As we reflect today on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, I am thinking about an older Black man using an edger on the front yard of a house in my neighborhood as I drove home the other day. On any other day, this otherwise seemingly insignificant sighting would not have elicited the shedding of tears. I cried as I silently thanked him for making it to whatever age because he, unlike Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Stephon Clark, and even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had made it. This man has defied the odds, and each time he shows up to complete his landscaping job, he, like so many Black men, continue life despite a snapped “A string”.
In “The Dilemma of Negro America” from his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Dr. King describes a violinist who, after experiencing a “snapped A string” during a performance, adjusted immediately by transposing the music into a different key, and finished the concert with three strings. King likens the Black community in America to this violinist.
To Dr. King, the predicament of Black America lies in the brutal reality that a significant portion of white America refuses to understand the systemic nature of oppression associated with race.
“There is very little in the life and experience of white America that can compare to the curse this society has put on color. And yet if the present chasm of hostility, fear, and distrust is to be bridged, the white man must begin to walk in the pathways of his black brothers and feel some of the pain and hurt that throb without letup in their daily lives.”
He details the anguish that exists within Black families shattered by physical, emotional, psychological, and structural violence. Violence often perpetuated by a lack of employment opportunities, segregated neighborhoods, a delinquent education system, and the knowledge that “he who starts behind in a race must forever remain behind or run faster than the man in front.” This is the dilemma of Blacks in America generally, but Black men specifically.
The land of the free and home of the brave is not without innuendo and assumption of Black men, regardless of their physicality – unarmed and laying on the ground or standing in their backyard with a cell phone. America remains the land where rumors of liberty and justice for all exist but often fail to live up to that expectation. America is the land where eagerness “to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness” abounds, and where there is no easy “escape from the awareness of color and the fact that our society places a qualitative difference on a person of dark skin.” It is this America—the one that perceives group defect and impurity before individuality and personal character, which Dr. King fought valiantly to see, redeemed.
Even with the advancement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, Dr. King acknowledged that being an American who is Black is uncomfortable at times. “It means being a part of the company of the bruised, the battered, the scarred and the defeated… It means being harried by day and haunted by night by a nagging sense of nobodyness and constantly fighting to be saved from the poison of bitterness.” The fight against bitterness occurs when the interstate quarters the neighborhood or when gentrification and revitalization contribute to the “misery generated by the gulf between the affluence he sees in the mass media and the deprivation he experiences in his everyday life.” Additionally, the fight against bitterness wages when mothers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, and daughters and sons prolong the process of grief to pursue justice, only to have to experience its denial. This is a consistent burden carried by Blacks in America.
The dilemma and predicament of white Americans to counter their “long dalliance with racism and white supremacy” meets with the fivefold charge Dr. King lays out for Black Americans. This charge challenges the “temptation to seek negative and self-destructive solutions” including succumbing to feelings of inferiority, dropping out of school, taking refuge in substances, and resorting to meanness. Here is the charge:
Develop a rugged sense of somebodyness – “we must develop the courage to confront the negatives of circumstances with the positives of inner determination.”
Establish a group identity – the kind of consciousness needed to “participate more meaningfully at all levels of life” within the nation
Make full and constructive use of the freedoms we have – work towards excellence with the understanding that “doors of opportunity are gradually opening” and “all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and worth”
Unite around powerful actions that eradicate every vestige of racial injustice – “Structures of evil do not crumble by passively waiting”; therefore, add persistent pressure to your patient plea, or you will end up empty-handed
Enlarge society as a whole by giving it a new sense of values as aspects of solutions – do not “consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character” for questions are a reminder of the need for a “radical restructuring of the architecture of American society.”
Dr. King asserts that “a great people—a black people—who bore their burdens of oppression…through tenacity and creative commitment” can inject new life into the veins of America. This new life requires the identification of commonality among all Americans: the power of the vote, a more person-centered economy, a government more dependent upon morality than military, exhorting a passion for peace and an “allegiance to the empire of justice”. From this commonality, King proclaims that the establishment of a new set of values becomes the new normative culture due to the eradication of the three evils: racism, poverty, and militarism.
All Americans are fully equipped to do this.
** For this blog, given that a significant portion of Dr. King’s chapter spoke of Black males, I felt it necessary to give voice to them within this context. Certainly, the message of this blog can extend to the impact of Black women through these many years of struggle. This decision should in no way diminish the leadership roles of Black women within the family and community, or the imbalanced narrative that repeatedly overlooks their contributions and lives. I fully understand the complexity of being Black, female, and American, in the days of Dr. King’s America and that of mine.
Simply because you cannot see air pollution, does not mean air pollution does not exists. Often, pressing issues such as air pollution and other environmental problems such as soil contamination are dismissed because the effects of pollution are not always tangible until extreme environmental disasters occur. On December 5, 1952 the residents of London, England suffered five days of devastating toxic clouds known as the Great Smog. Various factors contributed to the creation of the smog, daunting the city of London. First, London, England was a manufacturing city utilizing coal for industrial purposes. Second, residents used coal in household heaters to brace against the December cold. Exacerbated by acrid black smoke from millions of chimneys and manufacturing plants, “a high-pressure weather system had stalled over southern England and caused a temperature inversion, in which a layer of warm air high above the surface trapped the stagnant, cold air at ground level. The temperature inversion prevented London’s sulfurous coal smoke from rising, and with nary a breeze to be found, there was no wind to disperse the soot-laden smog.”
The consequences of this event were immense, as an estimated 4,000 people died due to health conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia which increased more than seven-fold in the immediate aftermath of this environmental disaster.
Outdoor Air Pollution The Great Smog is one consequence of extreme environmental pollution. In the subsequent 60 years+ since the Great Smog, countries over the world such as China and India continue to bare the effects of both outdoor and indoor air pollution on the health communities. The effects of air pollution on the health of populations is a human rights issue; it essentially affects one’s right to health and life. Numerous epidemiological studies formally recognize the negative effects of air pollution on human health. In 2013, air pollution was officially classified as a cause of lung cancer by World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). WHO finds “the combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about 6.5 million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.” And more specifically, the WHO states ambient air pollution globally causes:
1) 25% of all deaths and diseases from lung cancer,
2) 17% of all deaths and diseases from acute lower respiratory infection,
3) 16% of all deaths from stroke internationally,
4) 15% of all deaths and disease from ischemic heart disease, and
5) 8% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Human activity is a driving force behind air pollution. Human activities contributing to air pollution include industrial facilities such as manufacturing companies, power generation such as coal plants, fuel combustion from motor vehicles, and waste burning.
The morbidity and mortality contact to air pollution causes globally emphasizes how our personal contributions to air pollution not only harms us individually but also affects everybody else on this earth. Air pollution wasn’t caused by one entity, but rather accumulate to dangerous levels due to the actions of people from every single part of the world. Optimistically, there are plentiful habits people can change in their lives to promote cleaner air. On a community level, individuals can participate in carpooling to places such as school or work to reduce toxic emission from transportation, eliminating waste generation by not using plastic materials and recycling to prevent potential waste burning, and even supporting local community groups that address pollution concerns by volunteering. Education is also another tool that is needed to decrease levels of air pollution. Communities may not be aware of the consequences of exposure to air pollution. Educating communities about methods to decrease the production of pollution empowers people to improve and protect the health of their communities. As people, we will need to continue to work together to combat air pollution, educate communities, and implement sustainable life style changes.
Indoor Air Pollution Even though air pollution impacts the entire global community, lower income communities are at greater risk of exposure to indoor air pollution (IAP). The World Health Organization states “3 billion people cook and heat their homes using solid fuels (i.e. wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) on open fires or traditional stoves. Such inefficient cooking and heating practices produce high levels of household (indoor) air pollution which includes a range of health damaging pollutants such as fine particles and carbon monoxide.” As a result, 4.3 million deaths may be accredited to the negative health impacts of household air pollution annually.
