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Friday Podcasts From ECSP and MHI
At the nexus of global environmental change, security, development, and health
Category: Non-Profit
Location: Washington, DC
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February 27, 2020 01:10 PM PST

“This project is serious,” Casimiro Olvida said. “It will help the community. If you do not believe me, you can kill me anytime.” He recalled saying this in 1995 to Communist rebels in Mindanao who were suspicious that his USAID-funded team was supporting the Philippine government. We have the same goals, he told them, to help the poor and protect the environment. Apparently, he was convincing. Now Watershed Protection Project Manager of the Sarangani Energy Corporation, Olvida spoke in this week’s podcast with ECSP’s Lauren Risi, at the International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding in October 2019, describing his decades of work in forest management in the Philippines.

As Senior Natural Resources Management Consultant of the USAID-funded Philippine Environmental Governance Project (EcoGov), also known as "From Arms to Farms,” Olvida aimed to deliver tangible livelihood assistance to former combatants and their families. Another main goal, he said, was to ensure adherence to the provisions of the 1996 peace agreement of the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders to prevent further armed struggle.

The work could be scary, Olvida said. The MILF had not yet been in negotiations with the government, and facilitating those discussions proved to be challenging. He received death threats and was pressured to expedite the process, but he refused to take shortcuts. For the former combatants, the choice was simple, said Olvida. They could either follow the rules agreed upon by EcoGov and the MILF leaders, or they could take it up with their commanders. Given the choice, they always ultimately agreed to play by the rules. This progress made the work rewarding, despite the potential dangers.

Olvida’s efforts focused on integrating community-based approaches to forest management with local governments and engaging all actors in the space—including government officials, the indigenous community, and former MILF combatants. Much of his work required him to immerse himself in the culture of the communities affected by the armed conflict in Mindanao. He stayed in the villages with key leaders to learn more about the indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices for forest management.

The first step to community organizing is to immerse yourself, Olvida said of his 16-year stint getting to know the culture, leadership, and influencers of the community from the inside. By rejecting his privilege and choosing not to stay in a hotel, he was far more successful embedding himself and his project into the community. He was able to build trust and work effectively as part of the community to develop solutions for managing the natural resources in the area.

On the other side of EcoGov’s project, the community-based approaches and development goals needed to be absorbed into the policies and procedures of local government. For Mindanao, this process was largely successful with the creation of convergence initiatives, which enabled government agencies to work together on this issue area. Olvida cited governance as “the missing link” for implementation.

However, he acknowledged that it’s difficult to make progress on a project when funding stops. When newly appointed local government personnel lack forest management experience, they return to the old ways. Without consistent funding and an implementation system set in place, Olvida said, a forest management project cannot be sustainable.

February 20, 2020 07:33 AM PST

Through open source information, remote sensing, and existing data, we can have a better sense of how conflict impacts the environment and how it then impacts people depending on the environment, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a Humanitarian Disarmament Project Leader for the Dutch peace organization, PAX, in this week’s Friday Podcast. Wim sat down for an interview with ECSP’s Amanda King at the first International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding, hosted at the University of California, Irvine, in October 2019.

Data Visualization for Advocacy
PAX works to improve data visualization, especially information about what’s happening on the ground in conflicts. Drawing on everything from social media and existing models, to satellite imagery from remote sensing platforms, they identify hotspots, see if environmental infrastructure has been hit, and monitor specific incidents. “Eventually,” he said, “we want to show that you can do way more and you can improve the conflict analysis and monitoring with existing means.”

One of the most successful examples where data influenced policy was in Iraq. In 2014, the Islamic State took over the large parts of Northern Iraq. It used the environment as a weapon by setting fire to oil wells and sulfur stocks, resulting in release of a plume of SO2 in the air, the hospitalization of 1,000 people, and death of a dozen people. At the same time, they damaged water infrastructure, reducing access to clean water and usable land. Together with the Iraqi Ministry of Environment we published our report showing what was happening in Iraq in terms of environmental pollution and what needs to be done, Zwijnenburg said. Information we’ve been collecting since 2014 helped to advocate for a strong UN resolution to speed up the process for post-conflict environmental assessment, he said, and hopefully save them time and money.

