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Top of the Morning: Scores Killed in Boko Haram Attack

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Scores Killed in Boko Haram Attacks in Northern Nigeria

This is on top of a horrific massacre at a school last week. “Twin bomb blasts in the city of Maiduguri killed at least 46 people on Saturday evening while, around 50 km (30 miles) away, dozens of gunmen were razing a farming village, shooting dead another 39.The attacks will heap pressure on Jonathan, whose intensified military push to end the Islamist sect Boko Haram’s four-and-a-half-year-old insurgency has been running for almost a year. While the bloodshed has not diminished, the army had at least had some success in confining it to remote rural areas in recent months, so that the attack on a densely populated market area in Maiduguri will be seen as a setback. (Reuters http://reut.rs/1hypy0a)

Food Crisis Looming for CAR

Only a fraction of funds required for humanitarian relief have materialized. “A food crisis is looming in the Central African Republic after nearly a year of violence, a UN humanitarian official warned on Sunday. Funds pledged to help the crisis in January have not materialised, Abdou Dieng, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator said, with only one-fifth of the $500m promised at a donor conference in Brussels coming in to the country. “It is now that the humanitarian crisis will start to deepen,” Dieng said. “If we don’t pay attention, we will soon see people dying of hunger,” Dieng told the AFP news agency after visiting the market town of Bouar in the far west of the country the size of France” (Al Jazeerahttp://aje.me/1hyqu4G)

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Is Crimea the Next South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

The news from Ukraine is moving fast. But all indications point to a Russian occupation of Crimea, a Ukrainian state with a majority of Russian speakers.  That is very much illegal under international law–one sovereign country can’t just decide to invade and occupy a neighbor.

In the days ahead, we may see Russia intentions more clearly. And if it turns out that Moscow is mounting a de-facto occupation of the territory of a sovereign state, what might the international consequences be for Russia? Not much, probably.  There is precedent for the international community’s response to this sort of thing.

Since 2008, Russia has been occupying two territories in the country of Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were seized by Moscow after a brief war between Georgia and Russia as the rest of the world was distracted by the Beijing Olympics. (Sound familiar?)  Every country in the world but Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as rightfully Georgian territory that is illegally occupied by Russia.  For its part, Russia has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.

The occupation has been ongoing for a long time now, and there’s been little international diplomatic pressure on Russia to give it up. I would not be terribly surprised if six years from now, Crimea becomes the next South Ossetia and Abkhazia: a territory successfully stolen by Russia from a neighboring state.

 

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Human Rights Wonks Discuss “The Act of Killing”

The Act of Killing, which is up for an Oscar on Sunday for Best Documentary, is a seriously confounding film. The films’ protagonists were part of a murderous frenzy in 1965 that lead to the killing of at least 1 million suspected “communists” and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia.  The Act of Killing depicts old members of a death squad acting out their memories — fantasies even —  of the murders and atrocities they committed nearly 50 years ago.  If you are a reader of UN Dispatch or just generally care about human rights you need to see this documentary.

The Act of Killing raises profound questions about international human rights law, accountability, historical memory, and even the role of sadism in mass atrocity events. The film left me perplexed, so I invited some of the smartest human rights wonks around to help think through some of these questions.

Here to discuss the film with me are:

Rebecca Hamilton, human rights lawyer, journalist and author of Fighting for Darfur. She teaches at Columbia Law School and tweets @bechamilton

Kate Cronin-Furman,  lawyer and political scientist who researches accountability for mass atrocities. She blogs at wrongingrights.com

Daniel Solomon, a writer and consultant based in Washington, DC. He blogs at Securing Rights, and is a former national director of STAND, a national student network of student advocates for mass atrocity prevention.

Kevin Jon Heller, Professor of Criminal Law, SOAS, University of London Principal Fellow, Melbourne Law School. He blogs at opiniojuris.org

Kimberly Curtis, Lawyer and UN Dispatch contributor. 

 

Mark Leon Goldberg: Let’s kick this off! First, a legal question that has been bugging me: Do you think the film reveals evidence of genocide? To be sure, most of those murdered were killed because they were deemed to be “communists” and not because of their ethnicity. But the protagonists of the documentary–Anwar Congo and his death squad — also boast about hunting down ethnic Chinese Indonesians. The death squad’s logic seemed to be that ethnic Chinese must, ipso facto, be “communists.”

