People in Puerto Rico cluster along roadways to bathe and do laundry using water sent down from higher elevations in PVC pipes. Some collect water to take home, for flushing toilets and cleaning. Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo / The New York Times

By Caitlin Dickerson
16 October 2017

CHARCO ABAJO, Utuado, P.R. (The New York Times) – When Hurricane Maria swept away the bridge that led in and out of Charco Abajo, a remote village in the mountainous inland of Puerto Rico, Carlos Ocasio and Pablo Perez Medina decided that they could not wait for help to arrive.

When the wind and rain calmed, the welder and the retired handyman climbed off the edge of the bridge and jumped down onto a pile of debris. They crossed the Vivi River, whose waters had risen to their chests, and walked several miles to a hardware store, where they bought a cable, a metal harness and wheels.

They built a pulley that now spans the gap where the bridge once was, and attached a shopping cart, after removing its legs and wheels, which they have been using to transfer food, water and supplies across the divide. Though aid groups began to arrive a week later, the two men, both 60 years old, raised a sign to describe how it felt in Charco Abajo immediately after the storm. It reads “Campamento de los Olvidados,” Spanish for “Camp of the Forgotten.”

Nearly a month after Maria devastated this island commonwealth, life remains a struggle. Even as some assistance has arrived, residents have learned to improvise without power or running water, especially those who live in remote areas, who waited the longest for help from emergency responders and for whom recovery is the farthest off.

The winding roads that once paved a lush, tree-lined route from San Juan, the capital, to Utuado now appear post-apocalyptic. Leafless, branchless trees, denuded by Maria’s winds, are tangled around one another and spill out into the highway. Rock formations, once covered with vegetation, have been stripped bare. Permanently windblown palm trees look like half-shaven heads. And houses that were once tucked neatly into the hills are now roofless, irreparably damaged wrecks sliding down the sides of them.

All that remains of the many wooden, one-room houses that once dotted the hills here are tall and narrow three-sided concrete structures that were built to protect bathroom plumbing, and which are now surrounded by piles of rubble.

Examples of the creativity of people living in the mountains are on display across the countryside. All day and night, people who live in the mountains cluster along roadways to bathe and do laundry in places where locals have redirected water from higher up that spews out of PVC pipes. They fill empty bottles and buckets, which they use to clean their homes and flush toilets.

But for some, the situation is more fragile than it is for others.

More than 100 bridges in Puerto Rico were damaged by Maria and 18 have been closed indefinitely, according to Ivonne Rosario, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s transportation department. An unknown number collapsed during the storm, leaving entire communities like Charco Abajo stranded. [more]

Stranded by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans get creative to survive

The opening of the Climate Engineering Conference 2017 in Berlin, 10 October 2017. Photo: Dirk Enters / IASS

By Kate Connolly
14 October 201

(The Guardian) – Leading climate scientists have warned that geoengineering research could be hijacked by climate change deniers as an excuse not to reduce CO2 emissions, citing the US administration under Donald Trump as a major threat to their work.

David Keith, a solar geoengineering (GE) expert at Harvard University has said there is a real danger that his work could be exploited by those who oppose action on emissions, at the same time as he defended himself and colleagues from the claims GE strengthens the argument for abandoning the targets set by the Paris climate agreement.

“One of the main concerns I and everyone involved in this have, is that Trump might tweet ‘geoengineering solves everything – we don’t have to bother about emissions.’ That would break the slow-moving agreement among many environmental groups that sound research in this field makes sense,” Keith said on the sidelines of the Climate Engineering Conference (CEC) in Berlin.

Indeed, utterances from people in or close to the Trump administration – most notably GE proponent secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who has referred to climate change as “just an engineering problem” – make it clear they either tacitly or directly support the idea of climate engineering. […]

“All the techniques being proposed have potentially severe environmental impacts,” said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, leading campaign monitors of new technologies and their possible impact on the world’s poorest.

