Posts Tagged ‘Human rights’

[While the post below, originally written for my work blog 6 Degrees of Population, isn’t specifically on India, it does highlight the increase in poaching of endangered species around the world that must be stopped.]


During that 15 minute coffee break you took this morning, somewhere across the ocean an elephant was killed.  It is estimated that every 15 minutes an elephant is slaughtered, about 40,000 annually.

It makes you wonder how much longer wild elephants will roam the earth.  Because at this rate, with high global demand for ivory and high levels of poverty for people that live near these creatures, they won’t be around for much longer.


The New York Times recently ran an op-ed by Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute called “Blood Ivory” that highlighted the forces at play.  Certainly consumption and poverty are drivers, but Safina pointed out how international policy has failed elephants.  A loop-hole of sorts in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES – an international agreement that regulates the trade of endangered plants and wildlife), allows for one-time sales of ivory stockpiles, resulting in skyrocketing demand for ivory.  Ironically, a CITES ban on ivory in 1990 was successful in increasing elephant populations, yet this same multilateral environmental agreement is now feeding demand for ivory.

It is undeniably a bleak situation, yet there are some solutions – beyond ending the CITES loop-hole – that can begin to address and hopefully change the situation for the better, for both people and elephants.  Two solutions are empowering women and recognizing rights of nature.

Solution: Empowering Women

Addressing the needs of women can benefit communities and the environment.  Women are on the frontlines of coping with the effects of environmental degradation. In most countries around the world they are the main providers of food, water, and other resources for their families. When women are empowered, they can better support their families and adapt to environmental impacts, including climate change.

A woman’s decision on when and whether to have a child and her access to reproductive care, as well as education, are key components of a healthy and sustainable society.

In Tanzania, for example, family planning use has increased among married women since the early 1990s, yet it is still relatively low in the country, rising from 10 percent in the early 1990s to 34 percent in 2010, according to Population Reference Bureau.

Part of empowering women is addressing inequity.  Tanzania currently has 46 million people, estimated to increase to 82 million people by 2050. Most poachers are driven by grinding poverty, in a country where nearly 70 percent of the Tanzanians live on less than $1.25 per day. When people’s basic needs are met, they choose to invest in their families and communities.

Tanzanian Woman

Empowering Tanzanian women and families with reproductive rights, healthcare, education and sustainable and secure livelihoods can and will improve the situation and enable them to overcome challenges.

Of course, poachers tend to be men, and males with little education or few job prospects need to find ways to survive and feed their families.  Men need to be invested in and empowered too, to overcome poverty and a lack of quality jobs, and to have the right to an education.  Ultimately it comes down to empowering all people.

Solution: Rights of Nature

Earth does not exist for our species alone. Elephants and species all over the world are at grave risk due to human development and demand. The planet is undergoing its sixth mass extinction. Despite global conservation efforts, more species are lost every day. Worse, some like elephants and rhinos, are poached only for their tusks and left to die.

Given this situation, there is a growing movement around recognizing rights of nature that acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. This is another solution for protecting elephants. Under this thinking, nature is not viewed as property and something to be exploited by humans.

There is precedent. Ecuador has included rights of nature in its state constitution, recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist. Bolivia has passed a law of Mother Earth, mandating nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life, regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Rights of nature has been upheld in Ecuadorian court.

Considering Tanzania again, which still has a somewhat viable elephant population, recognizing rights of nature could be one way to protect remaining numbers.  The country recently rescinded a proposal to sell a stock-pile of ivory under the CITES loophole.  If rights of nature laws were in place, then selling ivory could be found illegal.

Natural laws should be constructed to be in balance with the needs of local people; as stated above, even poachers need education and sustainable economic alternatives.  Currently though, neither elephants/nature, nor people, are winners in this terrible situation.

Ensuring a Brighter Future

Not to be overlooked is the role of consumption.  Educating and empowering women and girls, promoting economic and sustainable livelihoods for local populations, and pulling people out of poverty must be top priorities.  But if there are no consumers for a product, or if there is a ban, then the market theoretically disappears, as happened with the earlier CITES ban.  A ban on ivory trading must be reinstated across the board, no exceptions.  And consumer education must also be made a priority.  Buyers of ivory need to fully comprehend – and care – about the true costs of ivory.

It is estimated that Africa has lost close to 90 percent of its elephants in the last fifty years.  There is still a small window of opportunity to change this picture and protect elephants and the people who share the land with them.  This is not negotiable; this is how a civilized society should function.  The global community knows what to do – fully implement a ban on ivory, invest in people’s rights and livelihoods, and protect and respect nature.

(Elephant photo credit: Derek Keats, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dkeats/6026172562/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

(Tanzanian woman photo credit: NewsHour, http://www.flickr.com/photos/newshour/3724432128/sizes/m/in/photostream/)


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In 2012 I was very fortunate to attend several prominent international conferences where population issues – including human rights, the environment, and the global economic reality – were discussed. These events were the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Rio+20 Earth Summit and the Montreal International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas.

iStock_000014852074XSmall Earth

My current work is writing on many issues related to population, especially rights and the environment. We live in a world with 7 billion people that is predicted to be between 8 to 10 billion by 2050.  And we face many pressing problems that need solutions grounded in fairness, equality, and respect for life.

