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Environmental Change and Security Program
A production of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC
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Location: Washington, DC
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July 23, 2014 12:08 PM PDT

More than 1.8 billion people – nearly a third of the global population – are between the ages of 10 and 24, comprising the largest-ever generation of young people. According to Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “how we meet the needs and aspirations of these young people will define the world’s future.”

Currently, most young people are “growing up in poor countries, where education and health systems are weak, reproductive choices are not guaranteed, good jobs are hard to find, and where mobility may be constrained,” he says in this week’s podcast. As countries develop, people tend to live longer and have fewer babies, meaning future generations will not benefit from a larger group of younger workers to support them. “We will have to ensure that we equip [young people] appropriately to be able to sustain themselves,” he says.

Education is critical: Today’s primary school enrollment rate is over 90 percent, and while this reflects an “enormous success” at the global level, there is much room for improvement, Osotimehin says. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in four primary school-aged children do not attend classes, and secondary school completion rates lag much further behind – in some cases as low as three percent. The problem is worse among girls, who are far more likely to drop out than boys. “They get married at 11 or 12, and they disappear from the statistics,” he says.  

Ensuring that girls stay in school “would achieve so many things at the same time, from both a health and an economic perspective,” says Osotimehin. But doing so requires tackling sensitive issues – like sexual and reproductive health and rights. “It’s a difficult thing to talk about, but it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

If [girls] are going to stay in school, delay childbearing, enter the labor force, and achieve what we want them to achieve, they will have to have access to information and services to be able to determine when they want children, how many they want, if they want children, and if they want to get married or not.

Child marriage remains a persistent problem in many countries. Although most countries have signed onto the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and have a minimum age for marriage, the law isn’t always enforced or respected, says Osotimehin – “people just give their girls off.” This not only prevents girls from finishing school but also puts them at greater risk of dying or being gravely injured during childbirth.

The challenges are significant, but can be addressed, says Osotimehin. In Niger, UNFPA developed “husband schools” that have improved girls’ health and education outcomes by directly engaging men, and a $250 million World Bank-funded program to empower girls and women throughout the Sahel reflects a major step in the right direction, he says. “I think we know what to do, but we have to scale up; we need to have everybody on board to be able to do this.”  

“The youth agenda has never been more important,” he says – particularly in the context of the post-Millennium Development Goals agenda. Young people will not only be the primary beneficiaries of the next big international development framework, but will also be critical for ensuring its success. “They are the ones who will own that space, and the girls are the ones who will actually make the difference going forward,” says Osotimehin.

Osotimehin spoke at the Wilson Center on July 10

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

July 17, 2014 08:27 AM PDT

In the quest to improve maternal health care for the world’s poorest women, getting more mothers into clinics for regular check-ups during pregnancy is often trumpeted as a critical starting point. But delivering antenatal care to women in low-resource settings is as much about quality as it is about quantity, says Faith Muigai in this week’s podcast.

Through her work as the director of clinical operations at Jacaranda Health in Kenya, Muigai hopes to “transform maternal health care in Africa.” Jacaranda began as a for-profit mobile outreach enterprise to provide antenatal care services and education to women in local markets, churches, and women’s groups. Four years later, Jacaranda now boasts two care centers in Nairobi that help women through delivery and together provide outpatient care to 600 women every month.

Between research and policy, “there’s a middle piece that is missing and that’s implementation,” says Muigai. “This is where I feel that Jacaranda fits in: a means of proving concepts that impact the delivery of cost-effective, patient-centered, quality care in low-resource settings.”
Jacaranda serves women in peri-urban settings who do not access to care for a variety of reasons: some lack transportation or money; others, an understanding of the importance of antenatal care or adequate decision-making power in their families.

The typical Jacaranda patient is “the woman who traditionally cares for others – her children, her partner, her spouse – but has not set a minimum standard in terms of accessing quality services for herself,” says Muigai. She is usually not the primary decision-maker in her household, so receiving antenatal care services – and high quality services at that – are rarely priorities. Instead, many women wait until delivery to visit a clinic for the first time.

