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Tackling China’s Air Pollution Crisis: An Innovative Solution

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

China reached an undesired landmark in 2013. While the country’s impressive economic growth has amazed the world, it has come at a price: pollution. China recorded record levels of smog in 2013, with some cities suffering air pollution many times above what is acceptable for human health.

This is evidence of the perils of rapid industrialization using non-green technologies. China relies on coal burning, a highly polluting resource, for 70 to 80 per cent of its electricity. It also uses coal for factories and winter heating.

Burning coal causes smog, soot, acid rain, global warming, and toxic air emissions (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html). Environmental group Greenpeace claims 83,500 people died prematurely in 2011 from respiratory diseases in Shandong, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi – the top three coal-consuming provinces in China.

Anyone visiting Beijing or other Chinese cities will notice the high levels of smog and how this interferes with access to sunshine and curbs visibility. Worse still for human beings and the environment, this level of pollution causes severe respiratory problems, and has the potential to cause a rise in cancer rates, among other health problems.

Beijing had record pollution levels in January 2013. That haze, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, covered 1.43 million square kilometers.

Generated by industry and coal-fired power stations, particulate matter (http://www.epa.gov/pm/) or PM, is a complex mix of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

In October 2013, Beijing announced a series of emergency measures to tackle the record high levels of pollution and smog (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/23/world/asia/china-beijing-smog-emergency-measures/index.html). The Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan uses a color-coded warning system if serious pollution levels occur in three consecutive days. This means kindergartens, primary and middle schools will need to stop classes. Eighty per cent of government cars must come off the roads and private cars can only enter the city on alternate days based on a ballot system. Emergency measures will come into play when the air quality index for fine particulate matter, called PM2.5 (http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/faq.htm#0) – very fine particles that lodge in the lungs and are very harmful to human health – exceed 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days in a row. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safe limit for human beings is 20 micrograms (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/).

The only serious, long-term solution is to switch to non or low-polluting green energy sources. But, meanwhile, some are coming up with stop-gap measures that also help to educate people about the necessity to do away with this major threat to human health.

Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde (studioroosegaarde.net) thinks he has a temporary solution to the pollution problem – a “vacuum cleaner” to clean up the sky. And the city of Beijing is taking the solution seriously.

The proposed technology works like this: a system of buried coils of copper produce an ion electrostatic field that attracts smog particles. The particles are magnetized and are drawn downwards, creating a gap of clean air above the coil.

Called the Smog project, it is already under discussion with the mayor of Beijing. An animation video explains how it works: http://studioroosegaarde.net/video/the-smog-project/.

Talking to CNN, Roosegaarde likened the science behind the invention to what happens when “you have a balloon which has static (electricity) and your hair goes toward it. Same with the smog.”

In a deal with the Beijing city government, the technology will be tested in the city’s parks.

Roosegaarde has successfully tested the technology indoors and found it worked in the experiment.

He told CNN: “Beijing is quite good because the smog is quite low, it’s in a valley so there’s not so much wind. It’s a good environment to explore this kind of thing.”

“We’ll be able to purify the air and the challenge is to get on top of the smog so you can see the sun again.”

Roosegaarde thinks that successfully running the experiment in a Beijing park makes a radical statement and shows the benefits of breathing clean air and being able to see the sun on most days.

But he is not deluded that this is the final solution for pollution: “This is not the real answer for smog. The real answer has to do with clean cars, different industry and different lifestyles.”

With many people resigned to the pollution, at least for now, China’s entrepreneurs are making the face masks and air filters people wear to protect their lungs from the pollution more fashionable and appealing to look at, the South China Morning Post reported.

Xiao Lu, a saleswoman at Panfeng Household Products, explained the varying fashion tastes in masks: “Young people tend to like bright colors. Men prefer blue or black masks. Right now, UV proof masks are popular.”

Lu told the newspaper that customers make their decisions based on comfort and price.

Popular brands include Respro (http://respro.com/), Totobobo (totobobo.co.uk) and 3M9010 (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/3M-PPE-Safety-Solutions/Personal-Protective-Equipment/Products/Product-Catalog/?N=5022986&rt=c3).

But, why not just move out of cities and avoid breathing bad air? Things are not that simple from an economic perspective. The South China Morning Post quoted Rena from Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang province, who came to Beijing for the better job opportunities.

“Going back to Urumqi means less job opportunities and the air is not necessarily better,” she said. “Staying in Beijing means wearing a mask most days. It’s not very comfortable.

“But I can’t cover my face forever,” she said. “I’d prefer to live in a cleaner environment.

