Every day humanitarian aid workers help millions of people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are.
World Humanitarian Day, marked on 19 August, offers the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations an opportunity to celebrate the daily work of humanitarian responders worldwide and recognize their dedication to helping others, no matter how hard it may be. World Humanitarian Day also gives us pause to reflect on how to continue improving the humanitarian response to natural and man-made disasters and complex emergencies.
Among the many challenges facing humanitarian responders, environmental issues directly affect core operations.
Hazardous chemicals pose acute threats to human life and pose long-term risks to human health. Damage to natural resources and ecosystems such as forests, pasture, soil, wetlands and coral reefs also have a devastating effect on livelihoods, as people are forced to switch to less sustainable and more environmentally damaging livelihoods. Sometimes, access to scarce resources can heighten tension and lead to conflict.
Yet with expert knowledge and support, humanitarian workers are well placed to address these issues and create a better environment for the people that they serve as well as for themselves.
Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. On the occasion of this celebration, here are ten things humanitarian actors can do to safeguard the environment and improve lives while undertaking the noble work of relief and recovery operations.
Hazardous substances: Identify all sources of acute risk (such as chemical spills from damaged infrastructure) as early as possible. Emergency assistance can be facilitated through rapid assessments and advice. Access should be restricted until the site is clean or the risk reduced.
Emergency waste management: Plan the location of emergency waste disposal sites with local authorities to avoid contamination of water sources and agricultural land, disease vectors and odours. Do not burn waste without a proper risk assessment, especially in the case of plastics. Healthcare and other forms of hazardous waste should be disposed of using appropriate methods, such as steam sterilization (autoclaves), for example.
Water use: To determine sustainable levels of water use, an early assessment of the presence, quality, quantity and recharge rate of groundwater sources should be done. Monitor groundwater extraction to ensure that the natural recharge rate is not exceeded. Raise awareness of the importance of water conservation.
Sanitation: Take care to locate latrines downstream of wells, at least 30m from groundwater sources and at least 1.5m above the water table. Fitting pit latrines with concrete slabs eliminates the need for secondary wooden slabs or supporting beams and facilitates cleaning. Consider the up- and down-stream impacts of water use and sanitation, as well as its cumulative impact on watersheds.
Energy consumption: The use of wood or charcoal for domestic energy by displaced people has a major impact on the environment and livelihoods. Promote energy saving measures, such as fuel-efficient stoves and cooking techniques, and fast-cooking foods. Consider using cleaner energy sources, such as gas and photovoltaic power.
Refugee / internally displaced people’s camps: If possible, keep camp populations below 20,000 and locate camp sites at least 15km from ecologically sensitive areas and neighbouring camps. Consider controlled harvesting sites or mud brick construction to avoid deforestation. Promote the three R’s of waste management in camps: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle.
Transport: Well-maintained vehicles and eco-friendly driving reduce air pollution and fuel consumption. Where possible, choose cleaner fuels and fuel-efficient, low-emissions vehicles to minimize carbon emissions. Waste oil should be stored in plastic drums and properly disposed of or taken back to its source.
Green procurement: Smart procurement decisions are a simple way to reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian operations. Choose goods with the minimum possible packaging, especially containers that can be reused or recycled. Source materials from local or national markets to minimize travel miles and carbon emissions and always opt for recycled materials. Select suppliers with certified safe and sustainable production practices, especially for forest products, water supply, metals and plastics.
Standards, tools and guidelines: Standards, tools and guidance documents are available to assist humanitarian responders in managing environmental impacts and risks. In the absence of other guidance, the Sphere standards should be applied.
UN assistance: Humanitarian operations can be assisted on environmental issues by the Joint UN Environment & Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Environment Unit (during the emergency phase) and UN Environment’s Crisis Management Branch (during the early recovery phase).
Introducing India’s first ever diving grant
Mumbai-based Vidhi Bubna, the founder of ‘Coral Warriors’, India’s first ever diving grant, is a keen humanitarian and is passionate about conserving marine life. ‘Coral Warriors’ focuses on making diving more accessible to Indian citizens and raising awareness about the impact of climate change and underwater pollution on corals.
Coral reefs are the basis for the formation of other organisms and are integral to marine ecosystems. They maintain levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and purify by absorbing toxic elements in the water. However, they survive only in specific conditions. Climate change and growing industrialization are negatively impacting the corals at a large scale. Layers of toxic chemicals in the water prevent sunlight reaching the corals, which results in severe damage. Scientists from the University of Hawaii, Manoa predict that over 70% of all living coral will disappear in the next 20 years.
In this interview, Vidhi talks about her inspirations and what it means to be a Coral Warrior.
To start with, could you summarize what Coral Warriors does?