I’m no lawyer, but that reeks of genocidal intent to me.  

Rebecca Hamilton: It’s a similar classification challenge to Cambodia. While many of us believe “political group” should have been included in the Genocide Convention, we are stuck with the Convention we’ve got – “communists” are not a protected group. And what I couldn’t tell from the film was whether there was an intent to destroy ethnic Chinese Indonesians as such, or whether ethnicity just served as a convenient proxy for the target group of “communists” (actual or perceived).

But in many ways the answer to this question is less important that what is crystal clear – the commission of crimes against humanity by perpetrators who are living out their lives with total impunity. For me, “The Act of Killing” is a 2-hour long rebuttal to Mbeki and Mamdani’s recent NYT op ed. While I agreed with aspects of their editorial, this documentary is a chilling insight into what society you can end up with when there has been no accountability.

Kimberly Curtis: I largely agree with Rebecca. Genocide has a certain dramatic appeal but we need to keep in mind that it is a specific act with a specific definition and targeting people based on their political affiliation doesn’t fit. While some acts described in the film make clear some of the violence was ethnically based, it is also clear the primary marker of a victim was their alleged involvement with the PKI. It is clear that gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity occurred here. Just because it doesn’t fall under the genocide label doesn’t mean that these crimes are any less severe.

Daniel Solomon: On the one hand, I sympathize with Bec and Kimberly’s respective takes. Within the strict confines of the Genocide Convention–that is, a legal definition of the event–the atrocities of Sukarno’s “death squads” don’t quite fit. Beyond the Convention, “genocide” has become a term of anthropological reference for a much broader swath of identity-motivated violence–in Anwar Congo’s era, and since. In the Indonesian society that Oppenheimer’s documentary recalls, a victim’s identity is neither exclusively “political” nor exclusively “ethnic”–as Mark suggests, the two identity markets blend and interact, often as a consequence of perpetrators like Congo’s militia.

(As a sidenote, that’s one of the challenging facets of the film: in a movie about perpetrators, the agency of victims and survivors in defining their own identities amid violence is difficult to find.)

Mark Leon Goldberg: Genocide or not, we know crimes against humanity were committed–the protagonists gleefully admitted as much. What avenues exist for bringing these people to justice, if any? The ICC is out of the question because it cannot prosecute crimes before 2002. Presumably, the Indonesian justice system should pursue the case, but there does not seem to be much willingness to do so.  So what can be done?

Kevin Jon Heller:  Just to make myself quickly and effectively unpopular: I seriously doubt the acts in question even qualify as crimes against humanity (CAH) — at least legally. WW II-era jurisprudence was quite clear that CAH required a nexus to war crimes or crimes against peace; purely “peacetime” acts might be criminal under domestic law, but they did not offend international law. I don’t think there is a serious argument that the nexus had been eliminated from the definition of CAH by 1965. The [Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal] concluded in Case No 001 that the nexus no longer existed as of 1975, based on one paragraph in an expert report commissioned by the UN. Even that conclusion was questionable, but at least the experts could point to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, which did not contain the nexus. But note the date — 1968, after the events in question in Indonesia. So, too, the 1973 Apartheid Convention, which also removed the nexus.

This is, in my view, a major problem for accountability. I don’t think the Indonesian killings could be described as war crimes — even if the coup itself created an armed conflict (doubtful), it was over before the purges started — so I don’t see how they qualify as international crimes at all. Which means, unfortunately, that the only possible accountability mechanism, universal jurisdiction, is off the table.

The bottom line, then, seems to be that only Indonesia itself could prosecute the events in 1965 and 1966.

I will, of course, not hold my breath.

Rebecca Hamilton: Ever the optimist when it comes to justice eventually having its day, I’d like to at least say it’s arguable. I missed that the killings were complete by 1966 when I watched the film (and I went in with such an appalling dearth of knowledge of Indonesian history that it wasn’t part of my general knowledge to begin with), but that being the case Kevin’s right it would be much clearer if it was after the 1968 Convention.

