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Climate Crisis Exacerbates Urban Inequality in Latin America



Long staircases, like the ones in this section of the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela, are the daily slog of residents of the steep hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – a symbol of Latin America’s urban inequalities. CREDIT: Fabíola Ortiz/IPSby Mario Osava (rio de janeiro)Wednesday, December 08, 2021Inter Press Service

Floods have become increasingly frequent in large Latin American cities, probably due to the effects of global warming and also to local factors, such as the extensive areas of concrete and asphalt that have replaced vegetation.

Extreme weather events are aggravating inequality “in a Latin America that has the most inequitable societies in the world,” said engineer Manuel Rodríguez, professor emeritus at the Universidad de los Andes who served as Colombia’s first minister of environment and sustainable development (1993-1996).

“The poorest of the poor live in shantytowns and slums in the areas most vulnerable to environmental risks, on undevelopable land along riverbanks or in the foothills,” where they are tragically affected by floods and landslides, he told IPS by telephone from Bogotá.

This is especially important in Latin America, the world’s most urban region, where one in five people live in cities.

Thus, in addition to the 932 points of flooding reported to the fire department on Feb. 10, 2020, São Paulo also suffered 166 landslides that destroyed many houses. No deaths were reported on that day, but torrential rains usually claim lives in Greater São Paulo, which is home to 22 million people.

Brazil’s largest city, which spreads among rolling hills and numerous small valleys, has many neighborhoods that have had to learn to cope with flooding in the rainiest summers. This is due to the 300 streams that crisscross the area, most of which are covered by avenues or enclosed in channels that are unable to contain heavy downpours.

A good part of the 1.28 million inhabitants of the “favelas” or shantytowns of São Paulo, according to the 2010 official census, live on low-lying land, often along streams, without sanitation, and they are the first victims of floods. The poor make up 11 percent of the population of São Paulo proper.

In Rio de Janeiro there are also riverside favelas, but the ones built on hillsides or on the tops of hills that separate the city and some neighborhoods are much better known. The risk in these areas is landslides, which have killed many people.

In Brazil’s second largest city, favelas are home to 1.39 million people, 22 percent of the total population, according to the 2010 census.

“The topography allows them to live close to their jobs” so the choice is “between formal employment or living where housing is cheaper,” said Carolina Guimarães, coordinator of Rede Nossa São Paulo, a non-governmental organization that seeks to promote a “fair, democratic and sustainable” city.

This favela is next to a middle-class neighborhood in São Bernardo do Campo, the former capital of the automobile industry on the outskirts of São Paulo. The industry attracted migrants from other parts of the country who, without the jobs they dreamed of, could only build their precarious houses on occupied land on a hillside. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Lima, which has 10 million inhabitants, and other cities in Peru and Ecuador were victims of El Niño Costero, a climatic phenomenon that warms the waters of the Pacific Ocean but only near these two countries, where it also leads to more intense rainfall.

These and other Andean countries also face the threat of melting glaciers that could deprive the population of the Andes highlands of water, said Rodríguez. In the Caribbean, the biggest threat is hurricanes, which are becoming more frequent and more intense.

Greater poverty, more impacts

In addition to the fact that these phenomena hit the poor harder in Latin America, in the world’s most unequal region the poor have fewer resources to overcome the losses caused by the climate crisis, added the Colombian expert.

“Buying a new refrigerator and other appliances damaged each time it floods costs them much more. Poverty is a cause, driving them to disaster, and also a consequence of the disasters themselves,” said Guimarães, a former knowledge management coordinator at UN Habitat, the UN agency for human settlements.

It is a perverse logic.

The real estate business drives up the costs of the best, safest sites complete with infrastructure and services. There are too many at-risk areas where the poor “build their homes with their own hands,” without the support of a public policy that ensures them housing with “access to the city,” she told IPS by telephone from São Paulo.

