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World Bank Strengthens Support for Urban Transportation in Bhutan

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The Royal Government of Bhutan and the World Bank signed a $975,000 grant to support the government’s efforts to design investments that would provide access to efficient, safe, and green transportation options in Thimphu City under the Bhutan Green Transport Project (BGTP).

The grant funds have been made available by the Korea-World Bank Partnership Facility (KWPF).  Established in May 2013, KWPF is an initiative between Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF) and the World Bank. The facility’s overall objective is to assist developing member countries of the World Bank in achieving inclusive and sustainable economic growth and to foster broader dialogue on economic development issues.

The grant funds will support project preparation for two key investments. Firstly, the development of a 16 km priority bus service corridor along Thimphu’s north-south axis (Babesa to Dechencholing). The characteristics of the service (grade separated, priority lane, signal prioritization, vehicle type etc.) will be determined during the analysis. Second, the pedestrianization of part of Thimphu’s main 1.3 km boulevard known as Norzin Lam.  This will allow priority for pedestrian access along Thimphu’s main business district and contribute to the decongestion of the city center. Inclusivity, safety and accessibility will be central to the final  designs.

Bhutan’s urban areas are experiencing rapid growth in population and vehicle ownership and use. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of Bhutanese living in urban areas nearly tripled and this growth has continued.  The number of vehicles has increased  between 9 and10 percent per annum over the last decade. Taxis and personalized vehicles are currently meeting some of the travel needs for Bhutan’s population, but the absence of quality alternatives to private transport is unsustainable and increasingly constraining access to economic opportunity and social services. In addition, the rapid growth in private vehicle ownership is placing a strain on Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) has set out its policy for urban transport in a guiding document known as “Bhutan Transport 2040 Integrated Strategic Vision”. This policy aims to create vibrant, functional, and livable “green” cities. It focuses on providing attractive public transport services and facilities for pedestrians, with a view that public transport and walking may become the dominant mode in the central area of cities and for short trips.

The Grant Agreement was signed by Honorable Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Finance Minister, on behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan, and Tenzin Lhaden, Resident Representative for Bhutan, on behalf of the World Bank.

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New Space Sustainability Rating Addresses Space Debris with Mission Certification System

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In early 2022, space organizations will be able to give their missions, including satellite launches and crewed missions, certifications for sustainability with the finalization of the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR).

With ever more satellites being launched each year, the risk of collisions and the proliferation of space debris continues to rise. This has created a need to find ways to maximize the long-term sustainability of the space environment and encourage responsible behaviour.

The SSR system aims to address these issues by quantifying the sustainable behaviour of space actors. These scores will be based on factors ranging from data sharing, choice of orbit, measures taken to avoid collisions, plans to de-orbit satellites on completion of missions, and even how well they can be detected and identified from Earth. The choice and characteristics of a launch provider will also have an impact on the score.

There will be bonus marks for adding optional elements, such as de-orbiting fixtures, which could be used for the active removal of the object once its operational lifetime has been fulfilled.

“The Forum is very glad to support such an innovative approach to a global challenge of space debris,” said Nikolai Khlystov, Lead for Mobility and Space, World Economic Forum. “Incentivizing better behaviour by having actors compete on sustainability will create a race to the top and eSpace at EPFL is a great organization to take the SSR to the next level.”

After a robust selection process involving close to 20 stakeholders, the EPFL Space Center (eSpace) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), based in Lausanne, has been selected to lead and operate the SSR, in preparation for the roll-out of the transparent system for scoring the space sustainability efforts of different space actors.

“Space sustainability is in eSpace’s DNA, as one of our research projects led to the creation of ClearSpace – a pioneer spin-off selected by ESA [European Space Agency] for the first debris removal mission. Hosting the SSR is a strategic move for our Center. With our experience and the partners that will support SSR at EPFL, Switzerland and international levels, we intend to initiate in 2022 what could be a game changer in the way space missions are carried out,” said Jean-Paul Kneib, Professor of Astrophysics and Director of eSpace.