Presumably an aggressive prosecutor might try to argue that since the ILC’s 1954 Draft Code already eliminated the nexus, the Convention merely solidified an already existing trend against it. Honestly, I think that’s a stretch given states’ reactions even in 1968 to the Convention. (For legal nerds reading this, check out Stuart Ford’s paper on when the nexus was eliminated in relation to the ECCC, or if you want to go deeper, Ch. 10 of Kevin’s book on the origins of ICL).

Alternatively, and having now looked a little beyond the film, it seems that there are reports of at least some counts of political persecution and murders of perceived communists, including those imprisoned, in 1969. I say this again with the caveat that I have little pre-existing knowledge about this period of Indonesia’s history, but to the extent such killings can be still be documented, and involved similar power structures to the 1965-66 campaign, that could be another way of securing some form of accountability, even while failing to prosecute the primary killings.

Still, in light of the difficulties – and the implications that these cases could open up for the complicity of Western powers, even at just a moral level – it’s hard to see a universal jurisdiction case ever seeing the light of day. And as Mark points out, the ICC is decades out of the running for jurisdiction. Thus we end up at the same bleak conclusion: Indonesia itself is the forum for accountability – and a highly unlikely one at that.

Kimberly Curtis: Even if the legal issues were resolved there are still significant practical and political barriers to any type of traditional accountability. The ICC is not an option but the establishment of an ad hoc or hybrid tribunal is also unlikely due to the experience in Cambodia with the [War Crimes Tribunal, known as the ECCC]. Many of the same elements exist here as with Cambodia, including dealing with crimes that happened far in the past, a government that is related to or connected with those crimes and a culture of corruption in the countries at issue. The ECCC has been incredibly expensive with very few outcomes and a constant battle for the UN and donor states. I don’t think anyone is too keen to repeat that experiment.

That means any action would have to be undertaken by Indonesia itself. I am not familiar enough with the Indonesia legal code to know if that is even possible, but assuming it is there are still significant barriers. We are talking about crimes that happened nearly 50 years ago. Those who bear the most responsibility are probably already dead or very close to it, witness testimony after 50 years would likely have credibility issues, as would any physical evidence. And in the end, the film showed just how much power and influence many of these people still hold today. Again, I don’t think anyone in Indonesia is too keen to give up that power in order to prosecute themselves.

With judicial accountability off the table, a truth and reconciliation commission could be an option but it too would face many of the same problems that a domestic prosecution would. From what I understand, this chapter in Indonesian history is not really taught in schools and not really talked about openly in society, at least regarding the level and brutality of the killings. After 50 years, I’m not sure there is enough motivation in general society to get a well-funded and mandated TRC up and running. So in the end, I am pessimistic on the likelihood that any of these people will be held accountable for the acts they committed.

Daniel Solomon:  I am not confident of Indonesia’s prospects for formal justice and accountability, at least in the criminal sense. International judicial mechanisms–an ad-hoc tribunal, given the ICC’s mandated absence–are unlikely, and so the burden returns to Indonesia’s domestic courts. One might extrapolate from the recent foibles of Guatemala’s Rios Montt case: thirty years after the atrocity occurred, domestic prosecutors wage a heroic accountability effort, only to be thwarted by the messy politics of the country’s legal bureaucracy. Given the overlap, which Kimberly mentioned, between Sukarno’s beneficiaries and Indonesia’s present elites, full accountability appears elusive.

Mark Leon Goldberg: One issue that this film raises is the role of sadism in committing mass atrocities.  I realize now that prior to watching this film, I had generally thought of perpetrators of mass atrocities as faceless automatons, acting under orders of some higher authority to kill sufficiently dehumanized the victims. Grisly as it was, to individual Interhamwe/Nazis/Janjaweed, they were just doing a job.

It never occurred to me that perpetrators of mass atrocities may actually take pleasure from their acts, as Anwar Congo’s death squad seemed to do. Do you think sadism is a necessary condition for committing mass atrocities? Do political leaders like Slobodan Milosevic or Omar al- Bashir depend on the fact that some percentage of foot soldiers in their ranks are sadists? 

Kate Cronin-Furman:  One of the things that struck me about the film was the depiction of how a real range of psychological types reacted to involvement in extraordinary violence. While Ady comes across as a true sociopath with no remorse, Anwar, despite his initially cold-blooded presentation, is clearly capable of empathy. Watching him suffer as he began to revisit his actions was almost more disturbing than hearing Ady chuckle as he described killing his girlfriend’s father. It shows that under the right circumstances, “normal” people are capable not only of distancing themselves from their fellow humans sufficiently to slaughter them under orders, but can actually take pride and even joy in the work.

