Ellen Butler looks at how communities near the Sahara desert are fighting desertification, with the Great Green Wall.
In 2007, an initiative called The Great Green Wall of the Sahel and the Sahara was launched by the African Union and the UN. The mammoth project proposed building a wall of trees across Africa – from Senegal to 7000km east in Djibouti. It was intended to block the advancing Sahara Desert from spreading into the Sahel, the area south of the desert, and causing land degradation.
However, over ten years only 15 percent of the wall has been built. The project has faced numerous obstacles and complications, though there have been some successes.
Dr. Chris Reij is a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a specialist in sustainable land management. He told STAND News more about the project and what life is like for African farmers.
The Great Green Wall (GGW) has been described as a ridiculous idea that was destined to fail. Why is that?
Experience in the Sahel shows that planting trees is difficult. Survival rates of planted trees are often low, which means well below 50 percent and in some cases, just 10 or 20 per cent. Planting trees in areas with 400 mm rainfall or less is exceedingly difficult and certainly planting trees at the scale originally envisioned is technically impossible.
Also, the assumption that a belt of trees would stop the Sahara is flawed. Land degradation is caused by misuse of the land. If farmers in areas with more than 400 mm rainfall expand agriculture over lands which are not suitable for agriculture and destroy the vegetation by doing so, then land degradation/desertification will occur south of the planted belt.
Some argue that the initiative did, in fact, succeed. It has evolved into a metaphorical wall of a variety of practical land-use methods, adapted by local farmers themselves?
It is true that the GGW has moved into a better direction, but it is too early to declare success. It’s almost impossible to find any hard data anywhere about what has been achieved so far.
Unfortunately, we are still losing the fight against land degradation in the Sahel. Rates of deforestation continue to greatly exceed rates of reforestation. Niger is possibly an exception because smallholder farmers in the densely populated southern parts of Niger have increased on-farm tree densities on 5 million hectares (12.5 million acres), which makes it the largest positive environmental transformation in Africa and it happened in the second poorest country in the world.
What are conditions like for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa? Is the reforestation and regeneration of land having a positive impact on local communities and economies?
Life in the Sahel is harsh for most people. The dry season lasts about seven to eight months. Temperatures and rainfall have already become more extreme. This year, rains in Niger, for instance, are abundant and it leads to floods in Northern Niger, which is usually the driest area. Farmers have difficulties planning their activities because rainfall has become even more unpredictable. Many farm households face food shortages and a large percentage of children under five years are malnourished.
This macro-level gloom does hide very positive development at the local level. The positive impact generated by investments in restoring degraded land can be best illustrated by one case: The village of Ranawa in Burkina Faso was in a very difficult situation around 1985. All wells dried up at the end of the rainy season and drought led to crop failure. Between 1975 and 1985, 25 percent of the villagers left to settle elsewhere. In 1984/85, a project began to invest in simple soil, and water conservation techniques, which quickly led to a recharge in groundwater and soon all wells in the village had water during the entire year. The soil and water conservation techniques also helped restore the productive capacity of the land. Since 1985, not a single family has left the village.
What does the future look like for countries in the Sahel?
The future of most Sahel countries looks quite bleak. The population will double in the next 20 years. Countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger experience acts of terrorism. Young people lack economic perspectives, and many want to leave for Europe.
However, there are also positive developments. 40 years ago, there were barely any academically trained people in Sahel countries, but nowadays one can find specialists in every discipline. Communication was difficult, but now almost every family has access to a mobile phone. Infant mortality has dropped, and access to education has improved. 40 years ago, we did not know what to do with land degradation, but now we know what to do and how to do it.
It is vital to improve food security and livelihoods in the Sahel and create economic perspectives for the young people. Anyone visiting a big city in the Sahel will be impressed by all the shops.
Above image courtesy of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
Image: Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy Prison 1921. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.
When we hear about Cumann na mBan in this age of commemoration, we hear a token mention about a women’s group relegated to the sidelines. If we hear about them at all.
But these female revolutionaries were so much more than that. They were the most well-known politically active group for Irish women in the early 20th Century, a group that fought for women’s education and recognised important social issues.