Coral Warriors is India’s first-ever diving grant. We essentially sponsor Indian citizens to go diving; they can choose the location they want to dive at. Our goal is to get more youth involved in diving so they can see the prevalent coral damage first-hand and do something about it. Many Indians don’t know what corals are, and we’d like to create awareness as well as save the corals.
What inspired you to start this organization? Why have you chosen to focus on corals?
I am an advanced scuba diver myself and have witnessed coral damage in Andamans, while learning to dive, as well as in the Maldives. I wanted to do something about this issue because most Indians aren’t aware about marine pollution, and simply aren’t doing enough.
What sort of change does Coral Warriors strive to bring about?
The first change we want to bring about is creating more awareness about corals, so people can help protect them. We also want to see more Indians involved in adventure activities like diving. In my experience, when a child wants to learn an adventure sport, most Indian parents aren’t supportive enough as they believe these sports are risky. I would love to see that change, and support people who are unable to access enough funds to go diving.
How does Coral Warriors select the most deserving candidates for the grant?
Out of the numerous grant applications we receive, we have an independent selection committee that chooses the candidates. Sponsoring all the applicants would be unrealistic because funds are limited. The committee selects the people that are passionate about climate change as well as deserving of the scholarship. Ideally, these people would be able to bring about a lot of change- and could even be the next Greta Thunberg!
What obstacles have you faced since the organization started?
One of the main obstacles has been acquiring funding. There are plenty of organisations focused on air pollution and road pollution. Both of these are visible; thus they get more funding. Most people are unable to observe the coral degradation underwater. Hence getting funding from the public, especially in India, is a challenging task.
Coral Warriors does accept donations, and also approaches universities abroad for funding. Universities abroad are generally more aware of marine damage, and therefore are more likely to help.
How is Coral Warriors looking to spread awareness on coral ecosystems?
As far as creating awareness goes, we host free online workshops where we talk about coral damage and environmental impact. Additionally, we offer an in-depth education about marine biodiversity- one cannot even imagine the abundancy of marine life. For instance, seeing a manta ray for the first time will change your life. You would never have seen something that beautiful before.
If there were three things you want the reader of this interview to take away, what would they be?
The first thing is that climate change is very real. We should not pay heed to people who tell us otherwise. The second thing is, just because we cannot see marine life and the ongoing underwater pollution, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It is happening as we speak right now. The third thing is that as we know these things are occurring, we should collectively be able to do something about it. These are the three main takeaways I would want readers to absorb.
The Meeting Point between Pandemic and Environmental
Humans in the Anthropocene
Humans are born from history, on the other hand, history is born from human life. Currently, humans have been in the Anthropocene, the era after the Holocene, a time when humans were more powerful in nature. This results in an imbalance of give and take activities between humans and the nature they inhabit. With rapid population growth, human needs will also increase. This increase in human needs will have an impact on the availability of existing natural resources. Exploitation of natural products such as coal, natural gas and others, this is accompanied by waste from production and human activities that produce waste in many sectors of life. What has been exploited by humans the impact is no longer comparable to what nature gives. Although nature has the ability to self-regenerate, but with human activities that are so aggressive in this era of globalization, it defeats the natural processes of nature. The presence of factories around the world after the steam engine and the industrial revolution occurred, weapons such as missiles, atomic bombs as a means of war for fellow humans, rockets and all kinds of vehicles of human ambition to export nature, all produce residual waste that is released, resulting in a large carbon footprint. affect the atmosphere which is as a protector and temperature regulator on earth. Not to mention the mining of many other crops.
The question that may often be asked but doesn’t need to be answered is “why should humans care about all that?”
In the last 100 years, the earth’s average temperature has increased between 0.4 to 0.8 C. The ambition of the countries in the world today is 1.5 degrees Celsius, whereas humans are facing the risk of an increase of 4 degrees, which means it will be the same with the temperatures that occurred between the Ice Age and the Holocene. In other words, humans are still far behind with the rate of destruction that exists. This warming will result in the emergence of many disasters in human life. Global warming is expected to cause the glaciers at both poles to melt and make the volume of sea water increase, most likely some islands on earth are at risk of sinking, especially the Indonesian archipelago which is a young land in geological history. Not only that, other impacts will be felt on climate change, a matter of months, days, seasons. Nature which is the main benchmark for farmers, fishermen and various sectors of work related to climate and seasons will feel a prediction crisis, several regions in Indonesia experience crop failures due to the calculations they do based on seasonal calculations are no longer accurate, even though these calculations have been passed down from generation to generation. inherited. But climate change and global warming have messed up astronomy. Maybe this is also what makes the Mayan calendar (piktun) only predict until 2012.
