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Friday Podcasts From ECSP and MHI
At the nexus of global environmental change, security, development, and health
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February 24, 2017 06:53 AM PST

“If we think sustainable development is the goal we want to achieve, we have to be radical in elevating those who have been traditionally excluded,” says Kimberly Marion Suiseeya in this week’s “Backdraft” episode. “We have to approach conservation and global environmental governance from the perspective of the invisible and the marginalized people.”

Climate interventions are often developed and implemented from the international perspective first and foremost, leading to unanticipated consequences for affected communities. Interventions like REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) can alter informal land use practices and undermine traditional forms of conflict resolution.

Suiseeya saw this firsthand with a cluster of villages in the Kiet Ngong wetland of southern Laos. When efforts to delineate land use and boundaries were introduced by development agencies ostensibly to improve conservation, they inadvertently caused conflict by assigning most of the previously collectively managed wetland and its resources to one village.

“If you’re not understanding how people manage a resource, who gets privileged through these processes, who gets marginalized, you really have the potential of backdraft and conflict and that’s a much longer-term development problem that you’ve just exacerbated,” says Suiseeya.

To do this this requires more listening and less prescribing by intervening parties, whether they are a national government, international development actor, or NGO. Interventions developed without an understanding of the needs and wants of the affected people run the risk of, at a minimum, failing, or worse, causing conflict.

Suiseeya recommends taking steps to understand how projects “either reify or shift the power dynamics in communities.” Different ways of living and understanding the world affect how natural resources are managed, she says. Intervening actors must understand this and build it into their project, or risk poor outcomes. You get there through a justice lens, she says, and by thinking about who is at the table and who is not.

“Decolonizing methodologies” encourage the researcher or practitioner to meet people where they are and understand the ways that a community may or may not want to be engaged. This can lead to better buy-in from the community, the empowerment of local leaders, and better conservation results in the long term.

All of these approaches require better listening. “If we’re not paying attention to that voice component, we’re actually seeing some disempowerment,” says Suiseeya. “It’s a question of how can we use our projects to put people in the driver’s seat of their own futures.”

One good sign: In September of last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environmental network, added a new membership category for indigenous peoples’ organizations. “The vote to allow indigenous people to represent themselves through their own organizations is a huge change that we would not have seen 5 or 10 years ago,” Suiseeya says.

The “Backdraft” podcast series is hosted and co-produced by Sean Peoples, a freelance multimedia producer based in Washington, DC.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

February 16, 2017 12:24 PM PST

There has been great progress in anticipating famines in recent years, with most predicted six or more months ahead of time, says Richard Choularton, senior associate for food security and climate change at Tetra Tech, in this week’s podcast. But action to address their humanitarian impacts has lagged. Responses need to be more consistent and faster, he says, happening “almost without human intervention.”


Choularton outlines three areas with the greatest potential to improve response time and reduce the effect of famines.


The first are financial mechanisms to insure countries and communities against the risk of famine. These programs use climate and agricultural data to release emergency funds either right at the end of a bad growing season or, in some cases, even before the end of the season. The African Risk Capacity scheme, for example, is an African Union project that provides emergency funding to seven member states. Humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross and World Food Program, are going even further, “using climate forecasts to trigger financing before a potential disaster strikes,” says Choularton. This offers the flexibility to help farmers switch to drought tolerant seeds and initiate supplemental feeding programs for children so they are in a better position to weather a lean season.


In addition to saving lives, such measures save “significant costs,” says Choularton. While no forecast is perfect, analysis by the UK Department for International Development found that early responses to drought in Kenya could save approximately $20 billion over a 20 year period, enough to offset the costs of up to six unnecessary interventions due to incorrect forecasts.


The second area for improvement is investing more at the community level. The regions that suffer most from the major famines that get international attention often also experience recurring, smaller bouts of food insecurity. Investments in social protection systems that can provide food and income support to poor households during times of need, along largescale landscape transformation to conserve soil and water, can foster greater adaptiveness and resilience.