Who were Cumann na mBan?
They were a republican women’s organisation set up in April 1914, to support the male Irish volunteers, during the Irish Revolutionary Period (1916 – 1923). Cumann na mBan’s purpose was primarily to provide support to the male military wing – e.g. fund raising, providing medical supplies, producing newspapers, providing communications and intelligence. Most women in the organisation did everything except take up arms.
By 1923 the Irish Civil War ended and brought an end to the revolutionary period, along with its military action. The purpose for which Cumann na mBan had been set up, was completely changed – in order to continue they would need to overhaul the organisation.
The history of Cumann na mBan has focused on their ‘military phase’ or the time from 1914-23. They are remembered for being simply the female wing of the IRA after 1916. But they were so much more than that. Cumann na mBan remained very active during the 1920s and 1930s, as a group that sought to provide a social, political and recreational outlet for women.
Facing a crisis of purpose in 1924, Cumann na mBan reorganised with an internal education programme for their members in the early 1930s. In 1934 class plans were sent to all branches, and each branch was expected to teach themselves, with some help from a lecture series published in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht.
Their plan was to educate women, and they wanted to do this through the subjects of history and economics. These two areas often overlapped, with economic history important, as well as the history of Irish nationalism.
The history reading list featured James Connolly’s writings in particular, and Labour in Irish History by James Connolly was “the best book from which to obtain a knowledge of the economic and social state of the country”.
However, through teaching economics, Cumann na mBan began to seriously advocate for women. Before giving any details for classes on economics, Cumann na mBan argued the reasons for women to study economics in the first place. This is something they did not feel was necessary for history.
This argument is particularly strong and really shows what Cumann na mBan were about in the 1930s. They suggest that it makes sense for women to be involved in running the economics of the country – simply because they run the home. “Political Economics merely means the housekeeping of a Nation.”
They were using the perceived ideals of women as an argument for political involvement. Although playing into the idea that women were supposed to run the household, Cumann na mBan saw this as a strength that could be used to further women’s political involvement.
But it was also apparent that Cumann na mBan were intending to educate the next generation and build a structure so that the organisation would continue. In this particular section, we see them argue for greater female involvement in government – perhaps without even realising – not just for ‘now’ but for the future.
Education for economics would be through lectures mainly – to be given by officers in branches, and published lectures in republican newspaper An Phoblacht. A key part of their political and economic vision was socialism.
“Members will be expected to have a knowledge of (a) the causes of the present poverty and insecurity of the people; (b) the means necessary to be taken to end the present position.”
By the 1930s Cumann na mBan were developing a greater attention for socialism and politics. They began to view poverty as something that was systemic, an issue that needed to be addressed through greater education of all the issues.
This is a far cry from the image of them as simply there to support their male counterparts or that they faded away through the 1920s. They had become an organisation that really advocated for women’s education, but also for greater social change. Ireland in the 1930s is often remembered as very conservative, but Cumann na mBan proves there were strong pockets of social activists that still looked for change.
This is part of a STAND series on historical activist women. To read more about them, click here.
Roisin Guyett-Nicholson is Editor of STAND News and a History MA student at UCD.
Calvin James is a Dublin born DJ who spent 6 months in the Rojava strip in Northern Syria. There he worked for the Kuridsh Red Crescent who are a 24/7 emergency response service. He went there because he wanted to help the Yazidi population, who face mass genocide by ISIS. He is now back in Ireland and has been running Syria’s vibes for the past 15 months. Syrias Vibes is a music event which supports the innocent victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq by raising money for medical, psychological, and social services for locals in both countries. He sat down with me to tell me his fascinating story.
So how exactly did you get involved, from your Dublin apartment all the way to Northern Syria?
The situation there was always on my mind, but it was when I received an e-mail from my friend in
Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in April 2015 that things started to happen. He was over there fighting with
the YPG – who are a Kurdish resistance group fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I had no interest in fighting,
but I told him about my social care background. Luckily the YPG were looking for healthcare workers….and before I knew it I was at the airport and making my way to the Syrian border.
