Monthly Archives: January 2012

Drops in the Bucket

As I mentioned in my previous entry on Clean Water, we’ve made some surprisingly decent progress over the last decade getting potable water to people all over the world. That said, we’ve still got a ways to go. Today’s Los Angeles Times had an article, Adding up the water deficit, on the slowly declining water resources in the American Southwest, the lack of preventative measures being taken, as well as the blunt possibility that there just may not be anything we can do about it if a natural “megadrought” comes along (which has happened in the past, decimating Native American communities living in vulnerable areas).

But sometimes people decide not to wait for the government, or anyone else, to fix things for them. I’ve come across some interesting solutions to water problems across the world recently, and thought I’d share:

We’re going to need a lot more of these kinds of solutions to get through the next 100 years or so, but I’m encouraged by the ingenuity of what people all over are coming up with. It would be great if some of our governments would follow their example.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

The Good News about Hunger

What I am about to say may surprise you: we are actually, slowly but surely, winning the battle to end chronic hunger and even malnutrition. If you watch the news at all, you probably won’t believe me. But it’s true. Thirty-five years ago, around 45,000 people a day were dying of chronic hunger and hunger-related causes. Today that number is closer to 25,000. In no way, shape, or form is that acceptable, and we need to keep fighting, but this is an incredible feat we need to occasionally stop and remind ourselves of, and it’s even the remarkable given that the world population has increased significantly over this time period.

I updated my “Food” numbers yesterday and was happy to see the actual figures reflecting the above facts. (Unfortunately, I am on the lookout for much more accurate numbers — the ones I had been using were from a Wikipedia page, List of countries by percentage of population suffering from undernourishment but the most recent data was from 2006. I found more recent data last night, trying to delve through the myriad, byzantine website that is the UN, and found a site on the MDG’s which I was able to use, but this data is only from 2007. Suggestions welcome!)

Even though the data is not completely up-to-date, it did show an improvement in many countries, which was heartening. I know that we have slid backwards lately, due to food price increases, natural catastrophes, and conflicts, but I am hopeful that, in some countries at least, this downward trend in malnutrition has continued.

One country that is now at 95% “nourished” (which is the highest the UN numbers would go — the “100’s” on my Google doc are from other sources) is Ghana, which was at 92% in 2006. One of the organizations I support, The Hunger Project, is active in the country and you can see exactly how their strategy has worked here.

As the world has reached out over the last few decades to countries whose populations are suffering from hunger, we’ve also learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. In recent years, the aid community has become increasingly self-reflective and this examination has revealed some ugly truths.

  • Throwing money and/or stuff at the problem doesn’t work — trillions of dollars (pounds, francs, euros, etc…) have been wasted on this strategy. (See Dambisa Moyo’s groundbreaking book, Dead Aid for a very honest — albeit no-punches-pulled — account.)
  • Building stuff is not always helpful. (See this recent talk by David Damberger at TED.)
  • Sometimes even help is not helpful, as when well-meaning but ill-informed aid workers in the DRC provided relief to Rwandan refugees during the 1994 genocide only to find out later that many of these same people went back to Rwanda and continued their slaughter. (This was outlined by David Rieff in his brilliant 2002 book, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.)

So what have we found that does work? One strategy that is slowly being acknowledged by the aid community is to simply listen to what those who you want to help have to say. That’s a great starting point. Much more on this later.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Checking the Numbers

I’m back after a wonderful break, and excited and ready for 2012! Hope everyone had a great holiday break and here’s to a great 2012 for all of you stopping by! Thank you again for your comments and support.

I began updating my numbers yesterday, beginning with Sustainability and came across some interesting but apparently overlooked information. I’m using the stats from the World Bank on the percent of energy each country uses which is alternative or nuclear and was happy to see that several countries had increased their overall percentages, notably the European and East Asian countries. (Albania went up nearly 10%!) As I kept entering data, I became increasingly amazed at the changes: most of the countries only changed by a few percentage points but they seemed to be mostly increasing and added together, it was starting to look pretty significant.

So I clicked on the “graph” button just to see how significant and my jaw dropped. (Below is what I saw — you can click on the image for a clearer picture but the trend is pretty visible!)

What the chart is saying, as far as I can tell, is that our alternative energy use has increased around 5% over the last year. (One caveat: I am not entirely sure this chart takes into account countries’ total fuel consumption — China should be weighted more than Uruguay, for example — but it is still impressive.)

Despite this positive change in our global energy consumption, however, the media seems to be focused on the usual doom and gloom of continuing gas and oil dependence. (It was nice to see this article recently, pointing out some of this blindness, The future’s never looked brighter for the global solar biz.)

I am not sure what to make of this seemingly deliberate ignorance of the facts but maybe when we’ve gone up another 20 or 30 percent in the next few years, the “doom and gloomers” will be pleasantly surprised. Meanwhile the rest of us will just keep going, adding solar panels, maybe a wind turbine or two, and exploring ways to become more energy efficient; and alternative energy R&D (including tidal, wave, geothermal, biogas, etc..) will continue to expand and mature into new options.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC