SELMA, Alabama (The Guardian) – West Jefferson, Alabama, a somnolent town of around 420 people north-west of Birmingham, was an unlikely venue to seize the national imagination. Now, it has the misfortune to be forever associated with the “poop train”.
David Brasfield, a retired coalminer who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig. By the time he realized that human feces was being transported from 1,000 miles away to a nearby landfill site, a scene of biblical pestilence was unfolding upon West Jefferson.
“The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs,” said Brasfield, who sports a greying handlebar moustache and describes himself as a conservative Republican. “The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them. You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe. You wouldn’t even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.”
The landfill, called Big Sky Environmental, sits on the fringes of West Jefferson and is permitted to accept waste from 48 US states. It used a nearby rail spur to import sewage from New York and New Jersey. This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson – sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns – to the landfill.
Outrage at this arrangement reached a crescendo in April last year when Jefferson county, of which West Jefferson is part, barred the landfill operator from using the rail spur. Malodorous train carriages began backing up near several neighbouring towns.
“Oh my goodness, it’s just a nightmare here,” said Heather Hall, mayor of Parrish, where the unwanted cargo squatted for two months. “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.” […]
Alabama has a total of 173 operational landfills, more than three times as many as New York, a state with a population four times greater but with just 54 dumps. California – three times larger than Alabama and containing eight people for every Alabamian – has just a handful more landfills than the southern state.
“You take a poor rural area, take advantage of the people and turn their farming land into a dumping ground so a few people can make a profit,” said Nelson Brooke, head of the Black River Riverkeeper organization. “Parts of our state have been turned into a toilet bowl and there isn’t the political spine to stop it.” [more]
By Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson
15 April 2019
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.
The storm made landfall in Mozambique on 14 March 2019, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.
It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.
Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.
Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.
Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.
“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.
On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.
Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday. [more]
10 April 2019 (OECD) – Governments need to do more to support middle-class households who are struggling to maintain their economic weight and lifestyles as their stagnating incomes fail to keep up with the rising costs of housing and education, according to a new OECD report.
Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class says that the middle class has shrunk in most OECD countries as it has become more difficult for younger generations to make it to the middle class, defined as earning between 75% and 200% of the median national income. While almost 70% of baby boomers were part of middle-income households in their twenties, only 60% of millennials are today.
The economic influence of the middle class has also dropped sharply. Across the OECD area, except for a few countries, middle incomes are barely higher today than they were ten years ago, increasing by just 0.3% per year, a third less than the average income of the richest 10%.
“Today the middle class looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in New York with Luis Felipe Lopéz-Calva, Assistant Secretary General, Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Development Programme. “Governments must listen to people’s concerns and protect and promote middle class living standards. This will help drive inclusive and sustainable growth and create a more cohesive and stable social fabric.”
Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa overseeing the Organisation’s work on Inclusive Growth, presented in more details the main findings of the report, saying “our analysis delivers a bleak picture and a call for action. The middle class is at the core of a cohesive, thriving society. We need to address their concerns regarding living costs, fairness and uncertainty.”
The cost of a middle class lifestyle has increased faster than inflation. Housing, for example, makes up the largest single spending item for middle-income households, at around one third of disposable income, up from a quarter in the 1990s. House prices have been growing three times faster than household median income over the last two decades.
More than one in five middle-income households spend more than they earn and over-indebtedness is higher for them than for both low-income and high-income households. In addition, labour market prospects have become increasingly uncertain: one in six middle-income workers are in jobs that are at high risk of automation, compared to one in five low-income and one in ten high-income workers.
To help the middle class, a comprehensive action plan is needed, according to the OECD. Governments should improve access to high-quality public services and ensure better social protection coverage. To tackle cost of living issues, policies should encourage the supply of affordable housing. Targeted grants, financial support for loans and tax relief for home buyers would help lower middle-income households. In countries with acute levels of housing-related debt, mortgage relief would help overburdened households get back on track.
As temporary or unstable jobs – often offering lower wages and job security – increasingly replace traditional middle-class jobs, more investment is needed in vocational education and training systems. Social insurance and collective bargaining coverage for non-standard workers, such as part-time or temporary employees or self-employed, should be extended.