Modern Weapons Target Environmental Infrastructure
Modern warfare and new weapons are changing military tactics. In Yemen, the Houthis have developed a drone system that can hit targets more than 1,000 kilometers away. Over the last year, in response to daily bombings, the Houthis targeted airports, water filtration stations, and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. And in September 2019, 25 drones and missiles, likely from Iran, hit the biggest oil processing plant in the world in Saudi Arabia.

Given newer weapons’ capabilities, targeting environmental infrastructure has become a way for states and armed groups to pressure others. Zwijnenburg painted a bleak picture of the future, describing a world that must contend with modern warfare and technologies’ long-term environmental consequences, increasing tensions over access to natural resources, and more gruesome technology for attacking others.

However, he noted that innovative technologies can help us see the impacts of conflict and may also help us more quickly respond to environmental issues. Since using technologies in new ways gives us more insight into what is happening in conflicts, we can respond faster and hold perpetrators more accountable. What’s more, the ability to visualize the impacts of conflict can also help raise awareness of the links between environmental damage and conflict. “It is empowering communities because people have the ability and the tools to understand what is happening around them,” said Zwijnenburg, “and that information is useful for policy work and political pressure.”

February 13, 2020 11:28 AM PST

“I believe if you acknowledge women as primary users of environmental resources, if you draft the policy with women [at] the table, offering you their unique perspective and unique feedback, you’re going to have a more stable policy. A policy that gets implemented,” says Mishkat Al-Moumin, scholar in residence at the Environmental Law Institute, in this week’s Friday Podcast, and second in a series of interviews recorded at the First International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding.

Al-Moumin served as Iraq’s first Minister of Environment in the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004. She had previously served as one of the first female professors at Baghdad University’s College of Law. “That might sound like kind of an easy summary. But in reality, being accepted at the law school was really not that easy,” she says.

Navigating personal and professional challenges as both a woman and a single mother in Iraq led Al-Moumin to understand the importance of recognizing the linkages between women and the environment. While she ran the Ministry of Environment with a budget of just 7 million dollars, Al-Moumin continued advocating for women’s inclusion and participation. “The ministry had the second lowest budget throughout the cabinet,” she says. And they were tackling massive environmental challenges, from the extreme degradation of marshlands to the pollution from years of war.

Juggling these issues taught Al-Moumin about conflict in a very personal way. In 2004, she survived an attack on her life, in which four of her personal bodyguards were killed. Shortly thereafter, she applied and was accepted to Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where she was able to examine her on-the-ground experiences through a broader lens. Her research continues to focus on the conflict-environment-law nexus, with a particular focus on the Middle Eastern context.

“If environmental policies are designed in a way that deprives certain people from access to an environmental resource, then a conflict will arise,” says Al-Moumin. In Iraq, conflicts are viewed as having either a religious or ethnic lens. The environmental dimension is generally ignored, she says. This is compounded by the fact that most Middle Eastern policy prohibits certain actions without accounting for how particular resources will be managed. In Iraq, for example, timber is prohibited from being cut down without a legal framework for sustainable harvesting.

This causes a struggle for everyday citizens, as they are likely to be shut out of certain resources. Women are particularly impacted, as the laws are written by men and tend to ignore women’s roles in natural resource use and collection.

In general, Al-Moumin says, Middle Eastern policy tends to look to history for answers to present-day challenges. Laws from the Ottoman Empire still persist, she says. But meeting the challenges of tomorrow requires forward thinking—and greater empowerment of every citizen, regardless of gender. “It’s the government’s job to solicit people’s opinions and open up venues for them to participate. Otherwise, you know,” says Al-Moumin, “that disconnect will continue forever and violence will be the answer [every] time we have a problem.”

February 06, 2020 08:54 AM PST

The United States and China are on the road to war, said Senior Advisor of New America’s Resource Security Program, Sharon Burke in this week’s Friday Podcast. “And if you’re an environmental peacebuilder and you’re not thinking about that, you might want to,” she added. She spoke with Geoffrey Dabelko, Professor at Ohio University and Senior Advisor to ECSP, at the first ever International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding in October 2019 at the University of California, Irvine. It’s a war we can’t afford, said Burke. “But we’re not doing anything to avoid it at the moment, in my opinion, other than deterrence.”