“The SSR aims to influence behaviour by all spaceflight actors, especially commercial entities, and help bring into common usage the sustainable practices that we desperately require,” said Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s Space Safety Programme. “To achieve this, the SSR rating includes a peer-reviewed assessment of the short- and long-term risks that any mission presents to other operators and for our orbital environment in general.”

The SSR initiative was developed over the past two years by the Forum, the ESA and a joint team led by Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, with collaboration from BryceTech and the University of Texas at Austin, and it comes at a critical time. While satellites have long been used for navigation services, weather monitoring and television broadcasts, humankind’s reliance on space infrastructure is set to increase sharply with the launch of large constellations of small satellites designed to boost global internet access.

“The design process of the SSR catalysed a creative community of commercial firms, universities, government agencies and civil society organizations,” said Danielle Wood, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab. “There is more important work to do in engineering research, policy-making and norm building to ensure that the global community can operate in space for decades to come. All of us who contributed to the SSR are committed to continuing this important work and we hope others will continue to join in.”

There are now nearly 4,000 active satellites in orbit, including the inhabited outposts of the International Space Station and the Tiangong Space Station, currently under construction. As many more organizations from many more countries prepare to launch new missions, this number is set to grow exponentially. The risk of collisions will inevitably increase and raise questions about the capacity of near-Earth orbit to accommodate so many objects safely and sustainably.

By voluntarily taking part in the new SSR system, spacecraft operators, launch service providers and satellite manufacturers will be able to secure one of four levels of certification which they can share externally to show their mission’s level of sustainability.

This will increase transparency, without disclosing any mission-sensitive or proprietary information. The goal is to incentivize good behaviour by all space actors in addressing the problem of space debris. A favourable score for a particular rated party might, for example, result in lower insurance costs or improved funding conditions from financial backers.

Over the two-year development period of the SSR, numerous operators within the space industry have been engaged in the evolution of the rating system and there is already widespread interest in this new tool. Several companies, including Airbus, Astroscale, AXA XL, elseco, Lockheed Martin, Planet, SpaceX and Voyager Space Holdings, have actively supported the SSR concept and expressed interest in participating once it is publicly launched.

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Health & Wellness

‘Digital dumpsites’ study highlights growing threat to children

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E-waste toxicants. Source: WHO

The health of children, adolescents and expectant mothers worldwide is at risk from the illegal processing of old electrical or electronic devices, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, in a landmark new report on the toxic threat. 

In a statement coinciding with the launch, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the health threat was growing, in line with the “mounting ‘tsunami of e-waste’”. 

“In the same way the world has rallied to protect the seas and their ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution, we need to rally to protect our most valuable resource –the health of our children – from the growing threat of e-waste”, he added. 

A growing pile 

Discarded electronic devices, or e-waste, has become the fastest growing domestic waste category in the world, according to the UN health agency.  

The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) said that of the 53.6 million tonnes produced worldwide in 2019, only 17.4 per cent was recorded as collected and appropriately recycled.  

While the fate of the remaining e-waste is unknown, it is unlikely to have been managed and recycled in an environmentally-sound manner.  

Hazards on the heap 

While some e-waste ends up in landfills, significant amounts are often illegally shipped to low and middle-income countries where informal workers, including children and adolescents, pick through, dismantle, or use acid baths to extract valuable metals and materials from the discarded items. 

WHO said that an estimated 12.9 million women who work in the informal waste sector are potentially exposing themselves and their unborn children to toxic residue. 

Additionally, more than 18 million youngsters globally – and some as young as five – are said to be “actively engaged” in the wider industrial sector, of which e-waste processing is a small part.  

‘Devastating’ impact 

Informal methods of removing materials from e-waste have been linked to a range of health effects, especially in children, WHO said.  

Recycling e-waste particularly impacts those in vital stages of physical and neurological development, with children, adolescents and pregnant women most vulnerable. 

Children are more susceptible to the toxic chemicals because they absorb pollutants relative to their size and, with not-fully-developed organs, are less able than adults to eradicate harmful substances. 