Not only the estimated harvest season, natural imbalances also cause the spread of disease vectors from animals to humans. Until now there has been no single plausible theory that definitely and accurately explains where COVID-19 came from and how it will disappear. Research is still being done, all theories put forward by scientists can be true. But scientists who study the environment, viruses, pandemics, health have found this conundrum, which all starts with “environmental imbalance”. If we describe briefly, in the food chain there is one missing which then results in advantages and disadvantages between predators and prey. If the rice field snakes are hunted by farmers, the rats will live more, and then they will eat the rice too, eventually the farmers will fail to harvest. Likewise, the case of COVID-19, with the large number of killings of wildlife, has shifted the pattern of the food chain.
Covid 19 and the balance of nature
There are many theories that explain the origin of the pandemic that humans are experiencing now, but until now there is no definite news about where the origin and cause of the catastrophe exists. US intelligence agencies say they may never be able to identify the origins of Covid-19, but they have concluded the virus was not created as a biological weapon. Apart from the specifics of covid 19 which is a virus, whose existence can never be seen with the naked eye, a number of scientists believe that the covid 19 pandemic occurs due to natural imbalances. The COVID-19 pandemic which was determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) or world health agency on March 11, 2020, could also occur due to the interruption of the food cycle which resulted in the explosion of a component of life without a predator in the same period of time.
The SARS-VoV-2 virus is a disease that originates from animals and is transmitted to humans. It is possible that the disease originated in bats, then spread through other mammals.
Even though it is not made in a laboratory, it does not mean that humans have no role in the ongoing pandemic. A recent study by scientists from Australia and the US found that human actions on natural habitats, loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems contributed to the spread of the virus.
The number of infectious diseases has more than tripled every decade since the 1980s. More than two-thirds of these diseases come from animals, and about 70% of that number comes from wild animals. Infectious diseases that we know, for example: Ebola, HIV, swine flu and bird flu, are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
COVID-19 is also spreading rapidly as the world’s population is becoming more and more closely connected. This situation that surprised many people, had actually been warned by scientists for a long time. Joachim Spangenberg, Vice President of the European Institute for Sustainability Research, said that by destroying ecosystems, humans create conditions that cause animal viruses to spread to humans. “We created this situation, not the animals,” said Spangenberg. In 2016 UNEP Frontier has been warned that at least every four months a new zoonotic disease will emerge. This is due to human activities as follows:
Deforestation and habitat destruction
because humans are increasingly opening up areas inhabited by wild animals to graze livestock and take natural resources, humans are also increasingly susceptible to pathogens that have never previously left the area, and leave the bodies of the animals they inhabit.
“We’re getting closer to wild animals,” said Yan Xiang, a virologist at the University of Texas Center for Health Sciences. “And that puts us in touch with those viruses.” While David Hayman, professor of infectious disease ecology at Massey University, New Zealand said, the risk is also increasing not only through humans entering natural habitats, but also through animals. human pet
In addition, the destruction of ecosystems also has an impact on which types of viruses thrive in the wild and how they spread.
David Hayman emphasized, in the last few centuries, tropical forests have been reduced by 50%. This has a very bad impact on the ecosystem. In a number of cases, scientists have succeeded in revealing, if animals at the top of the food chain went extinct, animals at the bottom, such as mice that carried more pathogens, took their place at the top of the food chain.
“Each species has a special role in the ecosystem. If one species takes the place of another, this can have a major impact in terms of disease risk. And often we can’t predict the risk,” explains Alica Latinne of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Evidence showing a link between the destruction of ecosystems and the increased risk of spreading new infections has led experts to emphasize the importance of the concept of “One Health”.
Wild animal trade
Markets selling wild animals and products from wild animals are another incubator for infectious diseases. Scientists consider it very likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease COVID-19 emerged in a wild animal market in Wuhan, China.
Spangenberg explains that placing sick and stressed animals in cramped cages is an “ideal way” to create new pathogens, and spread disease from one species to another. Therefore, many scientists have urged the holding of stricter regulations for the wild animal market.
That is also the call of Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Chief Executive of the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. He has called for a worldwide ban on wild animal markets. But Mrema also reveals that for millions of people, especially in poorer regions of the world, these markets are a source of income.
Indonesia’s position in the eyes of the world
Indonesia is a country with a very large tropical forest, in COP 26 it was stated that Indonesia is the last bastion of planet earth along with the Amazon and the Congo forests. save a lot of germplasm, Indonesia’s forest area totals 128 million ha. Indonesia is a country with the third largest tropical rainforest in the world. That means, a lot of germplasm stored in it. This will also be a big scourge if the vast forest cannot be maintained properly. The expansion of residential areas, planting of oil palm, clearing land and roads will destroy some of the existing germplasm. Currently, humans have lost 8% of animal species and another 22%. If Indonesia participates in efforts to reduce and destroy the environment intentionally or unintentionally, we can estimate what will happen in the future.
How do greenhouse gases actually warm the planet?
