MADRID, Dec 1 2022 (IPS) – Drought is one of the ‘most destructive’ natural disasters in terms of the loss of life, arising from impacts, such as wide-scale crop failure, wildfires and water stress.
In other words, droughts are one of the “most feared natural phenomena in the world;” they devastate farmland, destroy livelihoods and cause untold suffering, as reported by the world’s top specialised bodies: the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
They occur when an area experiences a shortage of water supply due to a lack of rainfall or lack of surface or groundwater. And they can last for weeks, months or years.
Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General
By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. This means that agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
This means that about 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users, adds the Convention.
Most of the world already impacted
The alert is loud and strong and it comes from a number of the world’s most knowledgeable organisations.
To begin with, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 29 November 2022 reported that most of the globe was drier than normal in 2021, with “cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and our daily lives.”
Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that a staggering 74% of all-natural disasters were water-related.
Currently, over 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year and this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.
In Africa, major rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-average water flow in 2021.
The same trend was observed in rivers in parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.
On the other hand, there were above-normal river volumes in some North American basins, the North Amazon and South Africa, as well as in China’s Amur river basin, and northern India.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“Changes to Cryosphere water resources affect food security, human health, ecosystem integrity and maintenance, and lead to significant impacts on economic and social development”, said WMO, sometimes causing river flooding and flash floods due to glacier lake outbursts.
The cryosphere – namely glaciers, snow cover, ice caps and, where present, permafrost – is the world’s biggest natural reservoir of freshwater.
Being water –or rather the lack of it– a major cause-effect of the fast-growing deterioration of natural resources, and the consequent damage to the world’s food production, the theme of World Soil Day 2022, marked 5 December, is “Soils: Where food begins.”
18 naturally occurring chemical elements are essential to plants. Soils supply 15.
Agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
33% of soils are degraded.
In addition to the life of humans, animals, and plants, one of the sectors that most depend on water–crops is now highly endangered.
Indeed, since the 1950s, reminds the United Nations, innovations like synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.
“But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.”
Moreover, pollution, climate change and over-abstraction are beginning to compromise the lakes, rivers, and aquifers that underpin farming globally, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Salinised and plastified
Such is the case, among many others, of the growing salinisation and ‘plastification’ of the world’s soils.
In fact, currently, it is estimated that there are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe (8.7% of the planet). This implies the loss of soil’s capacity to grow food and also increasing impacts on water and the ability to filter pollution.
Soil salinisation and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystems and are recognised as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions, said the UN on occasion of the 2021 World Soil Day.
Among the major causes that this international body highlights is that in some arid areas, there has been an increase in the amount of wastewater used to grow crops.
“The problem can be exacerbated by flooding, which can inundate sewage systems or stores of fertiliser, polluting both surface water and groundwater.” Fertiliser run-off can cause algal blooms in lakes.
Meanwhile, the amount of freshwater per capita has fallen by 20% over the last two decades and nearly 60% of irrigated cropland is water-stressed.
The implications of those shortages are far-reaching: irrigated agriculture contributes 40% of total food produced worldwide.
Soils are highly living organisms
“Did you know that there are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than people on Earth?”
Agricultural systems lose nutrients with each harvest, and if soils are not managed sustainably, fertility is progressively lost, and soils will produce nutrient-deficient plants.
Soil nutrient loss is a major soil degradation process threatening nutrition. It is recognised as being among the most critical problems at a global level for food security and sustainability all around the globe.
Over the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased, and it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients, known as hidden hunger because it is difficult to detect.
“Soil degradation induces some soils to be nutrient depleted, losing their capacity to support crops, while others have such a high nutrient concentration that represents a toxic environment to plants and animals, pollutes the environment and causes climate change.”
to celebrate its independence and setting up, the United Arab Emirates is toying with expediting a vehicle From the dunes of Dubai to the soil of the Moon. Why not? Let us read this story from Gulf News of today.
UAE@51: From the dunes of Dubai to the soil of the Moon, Rashid Rover all set to make history
All you need to know about the UAE’s lunar mission that will take off on November 30
Dubai: In what is a huge feat ahead of the 51st UAE National Day, Emirati-made Rashid Rover will shoot to the Moon on Wednesday, November 30, at 12.39pm (Gulf Standard Time), carrying with it the pride and dreams of the UAE — and the entire Arab world.
From the desert dunes of the UAE to the soil of the Moon, the lunar rover — named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, builder of modern Dubai — will give mankind and the global scientific community more knowledge about Earth’s closest celestial neighbour.
It will land on Atlas Crater, located at 47.5°N, 44.4°E on the Moon’s southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold), and from there capture photos and collect information of the unexplored crater area and the vast basins on Moon’s surface that were formed billions of years ago.
The UAE’s moonshot has lofty goals. According to Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC),“Rashid Rover will provide about 10 gigabytes of recorded material, scientific data and new images to the global scientific community to study the Moon.”
In particular, Rashid Rover will study the characteristics of lunar soil, the petrography (composition and properties of lunar rocks) and geology of the Moon. It will also take photos of the moon’s dust movement, surface plasma conditions, and the lunar regolith (blanket of superficial deposits covering solid rocks).
Rashid Rover will help scientists better understand how lunar dust and rocks vary across the Moon. It will also provide fresh data for the development of new technologies that can be used to unravel the origins of the Earth and our solar system.
The success of the first Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM) will make the UAE the first Arab country and among the first countries in the world to land a spacecraft on the Moon, after the United States, former Soviet Union and China.
MBRSC underlined: “The mission embodies the aspirations of the UAE. Rashid Rover will collect images and information that will allow the UAE to conduct comprehensive and integrated studies on how to build human settlement on the Moon, prepare for future missions to study Mars and provide the scientific community with answers about the solar system and other planets.”
Before lift-off, let us look back at the timeline, technical specifications, instruments, functionalities and other important details of the Emirati-made Rashid Rover.
Two years ahead
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, first announced Rashid Rover in September 2020, and the original goal was to land it on the Moon by 2024.
In April 2021, MBRSC signed a contract with ispace, inc., a Japanese private lunar robotic exploration company, to transport Rashid Rover to the Moon aboard Hakuto-R M1 (mission 1) lander. Under the terms of the agreement, ispace will also provide wired communication and power during the cruise phase and engage in wireless communication on the lunar surface.
Lift-off is on Wednesday, November 30, at 12.39pm (Gulf Standard Time) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But the date and time are subject to change, depending on weather and other conditions at launch, according to MBRSC.
Hakuto-R M1, which means ‘white rabbit’ in Japanese (it is said a white rabbit lives on the Moon, according to Japanese folklore), will also carry other payloads, including a transformable lunar robot from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; a test module for a solid-state battery from NGK Spark Plug Co., Ltd., an artificial intelligence (AI) flight computer from Mission Control Space Services Inc., a multiple 360-degree camera from Canadensys Aerospace, a panel engraved with the names of Hakuto crowdfunding supporters, and a music disc containing the song ‘Sorato’ played by Japanese rock band Sakanaction.
Once launched, the integrated spacecraft Hakuto-R M1 that will carry Rashid Rover and other payload to the Moon will take a low-energy route to the Moon rather than a direct approach. This means the landing on the Moon will take about five months after launch, in April 2023.
Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of Emirates Lunar Mission at MBRSC, told Gulf News the rationale for the fuel-saving but long route. He said: “The main factor is the cost of the mission. The cost comes from the volume and mass of the spacecraft. In order to reach to the moon within six days – which is the shortest path – you would need to burn a lot of fuel which means that you need a big tank and a big propulsion system to do that.”
“But it will have a huge impact in cost so, in order to reduce the cost of the mission, ispace (our partner) has selected their approach that they can reach to the lunar surface within five months but it will be less costly because it will burn much less fuel. They will use a smaller tank and propulsion system, therefore the launch cost and the cost of developing the developing system will be lower,” he further explained.
Dimitra Atri, astrophysicist at New York University in Abu Dhabi, added: “In order to keep the prices of payload delivery attractive to customers, private companies reduce their expenses by choosing the lower cost option, which consumes less energy but takes much longer.”
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take Hakuto-R M1 into the Moon’s orbit, and following its successful separation from the launch vehicle (rocket), Hakuto-R M1 will use the gravitational pull of the Earth and sun to guide it to the moon.