Exposure to air pollution is inequitable. Rural and lower socioeconomic communities do not have access to sufficient stoves, energy and indoor ventilation, creating disproportionally exposure to household indoor and potential negative health effects. WHO finds approximately 90% of the 3 million premature deaths due to outdoor air pollution transpired in low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, the highest burden of outdoor air pollution occurred in the WHO Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions. Additionally, in 2000 60% of IAP induced deaths affected women. Women are at greater risk for exposure to IAP due to being responsible for cooking, and household duties. Finally, young and newborn children are a vulnerable population and at greater risk for exposure to household pollution due to being with their mothers while she cooks and preforms other daily activities.
Disparities in the USA Air pollution disproportionally effects lower income countries and populations. However, environmental injustice is not a foreign concept for low income minority communities all over the United States of America regardless of policies such as the Clean Air Act. Marginalized Americans continue to bear the consequences of environmental racism – “the racial discrimination in the enactment or enforcement of any policy, practice, or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially homogeneous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities.” A nationwide environmental research study highlights black, Hispanic and low income students are at greater risk to exposure to harmful toxins in school. The research found:
1) African American students make up 16% of US public school students, yet, more than 25% of those students attend schools worst affected by air pollution,
2) white school children account for 52% of all US public school attendees, however, only 28% of those white students attend schools worst affected by air pollution,
3) schools with large student of color population are located near busy roads, factories and other major sources of air pollution, and
4) five of the ten worst polluted school counties contain a non-white student populations greater than 20%.
This is just one example of lower income communities experience inequitable consequences of air pollution in the US. Other prominent examples of the negative health impacts of air pollution on minority and low income communities include Cancer Alley in Louisiana and the Anniston Community Health Survey. Epidemiological studies strongly support the relationship between health and air pollution.
Ultimately, the health and overall quality of life of communities should not be jeopardized based on socioeconomic status, gender, age and race. GASP, a local Birmingham non-profit, is an important stakeholder in keeping our Birmingham communities air clean. GASP is a local advocate for clean air by:
1) monitoring, reporting and documenting air quality issues,
3) empowering and better educating local community member on advocacy skills for clean air, and
4) promoting environmental justice through policy change. More information such as contact information is available on their website. Protecting and promoting our environmental health is a community effort.
Organizations like GASP are important in ensuring all American citizens have equal rights to health and life without discrimination. As a community we need to continue to supporting community advocacy and education initiatives about air pollution, as they are major stakeholders in the success of environmental improvement. A healthy and clean environment is possible if we continue to work together.
In the aftermath of a horrifying hurricane season, Puerto Rico remains in a state of devastation. The contrast between the situation in Puerto Rico and that of post-Irma Florida or post-Harvey Texas is shocking. If those affected in Puerto Rico are American citizens, why have they been treated as second-class outsiders? Many may treat them as such because public knowledge on the citizenship of Puerto Ricans is severely lacking. A study conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University reported that less than half of respondents believed that Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. Though people born in Puerto Rico are just as American as those in the states, U.S. has continually deprived Puerto Rico and its citizens of economic and political livelihood. The depth of the current devastation is just one symptom of a long history of abusing Puerto Rican human rights and economic wellbeing. In this blog, we will investigate how these abuses came to be, why they still occur, and how we can change them.
“Is Puerto Rico Part Of Us?”
The title of this section is the first Google auto-completed search that pops up after typing, “is Puerto Rico?” When one considers the level of pride and patriotism that typically comes with being an American citizen, it seems shocking that so many are unaware of what comprises American citizenship. The answer to the question is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a Commonwealth of the United States. Commonwealth status means that the island has local autonomy, though the ultimate source of governance is U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico has its own set of locally elected officials, including a bicameral legislature and a governor (the highest office available in Puerto Rico). The island also has its own constitution. Puerto Rico was not always American territory; the Spanish colonized the island for nearly four hundred years. The United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. The territory was acquired with the intention of using Puerto Rico as a market for excess goods and as a naval base; to this end, military rule was instituted once the U.S. gained control but shortly abandoned in 1900. In 1917, Puerto Rican rights began to expand as federal law gave U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico. Per the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans serve in the military, are free to travel the United States, and use U.S. postal service. However, they are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections. The U.S. Congress has the power to veto or amend legislation passed by the local government, even though Puerto Ricans have no input in congressional elections. This disenfranchisement is both political and economic; nearly half of all residents of Puerto Rico live in poverty. The unemployment rate is nearly double the United States’. In addition to the level of economic crisis for individuals, Puerto Rico has accumulated seventy billion dollars of debt. To pay for this, the local government has chosen to close schools, cut health care and transportation budgets, and increase sales taxes. These policy decisions make it even more difficult for Puerto Ricans to obtain proper education and healthcare — both of which are human rights. Spanish colonization is partially responsible for allowing islanders to suffer from mass poverty while continually using the island to extract goods for the benefit of Spain. However, America did not act in its full capacity to bring prosperity to Puerto Rico, and has continued to exploit the island and its people.
How is America Responsible?
Decades of political and economic marginalization has taken its toll. Over the years, the United States has treated Puerto Rico as “little more than a military base and an economic enclave.” Over 70% of net domestic income generated in Puerto Rico ends up leaving the island due to the economic structure instituted by the U.S. to extract surplus (Committee for Human Rights in Puerto Rico). This makes it impossible for families to generate and accumulate wealth. Puerto Rico as a whole is forced to spend huge amounts of money on incredibly high transportation costs due to maritime law. The law states that all commercial transport must be executed using United States transport—the most expensive transport system in the world. These costs ensure that the cost of Puerto Rican exported goods are substantially higher than they would otherwise be, making their products much less competitive in the international market. Additionally, the United States government is responsible for health crises through years of bombing and/or military testing. Viques, one of the islands within the Puerto Rican territory, reports residents having “increased rates of cancers, asthma, diabetes, heart abnormalities, hypertension, skin conditions, and birth defects” (Collado). To make this issue even worse, the island suffers from widespread inaccessibility to healthcare. Even if residents had the money to afford medical care, there is an incredible shortage of medical professionals; doctors leave the island for a more prosperous future at a rate of one per day. Not only do these circumstances violate Puerto Rican citizens’ human right to an adequate standard of living (UDHR Article 25), but this also makes it much more difficult for affected citizens to participate economically, socially, and politically. All of these compounding factors – economic marginalization, environmental destruction, political disenfranchisement – have created a perfect storm that makes Puerto Rico more vulnerable than ever. Hurricane Maria was able to decimate the island because of the actions of the United States – the economic structure and historical exploitation made Puerto Rico unable to maintain basic infrastructure that would protect them from hurricane damage or allow them to rebuild. This is why the historical legacy of American actions towards Puerto Rico matter, and why our current administration’s dismissal of Puerto Rican suffering is such a critical issue. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is not a one-time occurrence. Puerto Rico has been repeatedly struck by natural and manmade disasters that have impeded its progress, and many of these are caused or exacerbated by the U.S. The United States has failed miserably in protecting the rights of American citizens of Puerto Rico. We, as fellow Americans, should be held responsible in upholding those rights.
What Can We Do?
As always, we first must investigate our own perceptions of Puerto Rico as well as our peers’. If nearly half of Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, it is entirely possible that many people you know may believe similarly. Though human rights should be protected regardless of citizenship, America often influences the global standard of action. We, as Americans, have a duty to protect our fellow citizens from human rights abuses before we can take a wider lens in our international scope. To address current issues of disaster relief, the Unidos por Puerto Rico fund allows individuals to send money directly to relief efforts. In the long term, it is essential to start raising expectations for Puerto Rico as well as expectations of how America interacts with the island. Our current administration claims that Puerto Rico’s financial crisis and poor infrastructure are issues “largely of their own making.” This is flatly untrue. While from the outside it may seem that Puerto Rico has created its own dire situation, the most damaging factors would have never been in play without the role of the United States. To ensure proper education and healthcare are provided to the 3.4 million American citizens on the island, Puerto Rico no longer needs to be viewed as an outside entity responsible for solving its own problems. There are multiple ways to solve this. One may be addressing the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. The most recent referendum on Puerto Rican statehood found that 97% of voters wanted to obtain statehood. However, this has no significant impact on the decisions of Congress, because legislators have no direct accountability to Puerto Rico. Therefore, American citizens who have power over their legislators through their constituency must make their voices heard in order to protect our voiceless counterparts in Puerto Rico.