Relatedly, it was amazing to me that the person who actually comes off worst was not the man making a movie glorifying the 1,000 murders he’d committed, or the one who insisted he had nothing to feel guilty over; it was the journalist who, nearly a half century later, insisted that he hadn’t noticed the torture going on in the office next door.

Rebecca Hamilton:  That journalist! I had such a conflicted reaction to him. Outrage over the bald-faced denial, but also a feeling of, here finally is someone who at some level must understand that what happened was actually wrong, otherwise why pretend you didn’t know about it? Until the point in the film when Anwar begins to develop some insight into what his actions meant for his victims, it was such a surreal experience for the viewer to enter a universe in which there seemed to be no recognition of wrongfulness whatsoever. Even in the rare instance of hearing from one of the victims – and this was the most heartbreaking moment in the film for me – there was a painful effort by him to cast the recollection of his step-father’s kidnapping and murder as merely useful material for a film that glorified necessary actions.

On Mark’s question more directly, the striking thing to me in listening to the perpetrators was the absence of ideological motivation – and in its place the role for sadism and the bizarre meshing of Hollywood fiction and reality. Other perpetrators I’ve spoken with directly, the most notorious being Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, seem to consistently emphasize the “threat” the target group posed. Now perhaps that is just an act of self-justification and/or a product of a situation where accountability is still very much a risk for them – I’m not sure. If Ady and Anwar really thought they might one day be prosecuted, might they have de-emphasized the role of sadism and instead portrayed themselves as part of a struggle for survival against the “threat” of Communism?

Kate Cronin-Furman: The story of the step-father’s killing stuck with me as well. It so painfully underscored what it means to be member of a society with no accountability for acts of mass atrocity. To live side by side with those who have committed terrible crimes against you, to see every day the man who tortured your father, raped your sister, or murdered your child.

And because impunity is the rule, rather than the exception, this is the reality for huge numbers of people around the world. I must use the phrase “right to justice” at least once a day, but watching that poor man struggle to tell his story of victimization in a way that would interest the perpetrators really drove home what it means to be deprived of that right.

Mark Leon GoldbergThe most insane scene to me was the TV talk show in which a young host, probably in her mid 20s, lavished effusive praise for Congo’s murderous conduct 50 years ago. For comparison’s sake:  We’d would never see a popular German TV host in 1990 cheer on an SS officer for his exploits during the war. German society has learned to accept responsibility for the Holocaust, which has been engrained in subsequent generations through education and politics. 

I wonder to what extent the general lack of remorse and lack of self-reflection by both the individual perpetrators and society-at-large is a consequence of the fact that the people and political parties who benefited from this campaign of violence are still very much in charge? 

Kimberly Curtis: The talk show scene did not really surprise me as it matches the other information in the film regarding how open these acts were committed and the impunity they enjoyed since. Generally this does not seem to be considered a dark chapter of Indonesia’s history, so why would there be any need to try and sugarcoat it, especially in front of an audience of fatigue wearing Pancasila Youth? This makes it different from the example of Nazi Germany where by virtue of Allied occupation, Germans were not given the choice of whether or not they wanted to hold regime accountable. That led to a culture of accountability that does not exist in Indonesia.

What was more telling about that scene was the reaction of the technicians watching the interview. Away from the audience and perpetrators, the picture the technicians painted in their opinions of the former killers was far from positive. From ruminating about the mental impact of the killings on the killers to their corruption since, it gave a much more honest view of how many in the community probably view them, which is far from the glory that the other characters in the film frame their actions.

For what it’s worth, [director] Joshua Oppenheimer wrote a piece in The Guardian recently that outlined the genesis of the film (it originally focused on survivors) as well as the reaction to it in Indonesia. It appears the film has finally broken the wall of silence that generally surrounded the killings. While Indonesia still has a long way to go in terms of accountability and reconciliation, for the first time these things are actually being discussed by the government and the community. It is a step in the right direction even if it is long overdue.