After attending these conferences, along with other events, experiences, and research, I decided to write a report on inclusive, holistic approaches to covering this subject. The result is People’s Rights, Planet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population. It recommends focusing on the following issues to create a path to a sustainable population:

  • Women’s Rights – providing voluntary family planning services to the 222 million women in developing countries who want access to family planning services but do not have access to contraceptives;
  • Youth Rights – providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to the nearly 3 billion young adults under the age of 25;
  • Rights of Nature – recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist;
  • Rethinking the Economy – accepting that endless economic growth is unsustainable and more efficient global indicators of human and environmental well-being should be adopted.

While there has been much focus, and rightly so, of the need to empower women as the answer to stabilizing population numbers, I think that other issues are sometimes overlooked. One is recognizing the rights of youth to reproductive health and education. Another – the need to reassess our endless growth economy – isn’t often mentioned as a solution in conjunction with human rights. Lastly, the concept of rights of nature is barely mentioned at all.

This report is my attempt to bring these issues together as a way to craft policies to better our communities and our world. Certainly it could have a big impact on India, which is soon to have the world’s biggest population. Balancing human rights with nature’s rights would help tigers and other endangered species. Creating local, sustainable economies with quality livelihoods would help people and the environment.

The same applies for the U.S. and developed countries. The situations might be slightly different, but in the end, they are not really so different; after all, we all share the same planet.

In my opinion, implementing policies based on the points above are worth undertaking and we have nothing to lose by doing so. It just might make the world a better place, which is what most of us want.

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I won the lottery and didn’t even know it.  Well I did, but I took it for granted.  That’s the way Marla Smith-Nilson, the founder of Seattle-based Water 1st International, described how it felt to be a middle-class American.  I went to her presentation in San Francisco last week to hear more about the organization and its work in the developing world.  I left wondering why it is that I can easily plunk down $4 for a latte while someone else can’t even feed his or her family.  I know I won the lottery; what about you?

When it comes to jackpots, we Americans have come out quite well, at least most of us. Water is just one resource where we’ve been lucky. I recently came back from a road trip where my husband and I passed through Palm Springs and a number of other towns out in the deserts of California.  All I could think about was why were these places there, with green lawns and swimming pools.  How could they justify green yards in the desert?  And not a solar panel was in sight.  I’m sure there are homes and buildings with solar panels, but I didn’t see them. Wait, I did see a solar powered trash compactor outside a coffee shop. Solar should be powering homes and businesses in southern California, especially in the desert (though there are wind turbines in the vicinity).  If Los Angeles and surrounding communities hadn’t diverted the Colorado and Owens rivers, these towns would not exist at the scale they do.  But I digress.

Back to Water 1st.  Smith-Nilson recounted the story of a woman she met in Ethiopia who had to walk 14 miles to get brackish water to provide for her family.  She and her 9 or 10 year old daughter bore this burden, carrying what have to be back-breaking containers of water.  Every day. Hours a day are spent accomplishing this task.  Many Ethiopians and families worldwide lose children to preventable water-borne diseases. Globally, it is estimated that 3.5 million people a year, mainly children under 5, die from water-related illnesses. One billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.

The encouraging thing to keep in mind is that groups such as Water 1st, Women’s Earth Alliance, and a host of others are working with communities, and most importantly, empowering them in a sustainable and stable manner.  They are in it for the long haul, not just sweeping in and imposing “first world” ideas on poor and marginalized villages.  People like Smith-Nilson are striving to increase access to clean water and provide adequate sanitation facilities and better hygiene, in order to make a dramatic and much needed improvement for communities and child health.  That would be winning the global lottery jackpot for us all.

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I find myself still thinking about tigers and the rights of nature.

Last year, after I went to India on a study tour with the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, I stayed on a bit longer and visited the state of Rajasthan.  I had a desire to visit one of India’s tiger reserves, especially after having discussed tigers on our tour.  I didn’t have much time, but enough to visit the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar.  This, despite the fact that I was familiar with this particular reserve’s checkered history.  You see in 2004, it was discovered that there were no more tigers in Sariska, due to rampant poaching.  Once it came out that a tiger reserve had no more tigers, a furor arose, and the government brought over a couple of tigers from nearby Ranthambore National Park.  When I visited the reserve in late 2009, there were supposedly three tigers.  Hope springeth eternal, and I thought I might be one of the lucky ones to sight a tiger.  Alas, I was there for only one day, and needless to say, never set eyes on any of the three wild beasts.

I share this trip because last month I read that one of Sariska’s tigers was poisoned by a type of insecticide (by 2010 the tiger population had increased to five).  A local villager has been arrested. Obviously this has raised concerns about the safety of tigers in the park.  There are 28 villages inside Sariska, and now efforts are being stepped up to relocate villagers.  When I visited I was told by a ranger that the people wanted to relocate.  I wondered if that was true and hoped the park was working with the villagers to help them readjust.  While I support protecting tigers, a balance has to be found and all rights — man and nature — upheld.  People need to understand the value of nature but shouldn’t be forcibly displaced from their lands. There is a long history of peoples being forced off land without rights or consultation (such as the Maasai in Keyna or Bushmen in Botswana), causing friction and only short-term solutions.  You can read an excellent article on “conservation refugees” by Mark Dowie, an investigative reporter, in Orion Magazine.

Education is key, and jobs.  For starters, teaching respect for the environment, providing job training as rangers, staff and educators of the reserve, investing in eco-tourism and park protection, and empowering people to better their lives.  Focus on the health of people, communities and wilderness.  We’re all in this together.  There are a lot of people in India, and we need to find a way, there and everywhere else on our planet, to live in balance.  And respect life, all life.

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