13. All states shall accelerate SDG efforts to end poverty and enable all to obtain food and potable water

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Rapporteur: Marianne Larsen

Hunger and Famine

Project Save the World addresses six global threats that may each sharply break from the routine challenges of human experience, with quick catastrophic effects. We do not focus on chronic or intermittent problems that are not existential challenges to humankind or our civilization. Thus, we address famine but not “food insecurity,” or ordinary “hunger” — the shortage of nutrients that have frequently been experienced, probably by the majority of human beings throughout history. However, we recognize that it would be wrong and foolish to ignore “normal” hunger, so our Platform for Survival mentions it briefly in this plank, especially in connection with the current campaign by the United Nations to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Accordingly, we should at least touch upon the challenge feeding the human population in the decades ahead before turning to famine as the main topic of this article.

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The most important change we can make in our use of food is to reduce the amount of waste. And in Western societies, a major source of waste is the rule that food containers should state an expiration date, which it should be thrown out. This is ridiculous. People got along fine before that law came into effect. They looked at the food and if it seemed mouldy or yucky, they threw it out. Or they’d smell it or even taste it. Milk products often need to be tasted. But I know lots of people now who look at the label on the can an automatically toss it out. Food doesn’t go bad at a specific date. It depends on the environment it’s kept in. And the manufacturers dont know that. They just make up a date. It’s meaningless. Smell it and look at it before you decide there is something wrong with food!

Globally, between 1 and 2 billion people (20-22% of the world’s total population as of 2020) rely on “mountain water towers” – often interpreted as glacier meltwater – for their drinking and household water. These same water systems additionally have vital roles in natural ecology – supplying water for many ecosystems. These water sources are important in years of drought as they maintain a reservoir source of water even in the event of little to no rainfall. However, climate change is accelerating the rate of glacial melt – putting these whole systems and those reliant on them at risk. If global heating can be limited to 1.5°C, the world could retain 75% of its mountain glacier area and avoid the most significant impacts. Ultimately, these systems sit at the crux of geopolitics, environmental health, and human health.

Ben Cousins – a journalist at CTV news – offers a summary of concerns around these vital water systems:

“An article in the journal “Nature” and in partnership with National Geographic and Rolex, found the world’s 78 mountain-based glacier systems, known as “mountain water towers,” are at risk due to climate change, over population and mismanagement of water resources. These mountain water towers are critical to the world’s water supply because they store and transport fresh water to communities through glaciers, lakes and streams. The researchers, comprised of 32 scientists from around the world, assessed the 78 water towers and ranked them based on how much people in the area rely upon them. They found that the Indus water tower, located in the Himalayas and covering portions of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, is both the most relied-upon system and also one of the most vulnerable. The Rocky Mountains water tower was labelled as the most important in North America.”

Link: https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/climate-change-threatens-water-resources-for-1-9-billion-people-study-reveals-1.4722622

Here is the link to the original article in “Nature” published December 2019 by Prof. Walter W. Immerzeel and a team at the University of Utrecht University and FutureWater – Netherlands-based research institutes. There whole project involves 32 researchers on the team – spanning several countries and institutes.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1822-y

Jonathan Amos at the BBC additionally offered an interpretation of these findings.

“These are the 78 mountainous regions that are able to generate and then store vast quantities of water.

They deliver it in a controlled way to major populations living downstream.

The Dutch-led team finds Asia’s Indus basin – fed by the Himalayan, Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, and Ladakh ranges – to be the most important storage unit on the planet.

Its waters, produced at high elevation from rain and snow, and draining from lakes and glaciers, support more than 200 million people settled across parts of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.

But the Indus water tower, the researchers point out, is also the most vulnerable on their list of 78.

It’s subject to a range of current and future pressures, from ever greater demand – for more drinking water, for increased irrigation and industry, etc – to issues that could severely curtail supply. The latter will include geopolitical tensions, given the Indus intersects national boundaries; but the most obvious threat is climate change. A warming world will disrupt precipitation patterns and denude glaciers of their storage capacity.”


“Africa does not appear in this listing, principally because it is devoid of major glacier systems. Ice bodies do exist on the continent, in places such as on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, but their contribution to downstream catchments is limited.

And one of the defining aspects of the towers is the way they are able to maintain essential water supplies to populations even in drought years through the steady melt of high-elevation ice in summer months.”