In a primarily adversarial relationship, said Burke, does environmental peacebuilding have the ability to be a bright spot on an otherwise bleak path toward a seemingly inevitable war?

According to Burke, the role of natural resources has become relevant to strategic investments and security in two main ways. First, resources are already a part of the competition, and will increasingly shape the struggle for both material resources and geopolitical influence. The effects of climate change on resource availability will also drive the priorities of both China and the United States as the two largest economies in the world. A key difference, Burke points out, is size. The United States has a population of 330 million people, compared to China’s population of 1.4 billion. Another difference relates to how the countries are trying to address resource gaps related to climate change. China has begun diversifying resource suppliers and taking into account the strain climate change will put on the global supply chain, especially in the agricultural and critical minerals sectors. On the other hand, the United States puts greater trust in the markets and lacks a natural security strategy.

Dabelko compared the current situation with China to the environmental peacebuilding efforts between the United States and Soviet Union during and after the Cold War. The U.S. military engaged with other militaries globally during this period using environmental and scientific exchanges as a means to open a dialogue and reach a secure end. In recent years, there have not even been attempts at these types of exchanges with an environmental component. Burke believes that it’s still worth a try. “[The environment is] certainly going to be a point of contention going forward,” said Burke. “So why can’t it also be a point of collaboration?”

Burke and Dabelko wrapped up the conversation by imagining a possible future marked by a changing climate. Burke hypothesized that as climate change affects global agriculture, we will need trade to adjust and adapt to the changing patterns of food production. Burke noted that that our planet does have the capacity to grow enough food even as the population grows, but the areas where food is grown will need to shift as the climate changes. In order to thrive, we will need to become more flexible with trade and stay away from locking in strictly bilateral deals. Climate change may create a powerful need for global collaboration and cooperation, Burke concluded.

This interview was recorded at the first International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding, hosted by the Environmental Law Institute, Duke University, University of California, Irvine, and the Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation in October 2019.

December 19, 2019 05:55 PM PST

“For me, [multiple sclerosis (MS)] presented itself shortly after the birth of my second son. I had these symptoms; I had this profound fatigue that I didn’t have with my first child,” said Terrie Livingston at a recent Wilson Center event about the growing threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on maternal health. Livingston is the Head of Patient Outcomes and Solutions at EMD Serono, a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

“MS primarily affects women, with the average age of diagnosis at about 33 years of age…when women are really thinking about having a family,” said Livingston. Livingston didn’t associate her symptoms with MS initially, and assumed they were due to either her recent pregnancy or the demands of caring for a newborn.

Pregnancy is an immunotolerant state, in which the immune system is able to tolerate a foreign substance, i.e. placenta and fetus. Due to changes in hormones, there are fewer relapses in MS patients who are pregnant, said Livingston. There is, however, a significant increase in the number and severity of relapses postpartum, she said. Symptoms of MS can be mistaken for other common symptoms of pregnancy, complicating diagnosis. In fact, it was about two years between the symptoms presenting and Livingston actually receiving the diagnosis of MS.

Misconceptions about the disease adversely impact a woman’s perception of her ability to become pregnant. Livingston recalled a time when physicians discouraged women with MS from having a family, telling them that it wouldn’t be possible. In fact, the U.S. has seen an increase in the prevalence of pregnancies in MS patients.

It’s important to raise awareness around race, disparities, and social determinants of health when it comes to MS and other non-communicable diseases, said Livingston. “Just like the changing face of the U.S., MS is also changing,” she said. What was once thought of as a disease that primarily affected Caucasian women, MS is now most prevalent in African American women. As an Asian American, Livingston attributes some of her delayed diagnosis to the fact that she’s “not the typical MS patient.”

