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NEWS UPDATE #171


HIGHLIGHTS: *Over 300 manual scavengers died in 2017 *India ranked among lowest in green ranking, inclusive development *No clearance to power plants if they don’t follow norms: MoEF * Gurgaon lost 389 water bodies in 60 years *New global biodiversity registry *Cape Town to run out of water *Peru declares a huge new national park

INDIA

Over 300 manual scavengers died in 2017
Sunday Guardian
Despite the ban on manual scavenging in India, over 300 cases of deaths due to manual scavenging have been reported from across the country in 2017 alone, according to a reply given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to the Lok Sabha in December last year. Tamil Nadu has reported the highest number of cases of death of manual scavengers, with over 140 cases reported in the state during the said period, while 59 cases have been reported from Karnataka and 52 from Uttar Pradesh. Delhi also reported the death of 12 manual scavengers in 2017.

177/180: India at bottom in green ranking
The Times of India
Poor handling of air pollution abatement and forest protection measures has seen India slip to 177th position in green rankings this year from its 141st position two years ago. The latest global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) rankings released on Tuesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meet in Davos, Switzerland, saw India figure in the bottom five performers in a list of 180 countries. The EPI report ranks these nations on 10 broad categories (issues), including 24 performance indicators, covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality. These performance indicators include air quality, water & sanitation, CO2 emission intensity (emission per unit of GDP), forests (deforestation) and waste water treatment among others.

India ranked worse than China, Pakistan, B’desh, Sri Lanka in inclusive development index
Counterview
In a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday, India ranks worse than all its neighbours in the new Inclusive Development Index (IDI) which it has released on the day WEF summit began in the Swiss city, January 22. Ranking 62nd out of 74 emerging economies, India’s ranking is worse than not just China but also Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. While Pakistan ranks 47th, Sri Lanka 40th, Nepal 22nd, and China 26th, the five countries that are found to rank better than India include Rwanda, Laos, Uganda, Mali and Senegal. The only country ranking worse than India among the the “competing” BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) economies is South Africa (69th).

Only 1 In 1,000 Indians Lives In Area With Clean Air: New Study
IndiaSpend
In 2015, only one in 1000 Indians lived in areas where particulate pollution did not exceed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safe levels for fine, toxic dust particles called PM 2.5, according to a new study. Similarly, the populations in 21 Indian states and six union territories were exposed to PM 2.5 levels above the Indian annual standards–or safe levels–in 2015, said the study, Burden of Disease Attributable to Major Air Pollution Sources in India, led by the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B).

India’s Reverse Auction for Coal Has Done Little for Consumers, a Lot for Private Power Players
The Wire
Following judicial intervention in 2G and captive coal block allocations during the UPA regime, it was decided that all natural resources should be auctioned to ensure transparency and fairness in allocation. When coal minister Piyush Goyal introduced reverse bidding in the allocation of coal blocks and linkage – where the bidder who promises to charge least from the consumer wins the block – it was with the stated aim of ensuring that consumers get the benefit of low coal prices. However, reverse auction may not have lived up to those promises. For example, while private power producers have benefited immensely from allocation of coal through reverse auction held under the Shakti scheme recently, electricity consumers have been fobbed off with token tariff concessions.

No clearance to power plants if they don’t follow norms: MoEF
Business Standard
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) today assured the National Green Tribunal that it would not grant clearance to any new thermal power plant until they comply with the standards set by it, after a plea alleged that many plants were flouting norms and causing pollution. The Environment Ministry in December 2015 had issued a notification revising the standards for coal-based thermal power plants across the country which aimed to reduce emissions like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, besides water consumption. (Also read: Sluggish rooftop solar scheme spurs government to work on new plan)

Narmada waters in Gujarat “stopped” to appease Madhya Pradesh farmers with eye on elections: Government insider
Counterview
A well-informed Gujarat government source has told Counterview that a major reason why the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) recently declared there would be “no water” from the multi-purpose irrigation scheme, Sardar Sarovar dam, to Gujarat farmers starting March 15, 2018, is Madhya Pradesh elections, scheduled for this year-end. The source, refusing to be identified, said, “Already, massive preparations are on in Madhya Pradesh to provide as much Narmada water to the state’s farmers by storing as much water as possible. The idea is to appease the farmers with Narmada waters in the same way as it was done last year before the elections took place in Gujarat.” (Related: How much area in Gujarat is irrigated with Narmada water, why is industry breakup not released? Asks farmers leader)

Haryana Gave Up More Forests Than Any State, Now Asks Money For Afforestation
IndiaSpend
Haryana diverted the most forest–79.44 sq km or about 200 times the size of Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens or 900 times size of Mumbai’s Nariman Point–from its forest area of 1,584 sq km between 2014-15 and 2016-17, according to this reply to the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) on December 22, 2017. Up to 3% of Haryana’s land, nearly the size of Delhi, is officially marked as forests. The top state in diverting forests for purposes like infrastructure and industrial projects is now reaching out to the central government for funds under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for forest conservation activities, the Times of India reported on January 10, 2018.