So I stayed at a YPG camp for three weeks, but soon had to return to Dublin for personal reasons. At
the time I thought it was a “divine intervention” – a guardian angel telling me to cop on and get
home! But back home I just couldn’t stop thinking of the situation I left behind. So I decided to
return in February 2016.
What was it like meeting the YPG – did you have much training?
It was a good introduction, and there were many other Westerners who were there in a fighting
capacity. Actually, one of the first things I was shown was how to use basic weapons – simply for the
fact that there was always the threat of ISIS or a Turkish intervention, so it was for self-defence
reasons. Apart from that I learned the basics of the Kurdish language, and there was also a small bit
of ideological training.
On your return you started working with the Kurdish Red Crescent. Was there much of a routine
or was it more spontaneous work?
It depended on the day’s events. We were based in a city called Qamishli, which wasn’t
experiencing daily battle but there was always the ISIS threat. The first couple of months were a bit
slow as the rescue centre was being set up. But by April things were in full swing, and I was
responding to ISIS attacks or battles between the Syrian regime and the Kurds. But it was sporadic,
and there were days you spent just hanging about – I became pretty familiar with Syrian Soap
You also came to the assistance of wounded ISIS fighters. It must have been difficult to remain
compassionate and professional at those times…
It was a bit surreal. The first time I met ISIS was in a town called Amuda. We rushed there
because we heard of a suicide bombing – it turned out it was a failed suicide bombing and the ISIS
fighter was in a local hospital. So we went over and there he was, lying unconscious with severe burns,
aged around 22. I actually touched his body for a moment, so that was a bit of a freaky experience.
And indeed, many of the Kurdish Red Crescent would have known someone who was killed or raped
by ISIS. But we always stuck to our ethos of simply helping anyone who needed it.
July 27 th 2016 was a particularly dark day out there. Can you describe what happened?
That was the day an ISIS truck bomb in Qamishli killed 50 people and left 150 others injured. I was
just chilling in my room before hearing the most crazy bang noise, and then the air conditioner in
my room just fell to the ground. There was a massive mushroom cloud outside, and it was obvious
then something serious had happened. So we arrived at the scene, trying to get as many survivors
as possible. It was the most intense heat ever that day, 50 degrees I think. We had no water, so I
ended up drinking some dirty pipe water not caring of the damage it could do with me. Everything
happened so quickly, and some dude just dropped this dead girl on my arms. We rushed to the
ambulance with her and only then realised “what are we doing bringing her to hospital, she’s already
dead” and then rushed back to try and get the survivors – that kind of hazy and panicked state of mind
sums up what it was like. It was actually my Dad’s birthday that day, but unfortunately I’ll be associating
it with something else from now on. Nothing prepares you for a day like that.
How about the local population, what was your relationship like with them?
Overall very good. There would be UN aid trucks passing through Rojava on the way to Aleppo,
and the local populations were frustrated they weren’t stopping in Rojava. I think they felt a bit
neglected by some other organisations. So they really did appreciate any humanitarian assistance
they got, and they saw us as neutral. I also think the fact I was Irish helped, because of ours and
the Kurds shared struggle– there was the occasional Bobby Sand’s reference.
And what about their daily lives – was there much of a sense of normality?
There actually was, and I think absence of normality can sometimes be a bit of a misconception
about parts of warzones. It was definitely the case here any ways – people went to school, had
weddings, socialised, played sports. Myself and some YPG friends even treated ourselves to an
occasional couple of cans, just to get our mind away from it all. Obviously things would have been
different in Aleppo due to the constant chaos. In Rojava though it was “carry on as normal” while
always been aware of the ISIS threat.
Syria’s woes are far from over, but there is a sense that the Assad regime is going to hold. What
do you think that means for the future of the Syrian Kurds and Rojava?
It really depends whether the Assad regime is willing to grant them autonomy. At the moment
I’m reading that he would be open to negotiation on the matter, and I think many of them would
find that satisfactory. But there are still a few issues here and there – for example the Arab’s in the
region don’t always have the best opinion of the Kurds. So there are interesting times ahead to see
how it all pans out. Unfortunately though the Kurds can sometimes be a bit naïve about the United
States’ role in all of this – some of them even have a positive opinion of Trump. They don’t seem to
realise the U.S. might just throw them under the bus when it’s all over, just as what happened in the
Tell me a bit more about Syria’s Vibes – how did the idea come about?