As it gets closer to the lunar surface, the Japanese-made lander will first orbit the moon with an increasingly elliptical trajectory, before angling itself vertically to softly land on the moon and perform a fully-automated landing.
Hakuto-R M1 will then establish a steady telecommunication and power supply on the lunar surface after landing to support customer payload’s surface operations, including that of the UAE’s Rashid Rover.
MBRSC confirmed Atlas Crater, located at 47.5°N, 44.4°E on the moon’s southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (“Sea of Cold”), as Rashid Rover’s landing site.
MBRSC explained: “It was chosen to maintain flexibility during operations. Mare Frigoris lies in the far lunar north. The primary landing site was chosen along with multiple contingencies, which may be used depending on variables that occur during transit. The site meets the technical specifications of the lander technology demonstration mission and the scientific exploration objectives for the ELM mission.”
Atlas Crater has a diameter of 88 kilometres, and believer to have been formed between 3.2 to 3.8 billion years ago. It is circular in shape and bounded by an intricately terraced rim wall. The crater is 2km deep and has a complex floor covered in hills and cracks.
Aside from Atlas Crater, alternative landing targets – according to ispace – include Lacus Somniorum, Sinus Iridium and Oceanus Procellarum, among others.
Designed and developed fully by an Emirati team, Rashid Rover is touted as the world’s most compact rover that could land on the Moon. Its height is 70cm, length is 50cm and width is 50cm. Its weight is approximately 10kg with payload, but it can climb over an obstacle up to 10cm tall and descend a 20-degree slope.
Because Rashid Rover has been delivered well ahead of the original 2024 deadline, building it required rapid prototyping. According to Al Marqoozi, engineers at MBRSC “went through five modules until they reached with the one” that will be launched on November 30.
The four-wheeled Rashid Rover has 3D cameras, advanced motion system, sensors, and communication system that are powered by solar panels. There are four cameras that move vertically and horizontally, including two main cameras, which are Caspex (camera for space exploration) that can withstand vibrations during launch and landing
MBRSC has partnered with French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies) for the two Caspex that will be used analyse the properties of lunar soil, dust, radioactivity, electrical activities, as well as the rocks on the moon surface. One Caspex is installed on top of the rover’s mast to provide panoramic visibility of its surroundings while the rear-mounted CASPEX camera will deliver images of the lunar soil with high spatial resolution.
“Rashid Rover’s drive tracks will be analysed to determine wheel sinkage and to investigate the detailed wheel-soil interaction. Such data will be important to design the mobility systems of future rovers,” MBRSC noted.
Rashid Rover will study the Moon’s surroundings for one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 days on Earth. But there is a chance Rashid Rover’s mission can be extended to another lunar day. Al Marzooqi earlier explained: “After the first lunar day the rover will go into a hibernation or mode sleep during the (lunar) night (which is also equivalent to 14 Earth nights) until the sun rises again and the temperature on the rover surface starts to rise again. And by that time, the team will try to “wake up” Rashid Rover to see if its systems were able to survive the low temperatures and ready for the second lunar day.
The Moon’s environment, however, is very harsh. The temperature drops to as low as negative 173 degrees Celsius, from as high as 127 degrees Celsius, when sunlight hits the Moon’s surface. But Rashid Rover is equipped with the latest technologies that can resist the lunar surface temperature.
To the Moon and back
Rashid Rover will not return to Earth. It’s a one-way flight and there is no transport that will bring back Rashid Rover and Hakuto-R. What Rashid Rover will bring back to Earth are multiple images – around 10 gigabytes of recorded material and scientific data. The ELM team at MBRSC will use these to test new technologies in material science, robotics, mobility, navigation and communications. The findings will also help in the design of future missions to survive and function in harsh space environment.
Rashid Rover is just the first of the UAE’s multiple missions to the Moon. A couple of months ago, in September, MBRSC signed an agreement with China National Space Administration (CNSA) to kickstart joint space projects and future lunar exploration, including sending the next UAE rover aboard Chang’e 7, a robotic Chinese lunar exploration mission expected to be launched in 2026 to target the Moon’s south pole.
French-Lebanese architect seeks pro-climate construction transformation
Lina Ghotmeh has pegged her career on sustainable construction.
The French-Lebanese architect wants to see her industry transformed by drastically reducing the use of concrete — a major CO2 contributor — using more local materials and reusing existing buildings and materials.
“We need to change our value system,” the 42-year-old told AFP last month.
The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry and create buildings that can better resist the impacts of climate change.
But it’s not an easy battle.
The industry accounts for almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.
Ghotmeh, who designed the Estonian National Museum and taught at Yale University, doesn’t advocate for fewer buildings — she knows that’s an unrealistic goal in a world with a growing population.
“That would be like saying ‘stop eating,'” she said.
– ‘Don’t demolish’ –
Instead, we should “keep what already exists, don’t demolish,” but refurbish and retrofit old buildings in a sustainable way where possible.
Building a new detached house consumes 40 times more resources than renovating an existing property, and for a new apartment complex that rises to 80 times more, according to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe).
And then there’s concrete, the main material in so many modern buildings and perhaps the most challenging to move away from.
“We must drastically reduce the use of concrete”, she said, insisting it should only be used for essential purposes, such as foundations and building in earthquake-prone areas.
Some 14 billion cubic metres of concrete are used every year, according to the Global Cement and Concrete Association.
It emits more CO2 than the aviation industry, largely because of the intense heat required to make it.
Alternatives to concrete already exist, such as stone, or making cement — a component of concrete — from calcium carbonate. There are also pushes for low-carbon cement made from iron and steel industry waste.
– Beirut inspiration –
Building more sustainably often comes with a higher price tag — it costs more to double or triple glaze windows and properly insulate a house — but the long-term payoff is lower energy costs.
For Ghotmeh, it’s an imperative investment in our future.
It was her birthplace of Beirut that inspired her to become an architect, spurring a desire to rebuild the so-called “collapsed city” ravaged by war.
In 2020, she completed the “Stone Garden” apartment tower in the city, built with concrete covered with a combed coating, a technique often used by local craftsmen. She used concrete in the construction because of earthquake risks.
The building was strong enough to survive the port explosion in 2020 that destroyed a large part of the city.
And the city continues to inspire her today, even when it comes to climate sustainability.
“Since there is practically only an hour of electricity per day, all the buildings have solar panels now. There is a kind of energy independence which is beginning to take place, by force,” she said.
“Does it take a catastrophe like the one in Lebanon to make this transition?”
A visiting official says that hosting success sets new standards for future mega sporting events. The Qatar World Cup is the first edition of the significant soccer tournament ever held during December, and in the Middle East.
Qatar invested significantly in the mega-event, including revamping its national infrastructure. The sought-after ‘soft power’ implications start slowly but surely to show as the games unfold.
On the other hand, sustainable development requires, per the UN an integrated approach that takes into consideration environmental concerns along with economic development but, above all sustainability in the future. Will all those built-up infrastructures be of some use?
Qatar’s hosting success sets new standards for future mega sporting events: Bosnian Deputy PM
DOHA: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina HE Dr Bisera Turkovic said that Qatar did an amazing work to welcome the world during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and succeeded in establishing an incredible and excellent infrastructure, indicating that the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has set new standards for future sporting mega-events.
In her remarks to Qatar News Agency, Her Excellency pointed out that Qatar’s hosting of such a global event will inspire generations of young people to come to embrace each other and create a more tolerant world.
Her Excellency said: “The whole world was watching the Al Bayt stadium for the opening ceremony. I am happy that I was present as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from the Western Balkans and a European country. The opening was a great global event for the first time to be held in an Arab country. Qatar has emerged into a modern, prosperous state, whose citizens enjoy opportunities and security, thanks to the wise leadership of HH the Amir, following the footsteps of HH the Father Amir.”
HE stressed the need to develop the culture of tolerance and respect, as highlighted during the World Cup opening ceremony, saying: “This is the first World Cup taking place in an Arab country and in a Middle Eastern country. It is a great chance for people to get to know a different culture and to learn about one great religion in the world.”
“The more we know the better chance we have for progress and stability in the world. Qatar offers open hand to all who want to come and witness what the Qatari nation achieved in such a short period of time offering unity of basic values and appreciation for difference with full respect of their own culture and religion,” Her Excellency added.