Link: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50707138

Furthermore, Dr. Bethan Davies – a lecturer in glaciology at Royal Holloway: University of London and a researcher affiliated with the team (of 32 researchers globally) who published the paper in Nature offers the following comments in an article in the Conversation:

“The Indus basin is the most important water storage unit in Asia. Fed by rain and snow high up in the Himalayan, Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, and Ladakh mountain ranges, the water that drains from lakes and glaciers here supports 206 million people across parts of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan. Much of it is used for irrigating crops and in industry, as well as drinking water.”


“In Europe, the Alps is the most important water tower for the number of people dependent on its supply, followed by the Rhone, Rhine and Po basins. In North America, the Fraser and Columbia basins are the most critical water towers. The river Fraser has a high natural water demand in the downstream forest ecosystem, while the Columbia basin is rich in snow and ice and has high demand for irrigation from local farms. In South America, the South Chile, South Argentina, Negro, La Puna and North Chile water towers are the most critical suppliers of water to the thirsty South Atlantic and South Pacific coasts.”


“If global heating can be limited to 1.5°C, the world could retain 75% of its mountain glacier area and avoid the most significant impacts.”

Link: https://theconversation.com/the-worlds-mountain-water-towers-are-melting-putting-1-9-billion-people-at-risk-128501

It is vital to ask where these populations will get their water from once these mountain sources are depleted. One researcher recommended “towing” ice bergs for drinking water – but what happens when that resource melts away too? It is vital to analyze this present scenario to predict future trends in environmental and geopolitical instability as a result of water-based challenges, limitations, and trends.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has called for coordination among UN organisations and intergovernmental efforts to develop a proactive drought management strategy to assist all countries to improve and solidify their drought policies.”

More information available here: https://www.businesstoday.in/top-story/un-body-fao-calls-for-better-national-drought-policies/story/378620.html

One of my professors this term has mentioned that she does research on the proposed trans-African water pipe line. This project aims to connect four solar-paneled desalination plants to a 1.5 meter diameter pipe running through 11 Sahel (African) nations. It is unclear to me what security this project would have – as the pipeline would be running through some of the most politically unstable regions on the planet (Chad, Eritrea, etc.). What would happen if someone decides to blow-up a section of this pipeline? How much water will be provided to the middle section(s) – the furthest away from the desalination plants? Libya attempted a similar project on a national scale – moving underground fossil water in the south of Libya to settlements along the coast in the north.

Some more information about the project is available here: https://transafricapipeline.org

Additionally – what monitoring policies or procedures will be in place? I do not want to see someone tap into this pipe-line and introduce a bio-weapon, chemical weapon, or poison to the drinking and/or irrigation water of the Sahel.

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Have folks considered the trade-off between surface and well-water in various regions? Of concern is the source of drinking water in heavily contaminated areas. Chemical contamination can seep deep into the soil and contaminate wells. However, surface drinking water can be prone to pathogens – such as bacteria, parasites, etc. Several months ago there were a slurry of articles around straws with built in filters – but I question are these certified for a range of contaminants – such as arsenic vs. bacteria vs. parasites, etc.

I am alarmed to hear of the repeated green algae blooms in Lake Erie. The algae is toxic and has caused bans on drinking tap water in several regions of the United States (in the vicinity of Lake Erie) in recent years. I have heard several theories as to the origin of these algae blooms. One is that it is a byproduct of agricultural run-off and antiquated drainage systems implemented in the nineteenth century. A large portion of the area south-west of Lake Erie was formerly known as the Great Black Swamp and during colonization, settlers installed drainage pipes in their fields which drained into regional waterways like creeks, rivers, and swamps. This is exacerbated by the increased density of crops and livestock animals in recent decades – with fertilizers and manure eventually ending up in Lake Erie. A second theory is that the large-scale greenhouse industry in southern Ontario is contributing to the algae blooms – as there are large numbers of greenhouses for crops such as tomatoes along the north shoreline of Lake Erie. Lake Erie recently received legal protection in the United States by granting it similar rights to humans – more information about this can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwhcrpJTzGQ

I saw something recently about harvesting water from fog. They put up textiles which capture the moisture and collect it. They were even talking about using it in the desert. Does anyone know whether there is enough water in dry air to make such a scheme workable?

Howard, the answer is YES! They can get water out of air in the desert too now. Here’s a link about the new technological innovation that makes it possible.