The public knowledge about the U.S. military deployment of nearly 10,000 depleted uranium rounds (DU) in 2003 from jets and tanks remains virtually unknown. There is an estimation that the US fired 300,000 rounds during the first Gulf War conflict in 1991, without releasing knowledge or evidence of testing to inform of potential health hazards of new munitions. The only mistake deadlier than firing this overabundance of DU weaponry is the denial of it, and failing to acknowledge the hazards posed to civilians. American and British occupation forces have forbidden the release of statistics related to civilian casualties after the occupation of Iraq. Additionally, they refused to clean up contaminated areas, and deny international agencies and Iraqi researchers the right to conduct full DU related exploration programs.
Despite American and British disclosure that they used around 400 tonnes of DU munitions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the United Nations Environment Program believes that the total may be nearer 1000 tonnes. Persistent and consistent reports from medical staff across Iraq have associated this legacy from the conflict with increased rates of certain cancers and congenital birth defects. The extent to which DU may be associated with these health problems is still unclear as the conditions since 2003 have not been conducive to studying civilian exposure and health outcomes. When looking at some of the major battles that took place during the operations in Najaf, Basrah, Al Samawa, Karbala and Nasiriyah, involving platforms armed with DU, Dutch Peace Corps PAX has established with certainty that DU was used in populated areas and against armored and non-armored targets.
The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) campaign to eradicate DU stockpiles within countries who purchased DU munitions and DU capable weaponry, define and clarify DU and its potential risks to civilians and military personnel:
“Depleted uranium (DU) is a toxic heavy metal and the main by-product of uranium enrichment. It is the substance left over when most of the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium are removed for use as nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons. DU possesses the same chemical toxicity properties as uranium, although its radiological toxicity is less. Due to its high density, which is about twice that of lead, DU has been used in munitions designed to penetrate armor plate. It can also be used to reinforce military vehicles, such as tanks. Munitions containing DU explode upon impact and release uranium oxide dust.”
The radiological toxicity of DU is less than uranium so the concern for human exposure should be uranium oxide dust. Keith Baverstock explains what happens when DU oxides, “When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs.” In other words, the lung is most susceptible to DU and in the topographical context of Iraq, where much of the country is defined by flat desert, winds blowing DU particles along with the dust is particularly dangerous. Winds may blow particles from combat sites into civilian inhabited areas, contaminating water and people. Even if only a small demographic of civilians is contaminated in a particular area, the half-life of a DU particle lodged inside alveoli is 3.85 years; emitting radiation directly to the tissue.
DU debris left behind in destroyed tanks of buildings poses a threat towards peacekeepers, civilians, and military personnel years after the conflict has ended. Many abandoned vehicles still litter the Iraqi countryside as silent reminders of the invasions within towns, villages, and cities. These carcasses are fun locations for kids to play in; and civilians come close to these contaminated objects daily in order to get to work, retrieve water and many other simple daily activities. These tanks are sometimes towed away towards scrapping sites without proper decontamination procedures, leading to further potential hazards when the metal is stripped and used for the construction of manufacturing goods.
Pregnant women and their offspring are particularly susceptible to DU toxicity as an unborn within the embryo of a mother rapidly produces new cells, providing the perfect environment for genetic defects. As certain small uranium particles are soluble in the human lungs, they enter the bloodstream through the lungs, pass through the lymph nodes and other parts of the body before excreted in urine. Uranium accumulates in bones, irradiating the bone marrow, potentially inducing leukemia, while building up in organs causing the breakdown of certain biological faculties as well as developing cancers.
The U.S. military and WHO have conducted research in Iraq to determine how malignant DU is and what sort of dangers it poses to civilians. Their conclusions determined that the potential toxic hazard is far too low to warrant cleanup action. These claims come in direct confrontation with independent studies performed by PAX conducted thorough studies within laboratories and fieldwork in contaminated locations where DU was fired; their findings determined sites and recovered physical DU evidence that proved contrary to American studies.
A New Breed of Munitions
“It is a superior weapon, superior armor. It is a munition that we will continue to use if the need is there to attack armor.” Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, US Department of Defense.”
Conflict is often the mother of invention. Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaigns toward the Kurdish people of northern Iraq in 1991 lead to the largest coalition of nations. Both Gulf wars produced horrific weaponry on a scale not seen since WW2, capable of precipitating public health and human rights violations years after deployment. The US Department of Defense, in 2003, praised a new breed of munition first deployed in Iraq–the depleted uranium round. These weapons hailed for their tank and bunker busting abilities; 68% denser than lead and upon impact, known to spontaneously combust leaving charred remains of the unfortunate targets. Armor plating on tanks and other armored combat vehicles use DU.
The advantages of DU munitions are clear, and key countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Pakistan produce and stockpile them. Many more former Soviet satellite states currently possess tanks in their arsenal capable of utilizing DU; however, it is unknown whether DU is a component of their arsenal is unknown. Many governments, including the European Parliament and Latin American parliament, started passing legislation banning radioactive weaponry from purchase, production, or use. The Kingdom of the Netherland is a key player in bringing transparency on the issue of depleted uranium. Organizations and individuals such as the Dutch peace corps, PAX, and the committee’s chair, British MEP Struan Stevenson of the conservative ECR group stated that there was a “demonstrable case for a strong and robust resolution calling on member states like the United Kingdom and France to stop using DU”. Led by Stevenson, a group of MEPs from across both Europe and the political spectrum have also submitted questions to the EU’s foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton to ask what the European Commission has been doing to encourage the development of a common position on DU within the EU. They also call on the EU to demonstrate leadership on the DU issue. The questions remained unanswered at the time of writing, although pressure to reach consensus is rising with the new reports of spiking cancer rates and birth defects around Iraq.
The Deformed Babies of Fallujah, Iraq
The U.S. military supported by British forces, set the city of Fallujah as the stage of incredibly intense urban warfare in 2004, with intentions of deposing opposition forces within the city. The second occurrence of military operations in November and December 2004 dubbed ‘Phantom Fury’: the most brutal operation since the official end of major combat operations in 2003. The aftermath left in Fallujah was astonishing with 60% of buildings destroyed or damaged, and the population of the city at 30%-50% of pre-war levels. The physical damage the city has sustained is not what is most disturbing.
Since 2009, credible media reports from Fallujah released reports of high rates of congenital birth defects in the city to the world’s attention. Iraqi medical personnel acknowledge the health risks of DU despite the lack of a direct link between DU and rising birth defects in Fallujah. Doctors have called for further follow up research on DU and cancer patients in Iraq. The U.S. has denied usage of DU rounds in Operation Phantom Fury while they maintained the claim that no records had been kept since 2004. However, in 2005, two DU-contaminated tanks found within Fallujah, possibly destroyed by A-10 thunderbolts according to an interview with an expert from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Baghdad. Two other DU capable platforms utilized during the combat of Phantom Fury–the Abrams tank and the Bradley armored fighting vehicle (AFV).
Moving to Secure a Healthier Future
PAX estimates that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq contaminated by DU, which will cost at least $30m to clean up. Iraqi authorities are hard pressed to mobilize an effective cleanup effort and the calls for contamination containment in Fallujah have not been properly answered by the Iraqi government. Sampled hair from women with malformed babies in Fallujah tested positive for enriched uranium. The damage inflicted upon genetic code is proving to develop tremendous strain on the population of Falluja both mentally and physically as generations to come may be thinned out by fatal birth defects.
Due their economic superiority and contribution of deploying DU, the US and Great Britain should step forward with the funds and equipment necessary to conduct long-term research and contamination containment alongside Iraqi medical personnel. The ethical issues of toxic weaponry are clear. Militaries should discontinue the usage of DU weaponry or stockpiling under the notion that the usefulness of these weapons outweigh the potential harm caused to civilians. Human rights, specifically that right to life and safe environment, should take precedence over military needs. Children dying after only a few weeks after birth due to a country’s military actions years ago is a blatant breach of UDHR Article 3: Right to life, liberty, and security of person.
The issue of DU is not confined to DU alone. It also resonates within a broader spectrum of illegal weapon usage like gasses, weapons of mass destruction etc. Awareness of the suffering of those in Iraq is necessary so we, as an international community, may mold the peaceful and just world we envision.
