Monday, January 22, 2018

2803. Cape Town Water Wars: A Literal Shitstorm

By Sharmini Periers and Patrick Bond, The Real News, January 18, 2018

SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Cape Town, South Africa. It is on the brink of running out of water. Historically, Cape Town a port city situated in a natural bowl to catch the fresh rainwater, was recognized for its lush, green vegetation. But for a few decades now it has been suffering from water shortages, and now it is gripped by the worst drought in a century.
Residents will have to queue for emergency rations, come April. Dam levels fell below 30 percent in the first week of this year. If it hits 13.5 percent, then residents will have to queue for their water collection at many points. Some 200 sites may have to be set up across the city.
Mainstream media has picked up this story, as Cape Town is the world's first major city to run out of water; but what they are not talking about is the drought's link to climate change. With us to discuss all of this from Johannesburg, South Africa, is Patrick Bond. He is professor of Political Economy at Wits University in South Africa, and author of Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis from Above, Movement from Below, and co-editor of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique.
Welcome, Patrick.
PATRICK BOND: Great to be with you again, Sharmini. Thanks.
SHARMINI PERIES: Patrick, the water shortages in Cape Town appears to be a slow moving environmental disaster that Cape Town has been unable to prevent. What is causing this crisis?
PATRICK BOND: It's certainly the amplification of all of these weather vectors that have brought the whole country into a drought situation. Most of the country did recover about a year ago, but we had a two-year drought that left rural areas devastated and then there were major storm events. As you say, Cape Town's been suffering a creeping drought, but we've had unbelievable storms that have wrecked huge swaths of the infrastructure in Johannesburg here, as well as in the port city of Durban.
All three of the major cities between about three and a half million people in Durban, four million in Cape Town, a little over four million here in Johannesburg ... What they've really shown, these storm events and the drought, is how unprepared major cities in a fairly sophisticated economy, which is a major greenhouse gas emitter, not only therefore is a villain, but also a victim. The inability of the city of Cape Town --and they're run by a center-right government, not the African National Congress but the Democratic Alliance -- their inability to manage this and to run a mitigation and adaptation program that would work may well cost the mayor her job. Patricia De Lille is on the verge of being kicked out of the mayorship by her own party, and the water crisis and its mismanagement is the central reason.
As you say, Sharmini, it does mean for "Day Zero" as it's called -- April 20 is now the predicted date at which there won't be water in the residents' taps -- they'll have to start queuing up in just 200 water collection points, for those four million people. It may well be quite a disastrous situation, particularly given the water apartheid that Cape Town has inherited from centuries ... Since 1652 when Dutch settlers arrived with the Dutch East India Company. This is really a city in which white people have taken vast amounts of water for the English gardens or swimming pools, leaving the Africans and colored people without sufficient water, and now the chickens are coming home to roost for everyone.
SHARMINI PERIES: Patrick, this is not only a war and a crisis, but a slow-moving economic crisis and also a pending food shortage crisis. Elaborate on this for us.
PATRICK BOND: Well, there's quite an interesting debate and it's, as in California, an awareness raising, at which where is this sort of bulk water going, and it turns out that 60% of the incoming bulk supply to Cape Town has already been reserved for the commercial agriculture. Now, that's not necessarily the kind of staple foods, the maize meal, the corn that is the basic staple for most of the residents, but instead it's actually used for irrigation, and that's often in this wealthy agricultural area, for the finest wines in Africa and some of the finest in the world, as well as the famous tea, the Rooibos Tea.
The stress agriculturally, on these two products - the vineyards that create these beautiful wines and the Rooibos Tea. This red bush Rooibos Tea, may well put them out of business entirely in coming decades. That's one of these adaptation questions. Can there be different agricultural systems or better irrigation systems, or should we begin to think about these cities as really having to undergo ... That this changes everything. A revolution that Naomi Klein and her major book on the topic, on sort of taking advantage of these crises and using them to re-jig the local economy. The production system, the agricultural system, the urban form, to make it more compact and water efficient. The consumption norms and disposal systems. All of these now must come up for debate.