“Improper e-waste management is…a rising issue that many countries do not recognize yet as a health problem”, said WHO lead author, Marie-Noel Brune Drisse, warning that if action is not taken now, “its impacts will have a devastating health effect on children and lay a heavy burden on the health sector in the years to come”.  

Call to action  

The Children and Digital Dumpsites report delves into the multiple dimensions of the problem, to practical action that the health sector and others concerned, can take to confront the insidious health risk.  

It calls for binding action by exporters, importers and governments to ensure environmentally sound disposal of e-waste and the health and safety of workers and communities. 

The health sector is also being asked to reduce adverse effects from e-waste by building up capacity to diagnose, monitor and prevent toxic exposure, and to advocate for better data and health research on risks faced by informal e-waste workers. 

“Children and adolescents have the right to grow and learn in a healthy environment, and exposure to electrical and electronic waste and its many toxic components unquestionably impacts that right”, said Maria Neira, WHO Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.  

“The health sector can play a role by providing leadership and advocacy, conducting research, influencing policy-makers, engaging communities, and reaching out to other sectors to demand that health concerns be made central to e-waste policies.”

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Human Rights

Philippines: Investing in Nutrition Can Eradicate the “Silent Pandemic”

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The Philippines needs to invest more in programs tackling childhood undernutrition to eliminate what is long considered a “silent pandemic” afflicting many of the country’s poor and vulnerable population, according to recent study released today by the World Bank.    

Childhood stunting – characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and young children– is considered one of the most serious but least-addressed problems in the world and an even more pressing issue in the Philippines, says the report “Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Scope and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming.”

In the Philippines, around 30 percent of children under 5 years of age are stunted – considered high for its level of income and high compared to most of its neighbors. Other countries with similar levels of income have rates of stunting averaging around 20 percent of children under 5 years of age.

The Philippines’ rate of stunting places it fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest stunting prevalence, and among the top ten countries globally with the highest number of stunted children.

Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand said undernutrition is a critical issue hampering the Philippines’ human and economic development.

Healthy children can do well in school and look forward to a prosperous future as productive members of society, while undernourished children tend to be sickly, learn less, more likely to drop out of school and their economic productivity as adults can be clipped by more 10 percent in their lifetime,” said Diop. “Improving the nutrition of all children is key to the country’s goals of investing in people and boosting human capital for a more inclusive pattern of economic growth. To achieve that, we need greater coordination among the local and national government units, as well as participation of the private sector and civil society to address this silent pandemic afflicting many poor and vulnerable families.”

In some regions, the level of stunting exceeds 40 percent of children under five years of age. This is true in Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Mimaropa, Bicol, and Western Visayas. In rural areas, children are more likely to be stunted than their urban counterparts.

Among the primary causes of undernutrition are poor infant and young child feeding practices, ill health, low access to diverse, nutritious foods, inadequate access to health services, unhealthy household environment, and poverty. 

According to Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist, East Asia and the Pacific Region and lead author of the report, there is only a narrow window of opportunity for adequate nutrition to ensure children’s optimal health and physical and cognitive development. It spans the first 1,000 days of life from the day of conception to the child’s second birthday, he said.

“Any undernutrition occurring during this period can lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical growth, brain development, and, more broadly, human capital formation,” said Mbuya. “Therefore, interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age.”

Critical to tackling undernutrition at scale are better and higher levels of nutrition investments as well as adequate domestic financing for nutrition-related programs for vulnerable populations, says the report. Increased direct government funding to and from local government units (LGUs) to deliver on their multisectoral local nutrition action plans to be a priority.

The report suggests several priority recommendations, which if implemented over the next few years can bring about effective and sustainable progress in the Government’s efforts to tackle the persistent challenge of undernutrition in the country.

These include securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs to achieve nutrition goals; implementing at scale, an evidence-based package of nutrition interventions that should be made available to eligible households in high stunting municipalities; addressing the underlying determinants of undernutrition through a multi-sector effort, and; ensuring that nutrition is one of the key priorities in the agendas of both the executive and legislative bodies in municipalities.

Such a comprehensive effort would require high-level government ownership and leadership at all levels which would facilitate a whole-of government approach to achieving nutrition results, according to the report. 

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