Published: December 2013

Resources

1) eChinacities: Waiting to Exhale: Guide to Buying Face Masks in China. Website: http://www.echinacities.com/expat-corner/Waiting-to-Exhale-Guide-to-Buying-Face-Masks-in-China

2) Pollution-China.com: Living in China despite the pollution. Website: http://www.pollution-china.com/vmchk/RESPRO-masks/View-all-products.html

3) My Health Beijing: A family doctor’s evidence-based guide to wellness and public health. Website: http://www.myhealthbeijing.com/china-public-health/respro-vs-totobobo-which-mask-works-better-for-air-pollution/

4) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. We work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/

5) Coal power: A map of China’s 2,300 coal-burning plants. Website: http://world.time.com/2013/12/13/one-map-shows-you-why-pollution-in-china-is-so-awful/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Protecting Threatened Fruits and Nuts in Central Asia

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Between 94,000 and 144,000 plant species — a quarter to a half of the world’s total — could die out in the coming years, according to an estimate by Scientific American (2002).  Among them are vital food crops, threatened by a world in which climate change is causing more weather turbulence and diseases and viruses can spread rapidly and destroy crops.

This scale of plant loss risks leaving the world’s food security dependent on fewer – and more vulnerable – domesticated species. The hunt is on for hardy plant species that can survive these ups and downs while protecting the world’s food security for this and the next generation.

In the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, conservation of trees and their fruits and nuts are being placed at the centre of the economic lives of people who had been unwittingly destroying the trees’ habitat. Two projects, one to preserve walnut trees in Tajikistan, and the other to preserve apple trees in Kyrgyzstan, are beginning to bear fruit.

The Red List of Trees of Central Asia published in April 2009 by the Global Trees Campaign (http://www.globaltrees.org/rl_centralasia.htm), identified the 44 species most at risk in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Growing in rugged, mountainous terrain, the plants have high genetic diversity and are thought to be critical in the development of disease-resistant and climate-tolerant fruit varieties.

The diverse environments of Central Asia are host to over 300 wild fruit and nut species that are ancestors to the fruits and nuts we eat today, including wild apple, plum, pears, pistachios, cherry, apricot, and walnut.

Many face extinction as local people — driven by the need for fire wood, or to earn an income — cut down this precious resource. The Red List estimates that over 90 percent of the trees in the fruit and nut forests across Central Asia have been destroyed in the past 50 years.

The importance of these fruits and nuts can’t be over-emphasized: all the common varieties of apricot come from one living ancestor, the species Armeniaca vulgaris, now very rare in Central Asia. Central Asia’s Malus sieversii (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malus_sieversii) gave birth to today’s domestic apples. It spread its way around the world along the ancient Silk Road (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road). The name of Kazakhstan’s former capital city is Almaty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almaty), which literally means ‘Grandfather of Apples’.

Scientists have found genetic diversity and disease resistance greater in wild plant species that have not been domesticated, like Malus sieversii. Malus sieversii is highly resistant to Fire Blight (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_blight), a nasty disease that turns the fruits black (USDA).

To stop this free-for-all in which resources are plundered to extinction and trees wiped out to be used for firewood, deals are being struck to guarantee local communities’ rights to exploit the trees as a resource, while also obligating them to preserve them.

In Tajikistan, the walnut trade is a critical source of income for some villages, with most of the crop exported to Turkey. The country shares with Kyrgyzstan the world’s largest natural-growth walnut forest. But the use of short-term land leases discouraged long-term management, while local people were lacking any other sources of income and over-exploited the trees.

Jilly McNaughton of British NGO Fauna and Flora International (www.fauna-flora.org), said the current situation “is not good, with use of the forest by local people both heavy and inadequately controlled.” “Collection of firewood and grazing are perhaps the biggest concerns,” she said. “There is very little natural regeneration of wild trees due to grazing and hay making in the forest. “As the walnut is valued as an income generating crop, other trees are cut for firewood and timber, meaning parts of the forest have become a park-like landscape with scattered large walnut trees.”

Fauna and Flora International, which specializes in species preservation, is encouraging local people to work towards long-term leases and diversify their sources of income. The strategy includes encouraging other ways to make a living, including raising chickens, making clothes and bee keeping.

As one villager said: “We have bought honey buckets and bees. Next year we will get a lot of honey – it will be a great income. We got a job.”

The Red List of Trees found the causes of species’ destruction are multiple: over-exploitation, human development, pests and diseases, overgrazing, desertification and fires. Since the break up of the Soviet Union, funds have been short to help reverse these threats.