Daniel Solomon: I’d be remiss if I didn’t raise the final scene, in which Oppenheimer captures Anwar Congo’s literally sickening collapse–the scene, I think, underscores both the complexity of the perpetrators’ sadism, as Mark referenced, and the justice gap that Kate and Kimberly have described. In the scene, Congo retches into the trough in the rooftop-prison, where the militia would torture and kill its captives, in between descriptions of their atrocious acts. Congo’s monologue suggests the empathy that Kate referenced–remorse, or at the very least internal suffering, is possible. This emotion betrays the allegedly total sadism of the militia’s perpetrators, but the outcome is the same: at the end of the monologue, he returns downstairs, to the society that won’t punish him for his crimes. I was left wondering what justice, in the formal sense, would mean for the perpetrators of the militia’s crimes, in addition to their victims. Would Congo’s imperfect remorse look different from the inside of a jail cell?

 

Thanks to everyone for participating.  Readers: if you haven’t yet seen this film, you must. But don’t expect to sleep soundly that night. 

 

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UNMISS/Isaac Billy

Top of the Morning: UN Peacekeepers for CAR?

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Ban Ki Moon May Recommend UN Peacekeepers for CAR

The Secretary General is expected to release a long-awaited report on the Central African Republic that will likely recommend a broad UN Peacekeeping mission. “A UN peacekeeping mission, assuming it’s authorized by the Security Council, will not be a panacea for CAR, but it will be able to provide more troops, police, and civilian personnel, which are desperately needed. WhileMISCA has saved lives, there are not enough troops on the ground. Currently, MISCA has 6,000 troops, 600 police, and 35 civilians who have only been able to deploy to a limited number of areas. This is in contrast to a UN peacekeeping mission, which aims for at least 10,000 troops…While a for ce of this magnitude is still not large considering the size of CAR, it could cover a larger swath of the country…A UN Peacekeeping mission could also provide more enabling assets such as helicopters, vehicles, fuel, and communications systems, which are essential to the mandate of protecting civilian.” (Better World Campaign http://bit.ly/1hmGMh3)

It Used to Be a Coal Plant. Soon It will become Latin America’s Biggest Solar Farm!

Mexico it taking the lead. “Renewable energy has started to take off in Mexico, with construction of the biggest solar power plant in Latin America, Aura Solar I — a 30-megawatt solar farm in La Paz, Mexico — the latest signal. If Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent summit with North American leaders is an indication of the significance of the trio’s relationship, then his expected upcoming visit to the Aura I solar farm can be seen as a benchmark on the country’s path to a more renewable future. Mexico is poised to be Latin America’s solar hotbed according to Greentech Media, with the solar market’s installed base expected to quadruple from 60 megawatts to 240 megawatts by the end of this year. Mexico’s energy ministry has set a target for 35 percent of power generation to come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2024. (CleanTechnica http://bit.ly/1hmEWN1)

photo credit  UNMISS/Isaac Billy

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Cutting Uganda’s Aid is a Morally Dubious Proposition

Senator Patrick Leahy wants to review US aid to Uganda in wake of the atrocious new anti-Gay law.

“I am deeply concerned by the decision of President Museveni of Uganda to sign into law the anti-homosexuality bill.  I support Secretary of State Kerry and others in calling for its immediate repeal.  Much of U.S. assistance to Uganda is for the people of Uganda, including those in the Ugandan LGBT community whose human rights are being so tragically violated.  But we need to closely review all U.S. assistance to Uganda, including through the World Bank and other multilateral organizations.  I cannot support providing further funding to the Government of Uganda until the United States has undergone a review of our relationship.”

I appreciate the sentiment. Senator Leahy is an experienced legislator and I expect any decision he takes would be thoughtful.  But as others join this debate, there are a few things to keep in mind about US assistance to Uganda that Americans should know before they call for cutting bi-lateral assistance.

The USA earmarked about $480 million in assistance for Uganda last year. About half that funding was distributed through PEPfAR, America’s flagship program to fight HIV/AIDS around the world. The other half went to USAID programs to support the health, development, education and food security. Of those USAID funded programs, totaling $211 million, only about 5% of USAID funding for Uganda passed through the government for specific development projects. The rest went to local or international NGOs and American contractors working on education, health and development programs.