What's interesting in Cape Town, is that there's a long tradition of environmental justice, and yet, because I think true across the world, many of our local environmental justice movements have been oriented to stopping pollution or addressing very localistic systems. Food systems, for example is a very important part of the Cape Town progressive community, but it's not yet been the ability to connect the dots and to put climate justice onto the national agenda and to ask the questions, should this new government that's about to take power nationally, as we have a new incoming president of the African National Congress. He may well take over the presidency of the country in coming months.
Cyril Ramaphosa, but he comes from the coal industry, and Shanduka is his company, and that as well as Lonmin, the Marikana massacre thing, and that may mean we'll see a revitalization of carbon-intensive economic activity. Notwithstanding this huge wake-up call that Cape Town's drought and probable desperation water-rationing now represents for this country.
SHARMINI PERIES: Patrick, you mentioned this earlier. The people that are going to be most affected by this crisis. So, describe the class nature of the crisis and what we can expect as the problem deepens.
PATRICK BOND: Along with Johannesburg, which is the widely acknowledged by UN-Habitat and researchers, the most unequal city in the world here. Cape Town's in the top five, Durban as well in the top 10. These three cities, these South African cities, have had exceptional urban resistance from shack settlements and townships and low-income suburbs, from women, from environmentalists, and from labor. The South African working class, according to the World Economic Forum is considered the most militant in the world, and we have the most corrupt capitalist class in the world, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Bank regularly acknowledges it's the most unequal country in the world. This is an explosive situation. The question is: Will there be a possibility to bring environmental justice into a sort of maybe even eco-socialist approach to addressing this?
We've seen just one indication in Cape Town that's been quite explosive, and that's the use of shit. I know shitstorms and shit houses and shitholes are regularly discussed in the United States, but in Cape Town, shit has been used by people in the townships, Khayelitsha specifically, as a weapon of the weak, because there aren't flush toilets in these sites. There are chemical toilets and various kinds of pit latrines, and that gives the poor people the ability to take their buckets, their large plastic containers, and use those as weapons. We've begun to see a class struggle take place over water, or specifically the lack of water.
The most famous moment was two years ago, three years ago, 2015. When shit was used to ... Thrown on Cecil Rhodes' statue at the University of Cape Town, and lead to that statue being removed in a huge movement. #FeesMustFall, #RhodesMustFall -- an emerging of radical students. So there's something quite evocative, a sort of nuclear weapon, if you will, of poor people, their last resort is the sanitation system breaking down. That's all they've got at hand and that would be, I would suspect, something we'll see much more of as the water wars break out.
Johannesburg had, along with Cochabamba, Bolivia, about 18 years ago in the famous 2000 battles ... Johannesburg, Cochabama, were the water wars of the 21st century, and in those cases it was privatized water. Johannesburg, it was a big French company, Suez, and they were tossed out by activists after about six years of a contract with the city they wanted to extend for 30. What I suspect might now happen with these water shortages, is we begin to see a different kind of water politics. Not really necessarily about privatization, but about the physical scarcity of water when we have a water apartheid, poor people in these vast townships just not given enough historically, and they'll see the big English gardens, the swimming pools ... Mostly now these swimming pools, they're not allowed to be filled.
I should add that there may be a break in this drought. It might come in June when the winter rains start again, but in the meantime what I think many people are asking: Will -- in a context of lots of political turmoil in South Africa -- will water become one of the sites of struggle that helps to fracture an existing system in which the center-right, the centerist politics of the African National Congress, the neoliberalism, and in Cape Town, the Democratic Alliance can be challenged from below in a way that might teach the rest of the world the first major city running out of water, what will the activists do to take advantage of that? We'll soon see.
SHARMINI PERIES: Finally Patrick, as I mentioned in the introduction, a lot of the world's mainstream media is talking about the water crisis in Cape Town, but they're not linking it to climate change. Is South African media doing so, and if not, what are the ways in which this link can be made for people to get a better understanding of the changing climate and this crisis?
PATRICK BOND: I think that's the right question because as Naomi Klein put it, you really need to connect the dots. This changes everything, and looking at political economy and in politics in a cultural and a gendered and a highly racialized inequality in Cape Town through the climate lens should add quite a bit to us. One would be the tourism industry in Cape Town. Vast industry, lots of low-income people working in the hotels, working in the various aspects of the tourist trade; food and services. That will be under pressure, and yet the attempt by the tourist industry is to pretend it's not happening, and to tell people, "No, no it's fine. You can come here. We're gonna have some water for you." There's a sort of fakery going on in tourism, because that's a lifeblood of this city.