Finally, to foster fairness of the socio-economic system, policies need to consider shifting the tax burden from labour income to income from capital and capital gains, property and inheritance, as well as making income taxes more progressive and fair.
Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class is the latest in a series of OECD reports that have documented over the past decade how inequalities have increased in our societies, making it harder for many citizens to make ends meet.
More information, including country notes for Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, is available at Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class.
For further information, or to arrange an interview with the authors, journalists should contact Spencer Wilson (tel. + 33 1 45 24 81 18) of the OECD Media Office (+33 1 45 24 97 00).
Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.
(The Washington Post) – President Trump’s opposition to aid for Puerto Rico has sparked a partisan standoff over a major disaster bill covering much of the United States, threatening to derail the legislation when it faces a critical Senate vote Monday.
The stalemate has caused days of acrimonious finger-pointing on all sides, with no resolution in sight. Now it threatens to indefinitely delay the bill, which provides more than $13 billion in much-needed recovery funds for everything from volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and wildfires in California, to hurricanes in Florida and Georgia and flooding in the Midwest, among other calamities.
“Many states are currently bearing heavy burdens in the wake of powerful natural disasters,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week as he urged support for the GOP’s emergency spending bill. “Many communities are still literally underwater.”
But Democrats oppose the GOP legislation, contending that the $600 million it contains for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program ignores broader needs on the island. They are accusing Trump and the GOP of indifference toward Puerto Rico as the territory continues a nearly two-year recovery from Hurricane Maria, arguing the Trump administration has been slow to make funding available.
“The president’s refusal to help Americans in Puerto Rico not only delays an important disaster bill that many other states are relying on to speed their recovery efforts, it discriminates against over 3 million Americans who reside in Puerto Rico, and that’s wrong,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. […]
“I’ve taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever,” Trump, who has repeatedly argued against increasing aid to the island, said on the White House lawn Thursday as he prepared to depart for a rally in Michigan. “Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being. And I think the people of Puerto Rico understand it.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló recently described Trump as a “bully” and threatened during an interview on CNN to punch him in the mouth. [more]
(Financial Times) – In the flat where I stayed in Cape Town last month, the bathtub felt like a relic of a lost civilisation. It may never be used again. Beside it was a shower containing an egg timer. The two-minute wash has been standard here since the recent three-year drought. In the city’s public bathrooms, a dribble comes out of the tap. Posters everywhere warn against wasting water.
This is what adapting to climate change looks like. Last year, Cape Town nearly became the first big city on earth to run dry. Daily water rations dropped to 50 litres per person per day, with the spectre of 25 litres if supplies ran out on “Day Zero”. The drought broke just in time, but the city’s planners now expect permanent water scarcity. Rationing, which initially felt like wartime austerity, has become normal.
We have collectively decided not to stop climate change — carbon dioxide emissions hit a record in 2018 — so the future will be about mitigating its effects. Every region faces its own threat, whether from heat, flooding, drought or hurricanes. Whatever the problem, Cape Town’s glimpse of the future offers lessons for everyone:
An existential climate crisis creates almost instant consensus on action. I didn’t hear anyone in Cape Town dismiss climate change as an elite hobby, or argue against rationing. On the contrary, water was an almost automatic topic of conversation with people of all classes, well ahead of May’s South African elections. The only arguments were about how to access (and ration) water.
Climate change is a class issue. For people who live in shanty towns outside Cape Town without running water, it’s always Day Zero. Yet a crisis was proclaimed only when rich Capetonians and companies were affected too. [more]
NEW YORK, 20 March 2019 – As in 2018, Finland again takes the top spot as the happiest country in the world according to three years of surveys taken by Gallup from 2016-2018. Rounding out the rest of the top ten are countries that have consistently ranked among the happiest. They are in order: Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria. The US ranked 19th dropping one spot from last year.
This year, the Report
analyzes how life evaluations and emotions, both positive and negative,
have evolved over the whole run of the Gallup World Poll, starting in
2005-2006. For life evaluations at the national level, there have been
more gainers than losers.
