Category Archives: Water

After Cast Lead, Israeli Companies Now Profit from Rebuilding Gaza

More than three years after Israel inflicted widespread damage on the infrastructure of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, two Israeli companies have now won bids issued by the UNICEF for reconstruction projects there.  In other words, after destroying much of the Gaza Strip, Israel is now reaping significant economic benefits from its reconstruction.

This is called “disaster capitalism” – something Israel has turned into something of an art form. To understand the phenomenon more thoroughly, read Chapter 21 of Naomi Klein’s essential book “The Shock Doctrine,” which explains in vivid detail why Israel now believes it is more in its economic interest to wage war than to make peace:

Clearly, Israeli industry no longer has reason to fear war. In contrast to 1993, when conflict was seen as a barrier to growth, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange  went up in August 2006, the month of the devastating war with Lebanon. In the final quarter of the year, which had also included the bloody escalation in the West Bank and Gaza … Israel’s overall economy grew by a staggering 8 percent – more than triple the growth rate of the U.S. economy in the same period. The Palestinian economy, meanwhile, contracted by between 10 and 15 percent in 2006, with poverty rates reaching close to 70 percent.

Exxon Valdez: A Dubious Anniversary

Hard to believe, but Tuesday, March 24 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. On that infamous day nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil was spilled into this exquisite sea habitat, covering 11,000 square miles of ocean. Hundreds of thousands of animals died as a result; untold aftereffects continue to plague the sound and its surroundings to this day.

To mark this important anniversary (which will likely fly pretty low under the media radar) I recommend this excellent series from Buzzflash.com which reveals, among other things, that Exxon is still avoiding reparations to struggling Alaskans while making record profits (see clip above.)

Stumped for a way to acknowledge the importance of this day? Click on this action alert from Ocean Conservancy, and encourage your senator and representative to pass legislation that addresses the severe challenges confronting our ocean and marine ecosystems.

Return to Nantandome

Today was another full day for our group. It was completely devoted to a visit to the Foundation for the Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) – an NGO that JRC visted three years ago during our first Africa delegation.

In April 2005 JRC was the first group hosted by FDNC, on a trip made in collaboration with American Jewish World Service. (You can read excerpts from my travel journal on the JRC website). The visit was a transformational one for us – and we just knew that whenever we returned to Africa we would meet again with our friends at FDNC. Indeed, several members of our current delegation were part of the original visit in 2005. (That’s us above in a pic taken today: from left to right: Debbie Wolen, me, Elaine Waxman, FDNC founder Samuel Watalatsu, Robert Israelite and Dan Litoff).

I’ll put it simply: if anyone asks you for a definition of “sustainable development,” just point to FDNC. Through Samuel’s inspired leadership, FDNC has grown into a model of self-reliance and grassroots sustainable development for the most impoverished communities of Eastern Uganda. They are particularly adept at developing strategies that promote community empowerment in the critical areas of vocational training, women’s rights, health/AIDS awareness and music/dance education.

During our first visit, we stayed for a week in the FDNC vocational school located in Nantandome Village, an impoverished rural area not far from Mbale. Living and working in this environment had a profound effect on our group. Among other things, we helped with construction of a classroom – we well recalled how painstaking it was to mix the cement for the mortar. Water had to be hauled in jerry cans from a river half a mile away and the mud bricks were made by hand and baked in the sun.

Just three short years later, the transformation of the area is profound. The classrooms of the school are complete and the grounds are beautifully landscaped. They are currently being served by numerous volunteers (we met teenagers on an AJWS service program as well as interns from as far away as Spain and Japan). The school no longer has to haul their water in from the river – they now have large tanks that collect rain water. They also have an ingenious brick making device that makes mud bricks quickly that require a minimum of mortar.

FDNC is clearly flourishing, serving many more students from the surrounding districts and they are currently in the midst of building a new headquarters for their operations in Mbale. It was deeply inspiring for us to witness the fruits of their labors – and how powerfully they have impacted their community.

In the morning we toured the vocational classes, which include hairdressing, computer skills, tailoring and masonry/carpentry. We also visited with an inspiring new educational program for special needs children (above) which is virtually unprecedented in Uganda. (The writing on the board in back of the children reads “Disability is not Inability.”) We also made a special donation of supplies to the school, which included some hula hoops courtesy of the Waxmans. (Below you can see FDNC vocational school director Walter Urek-Wun trying one out).

In the afternoon we visited the village of Wapando, one of the many nearby communities served by FDNC (bottom pic). They received our group joyfully, singing songs and dancing with us – and we reciprocated with a few rousing rounds of “Oseh Shalom.” They also cooked and served us a full lunch, an almost overwhelmingly generous gesture under the circumstances.

Our day ended back at the vocational school, where young people from the FDNC brass band and a traditional dance group performed for us for over two hours as the sun set behind them. Children and families from the area turned out in droves for the occasion as did numerous volunteers and we all helped cheer the performers on. By the end of a cathartic day, we were virtually spent – and deeply moved by what can be accomplished by people so thoroughly devoted to their community.

Tomorrow we’re going to spend the day with our good friends from the Mirembe Kowamera interfaith fair trade coffee coop. There’s much more to come…


Trash is Cash

If you’re looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Earth Day 2008, here’s an inspiring project worthy of your support. Taka ni Pato (“Trash is Cash”) is an income-generating, solid waste management and recycling project that removes more than 2000 tons of trash each year from a slum in Kenya.