The R4 Initiative by the World Food Program and Oxfam America, for example, provides drought insurance and microcredit to farmers in Ethiopia, Malawi, Senegal, and Zambia in exchange for their labor on anti-drought infrastructure. After three years, impact evaluation showed participating farmers had more savings than non-participants, invested more in agricultural labor, owned more plough oxen, and were more likely to keep their kids in school when droughts occurred, says Choularton.


The third area Choularton highlights is mobile technology. In Ethiopia, Project Concern International, Google, and USAID are creating pasture maps from satellite images and dispersing to them herders. For just the cost of a sheet of paper, daily print-outs help agro-pastoralists make informed decisions about where to graze their herds. In the pilot project, three quarters of households surveyed used the maps to inform their migration decisions, and herd mortality declined 47 percent.


A common thread among these anti-famine measures is that they use climate and agricultural data to empower countries, communities, and individuals to understand and manage risk, says Choularton. “Simple things, like getting the right information to people so they can make better decisions about how to manage the risks they face, have tremendous potential to help in these circumstances.”


Richard Choularton spoke at the Wilson Center on January 26, 2017.


Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.


Sources: UK Department for International Development.

February 09, 2017 07:22 AM PST

A “green economy,” an energy sector composed entirely of renewables, is the goal of many. But we haven’t thought out the full implications of that change, says Stacy VanDeveer, professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in this week’s “Backdraft” podcast.


In the latest episode in our series on the peace and conflict consequences of climate change responses, VanDeveer discusses how cleaner energy can still be a dirty business and what de-carbonization could mean for petro states.


Meet the New Economy, Same as the Old Economy?

The promising growth of renewable energy – which includes wind, solar, and hydropower – is expected to continue, spurred by technological improvements and supportive policies in key markets.


However, warns VanDeveer, though these produce less carbon during generation, “the high-tech economy is not that different at the mining end of the stream than the old one.”


Clean energy still requires extensive mining and, in particular, large quantities of rare earth minerals. Extraction of rare earth minerals primarily takes place in vulnerable communities around the world, where people lack labor rights and are exposed to environmental hazards.


This has repercussions beyond the immediate impacts on mining communities. If you haven’t addressed inefficiencies and waste throughout the supply chain, you won’t see the expected reductions in carbon emissions, says VanDeveer. It can also undermine efforts to build democratic governance.


“The first thing,” says VanDeveer, “is to acknowledge that while we have one global climate change conversation, when people are actually dealing with energy issues – who has it, who doesn’t have it, how much it costs – those decisions are much more local and much more national.” India and South Africa are going to look different from the United States and Europe in their coal use, for example, because their needs and economies are different.


Understanding the energy needs of people at different levels of decision-making and in different contexts is important to developing climate policy that decreases emissions but also provides benefits to affected communities – or at a minimum, doesn’t introduce further stress.


VanDeveer suggests the best climate policies will involve more input from people directly affected by energy decisions and will be designed with their outcomes in mind. Yes, we want to see a reduction in carbon emissions, he says, but we also want people to have more economic opportunities and to benefit from stronger democracies.


A Shared Responsibility

VanDeveer also recommends speaking more openly about what climate and energy policies will mean for oil-dependent economies.


If oil sales decrease, there will be real consequences for petro states like Nigeria, Chad, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. “Many of these states have very poor governance, a lot of corruption, a lot of environmental hazards from the oil industry, and people in those places have not been allowed to have democratic articulation, they can’t get control of the negatives in the oil company,” says VanDeveer.


There’s a very real possibility that if the oil money dries up, these nations will be even less capable of delivering basic goods. After the collapse of oil prices in recent years, some African states slashed domestic spending on health care, for example. Such a collapse could contribute to instability, migration, even violent revolution.


“At the end of the day, that’s much of our money,” VanDeveer says. “That money is flowing from some countries to others, so we have some sort of shared responsibility for these very undemocratic and corrupt outcomes.”


Whether driven by government policy or market fundamentals, changes to the energy economy are not just an international concern, says VanDeveer. Already, shifts away from coal are affecting communities across the United States.


“If we haven’t thought about what happens to these people when the economy changes, we haven’t done them a service of good government and we haven’t been good citizens,” he says. “Yes, there are millions of jobs in the new energy economy, but they may not be in the same states, they are not in the same communities, they are not for people with the same skills.”


The “Backdraft” podcast series is hosted and co-produced by Sean Peoples, a freelance multimedia producer based in Washington, DC.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

February 02, 2017 10:27 AM PST

Since 2014, Central America has experienced a dramatic lack of rainfall, destroying grain crops and killing cattle. As of last summer, 2.8 million people were impacted by drought and 900,000 were at risk of malnutrition in Guatemala alone. The effects of environmental change have been especially acute in Guatemala because they are layering on top of existing dysfunction and instability, says Former Vice-President of Guatemala (2004-2008) Eduardo Stein in this week’s podcast.


Concerns that the Guatemalan government is not functioning in the face of crisis miss the nature of the problem, Stein says. “The state is working, but in favor of a chosen few.” Particularly when it comes to ensuring equitable access to water and other natural resources, the government “has failed to provide the services the constitution mandates to all of the people.”


Guatemala, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, suffered from an extended civil war over the second half of the 20th century, which has led to successive dysfunctional and exploitive governments. Stein identified three ways this violent legacy undermines the capacity of the government to address challenges like the drought.


First, political turnover is frequent, with parties only expecting to be in power for four. This leads to an emphasis on short-term results rather than long-term goals, such as building norms, strengthening institutions, and expanding infrastructure.


Guatemala also suffers from deep racism, with Spanish speakers ruling over Mayan-speaking groups and only offering government services in Spanish for many years. As a result, many rural areas where ethnic Mayan populations live have poor access to water resources and other state services, like health care.


Finally, naturally resources are treated as a specialized field that only takes on political significance in times of crisis, says Stein. By constitutional mandate, water is controlled by the national government as a strategic resource rather than devolving responsibility to local communities. These communities resent the centralized decision-making over resources they traditionally cared for themselves. “They claim to be of a tradition and a culture that knows how to care better for their natural resources,” he says.


Centralization also makes it easier for corporate actors to take advantage. Sugar, palm, and banana plantations often use a disproportionate share of water resources, even diverting rivers in some cases, a crime the government is too weak to find and punish.


In light of the ongoing drought, Stein sees the potential for violence. Already there is more internal migration as villagers leave dry areas and create friction with host communities.


But the struggle of local communities to regain control of their water is also gaining momentum in Guatemalan society. The spread of digital communications and social networks is helping communities work together, identify key sources of water inequity, and push for change.


“This is an agenda open to many groups to participate,” says Stein. “Of course environmentalists are very happy to support this, churches are very happy, social activists of different organizations are very happy, and opportunistic political parties as well.”


Eduardo Stein spoke at the Wilson Center on January 25, 2017.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

January 26, 2017 07:46 AM PST

The science is clear: to prevent major disruption, the global community must take steps to address climate change. But it is also increasingly clear that efforts to address climate change can have major effects on societies that are not always anticipated.


The “backdraft” initiative at the Wilson Center is an effort to understand how policies and programs intended to help us adapt to or mitigate climate change can unintentionally do harm. In a new podcast series, we speak to experts from around the world about the potential peace and conflict consequences of climate change responses, from the pitfalls of the “green economy” to the geopolitical challenges posed by geoengineering.


In our first episode, we speak to ECSP Senior Advisor and Former Director Geoffrey D. Dabelko, now at Ohio University. He discusses the history of backdraft and what lessons from natural resource management and environmental peacebuilding can help prevent the worst outcomes.


In the early 2000s, the connection between climate change and security became a primary area of focus in the environmental security community, says Dabelko. The question of how climate change might contribute to conflict was dominant, with research primarily looking at direct climate impacts, like temperature and rainfall change, and immediate effects such as migration and changes in agricultural productivity.


In 2010, the Wilson Center held a workshop to examine a third category: Could responses to climate change – both adaptation and mitigation strategies – unintentionally exacerbate existing conflicts or cause new ones? The workshop and subsequent research was published in the 2013 report, “Backdraft: The Conflict Potential of Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation.”