When you factor in population growth, world happiness has fallen in
recent years, driven by the sustained downward trend in India. As for
emotions, there has been a widespread recent upward trend in negative
affect, comprising worry, sadness and anger, especially marked in Asia
and Africa, and more recently elsewhere.
Among the 20 top gainers in life evaluations from 2005-2008 to
2016-2018, 10 are in Central and Eastern Europe, five are in sub-Saharan
Africa, and three in Latin America. The 10 countries with the largest
declines in average life evaluations typically suffered some combination
of economic, political, and social stresses. The five largest drops
since 2005-2008 were in Yemen, India, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.
This year’s happiness report
focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over
the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms,
conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.
Special chapters focus on generosity and prosocial behaviour, the
effects of happiness on voting behavior, big data, and the happiness
effects of internet use and addictions.
“The world is a rapidly changing place,” said Professor John
Helliwell, co-editor of the report. “How communities interact with each
other whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods or on social media
has profound effects on world happiness.”
The World Happiness Report 2019,
which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive
themselves to be, according to their evaluations of their own lives, was
launched today at the United Nations. The report was produced in
partnership with The Ernesto Illy Foundation.
“We are living a moment of transition to a new age and this generates
a sense of uncertainty,” said Andrea Illy, Chairman of illycaffè and
Member of the Board of Fondazione Ernesto Illy. “Social happiness is
therefore even more relevant, in order to give a positive perspective
and outlook for the present and for the future.”
The chapter by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable
Development Solutions Network focuses on the epidemic of addictions and
unhappiness in America, a rich country yet one where happiness has been
declining rather than rising.
“This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are
causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the US,” Sachs said.
“Addictions come in many forms, from substance abuse to gambling to
digital media. The compulsive pursuit of substance abuse and addictive
behaviors is causing severe unhappiness. Government, business, and
communities should use these indicators to set new policies aimed at
overcoming these sources of unhappiness.”
The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network
(SDSN) with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation, is edited by
Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and
the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Professor Richard Layard,
co-director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic
Performance; and Professor Sachs, director of SDSN and the Earth
Institute’s Center on Sustainable Development. Policy applications of
happiness research are collected in a companion SDSN publication Global Happiness Policy Report 2019.
According to Professor Sachs, “The World Happiness Report, together
with the Global Happiness and Policy Report offer the world’s
governments and individuals the opportunity to rethink public policies
as well as individual life choices, to raise happiness and wellbeing. We
are in an era of rising tensions and negative emotions (as shown in
Chapter 2) and these findings point to underlying challenges that need
to be addressed.”
Chapter 2 Changing World Happiness:
by John Helliwell, Haifang Huang and Shun Wang, presents the usual
national rankings of life evaluations, supplemented by global data on
how life evaluations, positive affect and negative affect have evolved
on an annual basis since 2006, and how the quality of government and
various forms of conflict have influenced those evaluations.
Chapter 6 Big Data and Well-Being:
by Paul Frijters and Clément Bellet, asks big questions about big data.
Is it good or bad, old or new, is it useful for predicting happiness,
and what regulation is needed to achieve benefits and reduce risks?
Chapter 7 Addiction and Unhappiness in America:
by Jeffrey Sachs, surveys a number of theories of addiction, presents
evidence of rising US prevalence of several addictive behaviours, and
considers a variety of possible causes and cures.
In presenting these results at the launch, coeditor John Helliwell
noted that “over the seven years of World Happiness Reports, there has
been a steady increase in the level and sophistication of reader
interest. At first, readers mainly wanted to see how countries ranked.
Now we see ever-increasing interest in using the happiness lens to help
understand what makes for happier homes, schools, workplaces, and
communities, and to use these findings to help make lives better
(The Washington Post) – We don’t know how many people have died since Cyclone Idai made landfall last Thursday on the coast of Mozambique before barreling west into Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Aerial photography and drone footage have shown the apocalyptic scenes left in the cyclone’s wake:
Fields of crops were ruined, rising floodwaters tore bridges off their
moorings, mudslides smashed roads and whole villages were swept away.