Happy Doctors Make for Happy Patients
Though Jacaranda is for profit, they are working specifically to reach underprivileged women as clients and make their services affordable, Muigai says, who worked in hospitals in the United States before moving to Kenya. They can often do so more effectively than public clinics, she says, because the legally mandated free services these clinics provide leave them strapped for resources, inefficient, and staffed by overwhelmed doctors and midwives.

Through what Muigai describes as a patient-centered care model, Jacaranda works to increase the quality of antenatal care by analyzing client satisfaction through surveys and creating standards that eliminate inefficiencies for women who lack time and resources. They have also streamlined the training of care providers and are using mobile technology to help patients manage their appointment schedules, stay informed, and save money on delivery fees, she says. These improvements satisfy not only patients, but staff as well, who in turn deliver more consistent, higher-quality care.

Besides improving quality, Muigai hopes that they can help change the family dynamics that keep women from accessing care. “We have been thoughtful about male engagement early in the pregnancy to drive positive decisions about accessing [antenatal care] early and choosing a place for delivery,” she says. “This has included personalized invitations to our clients’ partners [and] education materials on what to expect when she’s expecting and financial options.”

In the end, however, Muigai’s best tool for bringing in new patients may be her past clients. “By building a passionate, talented, and committed workforce, we’re able to service our clients,” she says. “These clients in turn steer the community towards the quality service we provide. We see women and children every day and we’re positively changing their stories, and in turn, the stories of families and communities.”

Muigai spoke at the Wilson Center on June 30. Download her slides to follow along.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

July 09, 2014 01:45 PM PDT

There are now well over 16 million refugees worldwide and 65 million people internally displaced by conflict and disasters, according to recent estimates. As more and more people are uprooted from their homes, mounting environmental pressures threaten to reinforce cycles of poverty and displacement if left unaddressed, says Alice Thomas in this week’s podcast.

“If you’re not following this very closely, a lot of people just think that refugees live in camps and have images of people behind fences,” says Thomas, the climate displacement program manager at Refugees International. “Actually most refugees do not live in camps; they reside with host families and host communities, and increasingly they live in cities.”

The ability of displaced people to recover from crises is often hindered by lack of access to natural resources that would otherwise provide them with livelihoods, food, and water, says Thomas. Her research shows that people’s decisions to resettle or return to their areas of origin hinge on whether they have a means to make a living. Environmental recovery is therefore critical for creating long-term, “durable solutions” to displacement – as well as addressing some of the immediate “protection risks” that plague camp settings, many of which stem from resource scarcity, Thomas says. 

Planning for the Short and Long Term

“The international humanitarian system is fairly good at handing out aid,” says Thomas, “but it’s gotten much more important to think about how to get people off of aid and living independently.” 

Many responses to international crises are constrained by rigid sectoral funding and a lack of coordination between different sectors and organizations, she says. Donors tend to prioritize life-saving assistance over other interventions, and shorter-term humanitarian efforts are often disconnected from longer-term development efforts.

A broader focus on “resilience” can facilitate greater integration, Thomas says, “whether you like that word or not.” Pooling funding, as opposed to keeping it narrowly focused on specific outcomes, allows projects to simultaneously address both immediate concerns, such as drought-induced food shortages, as well as long-term concerns, such as the need for improved farming practices. “This is, in my experience, a positive development…It’s an opportunity to start taking a more holistic approach toward the response,” she says.

Building Self-Reliance

One avenue for incorporating environmental programming into crisis response is through the “self-reliance” approach adopted by the UN Refugee Agency’s latest Global Strategy for Livelihoods, which aims to reduce the dependency of displaced people rather than “teach them to make soap or sell snacks.” The strategy provides an opportunity for environmental actors to get involved early on, says Thomas, and begin “restoring the environment on which refugees and other people rely.”

Other opportunities for integration can be found in cities, where humanitarian efforts must address not only growing numbers of displaced people but also a growing number of conflicts and disasters, says Thomas:

It doesn’t make sense in urban environments…to just have a sector approach that looks at food, sanitation, and shelter. You’re seeing a response that looks at the urban challenges as a whole and talks about what they call ‘neighborhood coherence’ as opposed to ‘sector coherence.’