The most threatened apple species in the Red List is the Niedzwetzky apple (Malus niedzwetzkyana) (www.globaltrees.org/kyrgyzstan_apple.htm).

In Kyrgyzstan, work to preserve the Niedzwetsky apple is directly involving the community. Projects are working with the village of Kara Alma in southern Kyrgyzstan and government forest services to encourage eco-friendly small businesses to earn incomes and protect the forests.

They have catalogued all 111 trees that still survive, and have set up a community-run nursery to grow more. The ambition is to expand this approach across the region, both preserving these great resources and bringing hope and employment to the people.

Published: July 2009

Resources

  • The Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and many other organisations around the world, aims to save threatened tree species through provision of information, conservation action and support for sustainable use. Website: www.globaltrees.org
  • The Red List of Trees of Central Asia: Has evaluated 96 of the region’s tree species, identifying 44 as globally threatened with extinction. Website: www.globaltrees.org/news_RLCA.htm
  • Association of Cities of Kyrgyz Republic. Website: www.citykr.kg/en/index.php
  • Planeta: One of the first ecotourism resources to go online (since 1994) and still offers plenty of information for those wanting to start a business. Website: www.planeta.com
  • Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: A thorough account with case studies of a successful two-year project in Mongolia to combine environmental protection with livelihoods. Website: http://tiny.cc/oZ9sA

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Global South Urbanization Does Not Have to Harm Biodiversity

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

How to balance fragile ecosystems with rapid urbanization will be the challenge for planners and governments across the global South in the coming years. The urbanization trend is clear: the world’s total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030, with urban populations set to double to around 4.9 billion in the same period (UNEP). This urban expansion will draw heavily on water and other natural resources and will consume prime agricultural land.

Global urbanization will have significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystems if current trends continue, with knock-on effects for human health and development, according to a new assessment by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook – the first global analysis of how projected patterns of urban land expansion will affect biodiversity and crucial ecosystems – argues that promoting low-carbon, resource-efficient urban development can counter urbanization’s adverse effects on biodiversity while improving quality of life.

“The way our cities are designed, the way people live in them and the policy decisions of local authorities, will define, to a large extent, future global sustainability,” said Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD.

“The innovation lies not so much in developing new infrastructural technologies and approaches but to work with what we already have. The results often require fewer economic resources and are more sustainable,” he added.

The report says urban expansion is occurring fast in areas close to biodiversity ‘hotspots’ and coastal zones. And rapidly urbanizing regions, such as large and mid-size settlements in sub-Saharan Africa, India and China, often lack resources to implement sustainable urban planning.

But the study found that cities do not need to be in conflict with plant and animal species and ecosystems. They can, in fact, protect species, as is the case with Belgium, where 50 per cent of the country’s floral species are found in Brussels, or Poland, where 65 per cent of the country’s bird species occur in Warsaw.

At the Alexander von Humboldt Research Institute in Bogota, Colombia (humboldt.org.co) researchers have been thinking about how to get this balance right and make sure the growing cities of the future are not ecological disasters.

According to Juana Marino and Maria Angélica Mejia at the Institute’s Biological Resources Policy Program – which investigates “Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Urban-Regional Environments” – how cities grow and develop must change.

They believe cities need to take into account the resources they require to function and the impact this has on biodiversity and ecosystems.

“The more people who arrive in cities, the more they demand goods and services (in a massive way!): roads, housing, infrastructure, food, water – (creating) an impressive amount of waste, challenging traditional waste management and sanitation policies,” said Marino.

In short, “Cities enhance consumption.”

The Humboldt researchers believe common patterns can be seen across the global South, where ecosystems “surrounding urban areas are deforested and have significant levels of water and air pollution; they also become deeply transformed by informal settlements.”

This process means cities “lose their ability to be resilient, they become highly vulnerable to global change and they decrease their production of ecosystem services to maintain human well-being in cities.”

They argue that human settlements must be sustainably planned for, with ecological resilience and human well-being. If this is not done, areas suitable for agricultural production and biodiversity preservation will be harmed.

While better planning is needed there also needs to be long-term thinking.

But planning and managing are not the only things required: “it is a matter of design” if new “resilient” urban-rural landscapes are to be created.

And what can be done? They believe better analysis is required and it needs to take on social and cultural knowledge, and take in the border regions around cities, the “suburban, peri-urban and other ‘transition’ landscapes should become main actors in these relationships, not mere by-products; (they are) compromise territories between a lack of definition and low governance.”