The overwhelming majority of US aid to Uganda is directly to benefit of the Ugandan people. It pays for anti-retrovirals for pregnant mothers so they don’t pass HIV to their babies; it pays for insecticide-treated bed nets; it helps many thousands of women access modern family planning service. Shutting off that aid would hurt some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

The anti-Gay law is horrible. But so is effectively preventing a person living with HIV from accessing her medicine. Let’s hope that as this debate moves forward people keep in mind the morally problematic issues raised by shutting off aid.

 

 

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6 Ways Humanity Can Master its Urban Future

Ed note. This op-ed by Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor of the Secretary General to Timor-Leste originally appeared on Project Syndicate and is reprinted here with permission. 

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NEW YORK – By the end of this century, ten billion people will inhabit our planet, with 8.5 billion living in cities. This could be the stuff of nightmares. But, with sufficient political will, vision, and creativity – along with some simple, practical policy changes – we may be able to create cities of dreams.

Cities are hubs of economic and social power. They drive national and global development by concentrating skills, ideas, and resources in a single location. But rapid urban development comes at a heavy cost. As cities expand, they swallow up land that would otherwise be used for food production. They drain water supplies, account for almost 70% of global energy use, and generate more than 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions.

If global growth is to be sustainable and equitable, we will need to alter the balance between rapid urbanization and the unrelenting consumption of resources that it fuels. This is a main goal of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which has warned of the unprecedented pressures that economic growth will impose in coming decades on infrastructure (especially transportation), housing, waste disposal (especially of hazardous substances), and energy supplies.

The battle to keep the world’s cities – and thus the global economy – both dynamic and sustainable can be won by developing innovative ways to consume our limited resources, without diminishing them or degrading the delicate ecological systems on which they depend. To achieve this, the world must meet six broad challenges.

First, we must change the way we design cities. Sustainability must be central to all urban planning, particularly in coastal cities that will soon face the ravaging effects of climate change. Denser cities use land more efficiently, reduce the need for private cars, and increase the quality of life by making space for parks and nature. Likewise, tightly integrated mass-transit systems reduce greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically.

Second, we must rethink how we design and operate buildings so that they use less energy – or, better still, generate energy. Buildings are responsible for substantial CO2 emissions, owing to the materials used in their construction, their cooling and heating requirements, and auxiliary functions such as water supply, wastewater, and solid-waste disposal. Our building codes need to promote energy-efficient engineering and construction technologies, which can be supported by tax incentives and stricter regulations. With almost 30% of city dwellers in the Asia-Pacific region living in slums, one of our greatest tests will be to improve their living conditions without wreaking havoc on the environment.

The third challenge is to alter citizens’ transport habits. This means shifting from private cars to public transportation, and from road to rail. Indeed, wherever possible, we should try to reduce the need to travel at all. Transport systems that favor cars and trucks cause accidents, pollution, and chronic congestion. Moreover, the transport sector accounted for 23% of all energy-related CO2 emissions in 2004, and it is the fastest growing source of emissions in developing countries. Instead, we need to integrate transportation, housing, and land use, encourage reliance on public transportation, and make our streets pleasant and safe for walking (especially for women and the disabled).

The fourth challenge is to change how we produce, transport, and consume energy. This includes creating more efficient energy systems and increasing our investment in renewable sources (which will, one hopes, create jobs in the process). We can also encourage households to consume less energy, and companies to reduce the amount of energy that they waste.

Fifth, we must reform how we manage water resources and water infrastructure, so that this precious resource can be re-used several times, and on a city-wide scale. This requires us to integrate the various aspects of water management, such as household supply, rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment and recycling, and flood-control measures.

Finally, we must change the way we manage solid waste so that it becomes a resource, not a cost. In many developing countries, 60-80% of solid waste is organic, with open dumping causing excessive amounts of methane to enter the atmosphere. Cash-strapped local governments spend 30-40% of their budgets on waste management but derive little in return. Yet, with some simple technological and design improvements – aimed, for example, at achieving higher rates of composting and recycling – 90% of this waste could be converted into something useful, such as biogas and resource-derived fuel.

These six steps require a comprehensive and coordinated change in behavior, and will require government at all levels to cooperate, invest at scale, share ideas, replicate best practices, and plan for the long term. It is a monumental and daunting challenge, but not an impossible one. If it can be achieved, the world may yet get the urban future that it deserves.


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