“They also ignore the question as to why there’s not enough political will to have done more to tackle climate change until now and they in turn serve to justify the inaction,” she added. [more]

Geoengineering is not a quick fix for climate change, experts warn Trump

Greg Gunner, left, kisses his grandmother Mabel Bishop, 99, on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 in Port Arthur, Texas, in their home that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Gunner carried his grandmother, stricken with Alzheimer's disease, out of the house as the floodwaters rose, telling her they were going fishing to try to keep her calm. He voted for Hillary Clinton in November, and says the country's political divides have left him with little faith in the government's ability to get things done. But he believes the storm that wrecked his town is a preview of what global warming will bring if the nation's divided political sides don't find common ground to address it. 'The intensity of the destruction taking place these days, there's something going on. I think it's a wake-up call, to say, hey, what's important? What's really important?' he said. 'Are you going to work together, or are you going to pull each other apart?' Photo: David Goldman / AP

By Claire Galofaro
15 October 2017

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (Associated Press) – Jefferson County, Texas, was drowned by more than 60 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey, which left wide swaths of the county in ruins. Last November, Jefferson flipped from voting Democratic in presidential elections to instead back Donald Trump, who has dismissed the concept of climate change as a hoax and has worked to undo regulations meant to mitigate its damage.

Scientists say climate change doesn't cause hurricanes but that warming and rising seas supercharge those already forming. Some who lost everything in Harvey's floodwaters say they're starting to take the threat of climate change more seriously now, and they want Trump to show more leadership on the issue. But this is a place that depends on the petroleum industry, and others applaud Trump's efforts to reverse environmental policies that they see as harmful.

Here are some of the voices from the rebuilding in Texas.

"IT'S A WAKE-UP CALL"

Greg Gunner slumped down on his front stoop and dropped his head in his hands, feeling for the first time since the flood claimed his home that the weight of his troubles might overwhelm him.

Day after day, he had tried to keep smiling as he pulled up the carpets and tore out the baseboards. Inside the damp house, his 99-year-old grandmother, stricken with Alzheimer's disease, lay in bed in a white nightgown and his 74-year-old mother's joints ached from rheumatoid arthritis. […]

Gunner, a Democrat, believes the storm that wrecked his town is a preview of what global warming will bring if the nation's leaders don't find common ground to address it. There have always been storms, he said, but nothing like this.

"The intensity of the destruction taking place these days, there's something going on. I think it's a wake-up call to say: What's really important?" he said, but the country's political divides have left him with little faith in the government's ability to do anything about it. "Are you going to work together, or are you going to pull each other apart?" […]

"I WONDER WHAT WE'RE DOING TO THIS PLANET?"

Joe Evans watched from his window as the rain stretched into its second day and the flood started lapping up into his yard, and he wondered if it would ever end.

In that moment, the Beaumont Republican was overcome with an unexpected sense of guilt: "What have we been doing to the planet for all of these years?"

Evans once ran unsuccessfully for local office as a Republican. He ignored climate change, as he thought Republicans were supposed to do. As an African-American in the GOP, he said, he felt like he needed to "out-Republican the Republicans."

"I wasn't going to go near it," he said of environmental issues. "In the short-term, it didn't have any effect on me, at least I thought it didn't, so why would I even go down that rabbit hole?"

Evans voted for Trump, though reluctantly. He assured himself that Congress would keep Trump from doing too much damage.

"What has he really done up to this point? Nothing," Evans said. But he does think the president could make a difference if he acknowledged climate change as a reality and tried to rally Republicans to find a way to apply conservative principles to simultaneously saving the Earth and the economy.

"He's able to move people in a direction that most leaders can't," he said. "So if he wanted to take up the issue and say, 'There's something to this, guys,' the people will probably listen." [more]

Texans hit hard by Hurricane Harvey rethink climate change

16 October 2017 (Protect Mother Earth) – Hurricane Ophelia's strong winds are blamed for fanning flames of deadly forest fires in Portugal and Spain

At least six people have been killed and around 25 others injured – mainly firefighters – during Portugal’s worst day of the year for forest fires.

Around 500 blazes were reported in the country’s central and northern regions where a state of emergency has been declared.

Soaring temperatures of up to 36 degrees celsius have been recorded – extraordinary for mid-October.

Deadly forest fires sweep across Portugal and northern Spain


Scientist Police inspects the remains of the car where two women died after a wild fire in Pontevedra, in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Spain, Monday, 16 October 2017. Authorities in Portugal and Spain say that hundreds of wildfires fanned by strong winds have caused multiple deaths as people got trapped by fast moving fires. Photo: Lalo R. Villar / AP Photo

LISBON, Portugal, 16 October 2017 (AP) – Late season wildfires that broke out over the weekend in Portugal have killed at least 35 people, including a 1-month-old infant, authorities said Monday, making 2017 by far the deadliest year on record for forest blazes in the country.

In neighboring Spain, wildfires have also killed at least four people and prompted the evacuation of thousands in the northwest region of Galicia, as the remnants of winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames along Iberia's Atlantic coast.