These complex relationships with the border ecosystems of cities need to be communicated to the general public in simple, user-friendly ways so they can understand how important these areas are to the overall health of the city.

In Latin America, the cities of Curitiba (Brazil) and Bogotá and Medellin (Colombia) have made great strides in managing and planning for biodiversity and ecosystem services, they say. But it is not just as simple as recording the number of native species and the percentage of protected areas in urban places. Links need to be created between “social, scientific and political” elements to create “socio-ecological indicators” that can be developed and turned into “easy-to-adopt mechanisms” for people to use.

And they see innovation as the way to do this. Innovation is critical if cities and urban areas are to avoid widespread destruction of biodiversity as urbanization increases.

“Innovation is not just an option – it is a ‘must’,” said Marino. “Not just the technical innovation already being carried on by infrastructure, transport and building sectors that are rapidly changing their patterns based on mitigation technologies.

“Innovation is also needed in terms of biodiversity, biotechnology, information and knowledge production; appropriation, use and management. Knowledge turns into innovation when appropriated by social spheres; when it enters the social and political arenas.”

Environmental governance can be strengthened “when promoting top-down and bottom-up innovations.”

Published: December 2012

Resources

1) Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia. Website: http://tinyurl.com/yhjyd7h

2) Hyderabad Case Study: During the recent UN biodiversity talks in Hyderabad, the International Union for Conservation of Nature gave journalists the opportunity to see how biodiversity can thrive in the middle of a bustling metropolis. Website: http://www.rtcc.org/hyderabad-a-showcase-of-urban-biodiversity/

3) UNEP: A Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity was launched by UNEP, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), UN-HABITAT, ICLEI, IUCN Countdown 2010, UNITAR, UNESCO and a Steering Group of Mayors from Curitiba, Montreal, Bonn, Nagoya and Johannesburg to bring together existing initiatives on cities and biodiversity. Website: http://www.unep.org/urban_environment/issues/biodiversity.asp

4) Nature in the City: Nature in the City, a project of Earth Island Institute, is San Francisco’s first organization wholly dedicated to ecological conservation, restoration and stewardship of the Franciscan bioregion. Website: http://natureinthecity.org/urbanbiodiversity.php

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Traffic Signs Bring Safety To The Streets

By David South, UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (Blue Sky Bulletin, Issue Number 6, May/June 1998)

Cars, mostly olive green Russian jeeps, weave in and out of the five-storey apartment blocks of downtown Dalanzadgad. Running through the centre of the capital of Omnogobi is a gardened boulevard, where families hide from the hot sun under trees.

That one road, and the few feeding into it, are the only enforced guides for drivers. It can be seen across Mongolia – settlements crisis-crossed by drivers looking for the shortest route to their destination. It doesn’t help that there are no natural or manmade barriers to prevent drivers going their own way.

In Dalanzadgad, a UNDP project to protect the environment from off-road driving has had an unexpected outcome: it has galvanized the community to make the streets safer by adding over 100 traffic signs. The project “Soil and Road” under UNDP’s Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP), started modestly. According to project director and local Khural head Mr. Byambasuren, the number of vehicles in the area shot up from 800 three years ago, to 1,500 today. Most of these vehicles drive off-road, kicking up dust and destroying flora, contributing to desertification.

“The disease rate here is very high because of the dust and we have many traffic accidents involving children,” says Byambasuren.

With a small grant of Tg 2.5 million from EPAP the project was able to organize workshops for local drivers where they signed a contract to not drive off-road, facing stiff penalties from the traffic police if caught.

A media campaign was also organized and posters and brochures distributed. The local traffic police were so impressed by the project they decided to chip in a further Tg 2 million to construct traffic signs and install concrete calming barriers.

At first they explored the possibility of buying ready-made signs but found the costs too prohibitive.

“We wanted to get signs that glowed at night but they were too expensive. We decided to make our own out of old oil drums.”

In a room thick with the smell of fresh paint sits the traffic signs. They all use internationally recognized symbols and only upon closer inspection, reveal their past life sitting on top of an oil drum. Each sign costs Tg 2,000 to make. In addition to the signs traffic calming concrete barriers have been installed in 20 places throughout Dalanzadgad.

Next year Byambasuren will target the large ger districts that surround the centre of Dalanzadgad. He has a message for any driver who doesn’t obey: “We will be banging on their heads with lectures if they break the rules!,” he says with a laugh.

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson can be found here: http://openlibrary.org/b/OL169160M/Environmental-Public-Awareness-Handbook

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022