“There is a spatial inequality that results from the low-density expansion model of cities, which pushes low-income families to the periphery, makes access to public transportation difficult and requires long commutes,” said Pablo Lazo, director of Urban Development and Accessibility at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Mexico.

WRI Mexico designed the Urban Inequality Index (UDI), a tool for the formulation of public policies, which initially covers 74 metropolitan areas. It measures the public’s access to formal employment and services such as education, health and transportation, as well as food and culture.

This urbanization model also gives rise to shantytowns in risky areas, “a constant pattern that is repeated in Mexico City, whose eastern neighborhoods are built on hillsides, where water runs off very quickly, fueling landslides,” he said in an interview with IPS via video call from the Mexican capital.

Greater Mexico City is home to nearly 20 million people.

Rodríguez said this precariousness “is a widespread phenomenon in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 25 percent of the urban population lives in informal settlements.” Pushed to the periphery, where land is cheaper, but there are no jobs or public services, nor urbanization, the poor prefer slums near the center, he said.

Each one of hundreds of tents in a Homeless Workers Movement camp in 2017 represents a family that dreamed of obtaining a plot of land in the center of the industrial city of São Bernardo do Campo. The land they occupied had unclear ownership, but the attempt did not pan out. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Making inequality even more glaring

“The covid-19 pandemic laid bare the inequalities,” Lazo stressed.

As an example, he said “there were more deaths on the eastern periphery of Mexico City, where inequality is greater. One factor is distance: it takes five times longer to get to the hospital from the periphery than from the center, so many people don’t even take patients to the hospital.”

In addition, without water for hygiene and hand washing, the disease spreads more readily among the poor.

There is also a disparate power relationship between cities themselves. Tula de Allende, a city of 115,000 inhabitants located 70 kilometers north of the Mexican capital, suffered a major two-day flood in September 2021, not only because of the rains.

Mexico City’s water authorities discharged an excess of rainwater and wastewater into the Tula River that could flood the capital and its outlying neighborhoods, to the detriment of the city downstream, where the river overflow displaced more than 10,000 people and left a hospital without electricity, resulting in the death of 16 patients.

Concerted action is needed. A new governance model based on planning and coordination at a citywide level could be the way forward, said Lazo.

In Rio de Janeiro, Aruan Braga, urban policy coordinator for the Favelas Observatory, told IPS that “building a more equitable and democratic city requires including, in planning, low-income areas that sustain the city in day-to-day life but don’t have the right to participate in decision-making.”

Favelas lining hills are the best-known image of Rio de Janeiro, but there is also a large vulnerable population in low-lying, flood-prone areas. One example is the Maré Complex, where some 130,000 people live in 16 favelas.

On the shores of Guanabara Bay and the Cunha channel, so polluted they are like an open sewer, the complex suffers “floods every year,” said Braga, a sociologist with a master’s degree in development policies, who explained that the Maré Complex was built on a large piece of land reclaimed from mangroves and flood plains.

It was built by settlers relocated from more central favelas or from wealthy and beachside neighborhoods five decades ago, in a wave of “expulsion” from favelas that continues today. Maré also grew because it is next to Avenida Brasil, the main access route to the city center, and because it is home to industrial facilities.

View of a favela on a central hill in Rio de Janeiro, Santa Tereza. The upper part is a middle-class neighborhood of intellectuals and artists. The city’s hillsides are home to many favelas known for their high rates of violent crime. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

New policies for a new model

The four interviewees agreed that public policies are needed to make it possible to start reducing urban inequality in Latin America.

Lazo highlighted the need for mechanisms to control the market’s “greed”, such as a requirement that private housing projects include low-cost units.

“In France that proportion is 50 percent,” he said, to illustrate.

Braga said one good possibility for reducing the housing deficit in Rio de Janeiro would be by allocating empty public buildings to social housing. There are many unused state-owned buildings because the city was the capital of the country until 1960.