Also lacking is an awareness of the links between MS and other chronic illnesses —like hypothyroidism, inflammatory diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and mood disorders. 40 to 60 percent of MS patients have mood disorders that include anxiety and depression. The heightened risk of other chronic co-morbidities is why it is important for individuals with MS to plan ahead when it comes to pregnancy, said Livingston. Pregnant women with MS need integrated care plans that are tailored to their needs based on where they are in their journey.

Since Livingston was diagnosed in 2006, the number of Disease-Modifying Therapies (DMTs) available for MS has increased from 4 to 17. “If you think about from 2006 to now, that’s 1 DMT that was approved every single year over the 13 and a half years,” she said. This gives providers and patients more options for treatment, but importantly, Livingston said, “it also gives patients hope.”

There is a “big opportunity” to provide education to patients with MS, and we need to continue addressing those unanswered tough questions, said Livingston. In her role as an MS patient advocate she is uniquely placed to drive research efforts and tackle topics around co-morbidities, symptom management, race, ethnicity, and healthcare disparities. “Living with MS, it has allowed me to impact people in a way that I could have never imagined,” said Livingston.

December 06, 2019 04:23 AM PST

To address the security challenges facing Sub-Saharan Africa we need to shift the focus from a concept of state security to one of citizen security, says Ambassador Phillip Carter III (ret.), former Ambassador to the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Guinea, in this week’s Friday Podcast. “Our current strategy of a military response to terrorist organizations or criminal networks is inadequate at best, and probably unsustainable at worst,” says Carter. “To me, the greatest security threat in Africa is poor or bad governance.”

If you ask Africans what they perceive as threats to their security, terrorism isn’t at the top of their list, says Carter. “It’s dealing with corruption, it’s dealing with criminality, it’s making sure that their daughter can go to school without being assaulted, that their son can go to work without paying a bribe to a police officer.” Foreign policy has long operated in the realm of “state security”—investing in government institutions, militaries, and Ministries of Defense to promote security. “That needs to be challenged,” says Carter. “We find that many militaries are there to protect the regime, not necessarily the population.”

In addition to the military interventions focused on countering violent extremist organizations, “we need to look at the softer side of things,” says Carter. “Investing in issues like girls’ education, addressing the issue of gender inequality—these development objectives are actually security objectives. We know that high levels of gender inequality foster violence and we know that investing in girls’ education results in manifold increases with regard to GDP growth and prosperity that is inclusive. We know that when you empower women in a society, you are improving the sustainability of growth, of prosperity, of economic activity, and security.”

Supporting local institutions is critical to strengthening governance, says Carter, and a large part of that is ensuring that local organizations have the data and information to understand what their constituencies need. “I believe that good governance and democracy are social vaccines for a lot of things, but we have to engage in institutions that organizationally represent those values—they’re representative, they’re democratic in their structures, they’re inclusive, and they’re data driven,” said Carter. “If the assistance is driven out of Washington rather than out of the local community, it’s not going to be as effective as it could be.”

November 14, 2019 08:55 PM PST

“If you live in the developed world or in some urban centers, then the supply of water is guaranteed,” said Gordon Mumbo, team leader for Sustainable Water for the Mara River Basin, a project of Winrock International and USAID’s Sustainable Water Partnership, in this week’s Water Stories podcast. When you wake up, you expect water to flow from your tap. “If you don’t find it flowing, you get upset and will probably call the utility company.” But people living in the Mara River Basin don’t have that luxury. “They have to walk to the river to get water and bring it home,” said Mumbo.

With the Sustainable Water Partnership project, Mumbo is working to make sure the Mara River keeps flowing and meets the demand for water. A cornerstone of the project is determining how much water is available and how much water the basin needs. Mumbo and his colleagues are working across Kenya and Tanzania on a water location plan that considers how much water is needed to sustain the environment, the people, and the wildlife, said Mumbo. Once they are able to identify the gaps between supply and demand, they will be better positioned to manage the river.

The project is also working to preserve the watershed by creating livelihoods that don’t require cutting trees and other vegetation. With a high demand for honey in the region, beekeeping has been one of their successful alternative livelihoods. “One would not want to cut down a tree where a beehive is kept,” said Mumbo.