The second is that there's been a purchase, it's actually being confirmed this week, it's by Sinopec, the big Chinese company of Chevron's refinery and retail shops. So Chevron, a huge oil company from the U.S., dastardly company, one of the worst, very implicated in climate politics of denialism and massive emissions and no mitigation and terrible pollution in all of its sites. That would be one of the sites where if Sinopec, the Chinese company with a terrible record on its own takes over, I would suspect we're gonna see some politics of resistance amongst climate justice activists who know the oil industry, and Sinopec has this potential huge refinery in Cape Town. They've committed over $500 million to expending that. That's a very serious climate crime that's about to be committed, and I don't think the activists in South Africa are going to stand for that. So, these are the sorts of struggle sites; water, tourism, a new owner of the major refinery system in Cape Town.
Like we've seen in Durban, South Durban, one of the sites of the biggest refineries in Africa, amazing struggles there. Here in Johannesburg, major struggles over the extent to which urban social movements can access energy and electricity, whether that comes from coal or huge solar potential. This is a country that has some of the worst extremes of abuse, but some very talented people at the grass roots, so I learn a great deal from them. I'm sure we all will.
Now, I did say that was the last question, but I cannot let you go without asking you this. This drought condition that South Africa faces is really a much bigger sub-Saharan African issue if we look at the current map that Princeton University African Flood and Drought Monitor has provided us. That there are droughts going on all over the sub-Saharan African part of the world. Tell us a little bit more about that link.
PATRICK BOND: I would also add North Africa, which is going to certainly experience the sort of 40 degree Celsius conditions regularly, and maybe the Qatar World Cup in the least, won't even happen in 2022, because the climate will have advanced rapidly. So, North Africa's the most threatened, but yes. The East African zones, particular in the horn of Kenya, running up through Somalia, have had terrible ongoing droughts. Water wars on the Nile with new dams that Ethiopia and Egypt are contesting, and in West Africa and Central Africa where we were seeing terrible civil wars ... Your viewers will know about the DRC in Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda, South Sudan, and these war sites are also the sites that are -- Darfur maybe most spectacularly -- where climate change has had an impact on the way in which desperation of herders and farmers lead to these conflicts.
Yes, there are studies going on and I certainly resort occasionally to the U.S. Pentagon-funded Minerva Program, which works with University of Texas in Sussex, to identify the correlations between social protests and anger and frustration, fury really on the one hand, and the climate crisis. As we've seen in many African sites and you could look at Syria, you could look at many other places, these are the sites where we're beginning to find massive rebellions emerging.
If we were talking, Sharmini, five years ago, people would have said, "Well, Africa's rising." It was a sort of hope that the commodity boom that sort of petered out by around 2011 and ended with a crash in 2015, that that commodity boom would allow African sort of trickle-down to work and keep this continent moving forward. In reality, Africans are uprising against this Africa Rising expert-oriented, commodity driven, highly unequal system of accumulation, and I think climate will amplify that, and the question is whether networks like the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance with over 1,000 groups and members, this group, and begin to generate a really serious political economy that demands a new system locally, as well as globally, and now with Donald Trump having walked out of Paris, one of the big questions many would ask is well, since Paris provided the liability protection so you don't have a climate debt if you sign onto Paris, you don't have to worry about your historic debt, that's part of the deal that the U.S. State Department cut in Paris in 2015.
Now it's time, not only for Africans, for all affected people by climate change, by the youth in the United States or a couple of dozen kids ... Jim Hansen's grandchild as well ... Suing Donald Trump for climate damage, and I think that whether you like the courts or not, the idea is very important. We should now be talking about those vulnerable parts of the world, the vulnerable generations who have to live through a future of extreme weather events and global warming, and in this part of the world, we're already seeing in Cape Town some of the worst micro-impacts of that if we see a major city, the second largest in South Africa, four million people, literally run out of water.
SHARMINI PERIES: Patrick, I thank you so much for joining us and always very informative. Thank you.
PATRICK BOND: Thank you. Good to be with you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2802. Workers and Students in Iran Resist Attacks on Their Rights