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the atmospheric gases responsible for causing global warming and climatic change – are critical to understanding and addressing the climate crisis. Despite an initial dip in global GHG emissions due to COVID-19, the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report (EGR) expects a strong rebound in 2021, when emissions are expected to be only slightly lower than the record levels of 2019.
While most GHGs are naturally occurring, human activities have also been leading to a problematic increase in the amount of GHG emitted and their concentration in the atmosphere. This increased concentration, in turn, can lead to adverse effects on climate. Effects include increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – including flooding, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes – that affect millions of people and cause trillions in economic losses.
The Emissions Gap Report found that if we do not halve annual GHG emissions by 2030, it will be very difficult to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Based on current unconditional pledges to reduce emissions, the world is on a path to see global warming of 2.7 °C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.
“Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions endanger human and environmental health,” says Mark Radka, Chief of UNEP’s Energy and Climate Branch. “And the impacts will become more widespread and severed without strong climate action.”
So how exactly do GHG emissions warm the planet and what can we do?
What are the major greenhouse gases?
Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide are the major GHGs. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years, methane for around a decade and nitrous oxide for approximately 120 years. Measured over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more potent than CO2 in causing global warming, while nitrous oxide is 280 times more potent.
Coal, oil and natural gas continue to power many parts of the world. Carbon is the main element in these fuels, and when they’re burned to generate electricity, power transportation or provide heat, they produce CO2, a colourless, odourless gas.
Oil and gas extraction, coal mining and waste landfills account for 55 per cent of human-caused methane emissions. Approximately 32 per cent of human-caused methane emissions are attributable to cows, sheep and other ruminants that ferment food in their stomachs. Manure decomposition is another agricultural source of the gas, as is rice cultivation.
Human-caused nitrous oxide emissions largely arise from agriculture practices. Bacteria in soil and water naturally convert nitrogen into nitrous oxide, but fertilizer use and run-off add to this process by putting more nitrogen into the environment.
What are the other greenhouse gases?
Fluorinated gases – such as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – are GHGs that do not occur naturally. Hydrofluorocarbons are refrigerants used as alternatives to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which depleted the ozone layer and were phased out thanks to the Montreal Protocol. The other gases have industrial and commercial uses.
While fluorinated gases are far less prevalent than other GHGs and do not deplete the ozone layer like CFCs, they are still very powerful. Over a 20-year period, the various fluorinated gases’ global warming potential ranges from 460–16,300 times greater than that of CO2.
Water vapour is the most abundant GHG in the atmosphere and is the biggest overall contributor to the greenhouse effect. However, almost all the water vapour in the atmosphere comes from natural processes. Human emissions are very small and thus relatively less impactful.
What is the greenhouse effect?
The Earth’s surface absorbs about 48 per cent of incoming solar energy, while the atmosphere absorbs 23 per cent. The rest is reflected back into space. Natural processes ensure that the amount of incoming and outgoing energy are equal, keeping the planet’s temperature stable,
However, GHGs, unlike other atmospheric gases such as oxygen and nitrogen, are opaque to outgoing infrared radiation. As the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere increases due to human-caused emissions, energy radiated from the surface becomes trapped in the atmosphere, unable to escape the planet. This energy returns to the surface, where it is reabsorbed.
Since more energy enters than exits the planet, surface temperatures increase until a new balance is achieved. This temperature increase has long-term climate impacts and affects myriad natural systems.
What can we do to reduce GHG emissions?
Shifting to renewable energy, putting a price on carbon and phasing out coal are all important elements in reducing GHG emissions. Ultimately, stronger nationally determined contributions are needed to accelerate this reduction to preserve long-term human and environmental health.
“We need to implement strong policies that back the raised ambitions,” says Radka. “We cannot continue down the same path and expect better results. Action is needed now.”
During COP26, the European Union and the United States launched the Global Methane Pledge, which will see over 100 countries aim to reduce 30 per cent of methane emissions in the fuel, agriculture and waste sectors by 2030.
UNEP has outlined its six-sector solution, which can reduce 29–32 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2030 to meet the 1.5°C warming limit. UNEP also maintains an online “Climate Note,” a tool that visualizes the changing state of the climate with a baseline of 1990.
Despite the challenges, there is reason to be positive. From 2010 to 2021, policies were put in place which will lower annual emissions by 11 gigatons by 2030 compared to what would have otherwise happened.
Through its other multilateral environmental agreements and reports, UNEP raises awareness and advocates for effective environmental action. UNEP will continue to work closely with its 193 Member States and other stakeholders to set the environmental agenda and advocate for a drastic reduction in GHG emissions.
Beyond these movements, individuals can also join the UN’s #ActNow campaign for ideas to take climate-positive actions.
By making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment, everyone can be part of the solution and influence change. Speaking up is one way to multiply impact and create change on a much bigger scale.
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