Movements seeking community solutions, “social urbanism”, urban agriculture and mobilization of the population for a more equitable and inclusive city point to the future, according to Guimarães.

Her Rede Nossa São Paulo has conducted studies on inequality that pointed to a difference of up to 22.6 years – from 58.3 to 80.9 years – in life expectancy between poor and rich neighborhoods in the city.

Bogota is in the process of organizing its territorial planning and there is talk of the “30-minute city”, following the example of Paris, which seeks to ensure that no one has to walk more than 15 minutes to do everything they need, Rodriguez said, describing a new model in Latin America.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Up to 70% of Children in Developing Countries to Be Left Unable to Read?



Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPSby Baher Kamal (madrid)Monday, January 24, 2022Inter Press Service

The alarm bell has been rung by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in his message on the International Day of Education, marked on 24 January 2022.

In fact, some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and it’s not over yet, said Guterres, adding that today, school closures continue to disrupt the lives of over 31 million students, “exacerbating a global learning crisis.”

The UN Education, Sciencia and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), the World Bank and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) have quantified the economic dimension of this drama.

Giant losses

“This generation of students now risk losing 17 trillion US dollars in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.”

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report,  released in December 2021, shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.

According to the three world bodies’ report, simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data.

And it provides some specific examples: regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in maths and reading.

Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level.

“For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in maths for students aged 10-15. The estimated learning losses were greater in maths than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.”

Inequities of education, exacerbated

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life. Reading is a foundational skill, the report explains, adding that all children should be able to read by age 10. Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school – and conversely, an inability to read constraints opportunities for further learning.

“Beyond this, when children cannot read, it’s usually a clear indication that school systems aren’t well organised to help children learn in other areas such as maths, science, and the humanities either.”

And although it is possible to learn later in life with enough effort, children who don’t read by age 10 – or at the latest, by the end of primary school – usually fail to master reading later in their schooling career.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted education systems around the world, it was clear that many children around the world were not learning to read proficiently, according to the report. Even though the majority of children are in school, a large proportion are not acquiring fundamental skills.

“Moreover, 260 million children are not even in school. This is the leading edge of a learning crisis that threatens countries’ efforts to build human capital and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

No human capital

Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce.

“They don’t acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school, or the skills that will help them become engaged citizens and nurture healthy, prosperous families. Importantly, a lack of foundational literacy skills in the early grades can lead to intergenerational transmission of poverty and vulnerability.”

As a major contributor to human capital deficits, the learning crisis undermines sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

To spotlight this crisis, the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics jointly constructed the concept of Learning Poverty and an accompanying indicator.

“Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.”

Aggravating global learning crisis

COVID-19 is now wreaking havoc on the lives of young children, students, and youth. The disruption of societies and economies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating the global learning crisis and impacting education in unprecedented ways.

Learning poverty to rise

With more than a complete year of schooling lost in many parts of the world, learning poverty is estimated to rise to 63 percent in developing countries.

Gaping inequalities

UNESCO says that this fourth International Day of Education is marked “as our world stands at a turning point: gaping inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarisation and the devastating impact of the global pandemic put us before a generational choice: Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

Education is key to charting the course towards more justice and sustainability, but it is “failing millions of children, youth and adults, increasing their exposure to poverty, violence and exploitation,” adds UNESCO.

Education, a human right

And here goes a needed reminder: the right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration calls for “free and compulsory elementary education.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries “shall make higher education accessible to all.”


“Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future.”

But about 258 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school, and 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic maths…

And less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.

“Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable,” warns the United Nations.

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Bringing Dry Land in the Sahel Back to Life



©FAO/ Giulio NapolitanoA field with mid-moon dams used to save water in the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Women dig mid-moon dams to save water in Niger.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Tractors at work to prepare the land for plantation in Burkina Faso.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

Action Against Desertification – Delfino ploughs for land preparation and landscape restoration

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change



© United Nations MoroccoYoung Moroccan climate activists and entrepreneurs are taking a group photo with Sylvia Lopez-Ekra in Morocco.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Behind all these initiatives, are the young men and women featured in “From Milan to Glasgow: Moroccan Youth Leaders in the Spotlight“, a new campaign launched by the United Nations team in Morocco to empower young people to take climate action and reduce the harmful carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.