I just felt there was a lack of humanitarian charities and NGO’s in the region – many of them
seemed to be helping displaced Syrian’s in nearby Lebanon and Jordan. So I wanted to leave my
own blueprint, and started raising funds back home through club nights and other events.
Initially we raised funds just for emergency work, but we started to realise that other areas weren’t
being looked after. By this I mean there were still girls in part of Syria receiving no education at all –
and it’s the polar opposite of how things are in the West, children actually want to go to school
there! There was also a severe lack of psychological support for the Yazidi’s, who have been left
traumatised from ISIS horrors. So at the moment we’re really trying to branch out to these
untapped areas and fund some important projects and services.
Your story is inspiring, but what would you say to a young Irish person considering a similar
Learn a language – or two! In all seriousness though, you need to do as much homework as
possible before going out. I was lucky in that I had a very strong base and team, with everyone
looking out for each other and helping each other along the way. So it’s a combination of making
sure you have as much research done as possible, while also ensuring you’re with the right company.
Head along to Syrian Vibes which is happening tonight at The Soundhouse, Eden Quay, 7pm. Check out their Facebook event for details.
Photo: Calvin James with Yazidis
Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field. He currently works for Concern Worldwide.
November 8th, 2016 will forever be remembered as the day America chose to elect the least qualified presidential candidate in history. While there were many reasons the American electorate turned from Hilary Clinton to Donald Trump, it is undeniable that gender played in role in Clinton’s defeat.
Although it’s easy to shake our heads and tut at America’s lack of progress, let’s examine women’s political leadership in Ireland. Like America, Ireland has never had a female Taoiseach. As it stands, 32 women were elected to the Dail in 2016, a new record. However in July 2017, out of these representatives, only three women were chosen as Ministers for a Cabinet consisting of 19.
In a world that is strikingly unequal and unfair, how do we encourage and prepare young girls to overcome the barriers and take on leadership roles?
From an early age, we need to encourage young girls to be confident and to not shy away from hobbies or activities that ‘are for boys’. Subjects in school like engineering, coding, and science that are historically male-dominated should be inclusive to any young girl who has a passion and interest in them. Make it clear to them that education and careers are just as important as relationships. When it comes to sport, encourage them not to give up as they enter teenage years. Partaking in sports can teach girls leadership skills, provide them with the ability to work as a team and boost their mental health. More than anything, we need to teach young women that they deserve to take up the same amount of space as men.
Embracing Feminism and Intersectionality
Feminism has gotten a bad rap the last decade. Conservatives and traditionalists label modern feminism or ‘third-wave’ feminists as ‘man-haters’ and angry women. While the message of feminism may have gotten muddled with the rise of ‘white feminism’ and ‘feminist lite’, the essence of feminism lies in its definition: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Feminism is a champion of both sexes and encourages people to eschew traditional roles and be their most authentic selves. But a valid criticism in recent years has been that feminism is exclusively for white, middle-class women who fail to recognise the discrimination of women of colour, LGBT women, working-class women and women with disabilities. To truly reach gender equality, we need to ensure everyone has a share of the pot and to do this, intersectionality must be embraced and spread far and wide. The most common definition of intersectionality is; ‘The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” We must continue to listen to voices from every background to ensure that our workplaces are not just full of women who fit the mold of ‘privilaged white girl’.