Why is this happening? The answer to this question can be summed up in two words: climate change. NASA defines climate change as gradual changes in a region’s regular weather pattern over many years. Examples of these changes can be temperatures being higher or lower than what is normal in the area, or it can be an increase or decrease in annual precipitation. Climate change is not a sudden change in weather, such as a sunny day turning into a cloudy day in a matter of hours. The biggest factor is the rise in the globe’s temperature. Since 1970, the global temperature has risen around 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit each decade. While 0.3 does not seem like a big change, imagine your body’s internal temperature rising 0.3 degrees every ten days. Your body would go into shock trying to adjust, which is essentially what is happening with our planet. Small changes in the globe’s climate have large impacts.
Scientific evidence shows that climate change is real and happening, and the earth’s climate is warming. As a result, the ocean’s temperature is also rising. A hurricane’s strength depends on three factors: water temperature, wind shear, and moisture in the atmosphere. According to Vox, “Warmer water and atmospheric moisture give the system energy. A low wind shear — i.e., sharp changes in wind directions as you go higher and higher in the atmosphere — keeps a hurricane from dissipating.” In an interview with Vox, meteorologist Klozbach claimed that he found the Atlantic Ocean, where Irma formed, is two degrees warmer than the ocean usually is this time of year. The strength of Hurricanes Harvey and Maria are substantially impacted by changes in the climate, as they too originated in abnormally warm waters.
As another result of the earth’s temperature rising, scientists have concluded that wildfires are “occurring about five times more often than in 1970…burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.” Wildfires can be caused by humans unintentionally by dropping a cigarette, or by natural causes such as lightening. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, every state in the western US has seen an increase in numbers of annual wildfires. The duration of the fires and their intensity are also a result of climate change. Because the earth’s temperature is rising, the soil becomes drier, droughts occur, therefore making chances of a wildfire increase.
What are other consequences of climate change? Aside from the damage to communities, mass displacement, or even death in extreme cases such as the 1,200 deaths caused by the monsoons in Asia, there are other long-lasting effects as well. After Hurricane Harvey flooded a large portion of southeast Texas with a record-breaking 51.88 inches, there were over 150,000 jobs created that were dedicated to post-flooding clean up and construction. However, the trio of climate change-powered hurricanes have potentially destroyed job growth for September and October by taking out over 80,000 payrolls. In addition to that, CSNBC Market Insider claims the damage caused by Hurricane Maria is predicted to keep citizens of the territory jobless until November. According to Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics, “We’re creating an average 175,000 jobs a month … The problem is it looks like the hurricane disruption will overwhelm those job gains in September to get them close to zero, and we’ll likely see a negative reading in October because of the sheer number of people that were affected in Puerto Rico. We really have a humanitarian crisis there.” As a usual result of hurricanes, gas prices shot up. Forbes reported that Texas had the highest gas prices it had seen since 2014 at almost $5 per gallon in Fort Worth.
Wildfires can also have positive and negative economic effects. Similar to the hurricane clean-up crews, the beneficial effects come either from rebuilding after a wildfire or fire suppression. Counter to that, Diaz found in a study conducted in 2003 that California had lost over $43 million in wildfire expenses that year. It was also estimated that about 5,000 fire-related jobless claims were filed in the same year. Due to the wildfires this year, parts of Texas have lost roughly $21 million in agricultural costs – without accounting for costs of damages on equipment. Wildfires also contaminate water supplies and produce air pollution. The largest concern with the drinking water supply is sediment filling reservoirs or basins, and sediment going into the air supply can result in long-term damage to lungs.
Over the month of September, the island of Puerto Rico experienced two traumatic hurricanes: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The eye of Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane, hit north of the Island on September 7, 2017. Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to hit the island, left 1 million people without power. Shortly after Irma, Puerto Rico (PR) was ravaged again by another devastating hurricane. Hurricane Maria made direct landfall on Puerto Rico, resulting in a complete power outage in the island. 60,000 people were without electricity by the time Maria hit the island. Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló explained to CNN the island’s power grid is “a little bit old, mishandled and weak,” thus grid could take months to repair. Stemming from Puerto Rico’s power catastrophe, which especially strained the island’s power authority, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) filed for bankruptcy last July after racking up a $9 billion dollar debt. Not only did PREPA file for bankruptcy, so did Puerto Rico in May 2017. Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy is the biggest municipal bankruptcy ever filed in United States history, owing the US more than $70 billion, thereby complicating officials ability to borrow money for public use. Post natural disaster recovery is reliant on money and resources, and without adequate funding and focused government management, rebuilding the island’s power system will be strained at best. The Puerto Rican economy and infrastructure was already struggling, and the impact of Hurricane Maria will exacerbate the issue further.
Even though Puerto Rico is not an American state or located on the mainland, PR is an American territory. Legally, a US territory has “the status of commonwealth, a legal and political status that is above a territory but still below a state.” In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, which granted U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico on or after April 25, 1898. Puerto Rican US citizens are entitled to the same inalienable rights as mainland US citizens. Puerto Rican US citizens are also entitled to equal FEMA federal government response to natural disasters. Puerto Rico is home to 3.4 million US citizens and, without power, millions of Americans will not have access to clean water, medical supplies, food, and basic public health services.
Food and Water
Currently, food and water supplies are at emergency levels throughout Puerto Rico. According to FEMA, 42% of the people on the island do not have access to potable water. Potable water is safe to drink and use for food preparation, without risk of health problems. The loss of power resulted in a lack of access to clean water to bathe, cook, or flush toilets since water cannot be pumped into resident’s homes. Limited clean water sources result in a substantial public health crisis. Without clean water, individuals are prone to malnutrition, and poor hygiene and sanitation; this amplifies the spread of communicable diseases across the entire island. Specifically, the CDC highlights proper water, hygiene and sanitation has the “potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths globally.”
As for food, 85% of the island’s food is imported from neighboring countries, like the Dominican Republic. Extreme infrastructural damage by Hurricane Maria massively disrupted the territory’s typical food imports. Maria additionally decimated Puerto Rico’s agriculture sectorresulting in a depletion of 80% of the crop value and local food production in Puerto Rico. The destruction of food imports and local food production is predicted to dramatically increase the cost of food itself and dramatically increase food shortages. These consequences will likely result in increased malnutrition of PR citizens, thereby increasing related illnesses and their effects, such as stunting and wasting throughout the island. Recently, President Trump temporarily waive the Jones Act which “requires goods shipped between American ports to be carried out exclusively by ships built primarily in the United States, and to have U.S. citizens as its owners and crews.” Governer Richardo Rosello of Puerto Rico requested the act be waived, as the Act hinder disaster relief efforts post Hurricane Maria. Lack of power and crumbled infrastructure continue to make the distribution of food and humanitarian aid a challenge and pressing human rights issue.
“Just about every interaction with the health system now involves electricity, from calling a hospital for help to accessing electronic medical records and powering lifesaving equipment like hemodialysis machines or ventilators”
– Jullia Belluz, Vox
Puerto Rico’s health care infrastructure is devastated. Without an operational electrical grid, hospitals utilize gas-powered electric generators for energy. However, continuous diesel fuel shortages and lack water have ruthlessly weakened the capacity to treat patients throughout dozens of hospitals on the island. Likewise, numerus citizens injured during the hurricane have yet to be treated by health care professionals. Vulnerable populations, including: 1) children, 2) the elderly, and 3) persons with disabilities 4) life threatening health conditions, are at more severe risk for injury and death. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly and newborns require greater medical attention than the general population. Lack of power and hospital infrastructure becomes life threatening to patients needing live saving medical treatment.