For the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Morocco, Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the new campaign is a “bet on the importance of partnering with Moroccan youth invested in climate issues.”

Tipping the balance

One of the activists featured is Manal Bidar, an 18-year-old from the city of Agadir, who believes “it is young people who can tip the balance to the right side in the fight against climate change.”

She first got involved in climate and environment action at 13, when she joined a group of friends from a local club, to clean a beach.

She is now an ambassador for the African Youth Climate Hub, a platform that brings together activists from the continent, and serves as an advisor to the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), an international non-profit dedicated to promote climate-resilience around the world. 

‘Fight of our lives’

Like Ms. Bidar, Hasnae Bakhchouch, a 22-year-old student from Rabat, is taking action to tackle the impact of climate change. 

“With its adverse effects on biodiversity and the health of living beings, climate change jeopardizes societies and can cause conflicts over access to natural resources”, she says.

Ms. Bakhchouch was a National Coordinator of the Moroccan youth delegation to the UN Conference of Youth on Climate, held in September 2021 in Milan, Italy. 

She explains that the goal was to draft recommendations for the 26th UN Climate Change conference (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, a couple of months later. 

The Conference closed with a “compromise” deal, which the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said was simply “not enough”. 

At the time, the UN chief encouraged young people and everyone leading the charge, to keep fighting. 

“We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won”, he said. 

From coffee to bricks

One day, while enjoying a cup of coffee, Hamza Laalej, a 23-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, asked himself if there was a way to recycle the large amount of coffee grounds that end up in the garbage every day. 

Months later, Mr. Laalej managed to turn his idea into a viable green business, where one of the main products is an eco-friendly brick made with a mix of coffee grounds and regular clay.

“Inspired by the Moroccan craft tradition, the production of these bricks relies on [using less] heating, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, he explains. 

Since then, he has teamed up with 23-year-old Moroccan, Nour El Houda Ben Khoudja, to launch a company that specializes in the collection, sorting, and transformation of coffee grounds into building materials and decoration products.

“You don’t have to wait for the perfect time to start [a green business]. It’s the obstacles you encounter along the way that make business creation an inspiring and fruitful adventure”, he says. 

Green entrepreneurs

A roundtable organized last November, during the launch of this UN campaign, saw other young people present their green start-up projects.

Oussama Nour and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, for example, introduced WAVEBEAT, a company that aims to produce electricity from ocean waves.

© United Nations Morocco

Oussama Nour, President, and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, General Director of WAVEBEA in Morocco

The goal is to provide companies operating in the Moroccan port of Tangier Med, with a renewable alternative to meet their energy needs.

Younes Ouazri presented an ecological and energy-efficient construction method to build homes, including seasonal residences and tourism resorts, using locally sourced materials. 

Hicham Zouaoui and Otman Harrak spoke about their carpooling app, that currently allows some 400,000 Moroccans to travel across the Kingdom, helping save on transportation costs and reducing CO2 emissions.

For his part, Seifeddin Laalej heads a start-up that specializes in recycling plastic waste to manufacture building materials, which he sells all over the country.

“It is important that young people believe in their potential and launch their own projects based on their skills and professional networks”, he said. 

A key player

According to the UN Resident Coordinator, “thanks to its climate policy for the past years, Morocco has become a key leader on initiatives for climate action.”

Through an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme and strategies for the preservation of natural resources, Morocco intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45.5 per cent by 2030 and achieve a 52 per cent share of renewable energy in its energy mix in the same year. 

The country is currently one of the few nations with a nationally determined contribution (NDC) in line with the global target of 1.5°C.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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