While diversity is the buzz word for the media and organisation’s, the real sign of progress is representation. In a 2016 study, Fortune report revealed that out of 1,000 companies in America, only 7% had female Chief Executives. This points to the harsh reality: women are underrepresented in levels of leadership. For example, If women do not have a say in political decisions; it means that the voices of 51% of the population are not being heard. This results in several socio-economic problems being ignored by male leaders and branded as ‘women’s issues’. To combat this; many global companies and governments have introduced gender quotas. While these quotas have been met with apprehension, from both men and women, they have proven successful in accelerating women’s progression in the corporate and political world. To enforce that women are represented at the top level, countries such as Norway have introduced sanctions for any company that doesn’t meet its quota requirements. In an article about gender quotas in the Scandinavian country, researcher Siri Terjesen explains that ‘if a company breaks the gender quota rules in Norway it will be denied registration as a business enterprise in the Brønnøysund Register Centre and be subject to forced dissolution by the courts. So far, no company has been sanctioned.’
Tackling online harassment
Statistically, females receive more abuse than males on social media. A 2016 Guardian study tracked 70 million user’s comments on its website over the course of 10 years. The results were unsurprising; out of the 10 writers who received the most abuse, eight were women. The 10 writers who received the least abuse were all men. News articles and opinion pieces aren’t the only breeding ground for online vitriol. Social media sites like Twitter have become a stomping ground for online trolls to harass women with messages of hate and threats of violence. Twitter has been slow to tackle this sort of abuse; at times they have failed to block users or ban their accounts, resulting in many female users abandoning the site altogether. One recent case acts as an example of how lawmakers did punish two online trolls who targeted a feminist campaigner. In 2014, two people were sentenced to jail for sending death and rape threats on Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez, a writer campaigning for a woman to be featured on the £10 note, and to Labour MP Stella Creasy, who voiced her support of Criado-Perez. While it is promising to see individuals reprimanded for such acts, it’s worth noting that the pair were allowed to send multiple threats without the website suspending their accounts.
Raising Boys Differently
To inspire future female leaders, we must also change how we bring up young men. Similar to girls, we must encourage them to explore their true selves instead of forcing them into a small box of masculinity for the rest of their lives. Encourage them to see women as their equals in their personal lives and professional lives. This can start by ending gender segregation in primary and secondary school. Single-sex classrooms limit both girls and boys. In a 2011 article from Science.org, it argued that single-sex classes are ‘deeply misguided’ and that ‘There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” Additionally, we need to raise young men to believe that sharing parenting duties is the norm so that it means that a woman does not automatically give her up a career or take a step back from a career to raise children. Even if paternity leave becomes widely available, culture and attitudes need to change towards shared parental responsibilities. Figures released by the Department of Social Protection revealed that since the introduced changes in Ireland’s paternity leave set-up, only one in fours fathers took the two-week leave. If women are expected to climb the career ladder, men should be expected to do their best to ensure it happens.
For too long women have had no role models to guide them to the top. Men have had the luxury of mentors in every possible sector to help them get to the top of their field. Going back to the 2016 US elections, it wasn’t just Hilary Clinton who lost out. This was a defeat for every woman who deserved to see a woman finally get the opportunity to smash that glass ceiling to pieces.
Emily is a journalism graduate from DCU. Her work has appeared in the Irish Independent, Sunday World Online and Hot Press Magazine. She is passionate about equality and a fair society for all citizens.
Three years since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia find themselves at a
perpetual impasse. Daily fighting continues in the Eastern part of the country, with the
current death toll surpassing 10,000 and a further 2.5-3 million people left displaced. With
the Kremlin still denying the presence of Russian troops in the country, combined with a
growing apathetic international community, the fear is that the conflict has become a
The Political Context – Denial, Division, and Apathy
Mistrust and lack of transparency continue to define the conflict, with both sides taking part
in indiscriminate shelling and violence. The source of friction lies in the so called De Facto
states of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”, where Pro-
Russian separatists continue to seek greater autonomy from Ukraine in view of establishing
separate states. Whether this pursuit is backed by the Russian government is something
less clear. On the one hand Vladimir Putin has admitted occasional military support by
Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, but denies them having a regular presence there.
Less ambiguous is the Ukrainian government’s role, whose use of force has drawn criticism
from human rights groups and international monitors. At present, the fighting between the
two groups is mainly concentrated in the cities of Avdiivka and Mariupol.
Internationally, the conflict has taken on a backstage role in light of events in Syria.