More than 700,000 people live in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, which is large as NYC’s Central Park, yet lacks basic government services such as trash removal, sewage, and clean water. Through Taka ni Pato, however, garbage is becoming a resource in Kibera. TNP promotes solid waste management and public awareness about recycling, and creates jobs for youth that collect trash. At present, TNP engages more than 100 young people, providing them with the tools necessary to clean up their communities, creating a healthier environment while generating income for individual economic development.

If you’d like to support TNP in their efforts to create a more environmentally and economically sustainable community, click here. $25 will buy two shovels and a rake for clean ups; $75 buys a wheel barrel for transporting trash; $100 helps pay rent for land used to sort and store recyclable materials.

You should also know that TNP is but one of many important initiatives sponsored by Carolina for Kiberia – an amazing NGO run out of the University of North Carolina that was named a Time Magazine and Gates Foundation “Hero of Global Health.”

Make a difference this Earth Day! Anyone out there have a favorite environmental effort they’d like to share?

World Water Week

Did you know that lack of clean and accessible drinking water is the second largest worldwide killer of children under five? Rather than take that in as yet one more depressing stastistic, there is something you can do. UNICEF’s Tap Project is an effort that celebrates the clean and accessible drinking water available as an every day privilege to millions, while providing safe drinking water for children around the world.  

Here’s a description the Tap Project’s figurehead campaign, World Water Day:

Beginning Sunday, March 16 through Saturday, March 22, restaurants will invite their customers to donate a minimum of $1 for the tap water they would normally get for free. For every dollar raised, a child will have clean drinking water for 40 days.

Currently, UNICEF provides access to safe water and sanitation facilities while promoting safe hygiene practices in more than 90 countries. By 2015, UNICEF’s goal is to reduce the number of people without safe water and basic sanitation by 50 percent.

The Tap Project has a great website that walks you through the entire project and gives you an easy way of identifying participating restaurants in your area. (After a quick perusal, I discovered that nearly all of my favorite local eateries are part of this campaign.)

Will this effort be enough? No. Will every effort make a difference? Absolutely. Click above to learn more about World Water Week.

Thanksgiving and the Farm Bill

farm_1116.jpgThis Thanksgiving season, I’ve been thinking more and more about the complicated ways in which our food reaches our tables. In particular, I’ve been paying increasing attention to the torturous course of the 2007 Farm Bill – a critical piece of legislation that has important implications for our nation and the world.

Like most Americans, my eyelids tend to droop when I hear words like “Farm Bill,” but I have slowly come to understand that it will have a profound and wide ranging impact upon us all. In the words of Time Magazine‘s Michael Grunwald, “If you eat, drink or pay taxes – or care about the economy, the environment or our global reputation – U.S. agricultural policy is a big deal.”

For its part, Jewish tradition teaches that the means by which we sustain ourselves is a mindful and sacred process. The Torah reminds us over and over laws that the land which produces its bounty (not to mention the bounty itself) is not a commodity that belongs to the farmer. God is the source of all sustenance and accordingly, the food we collect and consume must be understood to be a part of a greater, more transcendent good.

This past week it was reported that the Farm Bill stalled in the Senate for strictly political reasons. (What else is new?) This legislation is not likely to resurface for another year – in the meantime, anyone who eats food in this country would do well to educate themselves about the impact this bill will have on their lives.

So here’s a reading list for you this Thanksgiving. In addition to the fine, thorough Grunwald article linked above (“Why Our Farm Policy is Failing”), I recommend “Farm Bill 101,” from Food and Water Watch and this editorial by Michael Pollan, author of the GREAT book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and one of the most eloquent food advocates in our country.

Oh, and Happy Day to one and all…

Land and Water, Then and Now

dead-sea.jpgFrom the week’s Torah portion, Parashat Eikev:

For the land that you are about to inherit and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. (Deuteronomy 11:10-11)

From the JTA, September 2, 2005:

It took the Dead Sea to breathe some life into Arab-Israeli cooperation.

On Sunday, at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development, four Israeli and Jordanian government ministers presented a collaborative venture to save the Dead Sea, which has been shrinking at an alarming rate.

Under the plan, a canal would be dug to divert water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Funding for the plan, which could cost up to $1 billion, would come from the World Bank. Construction is expected to begin within 12 to 18 months and take at least five years.

An additional $3 billion to $4 billion — expected to come from private sources — would be needed to construct desalination plants, which would provide water to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Hassam Nassar, Jordan’s minister of water and irrigation, said the level of the Dead Sea was dropping by over three feet a year. It already is the lowest point on the surface of the earth, 1,350 feet below sea level.

Stabilizing the level of the water would help maintain the heritage value of the Dead Sea, which has archaeological, tourism, ecological, historical and cultural value for the region and for all three of its major religions.

In recent years, U.N. conferences often have become playgrounds for Israel-bashers. But with international support required for the Dead Sea project, both Israel and Jordan believed the summit was the correct venue to inform the international community of the plan.

Initial investigations by a special binational technical task team have so far not shown any real environmental obstacles to the plan. The $10 million investigation will take around 18 months to complete.

The “Red-Dead” project faced fewer ecological difficulties than the previously proposed “Med-Dead” concept of bringing water from the Mediterranean Sea.

“Maybe this time the Dead Sea will bring life and peace to the region,” Israeli Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said.

Though Israel and Jordan are officially at peace, public announcements involving ministers from the two countries are rare.

But Bassem Awadallah, Jordan’s planning minister, said this was an environmental issue, not a political one.

“We are trying to keep the project out of politics. The project will save us all, Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians from an ecological disaster,” he said.

Awadallah added that this was an urgent environmental problem that could not wait for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We have to start now,” he said. “This is a natural disaster in the making and we will be criminals if we ignore it and watch the Dead Sea disappearing before our eyes.”

(Click here for a more current report on the status of the Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal Project.)