Now, we are beginning to see backdraft effects playing out on the ground, says Dabelko. Wind farms and hydroelectric dams require large areas of land that are sometimes already occupied, sparking conflict with communities in the way. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Program (REDD+) is upending traditional forest governance models around the world, sometimes disrupting existing dispute and conservation mechanisms.


These “are big transitions – necessary transitions – but they’re big transitions,” says Dabelko. There will be winners and losers, and there can be adverse effects that exacerbate existing conflicts and even create new ones.


Despite the “temptation to see climate as new and distinct from other natural resource and environmental management practices,” Dabelko recommends looking to the guiding principles that have developed around natural resource management for a start. A conflict-sensitive approach that applies the “do no harm” principle is critical to anticipating the wider social and political impacts of climate adaptation and mitigation projects.


Climate responses will touch on so many different sectors – from energy policy to land rights to development and humanitarian responses, and health and gender programs – that “any effort to do climate work has to be part of a larger discussion,” says Dabelko.


Building resilience will require stronger institutions at all levels of governance, from the hyper local to the global, and an inter-disciplinary, integrated approach. “If one walks into a room and you know everyone already, you’re not doing your job on this topic,” says Dabelko. “You need to get out and connect with folks you aren’t accustomed to working with.”


Stay tuned for more interviews in the “Backdraft” series, coming every other week on Friday Podcasts.


The “Backdraft” podcast series is hosted and produced by Sean Peoples, a freelance multimedia producer based in Washington, DC.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

December 22, 2016 05:35 AM PST

There may be more women and girls at risk of maternal health complications in fragile and conflict-affected settings today, but attention to the issue is not new and the international community has made important strides over the last 20 years, says Sandra Krause, program director for reproductive health at Women's Refugee Commission, in this week’s podcast.

The rights of refugees and internally displaced persons to reproductive health were first widely recognized by governments in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, she says.

That formal recognition sparked the creation of Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis (IWAG) a year later to build a set of guidelines and best practices for sexual and reproductive health care in crisis contexts. “In those guidelines,” Krause says, “it established a set of priority interventions to be put in place at the same time humanitarian actors were trying to meet basic and survival needs and prevent infectious diseases.”

The widespread recognition of these standards was central to improving care for women and children around the world, according to Krause. “There were to be these coordinated activities to prevent excess maternal and newborn mortality, to prevent the transmission of HIV, and to address sexual violence.”

One of the tools created by the IWAG is the Minimum Initial Service Package, or MISP. The MISP is a practical guide for disaster and humanitarian response workers to help them prevent and appropriately respond to sexual violence, address maternal and newborn health, reduce HIV transmission, and plan for the eventual resumption of full health services.

Thanks to these efforts, “the capacity to address reproductive health and crisis has increased,” says Krause. “Development agencies have jumped in to participate in humanitarian relief and that's helped quite a bit.” Sixty-eight percent of development agencies report they have an internal policy or mandate for reproductive health in humanitarian emergencies, and funding for reproductive health increased 298 percent between 2002 and 2011, Krause says.

Yet, clearly, as demonstrated by the dire situations in Syria, South Sudan, and elsewhere, gaps remain. Funding has largely gone to “lower hanging fruit,” Krause says – to things like nutrition programs, but not as much to “life-saving emergency obstetric and newborn care that's so critical and probably more costly as well.”

One of the most glaring needs illustrated by several evaluations is clinical care for survivors of sexual assault. “It's consistently a gap in almost every humanitarian emergency I go to,” Krause says. “It's not a difficult intervention, but you have to have the protocol and then you need nurses, doctors, midwives, and people trained in it.”

Sandra Krause spoke at the Wilson Center on December 8, 2016.

December 01, 2016 09:46 AM PST

Exactly one year after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, The Lancet published a special series on achieving maternal health priorities in the SDG era, with a focus on quality, equity, strengthening entire health systems, sustainable financing, and collecting better evidence.

“The series certainly serves as an inspiration for advocates on the ground,” explains Elena Ateva of the White Ribbon Alliance in this week’s podcast. Yet, these priorities “cannot happen without a commitment and continued and sustained resources for social accountability.”

For Ateva, improving quality and equity of care means prioritizing the experience of the individual. Women should be “at the center of care, at the center of policies, and at the center of advocacy efforts,” she says.

In some places, the treatment of women by health providers is as much or more of a problem than traditional capacity issues. “Evidence suggests that in countries with high maternal mortality, the fear of disrespect and abuse that women often encounter in facility-based maternity care is a more powerful deterrent to use of skilled care than commonly recognized barriers such as cost or distance,” according to the White Ribbon Alliance.

To combat the stigma, Ateva’s message is clear: go local. “[It] starts with the conversation a woman has with her provider,” she says, “then with the community and the providers and policymakers coming together and discussing the vital changes that need to happen at that level, and then it happens when communities come together to advocate for improved services.”

Ateva shares the insights of three mothers on various barriers to equitable care they encountered in Uganda, from lack of privacy in delivery wards to no handicap accessible ramps at the hospital entrance. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, she says, the voices of women like these “must be the starting point and not the afterthought.”

Elena Ateva spoke at the Wilson Center on October 6, 2016.

November 22, 2016 02:39 PM PST

In the turbulent days following the 2011 fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s government, Dr. Alaa Murabit found herself in Libya’s fragile capital, Tripoli, observing exchanges between parliamentarians and civil society over the future of the country. For over 40 years, this kind of discussion was unthinkable – not the least, for a young woman.

In this week’s podcast, Murabit, currently the United Nations high-level commissioner for health employment and economic growth, describes that delicate period and strategies for awakening and empowering a representative civil society, especially among young people.

To increase political participation of marginalized groups, Murabit started The Voice of Libyan Women at the age of 21 in August 2011. The organization was focused on economic empowerment and political participation of young women all over Libya, not just the capital or cities, she says.

At least 26 percent of the country’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24. Yet, Murabit argues that such a “youth bulge” is not the root of security problems. Rather, she argues the problem is relative deprivation, “where if I see that you have more and better than me, even though I have worked as hard and deserve as much, of course it's going to create resentment.”

“A lot of my academic work is in securitization,” she explains. “When we talk now about youth, peace, and security, everybody talks about young men who they're worried will pick up guns.” Meanwhile, those focused on women’s rights tend to focus on “older women who have influence networks, finances, and support.” The result is that young women are ignored by both youth and gender advocates.

Despite best intentions, the international community is sometimes guilty of contributing to this problem by characterizing youth as monolithic interest blocs. “If we're going to be very genuine and organic about the inclusion of youth,” says Murabit, “we have to be talking about the spaces in which we've created.” If we do not create space for everyone, certain voices who should have a say in their country’s future are silenced.

Alaa Murabit spoke at the Wilson Center on October 6, 2016.

November 17, 2016 08:31 AM PST

Chaotic flows of refugees and migrants – the most since World War II – have challenged leaders in Western Europe and North America. “The reactions to those big flows are undermining our institutions in important ways and degrading our politics,” says Wilson Center Fellow Joseph Cassidy in this week’s podcast.


Before joining the Wilson Center this summer, Cassidy spent 25 years in the U.S. Department of State focusing on humanitarian and human rights issues and multilateral diplomacy. In a Wilson Council briefing taped before the close of the U.S. presidential election, Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security, and resilience, talks with Cassidy about current humanitarian challenges.


The inability of governments and institutions to effectively cope with the influx of displaced peoples has caused the politicization of what was once a bipartisan issue, says Cassidy. We have seen “the rise of demagogues who have identified refugees and other migrants as people worth resenting and fearing.” As a result, it has “coarsened” our politics.


Anti-immigrant sentiment is not new, but Cassidy says it can be “mitigated by smart policies and principled politicians, [or] it can be exaggerated by bad policies and unprincipled politicians.”