When the Mara River Basin project started, there was no adequate platform for private investment, said Mumbo. He and his colleagues helped the private sector organize to invest in water management. For example, they registered a Mara Basin hoteliers association to facilitate their investment in water management to maintain the ecotourism industry. The hoteliers understand that the health of their business depends on the health of the Mara.

The government, meanwhile, needs to create an enabling environment that can attract investment from private investors. This involves creating a friendly policy environment, regulatory systems, access to financing, and sharing water information with the private sector and the general public.

When asked what the greatest lesson from the Sustainable Water Project has been, Mumbo said that gaining the public participation of stakeholders in water conservation was key. You must be able to share the data freely with stakeholders for them to understand how much water is available and when certain policies—like water managers sometimes asking farmers to stop irrigating—are necessary. This understanding and rapport is vital for the future as a rising population and a changing climate will only make the need for effective water management in the Mara River Basin greater.

September 06, 2019 05:31 AM PDT

The Wilson Center is partnering with the USAID Sustainable Water Partnership and Winrock International to share stories about global water security. The series has highlighted the connections between water and food security, water as a tool for resilience in times of crisis, and the challenges and opportunities of too little water, too much water, dirty water, and unpredictable water.

“Water point functionality goes beyond the mechanical structure of a pump,” says David DeArmey, Director of International Partnerships at Water for Good in this week’s Water Stories podcast. “Community dynamics play a role in how the water point is managed on a daily basis.”

After identifying where to place water access points in communities throughout the Central African Republic (CAR), Water for Good helps facilitate a series of workshops to engage local communities with WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) training, financial and infrastructure management, and the importance of preventative maintenance. A regional representative from the Ministry of Hydraulics is also incorporated into the training workshops to help strengthen state presence and build a more resilient system. After the bore holes are drilled down to the water table and hand pumps are installed, the NGO performs regular preventative maintenance to replace pump parts that wear out over time to prevent mechanical failures.

A Volatile Context

Since achieving independence in 1960, the country never effectively established a state presence despite being vast, about the size of Texas, DeArmey said. Even basic infrastructure that one would expect for a country to function does not exist outside of the capital city of Bangui. For example, only 400 of the 15,000 miles of road are paved. “But beyond infrastructure, there is a chronic security issue,” he said. Chronic political instability led the country into its second civil war in 2012 with an unprecedented level of violence. Today, nearly 80 percent of the country’s territory is controlled by up to 14 different rebel factions.

Although it operates in a volatile context, Water for Good continues its work in CAR, performing preventative maintenance on water points. Since many of the technicians who inspect the pumps are Central Africans who understand the dangerous conditions on the ground, Water for Good is able to navigate safely throughout the country. Employing Central Africans and training them in the long-term maintenance program protects them. “The communities know them well and they are accepted even in times of insecurity,” said DeArmey.

Peacebuilding in a Complex Setting

“Having the capacity to drill wells, especially in times of conflict, can create unexpected opportunities,” said DeArmey. During the height of the conflict in 2014 and 2015, inter-community tensions caused major divisions between local Christian and Muslim communities. After the Muslim population fled the Lomi District, part of the city of Berberati, the neighborhood began to suffer from an “economic and social void.”

Because the Christian population wanted to ensure that the Muslims had a safe environment to return to within their neighborhood, they decided to create a new water point and invite the Muslim community to return and join them in managing it and sharing its water. “That Christian community served as an example in the rest of the city and beyond,” DeArmey said, “and it created a really positive environment in some of the darkest times of the country. So drilling a well in the Lomi District directly helped engage with peacebuilding in a very complicated setting.”

August 08, 2019 10:56 AM PDT

“Having a planet that is suitable for us has taken a very long time, like four and a half billion years,” said Sylvia Earle, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, in a podcast interview with Ambassador David Balton before a recent Wilson Center event on marine protected areas. “It’s taken us about four and a half decades to significantly unravel, deplete, [and] modify those precious systems that really have little margin of error.”

After decades of working in marine research and exploration, Earle noted that rapid technological development during the second half of the 20th century led to major discoveries in ocean science, possibly more than all preceding history. “Today, we’re beginning to engage technologies that will enable humans to experience the ocean as well as to deploy an incredibly growing array of sensors and devices to map the ocean,” she said.

