the largest committees in the UN. Personally, the mind boggles when I look at the member list – you have to ask yourself what some of these countries could possibly contribute to the discussion on outer space. But then again, it is surprising what some countries spend their national budgets on…

Actually, thinking about it, perhaps it’s not strange that COPUOS is such a big committee. Space is, after all, a pretty big topic.  In the words of Douglas Adams: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Designated an international United Nations observance in 1999, the day commemorates the deaths of three sisters, Patria Mercedes Mirabal, María Argentina Minerva Mirabal and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal, who were assassinated on this day in 1960 in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of the Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo. They were activists fighting the dictatorship of Trujillo.

Beyond commemorating the deaths of the Mirabal sisters, the day has become an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise awareness of violence against women in general. Events on the day include public rallies, fundraising activities and more.

According to World Bank data, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In an attempt to raise awareness of the plight of women who have been victimised and abused, the United Nations have released a fact sheet sharing information information on the situation worldwide, and it’s quite a sobering read. According to the fact sheet, an astonishing 70% of all women is subjected to violence sometime in their lives, with the most common form being physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. Percentages of women subjected to sexual violence by their partners range from 6% in Japan to almost 60% in Ethiopia.

Globally about half of all women who are murdered die at the hands of their current or former husbands or partners.

It is estimated, furthermore, that one in five women become victims of rape or attempted rape in their lives, leaving them with devastating physical and psychological scars. These numbers rise shockingly in conflict situations, where women of all ages suffer sexual abuse from soldiers and rebel forces. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day, with more than 200 000 women having been sexually violated since the country fell into a state of armed conflict.

This is just the the tip of the iceberg, and the fact sheet includes many more horrifying facts.

And amazingly, many of the perpetrators go unpunished. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Women and girls are afraid to speak out because of a culture of impunity. We must fight the sense of fear and shame that punishes victims who have already endured crime and now face stigma. It is the perpetrators who should feel disgraced, not their victims.”

On this day, join the millions of men and women worldwide who say enough is enough – join the Say NO to Violence Against Women campaign’s global call to action. Every voice of support matters.

United Nations Day and the need for coordinated action

Today the United Nations celebrate two special observances – World Development Information Day and UN Day. Both of these focus in some sense on the work done by the UN since it’s establishment in 1945, with World Development Information Day focusing specifically on the sharing of development information among UN member states.

Given the dire conditions millions of people are living in, and the massive challenges facing the world in terms of getting even close to realising the Millennium Development Goals of 2015, the UN has a critical role to play around coordination of activities and initiatives across the globe and among its members.

Maternal health and child health are among the topics addressed by Millennium Development Goals set forth by the UN.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The UN is active on many fronts – peace, development, human rights, the environment and the empowerment of women and children. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The United Nations is not just a meeting place for diplomats. The United Nations is a peacekeeper disarming fighters, a health worker distributing medicine, a relief team aiding refugees, a human rights expert helping deliver justice.”

The eradication of poverty and hunger – another of the themes of the Millennium Development Goals.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In pursuing these initiatives, the UN depends on countless groups and organisations – NGOs, researchers, philanthropists, champions from the business world, religious leaders and academics. Beyond these there’s the contribution everyday citizens can make – individually, we may not be able to achieve the stretching targets set forth to better the world, but if actions are coordinated and everyone pulls in the same direction, miracles are possible.

Getting the message out on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

17 October is the date selected by the United Nations for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The day dates back to 1987, when more than a hundred thousand people gathered in Trocadéro in Paris (where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948), to honour and acknowledge the millions of people around the world who are victims of extreme poverty. At this event, extreme poverty (currently defined as living on less than US$1.25 per day) was proclaimed a basic violation of human rights, and the urgent need to combat this violation was reaffirmed. Through the establishment of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the UN formalised the commitments of the 1987 gathering, urging governmental and civil organisations to take action in addressing the problems of extreme poverty.

People living in extreme poverty are forced into desperate living conditions.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Think about it for a minute – US$1.25 a day. Or US$37.50 a month… Convert that to your local currency, and imagine that being the grand total amount of money you have to live on. Not just for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, heat and sanitation, but for all your living expenses including medical care, education and transport.

That is not poverty – it is extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly small.

And now think about this: 920 million people. That is the amount of people that will still live under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2015 in the best case scenario if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations is reached. In 1990 that number was almost 2 billion, and the stretching target set by the UN MDGs is to halve the 1990 extreme poverty rate by 2015.

At the moment, there’s still significantly more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly large.

And despite a general positive trend in the eradication of poverty, there are some severe setbacks that can derail the progress towards reaching the above goals. In 2010 alone, for example, it is estimated that the global economic crisis pushed an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty.

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in June of this year, leaders from around the world declared that poverty eradication is “the greatest global challenge facing the world today.”

The UN Fact Sheet on poverty eradication details some very positive programmes that have worked well in different regions of the world – subsidy programmes in Malawi and Ghana, investments in agricultural research in Vietnam, innovative finance schemes in Nigeria and Bangladesh, employment programmes in Argentina. In addition to these, the UN is currently coordinating many additional initiatives across the world focused on agriculture, rural employment, food provision, local cooperatives and more.

Community feeding schemes helping those living in extreme poverty, need all the support they can get.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While the global eradication of poverty feels like one of those vague, hazy ideals that we fully agree is important, but really have no idea what to do about as individuals, there are things we can do. Simply sharing the message and creating awareness among your peers of the various initiatives that are currently running to address the problem, can already help. The UN “End Poverty 2015 – we are the generation that can end poverty” awareness campaign makes it easy to identify and share specific messages related to the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty.

Go on – go to “#endpoverty”, find those initiatives that are close to your heart, educate yourself about them and start sharing with a simple click of a button. Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is half the battle won.