In Bengaluru, 5,000 Armymen Fought Raging Fire At Bellandur Lake
NDTV
At Bengaluru’s 1,000-acre Bellandur Lake, infamous for pollution and toxic foam, a massive fire broke out this afternoon. It took more than 5,000 army personnel and fire-fighting equipment to bring the fire that raged for seven hours under control. Videos of the fire show thick black smoke rising in the sky above the lake. Later in the evening, the fire started again at two places in the lake, which is Bengaluru’s largest. No loss to life or property has been reported.

Villagers say Patanjali unit polluting water bodies in Haridwar
Hindustan Times
Villagers in Haridwar district alleged that a unit of yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali firm was polluting Ban Ganga rivulet and a few other rain-fed water bodies. Villagers from the Lakshar area, where Padartha herbal and food park — a unit of Rs 10,000-crore Patanjali — is located, have lodged a complaint about the water pollution. Rajbeer Chauhan, a social activist, showed on Tuesday contaminated water in a bottle to reporters. He said several animals died in the last few years as effluents released from Padartha polluted the rivulet and water bodies.

Gurgaon lost 389 water bodies in 60 years: Study
The Times of India
Gurgaon has lost as many as 389 water bodies in the past 60 years, a study has revealed. The study report, compiled by the district administration, has been submitted in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). While the NGT on Monday directed the Haryana government to protect all existing water bodies under the government ownership, the study came up with some interesting observations. According to the study, there were 640 water bodies as per revenue records of 1956. However, 251 water bodies exist as per the current revenue records. The study also found that 253 out of 291 villages have water bodies in the Gurgaon district. (Related: Nine Gurugram ponds filled with sewage, could ‘contaminate groundwater’)

Odisha forest department overrides FRA to make its own rules
Down to Earth
The Odisha Forest Department has asked Lamer Gram Sabha in Kalahandi district to follow a slew of measures if it wants to get Transit Permit (TP) for bamboo. A permit document allows them to transport and sell bamboo commercially under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA). The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Kalahandi, in a letter dated January 12, communicated the conditions to the Gram Sabha. The letter was in response to the Gram Sabha’s request seeking revalidation of the Transit Permit book. (Also read: Arrest of two anti-MNC Odisha adivasi activists set to turn into a major human rights issue: Petition to CM 2) 1.29 lakh forest land claims rejected in Odisha, gram sabhas being disempowered: CSD tells Central tribal team)

Bawana Fire: Why Women Are Cannon Fodder For the Informal Sector
The Wire
Ten of the 17 people killed in a fire at a firecracker storage unit in Delhi’s Bawana industrial area on Saturday were women. Apart from the overall questions around workers’ rights and the negligence involved, the incident also raises questions on the pathetic working conditions of women who work in the informal sector and how they are often exploited even more than their male counterparts. “Women are preferred for packaging jobs because they rarely unionise, which makes it easier to exploit them, pay less. They often don’t ask for too much money, and rarely agitate. Since the work doesn’t require too much physical effort, factory owners don’t want to hire men and pay Rs 9,000-plus,” International Federation of Trade Unions general secretary (Delhi) Rajesh Kumar told the Indian Express.

Indian Fishing Community Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Challenging World Bank Group Immunity
Earth Rights
Indian fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in their case that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group, had “absolute immunity” and could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated communities in Gujarat, India. Now, the Plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to rectify this erroneous decision.

‘This is river, not land’: Chennai Fisherfolks Fight To Save Ennore river
SANDRP
In a remarkable protest echoing urgent need for protection of rivers, fisherfolk of Kosasthalai River on 03 January 2018, launched a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ against Kamarajar Port project. The proposal would divert 1000 acres of creek area. It mainly comprises of river, wetlands, marshy areas on which fisher community depend for livelihood. Raising their voices against the project with holding play cards that read “This is River, Not Land” they stood in waist-deep in waters to save Ennore Creek. Joining the protest, hundreds of residents also demanded the withdrawal of alleged fraudulent maps denying the existence of the Ennore Creek. The community has been fighting a lonely battle against the Tamil Nadu government accusing it of turning wetlands illegally into industrial real estate corridors.