Survivors found themselves trapped on new “islands,” surrounded by the
brackish waters that obliterated their homes.
The United Nations estimated that more than 2.6 million people are in need of immediate assistance. Aid officials believe the tropical storm damaged or destroyed some 90 percent of the Indian Ocean port of Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city. Though the country’s authorities placed the official death toll at under 100 so far, President Filipe Nyusi spoke to local media after flying over affected areas in a helicopter and said that “everything indicates that we can have a record of more than 1,000 dead.” In Zimbabwe, the official death toll stood at 98; in Malawi, it’s at 56 — but the actual figures may take months to determine.
“The region affected by Idai is one of the poorest in the world,” wrote my colleague Max Bearak, who was en route to the ravaged city on Wednesday. “Infrastructure was already lacking, and the storm has destroyed key public institutions like hospitals and water sources.” Beira is a major entry point for food and gas inland; its paralysis raised fears of possible shortages across the region at a time when resources are already deeply strained.
Rescue efforts were hampered by collapsing infrastructure, poor telecommunications and heavy rains that continued through Tuesday. A giant storm surge, reported to be above 19 feet in some areas, transformed Beira — a city of half a million people — into a woeful waterworld, largely cut off from the rest of the country. According to the New York Times, the main highway into the city is impassable, while debris and toppled trees clog up other secondary roads.
is destroyed, everything,” said Deborah Nguyen, a World Food Program
official, to The Post. “When I got here on Sunday, you could see the
tops of palm trees in rural areas. Now it is just an inland ocean. The
rain isn’t stopping anytime soon.” Her organization is nevertheless
still attempting to airdrop food to stranded communities.
If the death tolls rise to the levels suggested by Nyusi and others, then Idai may prove an epochal event. “If these reports, these fears, are realized, then we can say that this is one of the worst weather-related disasters — tropical cyclone-related disasters — in the Southern Hemisphere,” Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, told reporters. [more]
(Weather Underground) – An extreme humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Mozambique, where catastrophic Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall on Thursday evening as a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds. Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi told Mozambican radio on Monday that he had seen “many bodies” floating in the overflowing Pungwe and Busi rivers, and “it appears that we can register more than 1,000 deaths.”
Aerial survey images show that the coast of central Mozambique where Idai made landfall suffered severe damage from all three of the major hazards of a tropical cyclone: wind, storm surge, and flooding rains. As Idai approached the coast, the stronger left eyewall of the storm moved over Beira (population 530,000) near the time of high tide, driving a large storm surge into the city. Beira is Mozambique’s fourth largest city, and second largest port. The city is very low-lying, with portions lying below sea level. The city has no power, no communications, and flooded access roads, though the airport has some limited accessibility.
A list compiled Monday by AFP from official sources puts the death toll from Idai’s landfall in Mozambique at 68, including 55 in Beira alone. These deaths are in addition to the 66 deaths recorded in northern Mozambique the week before Idai’s landfall, due to flooding from the tropical disturbance that developed into Idai. Flooding from that disturbance also killed 56 people in Malawi. Cuamba, Mozambique received 11.14” of rain in just 12 hours on March 7 from the tropical disturbance that become Idai.
Zimbabwe: at least 98 dead
Idai brought up to a foot of rain to eastern portions of
Zimbabwe near its border with Mozambique. The resulting floods have
killed at least 98 people, with 217 missing and 102 injured, said government officials on Monday. Zimbabwe’s death toll from Idai is expected to rise, since the
hardest-hit district of Chimanimani remains inaccessible due to damaged
roads and main access bridges that have been washed away.
According to EM-DAT, this is the second deadliest flood on record for Zimbabwe. The deadliest was in January 2017, when 251 people died from flooding due to Tropical Cyclone Dineo. [more]
(Bloomberg) – U.S. credit card debt hit $870 billion — the largest amount ever — as of December 2018, according to the data from the Federal Reserve. Credit card balances rose by $26 billion from the prior quarter.
“The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 nominal peak,” according to the report.
Nearly 480 million credit cards are now in circulation — up by more than 100 million since hitting bottom after the recession a decade ago.