A case in point is the recovery and rehabilitation plan adopted by the Philippines’ Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan, says Thomas. “It looks at the need to not just restore some of the environmental damage that was done…but it takes the opportunity from the storm to actually re-zone a lot of the city and figure out where people should live.” Rather than simply creating no-build zones in disaster-prone areas, which prolongs displacement, she says, the plan takes a holistic approach to resilience and encourages decision-makers to consider a diversity of possibilities, including the relocation of the airport, for instance.

The success of such plans is largely a matter of political will, Thomas says. “It’s not enough for the international community to come in and say ‘this is what you need to do’; you need to have the municipalities themselves wanting to take on urban challenges in this way.”

Thomas spoke at the Wilson Center on June 25. Download her slides to follow along.

June 26, 2014 01:29 PM PDT

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on New York in October 2012, the city’s chief urban designer was at his home in Brooklyn deciding whether to evacuate or not. In the end, Alexandros Washburn decided to stay.

“As a designer, you want to experience what it is you’re designing for,” Washburn says in this week’s podcast, and he wanted to see the rate and patterns of flooding firsthand. The storm surge “came on faster than you were expecting, and it made you panic.”

Washburn is one of four authors from around the world featured in a new Wilson Center publication on “smart cities,” the idea that harnessing ubiquitous, networked computer technology and data analytics can create more efficient and resilient cities. Some see the rise of smart cities as the next major paradigm shift in urban planning, as cities are growing faster than ever while their vulnerability to climate change is simultaneously increasing.

“Very often, we’ll see the idea of a smart city in a glossy commercial where the lights always turn green, the elevator’s always working for you,” says Washburn, who now directs the Center for Coastal Resilience and Urban Excellence (CRUX) at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “That doesn’t happen, that’s not a reality.”

To Washburn, the most “seductive” potential of smart city technologies is in speeding up the decision-making process of government. “Everything that I think of in terms of ‘smartness’ has to do with [asking], ‘How do you make a choice?’”

“The worst thing for decision-making is to panic,” says Washburn, as he did when the water starting rising in Brooklyn. “You panic when you feel like events are overtaking you, so we have to speed up decision-making so that we stay ahead of events.”

“For New York right now, we need protection from storm surge,” he says. CRUX has been placing sensors all around New York Harbor to collect real-time and predictive storm surge data. Their goal is to not only monitor the harbor but use the data to build a model that can help the city prepare for future storms like Hurricane Sandy.

“If smart technology can be useful for us, it will be something that will let us sense better, visualize better,” Washburn says, so “we can decide in weeks rather than years, and not be overtaken by events…and have the confidence to make the right decisions because we have the technology to support us.”

Of course, there is a risk in becoming over-reliant on technology in decision-making. “We’re approaching the point where we can use smart technology to make decisions faster, but we can’t ever afford to close the loop” and cut people out of the process, he says. When it comes to cities, it’s important to remember that “you’re using smart technology not to control a device, but to control a system. To control a device is technology; to control a city is politics.”

Washburn spoke at the Wilson Center on June 23.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

June 19, 2014 11:29 AM PDT

In this era of “big data,” policymakers are too often focused on overly broad statistics, says Amy Luers of the Skoll Global Threats Fund in this week’s podcast.

Luers spoke at the Wilson Center during the launch of the ND-GAIN Index, which ranks countries on exposure to climate change and their readiness. The index and other “catch-all” indicators like it are useful for making people aware of vulnerabilities, she says, but they also can mask important local variations which are important when it comes to making decisions.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Luers says, “but I would say, with a word of caution, a number is not worth a thousand words, and how indicators are interpreted however often suggests they are.”

Luers points to the ND-GAIN Index’s ranking of the United States as an example; it’s considered very ready for climate change and not very vulnerable. But that ranking “completely blinds you to the fact that a place like New Orleans is incredibly vulnerable,” she says. “When it becomes operational to support decision-making versus awareness-building, certain people in these countries are not apparent,” leading to marginalization of regional populations that ultimately undermines efforts to build resilience.