The fires returned to Portugal four months after a summer blaze claimed 64 lives in one night. The year's current total of 99 deaths is far higher than the previous annual record of 25, in 1966.

A one-month-old baby was among the dead, the Civil Protection Agency said Monday. The infant's body was found near Tabua, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Lisbon. The parent's bodies reportedly were found nearby. Officials did not provide further details.

Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said the death toll could rise.

"We are still searching burnt areas to see if there are any more victims," Gaspar told The Associated Press. […]

Emergency services recorded 523 wildfires Sunday, the highest number in a single day this year and the highest on one day in more than a decade. "You don't see that in any other country in the world," said Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar.

A prolonged drought has made the calamity worse this year.

"We have all our firefighters out there doing everything they can," said Home Affairs Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa, who is in charge of emergency services and has been the target of criticism for her handling of the tragedy.

She said climate change has brought an additional factor into the battle against woodland fires. Due to climate change, "large-scale catastrophes are now a reality all over the world," Urbano de Sousa said. That meant more effort has to be put into preventive measures, she said. [more]

Portugal wildfires kill at least 35; 4 dead in Spain

A monkey walks over the rubble left in the wake of Hurricane Maria on Cayo Santiago, known as Monkey Island, in Puerto Rico. Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP Photo

By Paige Winfield Cunningham
16 October 2017

(The Washington Post) – The government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — and how Americans perceive it — perfectly illustrates how President Trump puts his administration on the defense by failing to tame his tweets.

The United States has dispatched to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands more than 19,000 military and civilian personnel who are working around the clock to restore electricity, distribute supplies and care for the injured, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That adds up to a pretty strong response to an extremely challenging situation, relief experts say.

But you wouldn’t know that if you just listened to Trump talk about the island and its inhabitants, millions of whom remain without electricity and telephone communications in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The president has blundered his way through his response to the widespread wreckage crippling the territory, alternating between playing down the disaster, portraying it as an inconvenience and, last week, even threatening that federal assistance can’t continue to the island forever.

Trump, on the defensive about seeming to not do enough for the American citizens on the island, appeared to place the blame on them last Thursday. [more]

The Health 202: Trump has badly undercut his own administration on Puerto Rico

A dialysis patient with diabetes is evacuated from Puerto Rico to Miami International Airport. Photo: Fundacion Stefano

By Carmen Sesin
15 October 2017

MIAMI (NBC News) – Maribel Casas was in the middle of a dialysis treatment when she got an unexpected text message from her sister saying she had to be at Isla Grande Airport, a small airfield in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by 2 p.m. Her relatives in Miami had managed to get her a seat on a humanitarian flight off the island.

Casas ended her treatment two hours early. "I told the nurse: 'I have to go. I'm leaving,'" she said.

Only after she landed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, did she learn that the private plane she had traveled on belongs to the rapper Pitbull, who lent his jet to evacuate cancer patients and others like Casas, who need constant treatment to live.

Days after she arrived in the Sunshine State, Methodist Dallas Medical Center called Casas to inform her that they had a match for her kidney transplant — and that she needed to be there the next morning.

"I had been on the waiting list for three years in multiple hospitals," she said from the hospital's intensive care unit just hours after surgery. She would have missed the transplant opportunity had it not been for Pitbull's gesture.

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, the situation remains bleak and dangerous for the infirm and the elderly. The island is running low on medicine. Many hospitals aren't fully operational, and with the electrical grid practically wiped out, many are still running with backup generators.

People with kidney failure that requires dialysis have had their treatments cut short because centers find it difficult to replenish their generators with diesel. [more]

Puerto Rico in Crisis: A Race Against Time to Evacuate the Infirm

A woman reacts while migrants wait to board buses in Grande-Synthe, northern France, on 14 April 2017, as they leave a makeshift camp where around 300 migrants had found shelter after the destruction by a fire of their nearby camp, to head to reception and orientation centres. A huge fire gutted one of France's biggest migrant camps housing 1,500 people, which started after a brawl involving hundreds of Afghans and Kurds late on 10 April 2017. The Grande-Synthe facility near the northern French port of Dunkirk was the only one in the area and provided hundreds of wooden huts for shelter, as well as cooking facilities and showers. Photo: PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP / Getty Images

16 October 2017 (UN News) – United Nations human rights experts are urging the Government of France to devise long-term measures to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation for migrants in Calais and other areas along the northern French coast.