By Kamran Nayeri, Socialist Action, June 2000
Workers protest non-payment of their wages in Abadan, Iran.
In the aftermath of the Feb. 18 elections, when the political forces that promised political and social reform of the most repressive aspects of the Islamic Republic won a decisive majority in the Sixth Parliament, the anti-reform forces within the regime have launched a broad series of legal and extra-legal attacks on the Iranian people.
Accounts in the bourgeois media have analyzed these attacks in terms of a factional struggle within the Islamic Republic regime. Yet nothing less than the political confidence and legitimacy won by the Iranian working people not only through the 1979 revolution but also in recent years is at stake.
While some of these recent attacks are in fact directed against the pro-reform politicians within the regime itself, they have a direct bearing on the rights Iranian working people have tried to win throughout their modern history, including through three periods of revolutionary mass upsurge.
In other instances that affect immediate interests of the capitalist class, the attacks are waged and sustained by groups in both factions.
The recent attacks include:
  • The Council of Guardians, a conservative un-elected body that answers only to the unelected Supreme Leader, began a review of the election procedures and cancelled the results for 11 reformist candidates. In each instance, there were protests, including street protests that sometimes turned against the government property.
  • Saeed Hajjarian, an elected vice president of Tehran’s city council and a former vice president to Iranian President Khatami, was shot from close range in front of his office. Hajjarian was involved in setting up the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s and recently blew the whistle on a death squad organized from the Ministry of Information (intelligence).
In the fall of 1998, the death squad hacked to death the leader of a small bourgeois nationalist organization and his wife at their home and kidnapped and strangled three well-respected Iranian writers, two of them involved in the fight to obtain official recognition for the Writers Association.
Eventually, eight persons were arrested in the assassination attempt on Hajjarian. The gunman, Saeed Asgar, disclosed that he had accepted the assignment to kill Hajjarian after a network of collaborators argued that he is an enemy of Islam.
However, the judge decided to treat the proceedings as a criminal rather than political case. Hajjarian’s lawyer provided evidence that the group has been involved in a series of other similar attacks. Evidence such as the type of motorcycle used in the attack linked the assassins to the armed government forces.
  • In a major attack on the freedom of the press, since April 23 the government has closed down 19 prominent dailies, weeklies, and other journals viewed as pro-reform-reducing the space for public dissent in the media. Saeed Mortazavi, the judge who has issued these orders, stated that his aim was to stop the press from “affecting society’s opinions and arousing concern among the people” and to “dispel the worries of the people, of the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and of the clergy.”
  • A number of journalists, such as Akbar Ganji, Mashallah Shamsolvazin, and Latif Safari, and feminist writers such as Mehrangiz Kar and Shahla Laheeji, have been arrested and others have been summoned before the court.
  • The outgoing Fifth Parliament hurried through a bill that will remove 2.8 million workers-those who work in establishments with five or fewer employees, or just under half the workforce-from the protection of the labor law and social security system for the next six years. The bill was introduced last summer with support from the Iranian chamber of commerce.
  • It also passed a press law imposing further restrictions on the press, by making it dependent on approval from the Ministry of Information (intelligence service), the courts, and the police. All these repressive apparatuses were the subjects of criticism by the papers recently shut down.
Imperialists intervene
These attacks have opened the way for the imperialist powers to step up their intervention in Iranian affairs.
In the aftermath of the February elections, the U.S. State Department lifted the ban on importation of Iranian pistachios, caviar, and rugs to display its approval of the reformists’ electoral victory. The reformists tend to favor bourgeois normalization of social, economic, and political life in Iran and abroad, including a willingness to drop Iran’s opposition to the Oslo “peace accord,” and re-establishment of relations with Washington.
At the same time, Washington has pressed Moscow to discontinue training Iranian engineering students in its universities because it claims such training will enable Iran to deploy long-range missiles that will pose a danger to Israel.
Most recently, Washington again intervened to postpone for the third time a vote at the World Bank on a loan for upgrading Tehran’s sewage system. An alleged reason is U.S. displeasure with the trial of 13 Iranian Jews from the southern city of Shiraz.