Right to Adequate Health
The entire loss of power throughout the island exacerbates the intensity of Puerto Rico’s state of emergency. In our technologically advanced society, power is used in almost every aspect of our lives, especially in the US bureaucracy. Power helps us achieve our right to adequate health, explicitly defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is necessary Puerto Rico finds a timely solution to the territory’s failed power grid. The longer the communities live without power, the prospect of healthy and safe living environments remains grim. A complication furthering the aforementioned crises is the US’s congressional response to Hurricane Maria, which has been exceedingly disproportionate as compared to FEMA’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the president signed a $15 billion Harvey relief fund to help victims. However, for victims of Hurricane Irma, more than 20 days have passed since the initial hit on Puerto Rico. Two weeks later Hurricane Maria hit the island, and still Congress has failed to propose a spending budget for post-disaster relief. US officials claim they are waiting for greater insight into the full assessment of damage on Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria completely infringed on the rights of US citizens. The effects of Maria are going to negatively interfere with a population’s economic, social, and cultural rights explained in the UDHR. Food, water, and health care are all required to maintain adequate health. Delayed financial response by congress to Hurricane Maria will continue to perpetuate poverty throughout the region. Future PR recovery initiatives need to focus on rebuilding the island’s economy, and power grid infrastructure. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and are entitled to the same protection as all citizens; however, all people’s human rights should be protected regardless of citizenship.
These past few weeks have been a very vulnerable time for our global community. Media has been predominately focusing on the countries and victims affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Jose, however nature’s violent outcry stormed communities all over the world- not just the hurricanes in the West. Powerful monsoons struck South Asia, affecting more than 41 million people throughout Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. In Karachi, Pakistan, devastating monsoon floods abruptly invaded communities preparing to celebrate an Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha. Lastly, Typhoon Hato swept into the cities of Macau and Hong Kong, causing thousands of people to flee their homes.
After all of these natural disasters transpired, one concept became very clear: Mother Nature does not discriminate. Natural disasters affect the rich and poor, high income countries and low income countries, and people of all nationalities and ethnicities. Regions struck by these disasters are left with substantial amounts of infrastructural, property, and environmental damage. As a result, victims of these disaster experience traumatic consequences, such as internal displacement and food insecurity. Growing up, I believe I was too young and just overall uninformed to really comprehend what natural disasters entail, and why they are so devastating. However, now being an adult, it’s obvious to me that the reason why natural disasters are so devastating is because post-disaster damage completely compromise the dignity of human rights detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Disasters interfere with a population’s economic, social, and cultural rights emphasized through 17, Article 22-27 of the UDHR. Articles 22-27 of the UDHR focus on establishing social security through people’s right to education, employment, adequate living conditions, cultural life, and leisure. Likewise, Article 17 of the UDHR establishes that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Unfortunately, after a natural disaster, these rights are undeniably negatively affected.
Right to Work
The right to work and employment is severely hindered after natural disasters due unimaginable infrastructural damage. In 2005, the US experienced public health tragedy when Hurricane Katrina devastated millions along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released numerous reports on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on employment and unemployment. These statistics state: “approximately 38 percent of business establishments in Louisiana and Mississippi were within a 100-mile corridor of the path of Hurricane Katrina’s center.” From August 2005 until June 2006, Louisiana unemployment rates soared from 5.8% pre-hurricane to 12.1% post-Hurricane Katrina. In Mississippi, unemployment rates climbed from 6.8% in 2004 before the hurricane to 10.4% after Hurricane Katrina. Everyone has the right to work to “ensur[e] for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”; this is ultimately difficult to achieve when opportunities for employment have literally been washed away. In the Caribbean regions, hit hardest by hurricane Irma, tourism one of the largest revenue-builders and an important source of income for many families. Specifically in Anguilla, a territory hit by Hurricane Irma, tourism contributed to 57% of the island’s GDP in 2016. Generally, travel and tourism alone contributed to about 15% of the Caribbean region’s total GDP. For the Caribbean victims of Irma, the disruption of the tourism industry is a disruption to a family’s livelihood. Natural disaster victims living in rural regions such as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh face continuous threat to work when their agriculture and crop land get destroyed and the becomes unprofitable.
Right to Adequate Living
The most noticeable human right that natural disasters discernibly jeopardize is the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” For many survivors after natural disasters, ‘adequate living’ is no longer a reality. What happens when a family’s home is demolished in the wake of disasters such as these? Tragically, millions of people become internally displaced within their countries. The United Nations reports that about 851,000 people are displaced in India, 352,738 Nepalese are displaced from their homes, and lastly 696,169 people have been displaced in Bangladesh since the monsoons. Food insecurity also becomes an urgent need to address throughout regions affected by these disasters. Within two days after the floods, Nepal Food Security Monitoring System (NEKSAP), issued a first assessment of the damage. Results exposed that 70% of flood-affected areas are moderately food insecure or worse. Of that 70%, 42% of those regions are highly and severely food insecure.
Right to Education
Natural disasters also impede on one’s right to an education due to the damage sustained by schools and educational infrastructure. Human loss to education systems, comprising the loss of school administration personal, teachers, and education policy makers, affects the institution’s ability to deliver a quality education. UN reports affirm that in Bangladesh, 2,292 primary and community schools suffered substantial water damage. In Nepal, 1,958 schools have been ruined, thereby impacting the education of 253,605 children. In India, nearly one million students’ education have been disrupted when floods damaged 15,455 schools. Damage to schools not only undercut education in the short term, but threaten long-term educational goals as well. USAID explains “the normal processes of educational planning break down during an emergency, weakening the overall system and creating future problems in the development of an inclusive educational system.”
These events have got a lot of people asking why these disasters even occurred in the first place. Well, science indicates that climate change has become a major catalyst to such drastic weather related disasters witnessed throughout the past couple of weeks. As NASA explains “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures, but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.” With rising temperatures and a predicted increase in weather-related disasters, maybe the United Nations and our government should start to consider changing the definition of an internally displaced person (IDP) or a refugee to include people fleeing from natural disasters. The UN definition of a refugee is a person who , “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” Just like people running away from armed conflict, victims of weather-related disasters are also trying to escape harsh realities, including inadequate living conditions, food insecurity, no economic opportunities, and violence. A modern day example of weather-related disasters is the famine spreading across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya caused by intensified droughts.
“We have moved four times in the last four months. We were trying to follow the rain – moving according to where the rains were supposed to come. But they haven’t. If the rains don’t come, none of us will survive”
– Farhia Mohamad Geedi, Oxfam
Just like Farhia and her family, 10.7 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and are facing sever hunger. If their governments are not able to provide them with a feasible and effective solution, they have no other choice but to leave, or die. With a predicted increase in weather-related disasters such as drought and floods, more people will be living in extremely life-threatening environments that will force them to leave their home. The destruction of the consecutive water disaster have been very tragic, but there is hope for the future. Countries have begun to recognize that “their shared burden of climate-related disasters can only be lifted by universal action to address the causes of climate change.” 175 countries from all over the world have signed onto the Paris Agreement, which will focus on keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius. We as a global community have already made such positive impact by acknowledging we have a problem, now it’s time to hold ourselves accountable for progress.
Additional resource: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.
“Nothing that has been uncovered to date suggests that anyone intended to poison the people of Flint” (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint report was authored in response to the growing cries from community members, government officials, victims, and bystanders concerned with the abject lack of proper response to Flint water crisis which began roughly at the middle of 2014. The Flint Water Crisis, nationally and internationally infamous for the beleaguered and dangerous handling by all levels of government, has been documented, historicized, lectured upon, and dissected from news publishers, academics institutions, watchdog groups, government organizations, and everyone in between. The bottom line is government officials cut costs in water sanitation and pipe replacements, the consequences of which sparked a full-blown state of emergency, and finally culminated in the deaths of Flint citizens from Legionnaire’s disease and other complications from the consumption of unclean water; those implicated range from District Water Supervisor Busch to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The failings in Flint, as argued by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, extend far beyond the ineptitude of handfuls of government officials and their lack of planning or preparedness. The requisite conditions necessary for a crisis of this magnitude festered many years ago, perhaps as far back as the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. Flint’s problems are institutional and systemic, and unfortunately, it took a catastrophe to bring these issues to the surface.