Part of the problem is an aging legal regime that needs updating. The UN Refugee Convention was adopted in 1951. The nature of conflicts has changed, as have the armed groups involved, the extent to which civilians are targeted, and the opportunities for victims to flee. Additionally, the Refugee Convention does not provide legal protections to particularly vulnerable groups that any modern negotiations would address, says Cassidy, namely women, children, indigenous people, LGBT individuals, or the disabled. Nor is climate change considered.


However, many experts are concerned that re-opening the Refugee Convention in the current atmosphere of anti-immigrant sentiment would degrade the existing rights of victims, such as they are, and reduce the responsibilities of states. While acknowledging the risks, Cassidy noted there are numerous other frameworks to influence state behavior, including, international guidelines, regional arrangements, and national laws.


According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, there are three main reasons for the current increase in refugee populations: 1) protracted conflicts, 2) an increased frequency in the prevalence of conflicts, and 3) a decreased capacity to accommodate refugees and internally displaced individuals.


To reduce the number of displaced people and ultimately the pressure on Western institutions and politics, Cassidy believes “we we need to smooth the transition from humanitarian assistance to development assistance” and bring the two fields closer together. Many humanitarians worry development workers don’t take protection seriously enough, while development workers worry humanitarians do not think long term.


Asked about his expectations for the tenure of new UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Cassidy noted five major questions to watch. Humanitarians are excited to have a long-time high commissioner for refugees at the helm, someone who is “well respected for his competence and his principles,” he says. The international community, in general, does not do enough to “identify…enhance…and utilize refugee value.” Guterres may help change this, bringing attention to refugee conditions and humanitarian needs.


In September, the United Nations hosted two summits, the first of which launched a two-year negotiation aimed at addressing outstanding humanitarian problems, and the second of which collected pledges to increase humanitarian funding, refugee resettlement, and education and occupational opportunities. During his fellowship, Cassidy will be watching these processes closely and engaging with colleagues in related fields like environmental protection, economic migration, and conflict resolution.


Joseph Cassidy spoke during a Wilson Council briefing on November 1, 2016.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

July 28, 2016 11:55 AM PDT

The fourth global Women Deliver conference in May brought nearly 6,000 experts and advocates to Copenhagen to address the health and rights and women and girls, including a small group of young midwives who attended a symposium beforehand. “I went in a little bit skeptical,” says Alix Bacon, president of the Midwives Association of British Columbia and one of 32 women under 35 who received a scholarship to attend, in this week’s podcast. “And I came home a changed woman and a believer.”

Bacon said the ability to escape the immediacy of the day-to-day clinical requirements of midwifery and think about how they can grow as a network was invaluable. “There isn't an advocacy component to your midwifery training,” she says, “And this is where the midwifery symposium really shined. It addressed our weaknesses, regulation, research, policy.”

In the context of regulation and public funding, midwifery in Canada is relatively new, Bacon says, which puts them in a unique position among wealthy countries to partner with developing countries facing some of the same challenges. They have developed a 30-year roadmap from “zero to functional that we can share with our partners,” for example, she says.

One such partnership is with South Sudan and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The “twinning” project matches midwives together with the aim of increasing capacity, “supporting a strengthened, enabled environment for gender-sensitive maternity care.” Partnerships like this are crucial for the world’s newest country, which has among the world’s highest maternal, newborn, and child mortality rates. “Only 15 percent of births are attended by a skilled birth attendant,” Bacon says.

The latest renewed violence and mass displacement has “had wide-reaching effects on our ability to implement this project,” she says. They had to pull Canadian staff out of the country in June, but Bacon still believes in the promise of the partnership. “It's about positioning midwives as experts in maternity care,” she says. “And when you're positioned as an expert and supported by the ideal partner, you grab the attention of policymakers locally.”

With a global standard of education and the proper policies in place, “midwives can meet 87 percent of the needs of women and children,” says Bacon. “We also happen to be terribly cost-effective, which really makes us a best buy when it comes to maternal newborn child health.”

Alix Bacon spoke at the Wilson Center on July 18, 2016.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Global Affairs Canada.

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