After the so-called ‘Calais Jungle’ camps were dismantled in November 2016, migrants continued to return to the area. Many are living without shelter and proper access to drinking water, toilets or washing facilities. [cf. As fires burn through Calais ‘Jungle’, UNICEF urges protection of children remaining in the camp; ‘Please do not destroy my home’ – Demolition of massive migrant camp begins in the Calais ‘Jungle’; France and Britain just beat Donald Trump to building a border wall]

“It is worrying that approximately 700 migrants in Calais and the greater area of Calais temporarily rely on only 10 portable lavatories and water from 10 taps,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Despite the decision by the Conseil d’État, the highest administrative court in France, reaffirming the obligation of the French State to provide access to water and sanitation to the migrants in Calais, the local authorities have refused to implement concrete measures.

“Human rights apply to all, including migrants, regardless of their status. Consequently, the legal recognition by the French court of the human rights obligation to provide access to water and sanitation should be commended, but the authority of those decisions is diminished if they are not implemented in practice,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe Gonzalez Morales.

Migrants in camps at Grande-Synthe, Tatinghem, Angres and Dieppe rely on help from volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They are opening their facilities and provide transportation to sports facilities so that migrants can use toilets and take showers as a temporary solution.

The group of UN experts urged the international community to join calls emphasizing the primary obligation of the Government to provide a durable solution to the situation. Earlier this year, the Special Rapporteurs contacted the Government to seek clarification about the situation.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

UN rights experts urge France to provide safe water, sanitation for migrants in ‘Calais Jungle’

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP captured this image of Hurricane Ophelia approaching the Azores on 13 October 2017. Photo: Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory

By Susanne Fowler
15 October 2017

LONDON (The New York Times) — Rain is no stranger to Ireland, but hurricanes?

Hurricane Ophelia, the 10th hurricane of the Atlantic season, was spinning toward Ireland on Sunday, bringing with it the potential for structural damage, significant coastal flooding and dangerously high seas.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said on Sunday that, as of 11 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time, Ophelia had slowed to a Category 1 but was still dangerous, with top sustained winds near 90 miles an hour, with stronger gusts. On Saturday, the center had described it as a Category 3 hurricane with top winds of 115 miles an hour.

“Preparations to protect lives and property should be rushed to completion by this afternoon,” the center said on Sunday. A storm surge along the coast “will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” it said.

In London, the Met Office, Britain’s meteorological service, said that Ophelia had been the most-eastern Category 3 Atlantic hurricane on record. […]

The last time weather watchers recorded 10 consecutive Atlantic hurricanes was in 1893. [more]

Ireland and Britain Brace for Unusual European Hurricane

Estimated number of white rhinos in South Africa (left) and black rhinos in South Africa and Namibia (right) before and after trophy hunting started (^) in 1968 and 2005, respectively. Graphic: Freese, et al., 2017 / Unasylva

10 October 2017 (UN News) – To help African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries stop unsustainable wildlife hunting, conserve natural heritage and strengthen people's livelihoods and food security, the United Nations agriculture agency launched on Tuesday a €45 million multi-partner initiative.

Funded by the European Commission, the seven-year Sustainable Wildlife Management programme will be led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to contribute to conserving and sustainably using wildlife in forests, savannas, and wetlands by regulating hunting, strengthening indigenous and rural communities' management capacities, and increasing the supply of sustainably produced meat products and farmed fish.

Wildlife has ecological, social, and economic value. It is important for rural development, land-use planning, food supply, tourism, scientific research, and cultural heritage,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at today's launch.

“This programme will protect wildlife species, conserve biodiversity, and maintain the essential ecological roles of wildlife. It will also help to secure the stocks and ecosystems services that are essential to the livelihoods of the poorest communities on the planet,” he added.

Countries participating in the project include Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Madagascar, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Hunting and fishing in the targeted countries is often unsustainable – affecting wild animal populations in forests and savannas – causing what FAO calls a “wildmeat crisis.”

For example, the programme estimates that in the Congo Basin some 4.6 million metric tonnes of wildmeat are consumed annually, an equivalent of approximately half of the beef produced in the European Union.

According to FAO, if hunting wildlife for food is not reduced to sustainable levels, not only will biodiversity be lost, but also countless numbers of families whose livelihoods depend on natural resources will suffer soaring levels of food insecurity and debilitating child malnutrition.

The programme will work closely with national authorities to provide rural communities with alternative protein sources such as chicken, livestock, or farmed fish. Doing so will help deter hunting of endangered species, support recovery of their populations and reduce food safety risks that can be associated with the consumption of wild meat.