Structural racialization is understood as the tendency for social groups to “organize around structures that produce discriminatory results… without themselves possessing any personal animus” (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). In other words, an individual can actively contribute to community systems that result in suppression without actually harboring ill will to the victims of suppression themselves. Ignorance/implicit bias, according to john a. powell (2010), is the primary driver behind structural racialization and its horrifying consequences. Implicit bias–directly linked to structural racialization–sustains the longevity of the structures which cause discrimination, and these structures are kept alive only if the contributors to the structures are unaware of the malevolent consequences of the structures themselves (powell, 2010). In the case of Flint, structural racialization began many years before the water crisis, and these implicit, racial structures ensured destruction from the crisis unfairly affected largely black, poor, politically unconnected individuals in the Flint area (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). Using the term ‘structural racialization’ to describe a public health catastrophe, such as the Flint Water Crisis, offers no binding legal or moral prescription. There is no way to sue a ‘structure’ for unfair or discriminatory harm. The structure, in these cases, is reciprocally determined by every individual who unknowingly benefits from the structure and does not actively fight against the structure’s survival (powell, 2010). The case of Flint is rife with example. Contribution to underlying power structures such as these begins with implicit bias- it is the first stronghold keeping the structure in place. Implicit bias, by definition, is unseen and unfelt. In this case, the denizens of Flint and the surrounding areas had no awareness of their complicity in structural racialization. Without this awareness, there can be no hope to fight it.
Beyond the psychology of the issue is the legalistic support of structural racialization. In Flint, this involves segregated housing. The 1900-1930s saw a time of deeply-seated racist and discriminatory housing market practices that forcibly shepherded blacks and poorer whites into select neighborhoods in Flint. These were effectively ‘ghettos’ and ensured black renters and homeowners were segregated from whites (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). Fast forward to present day: the neighborhoods hit hardest by the Water Crisis are neighborhoods that historically have belonged to poor and black renters and homeowners. Racist business practices in the Jim Crow era exacerbated the loss and destruction felt by black and poor Flint citizens in the present day.
This is not to say the black community in Flint is the only one to feel the deleterious effects of the water crisis. This public health emergency does not discriminate along ethnic lines. The discriminatory practices that trapped black Flint citizens holds that honor alone. In 2017, a full three years after the crisis began, clean water is still an issue in Flint. What do we tell the citizens of Flint? How can they take civic action to expedite the process of returning to ‘normal’ life post-crisis? Diana Francis, noted peacemaker and democracy advocate, espouses the concept of ‘speaking truth to power’. This notion contends people–everyday concerned citizens–are the impetus of action in situational injustice. Indeed, the recent criminal charges brought against Flint city administrators and politicians show a ‘top-down’ approach to this crisis is both unrealistic and ineffective. For Francis, the true heroes in this story are citizens affected by and emphatic to the crisis. Examining the normative response to Flint reveals a public willing to undertake protest and direct action, and a public expecting a direct confrontation with the individuals and systemic structures responsible for this crisis. Here are some examples: a music festival raising awareness and money for the victims of Flint, national groups donating time and energy to provide resources to disenfranchised Fint citizens, whistleblowers risking their livlihoods to make the crisis public, and academics donating their skills to investigating the crisis itself. These civil society actors may hold the key to eliminating the effects of the Flint water crisis and eradicating the conditions that precipitated the crisis in the first place. Of course, this empowered response is not an assumed reaction.
In the face of a fully-fledged public health emergency, many citizens in Flint did not feel any semblance of trust in their elected officials to mitigate the crisis without state- or national-level intervention. Without this trust, the citizens may have felt unable or ineffective to act against the discriminatory power structures in Flint. This problem, unlike replacing pipes, cannot be ameliorated by federal funding or outside medical intervention. Addressing this collective distrust will involve some form of cultural transformation. These deeper fixes must involve the access to elected officials the general public has and the public’s ability to provide continuous feedback to these officials. At several times in the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (2017), citizens of Flint (of all ethnicities) went on the record saying their concerns regarding water safety went unaddressed due to many factors, such as:
1) no knowledge of how to reach elected officials,
2) feeling their complaints were ‘unheard’ or ‘unseen’ to those who could help the situation,
3) fear of retaliation if undocumented immigrants or individuals with criminal records came forward with concerns, and
4) willful neglect on the part of government officials who simply did not feel accountable for the plights of minorities (involving both ethnicity and socioeconomic status) in the Flint area.
Moving forward, how can both human rights advocates and ordinary citizens protect rights equally in all corners of the globe and also address the grievances of individuals in Flint? A shift towards environmental justice may be the answer. This term means two things. First, all persons, regardless of identifying characteristics (ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, income level, etc.) have the right to enjoy the environment equally. Second, the responsibility of civic participation in the protection and maintenance of the environment belongs to all persons (Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 2017). Environmental justice takes its cue from Third Generation Human Rights (aka right to the environment) and adds the necessary ingredient of civic participation. As I have stated previously on this blog, human rights are protected by “people, not documents”. Given the second caveat of environmental justice, what happens if ordinary people have no avenue to address a public health hazard? A crisis like Flint erupts. What conditions predicate an inability to make these addresses? This post contends a key condition is structural racialization. Addressing the massive failures apparent in the Flint Water Crisis moves far beyond faulty equipment and the Flint city administration’s glacial response time. Addressing this egregious human rights violation requires analysis going back at least a century in order to fully understand the complex interaction between history and the present. Furthermore, the only long-term, stable solution to this issue is to equip the citizens of Flint with inexperienced political power and know-how. This may include any of the following: a free, fair, and frequent election process; a truly representative (i.e. ethnicity, socio-economic status) local administration; a political mechanism by which citizens can openly voice public health concerns; and funding available in case large-scale crises such as these emerge. Environmental justice in Flint, Michigan will only be achieved when the insidious structures barring unfettered access to a clean environment and free critique of those hindering this access are dismantled in their entirety.
South Sudan, Somalia, Northeast Nigeria, and Yemen are currently experiencing what is being recognized as an international famine crisis. The lack of food in these countries has resulted in twenty million individuals suffering from extreme hunger, caused by agricultural and civil misfortunes. Starvation is expanding at an overwhelming speed; within the last three months, three million citizens from these regions are experiencing extreme food shortages. Famine has officially been declared in South Sudan, while the United Nations (UN) warns that the food shortages in Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia are only a few months away from reaching similar extremities. At this rate, these regions could face societal and economic challenges for an extraneous period. The UN has requested a total of $4.4 billion, in attempt to reverse famine in the affected countries. The purpose of this blog is to bring awareness to the global issue of starvation and famine, with regards to the collapse of civil structures and ecological factors that have severely influenced the rise of famine.
Famine refers to a wide-ranging and life-threatening food insufficiency in a specific region of the world. The issue can be created by drought, epidemics, population imbalances, inflation, and government instability. The UN determines an official famine crisis through evaluation of the food shortage margins. The official United Nations website mandates, “A famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.” Natural and man-made catastrophes have worked hand-in-hand for the reasons behind the current famine issue. As political conflict and resource deprivation create an overpowering effect on a region’s agriculture and cost of food, individuals are stripped of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This declaration was created by fifty-six international representatives in 1948 as a universal agreement to essential human rights. The document was put into action only three years after the 1945 Vietnamese famine, which killed roughly two million citizens within six months. Article 25 of the UDHR states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
YEMEN What was already the poorest Arab country is now considered to be experiencing one of the world’s worst hunger crises. Two-thirds of the Yemenis population are suffering with food insufficiency. Eighteen million individuals are facing severe food and water shortages in Yemen, and seven million of these deprived citizens are classified as starving. Conflict is to blame for Yemen’s nearing famine crisis. Yemen’s former president’s, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, failed attempts to provide adequate fuel subsidies to the Yemenis people resulted in the Houthis driving him out of the city of Aden. The clash between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and President Hadi’s soldiers has resulted in a violent civil war, and citizens’ food accessibility and resources have become targets. OXFAM, an international union for poverty assistance, has stated, “Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led de-facto authority on the other hand, is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and a serious threat of famine.”
