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Sowing Water: A Cuban Farm’s Bid for Sustainability



Water sowing includes the construction of low ditches and dikes that slow down the speed at which rainfall runs off the land, stimulate its infiltration into the soil and channel it into ponds for later recovery. The technique gives farmer José Antonio Casimiro, at his Finca del Medio farm in Siguaney, Taguasco municipality in central Cuba abundant water all year round. CREDIT Courtesy of Finca del Medio/IPSby Luis Brizuela (havana)Monday, June 21, 2021Inter Press Service

For 28 years, Casimiro and his family have been applying sustainable management methods on their 10-hectare farm called Finca del Medio, located in the center of the long narrow island of Cuba, which is just over 1,200 km long from west to east.

In 1993, when Casimiro and his wife, Mileidy Rodríguez, decided to settle permanently with their children on their grandparents’ family farm, the place was rundown, with severely eroded soils on rough terrain and without fences.

With the aid of tools born of popular inventiveness, and sheer determination, the family is now self-sufficient in rice, beans, different types of tubers, vegetables, milk, eggs, honey, meat, fish and more than 30 kinds of fruit.

The new generations of the Casimiro-Rodriguez family have also become involved in food production and have managed to turn the farm into a model for agroecology and permaculture, as well as for education and the teaching of good agricultural and environmental practices.

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the family farm was visited by tourists taking guided tours where they could interact with the crops and animals, swim in the reservoir, sample organic foods and learn about how a local farm is run.

One of the techniques applied has been water sowing, used for hundreds of years in communities in southern Spain and South America’s Andes mountains, in order to reduce rainfall runoff into rivers and seas and preserve part of it for human, agricultural and livestock activities.

“We have adapted the technique to our situation and possibilities. We place as many barriers as possible to retain the water and make it run as little as possible on the surface, so that it seeps into the ground where we want it to,” Casimiro explained to IPS via WhatsApp from the Finca del Medio near the town of Siguaney, Taguasco municipality, province of Sancti Spíritus, some 350 km east of Havana.

The strategy includes the construction of low ditches and dikes that slow the rate at which water drains into the ground, stimulate its infiltration into the subsoil and channel it into ponds for later recovery.

According to Casimiro, in recent weeks “some 200 mm of rain fell and the water has still not left the farm. We have a small reservoir with a capacity of 54,000 cubic meters of water and containment barriers that accumulate thousands of cubic meters more that infiltrate slowly into the ground. “

He said the infiltrated water does not only benefit his farm.

“A farmer on a neighbouring farm has not had to haul water from distant sources since we started using this technique. His well now has water all year round,” Casimiro said.

A woman operates a hand pump to draw water for household chores in the Martha Abreu Basic Production Unit community in the central province of Cienfuegos. Projected increased dry periods in Cuba, due to the climate crisis, calls for stimulating initiatives for greater harvesting of rainfall, as well as encouraging the saving and reuse of water. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At Finca del Medio, part of the rainwater is collected mainly for domestic use, such as washing and cleaning. Using pumping systems powered by solar panels, wind systems and hydraulic rams, the liquid is pumped from the pond to higher elevations.

“We have more than 100,000 litres of water in tanks, ponds and other places, which is channeled using gravity,” the farmer said.

Casimiro believes it would be feasible to stimulate initiatives for harvesting more rainwater, as well as to encourage water saving and reuse.

Living with the climate crisis

Climate change is not a minor issue for this country located on the largest island in the Caribbean, whose elongated, narrow shape gives rise to short, low-flow rivers dependent on rainfall, which is more abundant in the May to October wet season, and during the passage of tropical cyclones.

From 2014 to 2017, the country faced the worst drought in 115 years, affecting 70 percent of the national territory.

With average annual rainfall of 1,330 mm, several studies predict that Cuba’s climate will tend towards less precipitation, higher temperatures and more intense droughts, and that by 2100 water availability could be reduced by more than 35 percent.

“Drought is one of the climatic extremes we face today and it creates a complex situation that requires science, monitoring, innovation and evaluation,” said Science, Technology and Environment Minister Elba Rosa Pérez during a televised appearance in April 2020.

Several of Cuba’s 15 provinces show insufficient rainfall levels, despite being in the middle of the rainy season.

From December to April the rainfall level was only 54 percent of the normal average, which qualifies as a “severely dry” period, explained Antonio Rodríguez, president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, on television on May 13.