Millions on the brink of starvation
Muna came with her family to live in Balambal IDP camp, Somalia, after they lost almost all their livestock. This small pot of rice she cooks will be the only meal for the day for the whole family of six to share. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

A boy holds a kettle as he walks outside his family’s hut at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016. Famine often leads to conflict, but when the conflict is already them, famine is a form of oppression.



(CNN) Amazon deforestation accelerated more than 60% in June over the same period last year, in what environmentalists say is a sign that the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro are starting to take effect.

The rate of rainforest destruction had been stable during the first few months of Bolsonaro’s presidency but began to soar in May and June, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE), a government agency whose satellites also monitor the Amazon.

769.1 square kilometres were lost last month – a stark increase from the 488.4 sq km lost in June 2018, INPE’s data showed. That equates to an area of rainforest larger than one and a half soccer fields being destroyed every minute of every day.
More than two-thirds of the Amazon are located in Brazil and environmental groups blame far-right leader Bolsonaro and his government for the increase, saying he has relaxed controls on deforestation in the country.

Why Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has environmentalists worried for the Amazon

“Over the past six months, Bolsonaro and his environment minister have been devoting themselves to the dismantling of the Brazilian environmental governance and neutralizing regulatory bodies”, Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the environment NGO network Observatorio do Clima (Climate Observatory) told CNN.

Greenpeace called Bolsonaro and his government a “threat to the climate equilibrium” and warned that in the long run, his policies would bear a “heavy cost” for the Brazilian economy. “Bolsonaro already accounts for gigantic setbacks for the environment and for Brazil’s image”, Márcio Astrini, a spokesman for Greenpeace in Brazil said in a statement on Friday.
CNN asked the Brazilian Environment Ministry for comment on the recent numbers but has not received a response.

Delivering on a campaign promise

During Bolsonaro’s election campaign, he promised his government would focus on recovering the Brazilian economy and said he would look at ways of exploring the Amazon’s economic potential. Six months after his inauguration, the populist president is certainly delivering on his promises.

“The strong indication of the increase in the deforestation rate during the government of Jair Bolsonaro shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Rittl said. “It’s, after all, the accomplishing of a campaign promise: Bolsonaro was the first president in all of Brazil’s history to be elected with an openly anti-environmental and anti-indigenous speech”.

Rittl says loggers, farmers and miners emboldened by Bolsonaro’s pro-business stance have jumped on the opportunity, taking advantage of reduced controls and less oversight to seize control of a growing area of land within the Amazon forest.

Meanwhile, the government is hampering the efforts of those who are supposed to keep deforestation in check.

The Brazilian Environment and Renewables Institute (IBAMA), the country’s environmental enforcement agency, has seen its budget cut by $23 million, and six months in, the government has only nominated the heads of four of IBAMA’s 27 state offices. None of those four are located in states with jurisdiction over the Amazon rainforest.

In addition, official data obtained by Observatorio do Clima and sent to CNN shows the number of operations IBAMA has conducted in 2019 has gone down since the beginning of the year, around the same time Bolsonaro was sworn in.

“The explosion of the number of [deforestation] alerts in the past couple of months should lead to an intensification of inspection operations, but that hasn’t happened,” Rittl said.

He also put some of the blame on some European countries. “As much as European leaders have made ‘beautiful’ speeches showing concern about Bolsonaro’s environmental policies, and even though the [Paris Climate] agreement has environmental safeguards, the EU is signaling that it is at least tolerant with the ongoing anti-environmental agenda”.

International criticism

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both said they were concerned about the erosion of environmental protections in Brazil, but neither France, Germany or the European Union have gone beyond words. Last Friday, the European Union struck a deal with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, a move environmentalists say will only put additional pressure on the Amazon and its fragile ecosystem.

The Amazon forest is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20 per cent of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. It is considered vital in the ongoing efforts to slow down global warming and it is also home to uncountable species of fauna and flora. With roughly half the size of the United States of America, it is the largest rainforest on the planet.
Its area has been steadily shrinking over the past century with deforestation reaching its peak in 1995, when 29.059 km² were lost. The rate of destruction had then been decreasing, reaching its lowest point in 2012.

It has been accelerating ever since.

The Sustainable Development Goals have a list of 17 goals that are completely compatible with our list of 25 “planks.” Both agendas will eliminate poverty and solve global warming, if pursued vigorously.