Regardless, continued United States support for Ukraine in the form of military training and
non-lethal aid, as well as the continued issuing of sanctions against Russia, means “cold
war” rhetoric remains close to the surface. This has been exacerbated further with the
ongoing debate of whether the U.S should provide Ukraine with lethal aid. Here in Europe,
a lack of political will seems to be the defining characteristic, with neither France nor
Germany offering much inspiration in terms of diplomacy. With Brexit on the horizon this
apathy is only likely to increase, as the UK’s exit may mean it will no longer be able to wield
its influence against Russian aggression.
Human Rights – Repression In The Name of Security
With over 2000 civilian deaths, and over 2.5 million people displaced, the consequences for
ordinary Ukrainian citizens have been devastating. For those who have survived, the highly
nationalistic nature of the conflict means that security forces have created a climate of
suspicion and fear. This was highlighted in 2017 annual reports by both Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, which outlined how dozens of civilians were held
captive and tortured by both the Ukrainian authorities and Pro-Russian separatists, on
suspicion of collaborating with the ‘other side’ or as part of a “prisoner exchange” strategy –
often on tenuous or baseless grounds. Such developments are particularly concerning in
the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, due to a lack of checks and balances.
Away from the conflict zone, the human rights situation in the now annexed Crimea leaves
much to be concerned, where Russian authorities have targeted dissenters and minority
groups – particularly the Crimean Tatars. Ed O’Donovan works for Irish based NGO ‘Front
Line Defenders’, which seeks to protect human rights defenders at work. He explained how
human right defender’s (HRD’s) in Crimea face many challenges in the newly annexed
region. “Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the Russian authorities in the
region have consistently targeted HRD’s in an attempt to whitewash the human rights
violations taking place”, said Ed, who describes how the authorities subject HRD’s to
“physical attack, home surveillance, criminal prosecution, and unlawful detention, while
also banning public demonstration in support of minorities.” Indeed, the 2017 Frontline
Defenders award winner is Emil Kurbedinov, a Tartar human rights lawyer who has
documented violations against Tartars and assisted those who are in the firing line. Emil was
arrested by local authorities and sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for
“propagandizing for extremist organisations”. Ed says it’s vital that there is international
support for figures such as Emil “so that we can contribute to his security in a region that is
The Humanitarian Response
Homes, hospitals, schools, and vital infrastructure continue to be devastated by the conflict,
and an estimated 3.8 million people in Ukraine are in need of assistance, according to the
World Health Organisation. GOAL ceased their programme in Ukraine last year, but prior to
that had been aiding families and supporting the isolated and elderly. Sebastien
Lambroschini, who was GOAL’s Country Director in Ukraine but is now working for French
NGO ‘ACTED’, feels it is important that psychosocial support is also a key priority. “You have
thousands and thousands of people who are living within shelling range, that’s obviously
going to have a traumatic effect on them and provoke stress. What makes it even more
difficult is that anything to do with mental health is highly stigmatised in Ukraine, which
means that people won’t often seek help.”
However, Sebastien feels that livelihoods can only be restored properly in Ukraine once the
government starts to look at the bigger socio-economic changes taking place. “We’re
looking at a situation where the whole socio-economic fabric of the region has been
redrawn by the conflict”, he says. “The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were
once the economic centres for many people from small towns and areas– now they have
lost access to them. It is vital that the government firstly accepts and finds a way to map
out and deal with these new economic realities. It’s the much bigger question at stake.”
The Way Forward
For now the fighting and death toll looks likely to continue, with no end game in sight.
Indeed, unlike the so called “frozen” conflicts which are symptomatic of the Post-Soviet
space, Ukraine represents a conflict that is teetering along gradually without moments of
escalation but without any obvious solutions.
Long-term solutions will require reaching out to moderate factions on both sides and using
their influence to bring compromise and concessions. Nevertheless, a few positive moves
could help de-escalate tensions in the short-term while also improving the humanitarian
situation on the ground.
Suspending lethal aid proposals: Top U.S. officials continue to debate the sending of lethal
aid to Ukraine in the form of heavy weaponry. Such a move, however, would only lead to
more civilian deaths while bringing tensions with Russia to the brink. It is vital that more
moderate diplomats stand up to Neoconservatives in Washington to prevent such a move
taking place, while also ensuring Ukraine’s right to a proportionate self-defence.