SOMALIA Drought plays a prominent role in Somalia’s excessive hunger issue. Minimal rain fall has disrupted Somalia’s society three times in nearly twenty-five years. Nearly three million Somalian citizens are suffering from starvation, while 6.2 million citizens are experiencing food and water shortages. This drought has created a spiral of decline for the population’s malnourishment, physical health, and educational standing. An Islamic militant group, Al-Shabaab, has restricted Somalia’s access to resources after gaining political control of the country in 1991. The previous Somalian government, ruled by Mohammed Barre, was instructed to flee the capital, Mogadishu, after being overthrown by the terror group. During the conflict, the United States cut off their contributions to Somalia, due to the objection of Al-Shabaab. No official government has been established since Barre’s departure. For many years, the militants have blocked access to food and water resources and have required external contributors to pay ten thousand dollars, before allowing them to assist the citizens. The charge was lifted during Somalia’s 2011 food and drought crisis, but the general regulations of Al-Shabaab continue to affect Somalians’ resource abundance. This lack of food and water has caused severe consequences to the victimized citizens, resulting in cholera, measles, malaria, and other fatal diseases. Office for the Coordination of Human Rights recognizes the malnutrition of the Somalian children by stating that 185,000 children are in fatal condition and need of immediate aid. The rebellious leaders have displayed little to no concern with the victim’s current situation, presenting a correlation between Somalia’s political power and failed assistance. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been made irrelevant to the countries’ current leaders, but Anthony Lake, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s Executive Director, asserts, “We are making a difference in the areas we can reach. With the World Food Programme and other partners, we are treating acutely malnourished children. We are vaccinating children against measles and polio. We are providing safe water and sanitation services. But this is nowhere close to enough. Without adequate resources and without safe access, we and our partners will be unable to reach children whose lives are at imminent risk.What is already a crisis can become a catastrophe.”
NIGERIA Northeast Nigeria’s 2.5 million food deprived individuals are experiencing food and water disadvantages, stemming from both extreme drought and political injustice. 100,000 Nigerian citizens are facing fatal consequences of undernourishment and are expected to die from starvation this year. Boko Haram, and Islamic insurgent group from the northeastern region, have spent seven years destroying agricultural resources in Northeast Nigeria and restricting access and assistance to the state of Borno. The radical group not only rid citizens of their right to food and well-being, but also committed violent crimes of kidnapping, suicide bombings, and militant attacks. Although access has improved since the Nigerian army cleared numerous villages in Borno of the militant group, many human rights established by the UDHR continue to be violated today. UNICEF released a statement that claims, “Fews Net, the famine early warning system that monitors food insecurity, said late last year that famine likely occurred in some previously inaccessible areas of Borno states, and that it is likely ongoing, and will continue, in other areas which remain beyond humanitarian reach.” Anthony Lake believes that the lack of food assistance is expected to impact the health of 400,00 children in Nigeria, leading to the possibility of fatality for one in every five kids. This translates to an incomprehensible 246 fatalities in children each day in only one of the famine-potential countries. The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recognizes the detracted human rights of the Boko Haram victims by stating, “In newly accessible areas vulnerable host populations are in critical need of humanitarian interventions including food, water, sanitation, protection, education, shelter and health services.”
SOUTH SUDAN As of February 20, 2017, the world’s newest country has officially declared famine in several locations. The crisis encompasses 4.9 million citizens in need of food and water assistance, including one million individual’s reaching famine. South Sudan’s famine is man-made and could have potentially been avoided. Political opposition between South Sudan’s President Salva Kirr Mayardit and Former Vice President Riek Machar led to an eruption of violence between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 2003. The hostility spread past the political supporters to groups and communities throughout South Sudan. Agriculture has been disrupted by this civil war and by severe drought, leaving the majority of South Sudanese citizens with a life-threatening shortage food and water. The Sudanese government has not only created the chaos that has led to a famine catastrophe, but has failed to consider and abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With consideration of South Sudan’s short six-year span of independence, the country’s political and agricultural downfall has brought awareness of the current crisis across the globe. The United Nation’s Secretary, General Antonio Guterres claims, “Despite the alarm sounded by the United Nations and the international community over this crisis, the Government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people. On the contrary, what we hear most often are denials – a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis or to fulfil its responsibilities to end it.”
United State’s Evolving Contributions The current amount of support going towards the United Nations request of $4.4 billion could take longer than originally anticipated. President Donald Trump has obstinately planned to minimize The United States government’s contributions to the sufferers of these countries, cutting the amount of foreign aid from the United Nation by nearly twenty-nine percent. He calls this “America First.”
The United States is expected to decrease the budgets for all international developments by approximately thirty-seven percent. These revised budget plans constructs a message that greatly contradicts the United States previous assistance, created to specifically minimize the issues of starvation and famine across the globe. Trump’s attempt to decrease funding costs is anticipated to target the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, originally created by the former senators Bob Dole and George McGovern in 2003. The program has gained a positive reputation for its provided assistance to multiple countries each year. This assistance is focused on agricultural needs, financial donations, and technical advancements. The priority of the McGovern-Dole is to distribute food aid to the countries most effected by hunger and food shortages. Trump’s proposition for eliminating funds for the McGovern-Dole Food has been established through the “America First” budget blueprint, stating that the program“lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.” If this elimination is successful, $200 million dollars in food contributions will no longer be an option for the countries currently experiencing famine.
In comparison to the Trump administration, the Obama Administration assisted in United Nations starvation crisis by providing thirty-five million dollars worth of food to Sudan in May of 2016. Similarly, the US provided the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) with $125 million for food in the countries of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey. The WFP “is the leading humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience.” The United States contributed over three times more than any other country to the WFP in the year of 2015. The WFP raised a total $10,979,000,000, within the years of 2015 and 2016, from donors and funding sources in response to global hunger. The US set the bar high with the generous contributions of approximately $2,015,000,000 each year. Following behind are the United Kingdom, European Commission, and Germany, who’s individual contributions amounted to less than half of the United State’s total. While this amount continues to lead the donations across the world, the proposed cuts will undeniably affect today’s starving victims. Denying contributions and assistance to individuals and countries in need challenges the support to the UDHR.
Famines are preventable UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien has spoken of the extremity of the famine catastrophe currently impacting the globe. O’ Brien estimated the food shortages can be overturned by raising $4.4 billion by July in his statement to the United Nations Security Counsel. One thing O’Brien expresses passionately- preventibility.
“It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes.”
O’Brien’s travels and experiences among the victims of starvation bring about an alertness that is impossible to overlook. O’ Brien states, “For all three crises and North-Eastern Nigeria, an immediate injection of funds plus safe and unimpeded access are required to enable partners to avert a catastrophe; otherwise, many people will predictably die from hunger, livelihoods will be lost, and political gains that have been hard- won over the last few years will be reversed.” His plea for awareness and support based off of both his experiences and current data has been globally recognized by the world, but has lead to unexpected predicaments. Watch UN’s humanitarian chief communicate the issues being faced by the citizens of Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Northeast Nigeria.
Every Contribution Makes a Difference Inevitably, the internet has provided motivated individuals with an outlet for creating contributions for the United Nation’s multi-billion dollar request. Social media has provided increased awareness to the starvation crisis affecting the Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. Celebrities including Ben Stiller, Colin Kaepernick, Casey Neistat, Juanpa Zarita, and Chakabars have raised over two million dollars to hep the cause occurring in victimized food shortage countries, specifically Somalia. This contribution began when Jerome Jarre, a French social media celebrity, identified Turkish Airlines as the only accessible commercial airline that flies to Somalia. Jarre utilized Twitter to promote his idea of filling a plane with food and water, and sending the supplies to the Somalians in need. His videos immediately caught the attention of Stiller, and within hours the topic was on Twitter’s Trending Topics. The campaign group’s original goal of one million dollars was reached in less than twenty-four hours of their social media. Turkish Airlines has expressed positive reactions to the campaign, as well. The airline company has announced their willingness to send 60 tons of humanitarian aid, and are expected to send out their first transfer of food on March 27. They have also announced their plan to continue the food transfer through as many commercial flights as needed. Read more information and get involved with the “Love Army For Somalia” GoFundMe page.
The celebrities’ motivation to provide assistance has been viewed as an inspiration around the globe. Our world is in an eye-opening and critical period of humanitarian need. Article 25 of the UDHR may have been overlooked by the government officials of South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Northeast Nigeria, but during times of crisis, our established human rights must be aided by each other.