Filled to around 25 percent of capacity, the dams in the most critical situation are located in the capital, where 2.2 million of the country’s 11.2 million inhabitants live, said the official.

View of a turbine used to pump drinking water in the town of Cauto Cristo, in the eastern province of Granma. In recent years, Cuba has promoted investments to expand and modernise its water infrastructure, with emphasis on more than a dozen water transfers, engineering works considered strategic to divert water over long distances and support agricultural development plans. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“We should take better advantage of rainwater. It is very good water for washing, scrubbing and cleaning. I remember that in my childhood many houses had gutters on the roofs to collect rainwater, store it in tanks and use it later. That has been lost,” Asunción Batista, an older resident of the city of Holguín, 685 km east of Havana, told IPS.

The challenge of making better use of water

The island has a storage capacity of more than nine billion cubic meters, distributed in more than 240 reservoirs that together with a network of treatment plants guarantee access to drinking water for more than 95 percent of the population, and supply industries and agriculture.

In recent years, with the support of international cooperation funds, the government has sought to expand and modernise the country’s water infrastructure.

There are more than a dozen water transfers, strategic engineering works to control possible floods and divert water over long distances to support agricultural production, in addition to supplying water to communities and tourist resorts.

However, 42 percent of piped water is still lost due to leaks in the aging pipelines, official data shows.

“An agrarian policy that stimulates and incentivises the sowing of water by farmers could be positive for the country and for families in rural and semi-rural areas,” Casimiro said.

He stressed that “farmers are aware of the effects of climate change, but the cost of what needs to be done to prepare for it is often beyond their reach. The educational level is also low,” the farmer added.

A strategy that provides some inputs and encourages a culture of rainwater harvesting, as well as more rational use, could increase water availability in areas where access to water could be affected in the not so distant future.

The Cuban government has focused on the local level as one of the fundamental aspects of its Development Plan until 2030, while it considers food production a matter of national security.

Since 2017, Law No.124 on Terrestrial Waters has been guiding the integrated, sustainable management of water.

In addition, the country has also committed to meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the sixth of which involves access to clean water and sanitation for the entire population by 2030.

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

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Digital Media on the Frontline: Supporting the Ones who Support the Rest



Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia) by Fairuz Ahmed (new york)Tuesday, June 22, 2021Inter Press Service

Khan has not seen her family for more than six months, she said in an exclusive interview with Inter Press Service (IPS).

“I was working extra hours and saw death up close. It was nerve-wracking to see my patients at this stage. It has been over six months that I have not seen my family,” she says, recalling the impact of the disease on herself and the community she serves. “The only solace I had was to talk with my mother, who is 67, and with my nieces over Facetime.”

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we work, engage, and communicate. The crisis put communication at the front of all priorities and has made it imperative to have real-time information available. For most organisations – online or offline – efforts to keep people informed and engaged became the new “must-haves”.

Shraddha Varma, the co-founder of online platform Fuzia and a resident of Maharashtra, India, where the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest, says the impact on frontline workers was the worst.

“The situation was already bad as we were recovering from the first wave of the coronavirus, but (then) it went out of control during the second wave. It had catastrophic effects on the world, especially with frontline workers,” Varma said. “They had to act as shields to keep us safe. Moreover, they faced isolation, stress and had to cope up with all the chaos surrounding them.”

Discussing how Fuzia, a global platform aimed at connecting humans in a non-judgmental space, supported frontline workers, Shraddha says the platform made a point of standing beside those who risked their lives each day.

“Fuzia was able to assist women frontline workers all over the world with creating events, information sessions, live connections, and we served them with a space to speak, learn and even vent. We wanted to have their backs and be there as a platform where they can engage and have some comfort.”

Khan says the isolation from family and community was devastating but being connected helped.

“I also used to speak with other doctors and learn about the latest updates on a few social media platform groups. Seeing people all around the world sharing their stories during the pandemic, I could connect and realign myself.”

A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) dealt with both frontline worker stress and the additional burden employees often felt working from home and splitting their roles between work and family.

Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia)

Frontline workers were most concerned about “increased workloads, longer working hours, and reduced rest periods”.

In addition, the study found “they may be worried about getting infected at work and passing the virus to family, friends, and others at work, in particular, if appropriate protective measures are not in place.”

For those working from home, there was a desperate need for support. The ILO study found that 41 percent of people who worked from home “considered themselves highly stressed, compared to 25 percent of those who worked on-site.”