More generally, GDP is the “classic example” of a single indicator representing a complex system. It is the “single metric in our society of progress,” Luers says, even though by measuring only economic growth, it prioritizes market goods over non-market goods like natural resources and other measures like vulnerability or resilience to change. The result is an indicator that “creates incentives and priorities that are not necessarily supportive of the general progress and values of a society.”

This does not mean the ND-GAIN Index and other metrics that combine many factors are not useful; their value should simply be kept in perspective. Problems arise when policymakers emphasize “the desire to measure as the goal,” Luers says, “instead of characterizing an indicator and placing it on a country or on a sector, looking at a sector and saying, ‘what is it about that sector that makes it vulnerable?’”

“Research shows that when communities have control over their lives, they are more resilient to stresses,” she says. As such, the goal should be to use metrics in a way that “empowers human agency, and allows us to own the data and own the a way that not only monitors and tracks vulnerability and adaptive capacity, but also builds adaptive capacity.”

Amy Luers spoke at the Wilson Center on December 11, 2013.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

June 11, 2014 12:39 PM PDT

While it may seem obvious, perhaps it bears repeating that certain parts of the world are more susceptible than others to the adverse impacts of climate change. And since humans are distributed unevenly across the earth’s surface, certain people are more susceptible than others as well.

But people can move, and in many ways it’s easier to do so than ever before. This raises important questions for climate response strategies. “The geography of vulnerability is changing because of the effect of high migration,” says Colombia University demographer Susana Adamo in this week’s podcast.

In places like West Africa and Mexico, “dry ecosystems are usually losing population, and the coastal ecosystems – where most of the urban areas are – are increasingly having more and more in-migration,” says Adamo.

Migration is one of three major demographic processes, along with fertility and mortality, that influence population distribution. But changes in fertility and mortality may take generations to play out, while “migration is the quickest response to any change in underlying conditions” and may have an impact in only 10 or 15 years, says Adamo.  

Around 2008, according to the United Nations, the world crossed a divide: for the first time, more than half of the world’s population was living in cities. This urbanization trend has been fueled primarily by rural-to-urban migration, but as areas become more urban, migration between and within cities is starting to play a greater role, especially since many coastal cities are more vulnerable to climate change impacts like sea-level rise and extreme weather events.  

A growing number of researchers are investigating the factors that determine who migrates, why, where they go, and how this process affects origin and destination areas. These are difficult questions to answer. “It has to do with how habitable the area is in terms of resources, in terms of climate, and in terms of topology or topography,” says Adamo. History can play a major role in why certain areas are more or less desirable than others too.

Despite a recent proliferation of studies investigating migration as a response to climate change, more data is needed to advance our understanding, says Adamo. Migration data is seen as “the weak link of the demographic record,” she says. And while there have been great advances in this area, “there is still more that has to be done.”

Susana Adamo spoke at the Wilson Center on May 14. Download her slides to follow along.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

June 05, 2014 01:59 PM PDT

The Sahel has endured multiple debilitating food crises over the last five years and climate change has often been fingered as the culprit. But it is important to equally consider the amplifying effects of demographic trends on resource scarcity, says the University of Peace’s Marcel Leroy in this week’s podcast.

Leroy, with 20 years of field work in the Horn of Africa and experience in academia and the diplomatic service – including as the European Union’s special representative to Sudan from 2005 to 2008 – says too often “we base assumptions on how to adapt to climate change on what we observe about climate change, or what we think we observe, which isn’t always that well founded.”

“Scarcity in these regions…results from the effects of climate change combined with the effects of population increase,” he says. Many of the Sahel countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, have very high total fertility rates – the number children per woman – guaranteeing rapid population growth for some time into the future (especially if more isn’t done to meet unmet need for contraception). “Even if the climate wasn’t changing, but the population was rising at three percent a year as it was in these countries, per capita availability of these resources is going to decline.”