While the mass media and capitalist politicians abroad have generally turned a blind eye to the attack on the workers, and have attributed the attacks on the freedom of the press to the realm of faction fights within the regime, they have given prominent attention to the trial of the Jews.
As the trial opened up behind closed doors, the government paraded a majority of the defendants on state-run TV to “confess” that they had been spies for Israel.
Israeli involvement in Iran dates back to the late 1950s, when the Mossad joined the CIA to organize the hated Iranian secret police to prop up Washington installed dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And the Israeli regime has ceaselessly campaigned against the Iranian revolution, which changed the political balance in the Middle East in favor of the Arab and Palestinian people.
However, the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews is blatantly undemocratic. In fact, during the past 21 years, the Islamic Republic regime has similarly paraded dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on national TV, who usually “confessed” to some political “crime” and endorsed repressive measures taken against the working people.
The Jewish defendants, who are small businessmen, teachers, and students, were arrested over a year ago without any specific public charge against them. Just before the recent wave of attacks, it seemed that the government was searching for a solution to drop the spying charges against the 13 Jews. But when the wave of new attacks began, it decided to proceed with the trial.
Only shortly before the trial were they allowed a lawyer, who promptly denied the spy charges. The trial was held behind closed doors, citing “national security” concerns, even though the defendants’ lawyer argued that none of the accused could have had access to sensitive information and that there could be no security risks involved.
The reformist response
The reformist leadership was initially silent to the recent wave of attacks on the democratic rights of the Iranian people. In each instance, they called for calm and the “rule of law.” Some of the reform politicians actually found merit in the use of the legal system to crack down on the media.
However, as the scope of the attacks widened, the rumor of an unfolding coup began to circulate, backed by no other than the minister of interior, Mussavi-e-Laari. According to these accounts, the intent of the coup was to block the opening of the Sixth Parliament-which has a reformist majority-and eventually to drive out President Khatami. The reformist response, however, remained the same: to urge the Iranian people to stay calm and support the “rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei initiated the repression with a call for “Islamic violence” against the press that had become “the bases for enemies of Islam.” This was followed by calls to shut down the Tehran bazaar and Islamic seminaries in Qum.
Street graffiti appeared in Tehran accusing the press not controlled by the anti-reform coalition of housing anti-Islamic elements. The state-run TV and radio joined in this campaign.
All factions in the Islamic Republic regime share full responsibility for the attacks on the workers’ rights and standard of living. President Khatami’s economic plan aims to make working people sacrifice even more to solve the ongoing economic crisis.
Pro-reform ideologues preach how Iranian workers must accept painful choices today so the Iranian industrialists can compete in the world market. They even ask workers to bear repressive measures since, they insist, the Islamic Republic regime is their ally in their national struggle against the imperialists and workers in the West.
Students and workers take to the streets
Despite calls for calm issued by the leaders of the reform coalition, students from a number of Tehran universities began to protest the press crackdown. While the initial protests were small and limited-and in some instances, such as at the Beheshti University, the police and Ansar-e Hezbollah (a semi-fascist force) attacked the students-thousands across Iran joined the protests.
The universities have become centers of campaigning against the government crackdown on democratic rights. Meanwhile, Iran has witnessed a surge in organized workers’ protests.
For years, the assault on the standard of living of working people has produced local workplace resistance. Workers across Iran have organized factory meetings, work stoppages, and factory takeovers. They have blocked streets and roads and demonstrated in front of governmental agencies.
Iranian workers are fighting for their very survival. Under President Khatami, a new and ambitious wave of privatization is underway. This offers the Iranian capitalists a boon.
Karam Ali Sayed Abadi, a worker, describes a typical process of privatization underway in Iran in the first issue of Karmozd (Wage-Labor): State-owned factory managers drive their enterprises to bankruptcy by sabotaging production; then they and their partners purchase the factory from the state at bargain prices.
The new owners and managers then proceed to lay off or “buy back” all or most of the workers, only to hire some back at much lower wages and worse working conditions. Less profitable operations are sub-contracted to outfits that can exploit their workers even more.