What is climate change? To understand climate change, we must first know what climate is and how it is different from the weather. Weather is what we see change on a day to day basis. We can see and feel the changes in weather: sunny one day, rainy the next, and back to sunny again. Weather also is the change in temperatures: sometimes it is hot, and sometimes it is cold, depending on the time of year or the place that you are in. Climate, on the other hand, is the usual temperature of a place. For example, a regional climate may be wet and cold in the winter, but warm and dry in the summer. There have been anomalies–extremes where it has snowed year round. Not all climates are the same. The global temperature has been rising each year; however, climate change is much more than just that. In addition to the climates of individual places, there is also Earth’s climate, which is the result of combining all of the climates around the world together. Climate change is often referred to as global warming. Climate change is defined as changes in the usual weather found in a place. This could be a wide range of changes like how much rain a city gets in a year, snowing in places it does not usually snow, or most commonly, changes in a place’s usual temperature. Earth’s climate is also subject to climate change. The planet can experience rising temperatures, or it is possible for rain and snow patterns to shift, causing it to do so in places it would not usually.
Simply put, weather changes in a matter of hours or less, whereas climate takes hundreds of years to change.
In the past 100 years, Earth’s temperature has increased about one degree Fahrenheit. This may not seem detrimental on the surface, but minute changes in Earth’s climate has had massive effects. While Earth’s temperature rises independently, humanity plays a contributing role in speeding up the process of rising temperatures that influence the stasis of the Earth’s atmosphere, at an alarming rate. The Earth’s atmosphere consists layers, made of nitrogen , oxygen, argon, neon, helium, carbon dioxide, and methane. Key components in climate change like greenhouse gases contribute to the dismantling of the atmosphere, a term coined “the greenhouse effect” because of the absorption and transmittance of infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases impact the ozone layer. When it comes to climate change, the ozone layer is a layer in the Earth’s stratosphere that contains high amounts of ozone. Ozone absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation emitted from the sun, and prevents it from reaching Earth. Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a 40% increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest contributing factor of the emissions of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels by factories and industries, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Doing so pollutes the air, and releases these harmful gases into the atmosphere, counteracting the Earth’s natural greenhouse process. As it stands, the Earth’s surface temperature could reach record-breaking temperatures by 2047, which would cause ecosystems to fall apart and the livelihoods of people worldwide would be effected. If humanity continues to emit the amount of greenhouse gases into the air as we currently are, there could be dangerous consequences.
Based on Figure 1 (above), it is easy to see that the causes of climate change are far outweighed by the consequences. There are very few man-made causes, but they each have many effects on Earth’s climate.
The Clean Air Act is known as the most successful act in place to protect the environment. Passed in 1970 with the purpose of reducing the air pollution in the country by limiting the amount of pollution put into the air by industries, like chemical plants and steel mills. Under the Obama Administration, the Clean Air Act was used to help reduce the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to take into consideration the environment when making important decisions, such as building a highway or deforestation. It requires agencies to prepare an Environment Impact Statement to report how the actions may affect the environment. This act also assembled the Council on Environmental Quality to advise the President on environmental issues. While these laws have been effective in reducing the damages on the Earth’s ozone layer put out by the United States, the integrity of the ozone layer is still at stake. Recent studies have found that the ozone layer shows signs of healing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its relation to Climate Change
Under Article 22 of the UDHR, everyone has the right to security and economic welfare. The effects of climate change infringe upon this right because it jeopardizes environmental integrity. Climate change effects us all, and is supported by scientific evidence around the globe. It transcends political parties, race, and social class.
Everyone on Earth shares the same climate.
In the wave of executive orders issued out by President Trump, he re-initiated the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a controversial project that was halted by the Obama Administration. The DAPL was originally routed through Bismarck, North Dakota, but after the mostly-white residents refused to allow construction on the grounds of “polluting their water supply”, it was rerouted through Standing Rock. The pipeline’s construction threatens to destroy the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s historic, religious, and cultural sites. It also contributes to climate change and may cause untold damage to the environment, such as water pollution–presently acknowledged by the Bismarck community–and explosions. The DAPL effects the health and security of the Sioux Tribe.
Another prime example of climate change infringing upon the health of people is the smog currently plaguing China, which is a result of burning massive amounts of coal. The emissions coming from China’s most industrialized areas were five times the national average in 2016 compared to 2015. Citizens of China are having to wear face masks to combat “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.” While measures have been taken to reduce the pollution, such as wind-mill farms, the smog still continues to get worse because of the amount of coal being burned. Schools have been shut down, flights are being cancelled, and people are afraid to leave their homes because of the smog.
There have been many observable effects of climate change on the environment. Endangered species, both animal and plant, across the globe are dwindling in numbers due to the fluctuating temperatures in their habitats. Lakes and rivers are drying up or reaching low levels. The glaciers are melting, ocean levels and temperatures are rising. Here in Alabama, we suffered a drought this past summer and an oil leak this fall. The effects that scientists had predicted would happen due to climate change have started to occur.
Climate Change Effecting the Refugee Crisis
According to the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC), climate change has been noted as the “greatest security threat of the 21st Century”. The council has also said that climate change will cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, as the effects of climate change have already pushed many refugees into Europe. There are claims that a lack of natural resources due to climate change may have been a contributing factor in the Syrian War, namely oil. Despite the abundance of oil in the Middle East, the over-excavation of oil brought about a ecosystem collapse, resulting in the dispersion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The land began losing its integrity which affected the economic output as Syrians were unable to produce goods due to the ill-suited climate.
If the Earth’s temperature continues to rise causing the glaciers to melt, causing a rise in sea levels, 20% of Bangladesh will flood, creating additional climate refugees. The potential is over 30 million people forced to evacuate and relocate their lives and families as a result of climate change. In light of this potential threat, Bangladesh is asking wealthier countries to be ready to accept millions of displaced families.
“Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.” – Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project
The United States’ impact on the Earth’s climate is profound. As an industrial country, we have a notable carbon footprint. In other words, what we do largely impacts those around the globe as it effects Earth’s climate, just as what China does impacts us and others even if they are across the globe. It is important to be aware of the growing concerns stemming from climate change, whether it is down the street or thousands of miles away. As I mentioned, we all share the Earth’s climate, so we are all effected by the changes in some form or another. Lives and families are being torn apart across the world due to changes in the climate. We as humans are responsible for destroying families’ homes, land, and countries. We must prevent the refugee crisis from growing at all costs. Climate change is not a “hoax”, it is a reality, and it is effecting us all. It is killing people directly and indirectly. It is killing our planet. This is why it is very important for us to all take part in slowing the effects of climate change. When the US began to reduce its waste, other countries followed suit.
Climate change is more than an environmental issue. It is a public health issue. It is an economic issue. It is a security issue. It is a racial issue.
There are many ways to reduce our carbon footprints and slow the climate change process; I will focus on four. First, reduce fossil fuel use. this may be something more for factories, it is important to know the effect that burning fossil fuels has on the environment, and the small things we can do to help reduce it. It can be reduced on the domestic level by using less electricity, and using more energy-efficient appliances. Converting from gas-powered appliances to electric can also have a large impact. Second, plant trees. Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas. Planting trees or any kinds of plants can aide in the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen. By planting trees, we are combating the effects of deforestation. Third, reduce your waste by recycling. The decomposition of garbage in landfills produces harmful gases like methane, which absorbs the sun’s heat, and increases the Earth’s temperature. Reducing your consumption habits and reusing or recycling items when possible largely decreases your carbon footprint, as it reduces the need for new items to be made, and prevents items from being placed into landfills. Recycling metals, plastic, glass, and paper helps decrease the greenhouse gasses from being emitted into the air, as it takes less energy to make an item from recycled materials than it does as opposed to making materials from scratch. In Birmingham, you can order a recycling bin by phoning 205-254-6314. Additionally, in Birmingham, the recycling center is located at 4330 1st Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222. Lastly, conserve water. The conservation of water is essential to the reduction of climate change. Water purification requires a lot of energy to complete, which in turn increases the mission of greenhouse gasses. By saving water, less energy is used. Turn off water at home when you are not using it, and pay close attention to pipes that may leak to ensure that unnecessary amounts of water are not used.
For more tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/
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