Africa, as a continent, is not drying out as drastically as it might seem, he says:

The greening of the Sahel, which is visible from satellite images, is the result of increases in precipitation from 1990 onwards. This doesn’t mean that the Sahel has become more hospitable in terms of sustaining life or animals, because since there had been overgrazing, there was very little seed reserve in the ground, and a lot of the greening turns out to be invasive species, which are not suitable as farming crops. Nevertheless, the amount of rainfall has not uniformly declined.

Instead resource scarcity is being propelled by other factors. “Some of the areas that have had decreases in precipitation are areas that have had the highest population increase,” he says. Ethiopia is projected to more than double in population over the next 20 to 30 years, perhaps reaching as high as 200 million people by 2050.

“Very often when you talk of problems that are induced by climate change, even by articles done by scholars who do or should know better, there is no attempt to disaggregate the effect of climate change and population increase,” Leroy says.

“My advice to students and colleagues in both of my professions has always been, ‘don’t believe anything if you can avoid it.’ In other words: be critical; don’t take things at face value.”

Marcel Leroy Spoke at the Wilson Center on May 14. Download his slides to follow along.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

May 29, 2014 01:45 PM PDT

A central tenant of John Kerry’s time as Secretary of State has been an emphasis on climate change. In a speech in Indonesia this year, he compared the threat of changing climate conditions to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Though the United States has been slow to enact major climate legislation, the Department of State has developed a “road map” for responding in its own way. The UN REDD+ program could play a major role in this response, says Melanie Nakagawa of the department’s policy planning staff in this week’s podcast.

REDD+, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, is an effort by the UN to financially incentivize the preservation of forestlands in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the immediate effects of reducing deforestation, which are substantial, Nakagawa says REDD+ is a good investment because it can bridge climate change concerns across different State and USAID initiatives.

For example, REDD+ programs can help address gender inequity. Nakagawa notes that gender is one of Kerry’s three “core areas” of climate change policy, and that the effects of climate change are compounded by inequity for women in many communities.

When she visited USAID’s Hariyo Ban project, which is working to preserve forests in Nepal’s Terai and Chitwan-Annapurna regions, Nakagawa says she was told by community members that women used to make up about 30 percent of their community forestry committees, as required by law. But they did not have any real say in decision-making until after USAID training on governance, organization, and gender equity. Now women make up more than half of the forestry committees in the area and have an active role, she says.

Nakagawa sees this as indicative of how REDD+ programs can be used to affect “political empowerment, social empowerment, and economic empowerment.” Women are vital “change agents” in their communities, who “drive the technology solutions needed to address the climate change issue.”

“USAID has done a lot of great work on the ground,” says Nakagawa, but the United States could benefit from further expanding its collaboration with the private sector on REDD+. We should use “the best aspects of the private sector and their interest in markets to our advantage,” she says. To this end, the Department of State recently established the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, in collaboration with Norway and the United Kingdom, with the goal of reaching out to the private sector at an international scale and asking them to “think about how to source agricultural commodities in places that are implementing jurisdictional REDD-scale projects.”

The goal is to get everyone thinking about climate change and its impacts, she says. “How can everybody – not just our climate negotiators or environment team – but how can everybody in the department be part of the mission to fulfill this idea of climate change as a priority?”

Melanie Nakagawa spoke at the Wilson Center on May 16. 

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

May 22, 2014 07:52 AM PDT

Ever since Thomas Malthus’ 18th-century treatise linked overpopulation with conflict and poverty, population growth has been a subject of concern and controversy. But does population decline warrant similar attention? According to Steven Philip Kramer, the subject of this week’s podcast and author of The Other Population Crisis: What Governments Can Do About Falling Birth Rates, it does.  

Birth and death rates have been high for most of human history. It was only two to three hundred years ago that some societies began to see significant declines in both fertility and mortality – a process known as the demographic transition. This transition has occurred at different times in different places and is still underway in many countries. While there are potential economic benefits associated with the earlier stages of the transition, Kramer warns that “advanced societies” in the latter stages may have reason to worry.