With high unemployment-and lacking independent trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike-the workers face an uphill battle. As a result, a large section of the Iranian workers have to live with no earnings for months without any viable safety net.
There is a powerful undercurrent in workplaces to organize against this situation. It was in this context that Khaneh Kargar (Workers’ House, the national pro-government labor bureaucracy) and the leadership of the Islamic Shoras (factory councils) that secured their positions by collaborating with the Islamic Republic regime against militant workers and independent workers’ organizations backed an effort to issue a call for the right to strike on April 3.
They also gave their blessing to a street protest in Tehran by several thousand against the passage of legislation depriving 2.8 million workers of protection by the labor law. During that demonstration, the workers disclosed their plans for a national action on May Day to press for their demands.
Given the scope of the anti-democratic attacks in April, it was not clear if a May Day demonstration by the workers would actually take place in Tehran. However, over 20,000 workers, mostly from Tehran industrial regions, participated. The main target of the workers’ anger was Ali-naghi Khamushi, the chairman of the chamber and the outgoing parliament. The workers demanded that the incoming parliamentary assembly, dominated by those who promised political and social reforms, reverse the anti-labor legislation.
Workers also demanded jobs for all. A demand was put to the government to fight unemployment and to inspect the factories claiming bankruptcy. Hossein Kamali, who was part of the pro-government forces within the labor movement that took over Khaneh Kargar in 1979 and has been the minister of labor for the past several administrations, called for the expulsion of over 2 million immigrant workers, mostly from Afghanistan, to create jobs for “our youth [who] aimlessly walk the streets and take drugs because they neither have jobs nor a future.”
The Islamic Labor Party, formed by these very same forces last year to campaign for pro-reform candidates, urged the new parliament to legalize strikes. While strikes are not legal, work stoppages are frequent. The leadership of Khaneh Kargar and the Islamic Shoras tried to steer the demonstration into a support rally for Khatami and the reformist coalition.
Struggles are intertwined
The factional struggles within the Islamic Republic reflect the crisis of a regime run by the clergy on the basis of on-going capitalist development in Iran and the world. Ahmad Moollazadeh, whose journal, Farhang-e Tousse’e (Culture of Development) has favored the reform coalition, describes the current divide in the sphere of public policy in Iran in the following terms:
“On one side of this divide stand the clergy who know what is right today [for the religious establishment], modern thinking religious and non-religious intellectuals, the modern middle class, and the industrialists. These are known as the reformists.
“On the other side of the divide are those who want violence, conservative traditionalists, and new conservative rationalists. The bulk of the social basis for these favor social justice but their lack of engagement in class conflict, their unemployment, and lack of a clear perspective for future draw them to the main organizers of violence [in society].”
Moollazadeh points to those who benefit from “political rent” and “economic rent”-that is, those who control the state apparatus and those who benefit from control of government held economic assets-as forces that stand to benefit from the existing order, which opposes reforms.
However, it is the Iranian workers and students who have stood up against the current crackdown by the Islamic Republic regime. In fact, the fundamental lesson of Iranian modern history is that the fight for freedom of the press and democratic and human rights are closely intertwined with the struggle of the workers and toilers to form their own independent organizations and to press their own demands.
These struggles include those of workers to form unions and build international ties to resist massive onslaught by the employers and the government, of women to unite to resist Islamic and class oppression, and of writers and journalists to forge their own organization to defend their rights against the censorship.
They also point to the need for united organization and action of the students and youth, who have a stake in shaping the future of the country and still have the task of fighting for the freedom of hundreds of their comrades jailed in the aftermath of protests last July that captured the imagination of the world.
The recent crackdown comes in this context; it is part of a larger campaign to roll back the greater space for political expression won in recent years by the Iranian people and to suppress their desire for social and political change. The Iranian people are resisting the repression, and it should be opposed by working people everywhere.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