Endorsed By Courts And The Government, Uranium Mining Continues To Create Health Hazards In Jadugoda As The UCIL Expands Its Operations
Caravan
Though the matter has been taken up by the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, the courts, too, ultimately did not find merit in the allegations against the UCIL’s mining and milling process. However, the independence of the investigations that led the courts to these conclusions remains questionable. I visited the area in late May last year, and the lived experiences the residents recounted significantly contradicted the UCIL’s claims. “Whoever has worked in the mine has either got lung cancer or TB,” Durga Majhi, a resident of Tilaitand and the brother of the village’s sarpanch, told me. “We want mining to be stopped forever.”

Rising sea swamps island along Bengal coast
The Third Pole
At one edge of the Sundarbans – the world’s largest mangrove forest – Mousuni used to have an embankment along Baliara to hold back the rising sea. That collapsed during the 2009 Cyclone Aila. Since then, there have been three attempts to build sea walls, all of which have collapsed against the power of the sea. Scientists say seas around the world are rising due to climate change, but the Bay of Bengal is rising twice as fast as the global average.

Prepare disaster plan for Mullaperiyar: Supreme Court
The Times of India
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to set up a special committee to prepare a disaster management plan for any eventuality at the site of the over-122-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. A bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud also directed Tamil Nadu and Kerala to set up separate committees to ensure the dam’s safety. The court asked the Centre and the two states to take steps to allay the fears of the millions who live in the vicinity of the dam. The order came on a petition seeking directions to the authorities to appoint an international agency to study the condition of the dam, which was built in 1895.

WORLD

2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño, thanks to global warming
The Guardian
2017 was the second-hottest year on record according to Nasa data, and was the hottest year without the short-term warming influence of an El Niño event. In fact, 2017 was the hottest year without an El Niño by a wide margin – a whopping 0.17°C hotter than 2014, which previously held that record. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

New global registry of invasive species is ‘milestone’ in protecting biodiversity
The Guardian
A world registry of invasive species has been launched amid concerns that governments are not doing enough to tackle the rising threat of globalisation to biodiversity. The new catalogue – unveiled in the journal Scientific Data on Tuesday – is expected to become a pillar of international efforts to fight extinction alongside the “red list” of endangered species. From yellow crazy ants on Christmas Island to little fire worms in the Galapagos, the deliberate or accidental introduction of non-native species is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss on islands and world heritage sites, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Unsustainable hunting & recreational activities a primary threat to global protected areas: study
Down to Earth
A new study has found that protected areas (PA) across the world are the most threatened by unsustainable hunting, followed by tourism and forest fire. Published in Conservation Letters, it also states that the threat to the most remote forest is relatively low. Protected areas reported higher risk if they were in countries that suffered from corruption and a lower Human Development Index (HDI) score. Such threats can cause destruction, degradation of ecology and biodiversity of the PA. Conservationists looked at around 2,000 PA spread across 149 countries.

UN Environment and World Health Organization agree to major collaboration on environmental health risks
UN Environment
UN Environment and the World Health Organization have agreed a new, wide-ranging collaboration to accelerate action to curb environmental health risks that cause an estimated 12.6 million deaths a year. Today in Nairobi, Mr. Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, signed an agreement to step up joint actions to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues. The collaboration also includes joint management of the BreatheLife advocacy campaign to reduce air pollution for multiple climate, environment and health benefits.

More Rain, Less Snow for U.S. Winters
Climate Central
For most states in the U.S., winters without snow would be like a Super Bowl performance without Beyonce, Donald Trump without a combover or an overseas flight without a passport. And yet that’s exactly what’s been happening. As the world warms, it’s changing the essence of winter. It’s not that less precipitation is falling (though that is happening in some areas). It’s that less winter precipitation is falling as snow, according to a new Climate Central analysis. Not all winter precipitation is created equal. Less winter precipitation falling as snow is bad news for water supplies and wildfires out West and the financial fate of ski resorts across the country.

Cape Town to run out of water by 12 April amid worst drought in a century
The Guardian
As Cape Town suffers its worst drought in a century, residents have been warned that they face losing piped water to their homes on 12 April – nine days earlier than predicted. If drastic consumption reductions are not achieved by “Day Zero”, people will have to queue at 200 standpipes for daily rations of 25 litres (6.6 US gallons), residents were told on Tuesday. The city, which attracts millions of tourists every year, has enforced strict waste controls including prosecution of homeowners who use more than the current 50-litre daily limit.

