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And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse

Posted by Jacques Godfrain on 26 January 2011

The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.

Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.

For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.

The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.

And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.

Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.

And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.

Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.

Today, circumstances require action not contrition.

Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.

We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.

This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.

When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.

Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.

Former Minister
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron

(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.

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Sustainable energy solutions for the poor

Posted by Rajendra K. Pachauri on 19 January 2011

An important aspect of development, which has received woefully inadequate attention from the global community, and even most national governments, relates to the widespread lack of energy access across the globe. In the past voices were raised to include access to energy as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but this did not find favour with some country governments. The result is that almost twenty years after the Rio Summit we still have almost a billion and a half people across the world without access to electricity in their homes. And, well over two billion depend on biomass as a cooking fuel, often inferior in quality, with serious adverse impacts on the health of those who are exposed to harmful emissions from these fuels.

Lighting a Billion Lives

There is now some stirring of interest at various levels worldwide, resulting from a genuine concern targeting the welfare of such a large section of human society as well as the potential for reducing future greenhouse gas emissions in those poor countries which are currently deprived of modern fuels, but would normally follow the path of fossil fuel use as an outcome of development. One major innovation is the programme launched by TERI for Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) which is based on the development of highly efficient and cost-effective solar lanterns, which are provided through a variety of measures, some of which are market-based, to villages without electricity. Typically a woman is trained as an entrepreneur to charge the solar lanterns within a village using a photovoltaic panel on her roof and renting out the lanterns to the villagers during the night. TERI has covered over 600 villages with this programme in India and several others in other parts of Asia including Myanmar and with plans to implement this programme in parts of Africa, such as in Sierra Leone. However, institutional innovations, large scale financing arrangements, training and capacity building would be essential prerequisites for the wide success of such a programme at the global level.

A programme such as LaBL provides great promise for the provision of clean and sustainable lighting solutions to those who would probably have no hope otherwise for the early use of electricity in their homes. However the outlook for effective, environmentally clean and sustainable energy solutions to meet the cooking needs of the world’s poor does not appear very bright. It is time that the global community at large, multilateral development organizations, and corporate organizations intent on socially relevant initiatives mount major efforts to innovate in this area to tackle a form of deprivation, which is completely out of place in a globalised world moving ahead with economic growth and technological advancement in the 21st century.

RK Pachauri
Director-General, TERI
Chairman, IPCC

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The referendum in South Sudan: Miracle or mirage?

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 13 January 2011

Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, several hundred Chinese (even thousands?), and … George Clooney decided to start the new year in South Sudan, a region that is not known for its tourist appeal.

They were there for a good cause: to ensure the referendum on the independence of South Sudan would take place smoothly. The referendum is the result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended one of the deadliest conflicts within the past 50 years.

Ominous farce or virtuous ending?

The referendum, which began Sunday and ends next Sunday, embodies great hopes for a peaceful and lasting resolution to a conflict that has pitted northern Sudan against southern Sudan for nearly 40 years.

A brief overview of notable highlights:

• In 1955 (even before Sudan’s independence, proclaimed in 1956) the first civil war broke out between the mainly Muslim North and the South, home to a predominantly animist and Christian population. This war, which lasted until 1972, resulted in 500,000 dead and involuntarily displaced one million refugees.

Between 1972 and 1983, through the mediation of Emperor Haile Selassie, Sudan experienced a period of relative peace.

• 1978: the Chevron company discovered oil deposits in the South.

The civil war resumed in 1983. This second conflict, which would cost two million lives and involuntary displace four million refugees, would cease in 2005, following the signing of the CPA, which established a federal system and which provided, amongst other things, for a referendum on the independence of South Sudan to be held before the end of January 2011.

January 9, 2011: quashing the pessimistic predictions of many observers, the referendum is unfolding in a relative calm. There is apparently no improper management of the referendum process.

Ominous farce that will end badly or virtuous ending to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the second half of the 20th century? The question remains to be answered. Let us try to analyze the chances of success and risks of failure of this undertaking.

Morality and realpolitik

Let us start with the factors that could justify a certain optimism. First, the international community’s driving forces appear to be truly mobilized. Since the signing of the CPA, the United States has played a significant role to ensure the agreement is effectively implemented. George W. Bush had worked hard so that Washington would work in this vein. The fact that several Christian movements support the independence of the South certainly influenced his interest in the issue. More generally, the international community has not fully recovered from its inaction in Rwanda and is still suffering from a guilty conscience. It is therefore determined to avoid another humanitarian tragedy, for truly moral reasons.