Fuzia wasn’t alone in recognising the needs of workers, and big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook prioritised assisting and informing the frontline workers with updated news, data, safety protocols, vaccination information, and more.

For non-profit charitable organisations, Facebook launched Workplace for Good, helping organisations like Save the Children, It Gets Better, War Child and others. It also helped small to large organisations stay connected with their employees.

Amazon invested in supporting employees, customers, and communities during the pandemic, from enhancing safety measures to increasing paid time-off and helped to ensure that their employees and their communities have access to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

Amazon provided more than $2.5 billion in bonuses and incentives for teams globally in 2020 and established a $25 million relief fund for partners such as delivery drivers and seasonal associates facing financial hardship or quarantine.

Fuzia also recognised that many had lost jobs and collaborated with Wishes and Blessings, an NGO raising funds for their COVID relief project operating in seven states in India. The initiative was aimed at serving three meals a day to thousands of homeless and daily wage earners and providing nutritional aid to about 4000 at-risk families affected by the lockdown. The project was active in Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

The shift to the virtual world or work resulted in burnout among employees. An article published last year in Microsoft Stories Asia documented the increased burnout as workers struggled to find a work-life balance.

The decrease in work and personal life boundaries added stress. On average, close to one-third of workers in the Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout. Surveying over 6,000 information and frontline workers across eight countries globally, including Australia, Japan, India, and Singapore, the study found that Singapore and India were the top two countries where workers complained of burnout.

Sarita Das, a Fuzia user, says the site helped her during the pandemic.

“Communicating with other Fuziaites really helped me get out of my head. There was so much bad news circulating online that it increased my anxiety levels,” she said, finding the creative element in the site most soothing.

“I found a way to relieve my stress and joined the Fuzia Talent events. I found painting a much better distraction than browsing online. It requires focus, stops you from obsessively checking the news and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you paint your own creation.”

This article is a sponsored feature.

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


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Link between education and well-being never clearer, UN pushes for ‘health-promoting’ schools



Tuesday, June 22, 2021UN News

There has been increased stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, while an estimated 365 million primary school students have gone without school meals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN specialized agency handling education issues, UNESCO.  

Based on a set of eight global benchmarks, Global Standards for Health-promoting Schools, calls for all classrooms to promote life skills, cognitive and socioemotional skills and healthy lifestyles for learners.   

WHO and @UNESCO urge countries to make every school a health-promoting school, following the Global Standards for Health-promoting Schools that aim to ensure all schools promote life skills, cognitive & socioemotional skills & healthy lifestyles.

— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO)

June 22, 2021

“These newly launched global standards are designed to create schools that nurture education and health, and that equip students with the knowledge and skills for their future health and well-being, employability and life prospects”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  

Linking schools and health 

Clear evidence shows that comprehensive health and nutrition programmes in schools, have significant impacts among students.  

“Schools play a vital role in the well-being of students, families and their communities, and the link between education and health has never been more evident”, Tedros added. 

The new standards, which will be piloted in Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Paraguay, contribute to WHO’s target of making one billion people healthier by 2023 and the global Education 2030 Agenda coordinated by UNESCO.  

“Education and health are interdependent basic human rights for all, at the core of any human right, and essential to social and economic development”, said UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azouley.   

Making the case 

School health and nutrition interventions in low-income areas where impediments such as parasitic worms or anemia are prevalent, can lead to 2.5 years of additional schooling, according to the UN agencies. 

Moreover, malaria prevention interventions can result in a 62 per cent reduction in absenteeism; nutritious school meals upped enrolment rates by nine per cent, and attendance by eight per cent on average; and free screening and eyeglasses have raised the probability of students passing standardized reading and math tests by five per cent.  

And promoting handwashing has cut gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses between 21 and 61 per cent in low income countries, resulting in fewer absentees.  

“A school that is not health-promoting is no longer justifiable and acceptable”, said Ms. Azouley.   

Promote health in schools 

Comprehensive sex education encourages healthier behaviour, promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights, and improves outcomes such as a reduction in HIV infection and adolescent pregnancies, WHO and UNESCO said. 

A school that is not health-promoting is no longer justifiable and acceptable — UNESCO chief

By enhancing water and sanitation (WASH) services and supplies in school, as well as educating on menstrual hygiene, girls can maintain themselves with dignity and may even miss less school while menstruating. 

“I call for all of us to affirm our commitment and role, to make every school a health-promoting school”, underscored the UNESCO chief. 

Upping the standards 

The Health Promoting Schools approach was introduced by WHO, UNESCO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1995 and adopted in over 90 countries and territories.   

However, only a small number of countries have implemented it at scale, and even fewer have effectively adapted their education systems to include health promotion. 

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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Time running out to prevent ‘worst case scenario’ arising in Afghanistan



Tuesday, June 22, 2021UN News

From politics to security, the peace process to the economy, Deborah Lyons, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the “possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable”. 

“The relentless spirit of the Afghans and their incredible resilience is being severely tested”, she said, reminding that what happens there is “of global consequence”, and the Security Council needed to be fully aware of the gravity of the situation.  

“There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan – away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table,” UN envoy @DeborahLyonsUN told Security Council today on the situation in #Afghanistan. Full remarks here:

— UNAMA News (@UNAMAnews)

June 22, 2021

Unfolding reality 

She described the mid-April announcement, led by the United States, of troop withdrawal after two decades of war as a “seismic tremor” for the country, which had happened unexpectedly fast.  

The decision to pull out was part of the February 2020 agreement between the US and the Taliban to create space for peace among Afghans, instead, “actions on the battlefield have been far greater than progress at the negotiating table”, she added. 

She told ambassadors that the public and the diplomatic community in Kabul have been “alarmed at the lack of political unity”, which must be addressed or risk contributing to further Taliban territorial advances.  

Taliban advance 

Through its intensified military campaign, the Taliban has taken more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts since the beginning of May. 

“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn”, warned the Special Representative, calling it “a tragic course of action” that would lead to “increased and prolonged violence” and threaten to destroy much of what has been built and hard won over the past 20 years.  

However, she noted that any efforts to install a militarily imposed Government in Kabul would “go against the will of the Afghan people and against the stated positions of the regional countries and the broader international community”. 

Multiple crises 

Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Afghans face emergency levels of food insecurity, as drought worsens, and internal displacements increases. 

“The World Bank has estimated that as a result of the conflict, and the severe third wave of COVID, the drought, the weakened social fabric, and other factors, Afghanistan’s poverty rate could rise from 50 per cent to more than 70 per cent”, warned Ms. Lyons.  

Yet, despite highlighting the importance of international humanitarian aid, recent contributions toward the 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion, remains only 30 per cent funded. 

Civilian casualties 

In the first quarter of the year, civilian casualties increased by 29 per cent compared to that of last year, the UNAMA chief said, noting that women casualties increased by 37 per cent and children by 23 per cent. 

“Parties must immediately…implement civilian protection measures”, she stressed. 

And preserving women’s rights remains “a paramount concern” that must not be used as “a bargaining chip at the negotiating table”, added Ms. Lyons. 

“Human rights are not negotiable”, she underscored, calling on the international community and regional countries to “reiterate the importance of these rights in the peace negotiations”. 

The relentless spirit of the Afghans and their incredible resilience is being severely tested — UN Special Representative

Ticking clock 

The UN official said there was barely time left “to prevent a worse-case scenario from materializing”, pointing to the reality that “increased conflict in Afghanistan means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far”. 

“A fragmented conflict creates a more permissive environment for terrorist groups to recruit, finance, plan and conduct operations with a global reach”, she attested, adding that one of UNAMA’s key objectives is to “continue to work with all partners”. 

Any future Government will need international engagement and support, she said, upholding that this is “not the time to weaken our resolve or, worse, to contribute even inadvertently to the ongoing signals of despair”. 

“There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan…away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table”, concluded the UNAMA chief. 


Ghada Fathy Ismail Waly, Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) briefed ambassadors on cooperative agreements between her agency and UNAMA, including anti-corruption measures.   

Recalling the political declaration from the General Assembly’s discussion on corruption, she highlighted UNODC’s cross-border efforts to combat drug-related crimes and preserve Afghan’s “hard won gains.” 

Ms. Waly also drew attention to alliances between criminal and terrorist elements pointing out that they have yielded the world’s highest levels of casualties from terror attacks.   

Drug crops 

Noting that the pandemic had not impacted large poppy harvests to fuel the world’s supply of heroin, Ms. Waly linked the low prices to the degree with which the “illicit economy threatens peace.”    

She urged that “evidence-based prevention and treatment” for narcotics be made a priority and called better guidance for Afghan police “imperative”. 

Against this backdrop, the UNODC chief stressed the need for prompt action in the countryside to help limit production.

Click here to watch the meeting in its entirety.

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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