Peru declares a huge new national park in the Amazon
Mongabay
Yaguas National Park is located in the Loreto Region of northern Peru and covers more than 868,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest – around the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. Peru’s newest national park is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals. Yaguas National Park holds around 550 fish species, representing two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish diversity – more than any other place in the country, and one of the richest freshwater fish assemblages in the world. (Related: Peru passes law allowing roads through pristine Amazon rainforest)

Gas field earthquakes put Netherlands’ biggest firms on extraction notice
The Guardian
Two hundred of the Netherlands’ biggest companies have been told by their government to stop sourcing fuel from a major Dutch gas field within four years following a series of increasingly significant earthquakes. Extraction from the Groningen field, one of Europe’s richest sources of gas, is operated in a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, but has been capped in recent years by ministers due to seismic activity in the area. Following a quake two weeks ago which registered at 3.4 on the Richter scale – the second-strongest recorded above the gas fields and the biggest in five years – the country’s minister for economic affairs, Eric Wiebes, put major corporations on notice this week.

France abandons plan for €580m airport and orders squatters off site
The Guardian
The French government has abandoned plans for a new €580m (£513m) airport in western France, a sensitive decision that past governments had shirked for decades, but announced campaigners who have occupied the site must leave. The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said hundreds of people squatting on the site of the proposed new development in the village of Notre-Dame-Des-Landes have until spring to leave. Up to 300 people who call themselves “resistants” are living on the land earmarked for the airport having declared it a ZAD – Zone à Defendre – and have vowed not to go quietly.

Coca-Cola increased its production of plastic bottles by a billion last year, says Greenpeace
The Guardian
Coca-Cola increased its production of throwaway plastic bottles last year by well over a billion, according to analysis by Greenpeace. The world’s biggest soft drinks company does not disclose how much plastic packaging it puts into the market. But analysis by the campaign group Greenpeace reveals what they say is an increase in production of single-use PET bottles from 2015-2016. The increase puts Coke’s production at more than 110bn bottles each year, according to Greenpeace.

Ruptured Tibetan glaciers triggered massive speedy avalanches
New Scientist
In 2016, two glaciers in Tibet collapsed triggering huge avalanches that caused widespread devastation. Such a collapse had only been seen once before, so the events suggested that glaciers break apart more frequently than anybody realised. Andreas Kääb of the University of Oslo, Norway, and his colleagues have combined eyewitness reports with remote-sensing images and other data to better understand how the glaciers came to fall apart. They have also spotted the telltale signs of impending collapse, knowledge that could be used to warn people nearby.

Thai police bust leading wildlife trafficker
Mongabay
Thai police have arrested Boonchai Bach, the alleged kingpin behind one of the world’s biggest and most notorious wildlife trafficking syndicates. Bach and his family operation have been the target of authorities and anti-trafficking groups for more than a decade for moving vast quantities of rhino horns and elephant tusks to markets in China, Vietnam and Laos, via their hub in Thailand. One of the family’s main customers remains at large, however. Vixay Keosavang, said to be the most prominent wildlife dealer in Southeast Asia, is beyond the reach of Thai authorities, in Laos.

Conservation giants implicated in public health crisis among ‘pygmies’
Survival International
A Congolese organization has recently raised concerns that conservation contributed to the deaths of several dozen children, mostly Bayaka “Pygmies,” during an epidemic in 2016 in the Republic of Congo – the latest in a long line of related reports. The deaths have been attributed by a medical expert to malaria, pneumonia and dysentery, aggravated by severe malnutrition. Conservation-related malnutrition among Bayaka children in this region has been reported since 2005 at least, as the Bayaka are prevented from hunting and gathering on their lands by wildlife guards through violence and intimidation.

Stop waste of US$26 billion on unnecessary coal power projects, urges major new coalition.
Walhi
A coalition of Indonesian NGOs, dubbed the ‘Break Free From Coal’ coalition, has called for nine planned coal power plants to be dropped from the power supply plan due to concerns around massive supply overcapacity, which would lead to substantial financial and economic loss. The analysis published by the coalition reveals the existing power supply plan (RUPTL 2017) has grossly overestimated demand growth and therefore has built an excess of 13 gigawatts into the Java Bali system. This would lead to a 71% surplus even at the most optimistic demand growth projections of 5% a year.

222 Bird Species Worldwide Now Critically Endangered
EcoWatch
What do the southern red-breasted plover, ultramarine lorikeet and Rimatara reed warbler have in common? Here’s the unfortunate answer: They’re just a few of the bird species newly listed as critically endangered in the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The update, released last month by BirdLife International, cites climate change and overfishing as causes of the population declines of many species, particularly seabirds.

Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling
The New York Times
Ever since China announced last year that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump,” recycling about half of the globe’s plastics and paper products, Western nations have been puzzling over what to do when the ban went into effect, which it did on Jan. At least one waste disposal site in London is already seeing a buildup of plastic recyclables and has had to pay to have some of it removed. Similar backups have been reported in Canada, Ireland, Germany and several other European nations, while tons of rubbish is piling up in port cities like Hong Kong.

 

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