At the end of last year, credit cards were the fourth-largest portion of consumer debt in the U.S. after mortgage, student loan, and auto debt. But the quarterly increase in credit card debt was faster than the other categories. Overall debt reached a record $13.5 trillion. […]
Older Americans are holding a significant portion of credit card debt, with those over age 60 accounting for about 30 percent of the total. [more]
GANDHINAGAR, 28 February 2019 (Press Trust of India) – Nearly 50 per cent of the country is currently facing drought with at least 16 per cent falling in the “exceptional” or “extreme” category, according to IIT Gandhinagar scientists managing India’s real time drought prediction system.
This ongoing drought will pose a lot of challenges in water availability this summer, Vimal Mishra, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) here, told PTI.
The real time monitoring system run by his team, which includes PhD student Amardeep Tiwari, collects weather and precipitation data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which is then used to simulate soil moisture and other factors that contribute to drought.
The results of the simulations, prepared by the Water and Climate Lab at IIT Gandhinagar, are available on the website of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
“About 47 per cent of the country is facing drought — with 16 per cent facing extreme, or exceptional category of drought — which we show from our real time monitoring system that we have developed for the country,” said Mishra, who heads the lab.
“Arunachal Pradesh did not get good rain this year, and parts of Jharkhand, southern Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and northern part of Tamil Nadu are under drought,” Mishra said.
If these areas experience very hot summer before the onset of monsoon, it could lead to a crisis, he warned.
According to him, continuing drought will further burden the already depleting ground water resources of the country.
“We are not enhancing groundwater recharge. On the other hand, drought conditions are making us extract more and more water,” he said.
While famine like conditions are not expected, the drought will have a massive impact on the economy.
“It can create long-term stress, if not mortality for poor, marginalised farmers,” Mishra said.
The scientist said global warming and climate change are likely to exacerbate drought in the coming years.
“If our groundwater is not recharged and managed sustainably, we could face a very difficult situation in the coming years,” Mishra said, adding that groundwater is being used irresponsibly at present.
“You can reduce groundwater by selecting appropriate crops. If we already have depleted groundwater we should not grow water intensive crops. For example, Punjab should not be growing rice,” Mishra said. [more]
ABSTRACT: In the background of the expanding population and dwindling water resources together with the risks posed by climate change, it is essential to quantify available and potential water resources of the country and the possible impacts of climate change on the existing resources. Here we provide a brief account of different water resources, their availability, potential, the implication of climate change on water availability, demands, and water use in various sectors. We also study the projected changes in precipitation and air temperature under the warming climate in India and their potential implications. India is endowed with numerous surface water resources and groundwater aquifers. However, these resources are not effectively utilized leading to over exploitation in certain areas and under development in the rest. Climate change driven increase in extremes, droughts, and increased irrigation requirements, can further reduce the water availability in India. The existing reservoir capacity may not be sufficient to accommodate floods driven precipitation extremes under the warming climate. Similarly, groundwater storage is likely to get affected due to excessive pumping to meet increased irrigation water requirements. In the future, along with the agriculture sector, burgeoning water demand from the industrial sector and rapid urbanization may aggravate water stress in rapidly developing India. Moreover, a significant portion of our available water resources is severely polluted. To meet the future water demands, we need to come up with water-efficient technologies, reuse and recycling of wastewater, along with the strategies to sustainably use water resources.
(The Guardian) – The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.
But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.
It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.
The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.
About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.
“People want to do the right thing by recycling but they have no idea where it goes and who it impacts,” said Zulene Mayfield, who was born and raised in Chester and now spearheads a community group against the incinerator, called Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.
“People in Chester feel hopeless – all they want is for their kids to
get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place
have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”
Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new
fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in
Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the
rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and
lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.
The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is
playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of
waste a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
with about a third of this recycled and composted.
Until recently, China had been taking about 40% of US paper, plastics and other recyclables but this trans-Pacific waste route has now ground to a halt. In July 2017, China told the World Trade Organization it no longer wanted to be the end point for yang laji, or foreign garbage, with the country keen to grapple with its own mountains of waste. [more]