Then there is a good dose of realpolitik prompting many players to want a happy ending. Oil, of course, plays an important role and requires a collaborative approach between the South, with most of the country’s oil fields, and the North, with the infrastructures capable of transporting and exporting the precious liquid. As for President Omar el-Bashir, he has all of a sudden turned into an informed statesman, concerned about respecting the will of the people of the South. The sanctions imposed on Sudan and the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against the President have perhaps something to do with this remarkable conversion. It is a safe bet that his visit to Juba a few days before the referendum, to make a speech worthy of a confirmed democrat, was not a wholly gratuitous act.

Continuing threats

There is still much to do and what started so well last Sunday could easily turn into a nightmare. In particular, there are three vulnerable factors that both North and South Sudanese, as well as the international community should watch closely:

1. First, the results of the referendum. To be accepted by all, three conditions are required: voting that is free of manipulation and violence, a high percentage of votes in favor of either option, and a substantial turnout. The last is expected to far exceed the 60% threshold set by al-Bashir as the absolute minimum to validate Referendum results. Regarding the percentage of “yes” votes, the more the better. For example, Slovenia in 1990, Croatia in 1991, and Eritrea in 1993, achieved independence with respectively 95%, 93%, and 99.8% of favorable votes. However, a result resembling that of Quebec: a small margin between the “yes” and “no” would create a difficult situation that could be potentially explosive. Sixty percent of the votes seems to be a minimum to justify the dismantling of an existing country.

2. Then, there is the question of the border between North and South. This must be determined accurately. The task has been made even more vital due to the presence of rich oil deposits in the border region. This issue, if not properly handled, could soon be the source of renewed violent conflict. The well-known case of the disputed border between the two Koreas and the much less known border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica illustrate, if necessary, the importance of this issue.

3. Finally, the exact terms of the economic cooperation between the two countries, particularly in terms of sharing oil revenues, will greatly influence how the situation will play out. This will be further aggravated by the addition of the virtually inextricable issues of the Abyei region. This northern enclave also has a referendum pending to decide whether it will finally be tied to the North or the South. The region, though small, also contains rich oil deposits. Complications related to the question of who would be entitled to vote led to an indefinite postponement of the referendum. This means that the North and South will need to undertake delicate negotiations to decide the fate of this region.

South Sudan, a state on borrowed time?

The world (or at least a handful of observers) is holding its breath. Those who designed and signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement have shown wisdom, vision, and courage. Will their gamble pay off? Or will the new country be yet another state on borrowed time? One can only hope that South Sudan succeeds and the CPA, an admirable document, will be used as a model for resolving ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts that continue to be formidable challenges.

A situation to watch for in the weeks, months and years ahead.

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A very happy New Year to all, including all of the forests of the world….

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 5 January 2011

The United Nations have declared 2011 the International Year of Forests, which we at the Fondation warmly welcome. The fight against deforestation and support of sustainable harvest of timber are amongst the Fondation’s primary objectives, particularly because we are conscience of the direct link that exists between forest preservation and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

The future of these populations is intimately linked to their ecosystems, on which they are dependent for survival. Preserving their forest, allows them to continue to live their traditional lifestyle, to meet their needs by sustainably using the resources of their forest, and as well as preserving their culture and language, the forest protects them from the frenetic evolution of today’s world.

The deforestation of a zone inhabited by an indigenous population is all too often synonymous with the forced entry into the Western and globalized world and the loss of orientation for fragile populations. Here we are measuring a very important aspect of the strong interdependence that exists between the forest and human development.

The forest is more than just a bunch of trees and vegetation to be admired while strolling through the countryside. The forest is an immense sanctuary of biodiversity, it is the most important reserve of fresh water in the world, the best way to preserve our soils from erosion, to maintain high soil quality and thus to reap successful harvests and to preserve our climate.

100 square meters destroyed every second

The forest is the lung of the planet, a lung that is in a pitiful state and that we continue to destroy at the rate of 100 square meters every second…

We really hope that this year, 2011, is the starting point for a greater awareness on the importance of the forest and its multiple interdependencies with human development. To all, we wish you a wonderful year in 2011…. in the forest!!!

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