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MAXWEL GOMERA: Nature vs Infrastructure: What’s worth of a great ape?

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In November 2017, scientists working in Sumatra, Indonesia, made an exciting announcement: They had discovered a new species of orangutan, bringing to seven the number of great ape species globally.

But one year later, the only home of the 800 wild Tapanuli orangutans is being cleared for a $1.6 billion dam and hydroelectric power plant. Although the project will contribute less than one per cent of the country’s planned generating capacity, scientists say it will lead to the extinction of this rare species. This raises, once again, a key question: what is nature worth?

Indonesia is not alone in making environmentally detrimental trade-offs. The twenty-first century will be a period of unprecedented infrastructure expansion, and a staggering $90 trillion will be spent over the next 15 years to build or replace dams, power plants, and other facilities. In fact, more infrastructure will be built over the next decade and a half than currently exists. Naturally, habitats will be disrupted in the process.

And yet, environmentally reckless growth is not preordained; it is possible to make smart, sustainable choices. To do so, we must recognize the true value of nature, and make environmental ethics and cost-benefit analyses part of every project.

At the moment, this is not happening; most infrastructure is planned and constructed on the basis of market assessments that fail to account for nature. As a result, the world is facing a growing crisis: the weakening of ecosystem services – such as clean water, flood defense, and bee pollination – that protect biodiversity and form the foundation on which human welfare depends.

To change the status quo, we must make an ethical choice not to expose critical habitats and “natural capital” to greater danger – regardless of the possible economic returns. Just as most of the world has rejected the use of slave or child labor, the permanent destruction of nature must be repudiated.

Some economists have recognized this by building environmental costs into their arguments; the Amazon rainforest is a case in point. There, deforestation has reduced the production of vapor clouds that are essential to transporting rain across South America. The drought that parched São Paulo between 2014 and 2017 is believed to have been caused, at least in part, by the absence of these “flying rivers.” As the Brazilian climate scientist Antonio Nobre has noted, if these aerial water pumps are permanently turned off, an area that accounts for 70 per cent of South America’s gross national product would be turned into desert.

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Of course, identifying critical natural capital is challenging, especially at smaller scales. While many can agree on the importance of protecting the Amazon, it is harder to demonstrate the value of preserving orangutans in Indonesia. But, over time, loss of the Tapanuli orangutan’s habitat would profoundly change the composition of the rainforest and disrupt its ecological services. At the same time, the elimination of a species of great ape – our closest kin – would erase an opportunity to understand better our own evolution and genetics. 

In the developed world, some governments and businesses are making the ethical choice by applying the “precautionary principle” to growth. Adopted in 1992 as part of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the principle embodies the conclusion that it is wiser – and ultimately cheaper – to avoid environmental degradation in the first place.

The real challenge is to instill this ethos in developing economies, where the bulk of future infrastructure spending will occur. Consider highway development. By 2050, there will be 15.5 million miles of new paved roads, enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times. More than 90 per cent of this fresh pavement will be laid in developing countries, which already face huge environmental pressure. In the Amazon region, for example, there are nearly 53,000 mining leases encompassing 21 per cent of the basin’s land mass. In Guinea, a World Bank-supported dam is reportedly threatening a key chimpanzee sanctuary. And in Tanzania, the government has approved a dam and hydroelectric plant in the Selous Game Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

With human needs increasing as populations and incomes grow, there are legitimate reasons to build more infrastructure. But if current trends continue, short-term interests will strip away the natural assets on which all life depends. To plan for smart development, governments and business must recognize nature’s role in supporting economic activity and ensuring ecological and human health. After all, we do not – and cannot – live in a world where nature has no value.

Maxwell Gomera, a 2018 Aspen New Voices fellow, is Director of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Branch at the United Nations Environment Program.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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