Declining total fertility rates – the number of children per woman – “don’t stop at the magical number of 2.1, which guarantees a sustainable population,” says Kramer. Instead, rates in some countries have dropped below replacement levels, raising a unique set of challenges for policymakers. The Other Population Crisis argues falling birth rates could affect national security by straining social welfare systems, hindering innovation and economic growth, altering immigration patterns, and shifting the global balance of power.

Immigration plays a key role by balancing out countries’ different population growth rates – but only to a point. Aging societies can help sustain themselves by welcoming residents from faster-growing parts of the world, explains Kramer, but “if that immigration is on too large a scale, it’s hard to absorb people into society and the political consequences of immigration are really huge – especially, for example, at a time of the Great Recession.” He cites current European politics as an example: “Europeans are reacting to what in fact is very little immigration. They’re reacting by voting for the extreme Right. When elections take place next month, it’s going to be pretty awful.”

Governments face pressures to reverse downward fertility trends, says Kramer – particularly in Europe and Asia, where fertility rates are lowest. But it’s not clear how to do so. There’s no way you’re going to tell people, ‘We’re going to force you to have children.’ It’s nonsense.” Once people become aware of and start using family planning, there’s no going back, he says. 

Kramer draws on the work of Swedish economists Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, who formed the basis of modern thinking on the topic. Their 1934 book Crisis in the Population Question critiqued Malthusian and neo-Malthusian perspectives, advocating for a strong state role in boosting birth rates. Comparing government efforts in Sweden, France, Italy, Japan, and Singapore, Kramer finds the most effective efforts so far have involved social programs that mitigate the financial stresses associated with children and “make it possible for women to reconcile work and family.”

Steven Philip Kramer spoke at the Wilson Center on April 17.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

May 08, 2014 01:11 PM PDT

In sub-Saharan Africa, women collectively spend an estimated 40 billion hours a year gathering water, often walking miles to the nearest source, which may not be clean, and braving exhaustion, harassment, and worse along the way. Water availability and quality at health clinics is often not much better, creating a crisis for women, especially pregnant women, throughout the continent. A mutual solution lies in better coordination between efforts to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and maternal health, says the African Medical and Research Foundation’s Lisa Meadowcroft in this week’s podcast.

“Every person should have between about 50 and 100 liters a day – for drinking, for washing, for cooking, etc.,” says Meadowcroft. “We in the U.S. use about 575 liters a day, and on the continent of Africa, a family which consists usually of about four to six people uses about 20 a day.”

Lack of access to clean water has resulted in a crisis for expectant mothers in Kenya, where rainfall has declined and become more erratic. The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), working in the Kitui West and Mutito constituencies in conjunction with USAID, found 85 percent of women were delivering at home because the nearest health facility was at least 10 kilometers away and had no access to clean water, Meadowcroft says. Women were sometimes even asked to bring their own water to the clinic.

On top of that, “women in these rural villages and urban slums don’t have time to start businesses, which further exacerbates poverty in their communities,” Meadowcroft says. And young girls miss out on school, both because they have to help with water collection but also because bathroom facilities are frequently shared with boys. “Once they start menstruation, if there aren’t separate latrines for boys and girls, girls drop out of school dramatically.”

In response, AMREF has initiated community-based programs in Kitui West and Mutito, improving the WASH facilities at five local health clinics; building new water tanks, latrines, and hand-washing stations; and also training women on how to install new wells. Sixty-five percent of the funding for these projects comes from AMREF, while the other 35 percent comes from the community, not necessarily in capital but through labor and upkeep in kind, Meadowcroft says.

“Kitui is a very male-dominated culture,” she says, and when AMREF initially started its training program, there was significant backlash. “On any given day the poverty level is such that you earn about a dollar and a quarter,” she says. “These women are earning $100 a month from doing this.” Ten years after the program began, however, other communities are now reaching out to those women to help build wells elsewhere.

“We want to strengthen further the linkages between water and sanitation and maternal and child health,” Meadowcroft said. “We want to invest in innovative water conservation systems, and we need to get more men involved.”

Lisa Meadowcroft spoke at the Wilson Center on March 10. Download her slides to follow along.

Friday podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

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