HE Dr. Bisera Turkovic indicated that previous World Cup hosting countries were not subjected to smear campaigns as Qatar was, saying: “Other countries did not receive such scrutiny when hosting global sporting events, even though those countries had many more things that could be criticized.”
Her Excellency explained that Qatar once again stresses that there is more that can unite people rather than divide them, and as sports are a healthy part of societies, it should remain clear from political influence, struggle to dominate, and imposition of bad habits such as alcohol and drugs.
The Bosnian official expressed her happiness that a Bosnian folklore group was present to take part in the world cup festivities at Katara Cultural Village for this truly global event.
HE Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that there are strong fields of cooperation between Bosnia and the State of Qatar, including political, economic, and cultural cooperation that is based on friendship and fraternity. This has been maintained through the exchange of visits between officials of the two countries at the highest levels and documented by the signing of many agreements and bilateral cooperation protocols. Her Excellency expressed her hope to see economic cooperation expansion during the coming period in all sectors.
Her Excellency added that the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been working hard to attract public and private investment from Qatar through having more connectivity between the two countries, enabling direct flights with Qatar Airways, and increasing rights and security for Qataris in ownership of the real estate in Bosnia.
All decisions at these U.N. climate conferences – always – are promissory notes. And the legacy of climate negotiations is one of promises not kept.
This promise, welcome as it is, is particularly vague and unconvincing, even by U.N. standards.
Essentially, the agreement only begins the process of establishing a fund. The implementable decision is to set up a “transitional committee,” which is tasked with making recommendations for the world to consider at the 2023 climate conference, COP28, in Dubai.
Importantly for wealthy countries, the text avoids terms like “liability” and “compensation.” Those had beenred lines for the United States. The most important operational questions were also left to 2023. Three, in particular, are likely to hound the next COP.
1) Who will pay into this new fund?
Developed countries have made it very clear that the fund will be voluntary and should not be restricted only to developed country contributions. Given that the much-trumpeted US$100 billion a year that wealthy nations promised in 2015 to provide for developing nations has not yet materialized, believing that rich countries will be pouring their heart into this new venture seems to be yet another triumph of hope over experience.
2) The fund will be new, but will it be additional?
It is not at all clear if money in the fund will be “new” money or simply aid already committed for other issues and shifted to the fund. In fact, the COP27 language could easily be read as favoring arrangements that “complement and include” existing sources rather than new and additional financing.
3) Who would receive support from the fund?
As climate disasters increase all over the world, we could tragically get into disasters competing with disasters – is my drought more urgent than your flood? – unless explicit principles of climate justice and the polluter pays principle are clearly established.
What COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has done is to ensure that the idea of loss and damage will be a central feature of all future climate negotiations. That is big.
Seasoned observers left Sharm el-Sheikh wondering how developing countries were able to push the loss and damage agenda so successfully at COP27 when it has been so firmly resisted by large emitter countries like the United States for so long.
The logic of climate justice has always been impeccable: The countries that have contributed most to creating the problem are a near mirror opposite of those who face the most imminent risk of climatic loss and damage. So, what changed?
At least three things made COP27 the perfect time for this issue to ripen.
Second, the devastating floods this summer that inundated a third of my home country of Pakistan provided the world with an immediate and extremely visual sense of what climate impacts can look like, particularly for the most vulnerable people. They affected 33 million people are expected to cost over $16 billion.
The floods, in addition to a spate of other recent climate calamities, provided developing countries – which happened to be represented at COP27 by an energized Pakistan as the chair of the “G-77 plus China,” a coalition of more than 170 developing countries – with the motivation and the authority to push a loss and damage agenda more vigorously than ever before.
Importantly, for now, developing countries got what they wanted: a fund for loss and damage. And developed countries were able to avoid what they have always been unwilling to give: any concrete funding commitments or any acknowledgment of responsibility for reparations.
Both can go home and declare victory. But not for long.
Is it just a ‘placebo fund’?
Real as the jubilation is for developing countries, it is also tempered. And rightly so.
For developing countries, there is a real danger that this turns out to be another “placebo fund,” to use Oxford University researcher Benito Müller’s term – an agreed-to funding arrangement without any agreed-to funding commitments.
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