Protecting NGO’s and IGO’s: Both NGO’s and Intergovernmental organisations are facing
limitations in their work, particularly in Crimea and the De Facto separatist states. One
example is monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
who have faced intimidation and threats from separatists during their mission inspections.
Ensuring that those behind such threats and intimidation are held responsible and
accountable would go some way in helping de-normalise such developments.
Continuing Reforms: The IMF has assisted Ukraine with $17.5 billion to improve the
economy and prevent corruption. While there have been some notable changes and
improvements, many lay citizens continue to move to Poland for work. The government
must focus on using these reform packages to support small businesses and reducing
unemployment, particularly in area’s bordering the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.
Photo Credit: Sasha Maksymenko
Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field. He currently works for Concern Worldwide.
Take a deep breath; in through your nose, hold and release out through your mouth. Keep repeating those steps. Feel better? You should, if you have clean air that is. Unfortunately, the people of Kabwe in Zambia don’t have such a luxury. Named and shamed as “the most polluted city in the world” Kabwe’s dusty air is polluted with a potent neurotoxin; lead. As we sat in Dublin preparing for the new Suas teaching placements in Kabwe, air quality did not make our list of concerns. Little did we know it should have.
The Guardian’s Damian Carrington reports on the devastation caused by the fumes from the giant state-owned smelter, which closed in 1994 and left Kabwe’s dusty soil in the surrounding area with extreme levels of lead. Referring to the blood levels of children tested in Kabwe it was reported that “every one of 246 children tested were above the safety limit of 5μg/dL of blood. The vast majority were over 45μg/dL, which causes brain, liver and hearing damage, and eight were over 150μg/dL, at which point death is the likely outcome.”
As a science teacher at home I run a TY module, part of which is dedicated to air quality & the dangers of lead poisoning. It wasn’t long ago that Irish motorists could buy leaded petrol in the local garage. Since 2000 only unleaded petrol is available and for good reason. Lead can be absorbed into bones, teeth and blood. It causes kidney damage, inhibits body growth, causes abdominal pain, anaemia, damage the nervous system and during pregnancy lead alters the formation of the brain. It reduces the grey matter in areas responsible for things such as impulse control, thinking and planning. The effects of lead poisoning are so dramatic that a study in the early 1990s by economist and housing consultant Rick Nevin showed the rise and fall of the presence of lead from petrol and he compared that curve to the modern history of violent crime. When the amount of lead in the environment increased, Nevin showed a corresponding rise in violent crime two decades later. Like a silent metallic parasite in the brain lead was influencing people decision making and shaping society.
Here in Kabwe, nobody talks about the air because it is only noticeably different when you leave the town and lots of people just don’t leave. Nobody wears a mask. The kids play in the dust, walk to school in the dust and eat in the dust inhaling and swallowing lead particles innocent to the damage the lead is causing.
Walking through the market I pass lines of young girls selling tomatoes and onions. Almost all of them have a baby tied on their back with a little head peeping out of a chitenge. All I can think about is their tiny lungs. We’re here to promote an education for all but that baby is fighting a battle bigger than basic poverty. Her IQ will be compromised, her risk of deafness and blindness is automatically increased with every speck of lead breathed in and it is very possible that she will never know why.
More and more I can see that how we treat our planet is coupled so closely to how we treat our fellow human beings. The air that we polluted by mining lead for batteries and paint and more efficient petrol is now taking full effect in this generation. I won’t be effected by the lead here. Firstly, I won’t be here in Kabwe long enough. Secondly, I’m wealthy enough to buy bottled water and imported food that grew in healthy soil and I’m educated enough to be able to identify the dangers. Can I say the same for the girl and the baby on her back? Unfortunately, not.
Where do we start to change things? I’m not sure what the answer is for you. For me as a teacher it starts in my classroom with a TY module. Maybe when my students go on to become engineers, scientists, environmentalists, corporate business managers and entrepreneurs they will continue the change.