In places where livestock production is limited or imported meat unavailable or unaffordable, people will continue relying on wild animals to feed their families. However, measures like recognizing people's customary tenure rights may encourage more wildlife conservation on their land, avoiding unnecessary hunting.

In large urban areas, where wild meat is sold and consumed more as a luxury item, restrictions on wild meat consumption need to be put in place.

The initiative also focuses on creating jobs in the farming sector, empowering women and securing indigenous rights to access the natural resources their livelihoods and cultures depend upon.

The programme contributes to several targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food security, sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation, specifically supporting SDG15, this year's review of which notes that “poaching and trafficking of wildlife remain serious concerns.”

New UN-led partnership to help curb unsustainable wildlife hunting, protect biodiversity


10 October 2017, Rome (FAO) - A €45 million multi-partner programme launched today at FAO seeks to help African, Caribbean and Pacific countries halt unsustainable wildlife hunting, conserve their natural heritage and strengthen people's livelihoods and food security.

Funded by the European Commission, the seven-year programme is an initiative of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).  Led by FAO, it will also rely on the expertise of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).  

The programme will contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forests, savannas and wetlands by regulating wildlife hunting, strengthening the management capacities of indigenous and rural communities and increasing the supply of sustainably produced meat products and farmed fish. This will help to avert a looming protein deficit for poor rural families and meet the growing rural and urban demand for food.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at today's launch said: "Wildlife has ecological, social and economic value. It is important for rural development, land-use planning, food supply, tourism, scientific research and cultural heritage. This programme will protect wildlife species, conserve biodiversity, and maintain the essential ecological roles of wildlife. It will also help to secure the stocks and ecosystems services that are essential to the livelihoods of the poorest communities on the planet".

"This is the first time we have tackled these two issues - conservation and food security - hand-in-hand," said Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development at the launch ceremony. "This kind of collective effort and comprehensive approach is essential for meeting our dual aims of protecting the biodiversity of forests and savannahs, while ensuring the food security of some of the most vulnerable and politically marginalised people on the planet".

"The challenges this initiative seeks to address are significant and numerous, including health and nutrition, economic development and biodiversity," reminded Patrick I. Gomes, Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States. "None of these challenges can be solved by a single intervention, so that is why this new partnership of FAO, CIFOR, CIRAD and WCS is well positioned to provide the multi-sector solutions we desperately need."

Participating countries in the project include Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Madagascar, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  

"Wildmeat crisis"

The level of hunting and fishing in the target countries is often unsustainable, affecting wild animal populations in forests and savannas.

Many countries are already facing a "wildmeat crisis". The programme estimates that, for example, in the Congo Basin, some 4.6 million tonnes of wildmeat are consumed annually, an equivalent of approximately half of the beef produced in the European Union.

If hunting wildlife for food is not reduced to sustainable levels, not only will biodiversity be lost, but also countless numbers of families, whose livelihoods depend on natural resources, will suffer soaring levels of food insecurity and debilitating child malnutrition.   

Shifting from wildmeat to other sources of animal protein

The Sustainable Wildlife Management programme will work closely with national authorities to provide rural communities with alternative protein sources such as chicken, livestock or farmed fish. Doing so will help deter hunting of endangered species, support recovery of their populations and reduce food safety risks that can be associated with the consumption of wild meat.  

In places where production of livestock is limited due to unfavourable climate conditions, or where imported meat is unavailable or unaffordable, people will continue relying on wild animals to feed their families. However, measures like recognition of people's customary tenure rights may encourage them to engage more in wildlife conservation on their land and avoid unnecessary hunting.

In contrast, in large urban areas, wild meat is sold and consumed less as a nutritional necessity, but more as a luxury item. Although the proportion of city dwellers consuming wild meat is often low, net demand can be enormous. In such cases, restrictions on wild meat consumption need to be put in place.

Improving wildlife management

The programme aims to help governments develop proactive policies and strengthen legal frameworks to reduce wildmeat consumption to sustainable levels without compromising food security of people who depend on wildlife hunting for their livelihoods and nutritional needs. 

The initiative also focuses on creating jobs in the farming sector, empowering women, and securing the rights of indigenous and traditional people to access the natural resources their livelihoods and cultures depend upon.  

The programme contributes to several targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food security, sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation, specifically supporting SDG15, this year's review of which notes that "poaching and trafficking of wildlife remain serious concerns".

New €45 million initiative seeks to curb unsustainable wildlife hunting, conserve biodiversity and improve food security

 

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