However, despite our expanded understanding of marine science, ignorance poses the biggest challenge to oceans today, said Earle. “Why don’t people care about the ocean? Most people see it from the surface if they see it at all.” They miss the abundance of life in the ocean. Yet the ocean and its relationship to planetary processes is vitally important to our economy, security, health, and prosperity. The ocean is what keeps us alive. “No ocean, no life,” said Earle.

Despite what we now know about the nature of the world and what it takes to hold the planet steady, keeping the planet’s chemistry within safe limits, she said, we are perversely still “burdened with habits that are born of a time” when we did not fully understand the fragility of the earth. Humans are still changing the earth’s temperature, shifting the chemistry of the air and water, and slaughtering wildlife. Especially in the ocean, the scale of this degradation is unprecedented, she said.

We still have policies created when we thought that the ocean was too big to fail. Laws and policies still allow the legal extraction of large quantities of wildlife from the ocean, sending the message that it is okay to do things even though they are really threatening our existence. Protecting nature must no longer be optional, but rather our highest priority, she said. If we fail to stabilize the way the natural systems function, nothing else matters, she said.

We must do everything we can to “give nature a break,” said Earle. We must embrace critical natural areas that are still in good shape to ensure that they remain in good condition, and we must do everything we can to restore areas that have already been depleted or damaged. “It makes sense to at least identify some of the most critical areas and embrace them with care,” she said. “That’s not a lot to ask. In fact, I think we are asking too little.” Quoting Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Earle said, “We are of the first generation to know what the problems are, and we are the last generation to be able to do something about it.”

July 31, 2019 01:38 PM PDT

“When you're in a post-conflict phase, it means we really should be moving away from humanitarian assistance into development because we've moved along the conflict spectrum toward peace and development,” said Erika Weinthal, the Lee Hill Snowdon Professor of Environmental Policy at Duke University, in this week’s Water Stories podcast.

A problem arises, Weinthal said, when you don't recognize that conflict is still going on.

Humanitarian vs. Development Responses

In many conflict settings, the humanitarian and development community both try to provide aid to those in need. However, they often work at odds with one another, she said. The humanitarian sector focuses on addressing immediate needs by providing basic services and access to potable water. Meanwhile the development sector aims to build lasting infrastructure and foster sustainable, long-term, prosperity.

Aid communities should be careful about the terminology they use when referring to various stages of conflict, she said. Using the term “post-conflict” comes with implications because it mandates a particular type of intervention. “The global community has often said Afghanistan is post-conflict, Iraq is post-conflict, but the empirical reality on the ground is that there is a lot of conflict still going on,” she said. Where a protracted humanitarian crisis still festers, development actors on the ground, she said, must recognize that what may be the most beneficial in terms of restoring livelihoods is providing basic resources and access to water.

Untraditional War

Weinthal has also tracked attacks on infrastructure in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Libya. Due to the changing nature of warfare, especially in the Middle East, both state and non-state actors are involved in conflicts. “You’re seeing a large number of groups that are vying for control,” she said. “It’s no longer a traditional war.” Therefore, different infrastructure is targeted at different times by different actors. In the early years of the Yemen conflict, there were many attacks on energy infrastructure. By 2015, we began seeing more attacks on water, agriculture, and health, she said.

Slow Violence

Weinthal’s research focuses on the role water plays in active and protracted conflicts, specifically the consequences of targeting water systems and weaponizing water during war. One way water is weaponized is through “slow violence,” a process that unfolds gradually with such long-term effects that are so under the radar that they may seem invisible, such as restrictive government policies or contaminated natural resources. The oil contamination of the Niger River Delta and the displacement of people from large dams are examples of slow violence, said Weinthal.

A large part of her research focuses on the impact that the Israeli occupation has had on water access in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli permit denials are preventing Palestinians from seeing new water infrastructure built, wastewater treatment systems installed, and new wells drilled, she said. We often don’t look at the long-term impacts on the ecosystem and on human well-being, she said.

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