2801. Cuba Embarks on a 100-Year Plan to Protect Itself from Climate Change

By Richard Stone, Science Magazine, January 10, 2018
Habaneros wade through floodwaters near El Malecón after Hurricane Irma.
On its deadly run through the Caribbean last September, Hurricane Irma lashed northern Cuba, inundating coastal settlements and scouring away vegetation. The powerful storm dealt Havana only a glancing blow; even so, 10-meter waves pummeled El Malecón, the city’s seaside promenade, and ravaged stately but decrepit buildings in the capital’s historic district. “There was great destruction,” says Dalia Salabarría Fernández, a marine biologist here at the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP).

As the flood waters receded, she says, “Cuba learned a very important lesson.” With thousands of kilometers of low-lying coast and a location right in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, which many believe are intensifying because of climate change, the island nation must act fast to gird against future disasters.

Irma lent new urgency to a plan, called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says Salabarría Fernández, “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”

But the cash-strapped government had made little headway. Now, “Irma [has] indicated to everybody that we need to implement Tarea Vida in a much more rapid way,” says Orlando Rey Santos, head of the environment division at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) here, which is spearheading the project. The government aims to spend at least $40 million on Project Life this year, and it has approached overseas donors for help. Italy was the first to respond, pledging $3.4 million to the initiative in November 2017. A team of Cuban experts has just finished drafting a $100 million proposal that the government plans to submit early this year to the Global Climate Fund, an international financing mechanism set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Many countries with vulnerable coastlines are contemplating similar measures, and another island nation—the Seychelles— has offered to collaborate on boosting coastal protection in Cuba. But Project Life stands out for taking a long view: It intends to prepare Cuba for climatological impacts over the next century. “It’s impressive,” says marine scientist David Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that has projects in Cuba. “Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”

Rising sea levels pose the most daunting challenge for Cuba. Over the past half-century, CITMA says, average sea levels have risen some 7 centimeters, wiping out low-lying beaches and threatening marsh vegetation, especially along Cuba’s southern midsection. The coastal erosion is “already much worse than anyone expected,” Salabarría Fernández says. Storms drive the rising seas farther inland, contaminating coastal aquifers and croplands.

Still worse is in store, even in conservative scenarios of sea-level rise, which forecast an 85-centimeter increase by 2100. According to the latest CITMA forecast, seawater incursion will contaminate nearly 24,000 square kilometers of land this century. About 20% of that land could become submerged. “That means several percent of Cuban land will be underwater,” says Armando Rodríguez Batista, director of science, technology, and innovation at CITMA.

To shore up the coastlines, Project Life aims to restore mangroves, which constitute about a quarter of Cuba’s forest cover. “They are the first line of defense for coastal communities. But so many mangroves are dying now,” Salabarría Fernández says. Leaf loss from hurricane-force winds, erosion, spikes in salinity, and nutrient imbalances could all be driving the die-off, she says.

Coral reefs can also buffer storms. A Cuban-U.S. expedition that circumnavigated the island last spring found that many reefs are in excellent health, says Juliett González Méndez, a marine ecologist with CNAP. But at a handful of hot spots, reefs exposed to industrial effluents are ailing, she says. One Project Life target is to squelch runoff and restore those reefs.

Another pressing need is coastal engineering. Topping Cuba’s wish list are jetties or other wave-disrupting structures for protecting not only the iconic Malecón, but also beaches and scores of tiny keys frequented by tourists whose spending is a lifeline for many Cubans. Cuba has appealed to the Netherlands to lend its expertise in coastal engineering.

Perhaps the thorniest element of Project Life is a plan to relocate low-lying villages. As the sea invades, “some communities will disappear,” Salabarría Fernández says. The first relocations under the initiative took place in October 2017, when some 40 families in Palmarito, a fishing village in central Cuba, were moved inland.

Other communities may not need to pull up stakes for decades. But Cuban social scientists are already fanning out to those ill-fated villages to educate people on climate change and win them over on the eventual need to move. That’s an easier sell in the wake of a major hurricane, Rodríguez Batista says. “Irma has helped us with public awareness,” he says. “People understand that climate change is happening now.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

2800. Summary and Index for the Past 99 Posts

By Kamran Nayeri, Janaury 19, 2018
Assistant Editor, Siah, who has joined the editorial office since December 20.

Of the last 99 posts, 28 were about socialism and ecosocialism, 12 were about climate change, 11 were about the recent protests in Iran which had a water crisis (ecological) component, six were about feminist issues, capitalis and ecocide had five posts each, Cuba, and literature/peoty each had four posts, and science/philosophy, health,

climate change/global warming. Science-related had 10 posts.  Socialism and eco-socialism combined had 16 posts (eight each).  There were six posts about the Sixth Extinction and six about the Cuban revolution.  Other topics with four or so posts included philosophy, the arts and literature, and White Supremacy/Neo-Nazism.  

Hyperlinks to posts follow:

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