Birds of a Feather: Kim Jong-un and Donald J Trump

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

After his first meeting with Kim Jong-un Donald Trump declared: “And then we fell in love, okay? No, really – he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.” Maybe it was a joke, maybe not. At least Trump indicated that he and Kim Jong-un were friends. In his book De Amicitia, written 44 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote “A friend is, as it were, a second self.” Are Trump and Kim Jong-un really friends? At least they seem to have many personal traits in common.

Contrary to Kim Jong-un, Donald J Trump does not appear as particularly mysterious. He is apparently a full-fledged narcissist. The mystery consists of the fact that he has been elected president of the United States and after two years remains in power. Maybe Trump´s allure originates from the fact that his persona mirrors his tough upbringing and privileged class?

Trump grew up in the shadow of a dominant, callous father and took over his economic empire. May that be one reason to why Trump is able to sympathize with Kim Jong-un, who was born privileged, endowed with inadequate empathy and raised in the shadow of a dictatorial father? Nevertheless, Kim Jong-un comes from a completely different environment than Trump, raised as he was within the innermost circle of a totalitarian regime, which twenty years ago observed how a tenth of its oppressed subjects succumbed to a famine, allowed to continue almost unabated while their tightly controlled state machinery spent millions on the well-being of the Kim family and a money devouring nuclear program. This while people who expressed any kind of complaint, or even had tried to get hold of some food for their families, were interned, starved to death and executed. This piece of history, as well as the current existence of deplorable concentration camps, were not mentioned by the propaganda that Trump supporters unfurled in anticipation of his meeting with the Rocket Man.

Trump´s world, like Kim Jong-un´s, consists of a grotesque lie. It is fake, but hardly fake news, we all know that it is all a smoke screen, an illusion constituted by boastfulness and show business. Kim Jong-un´s world is likewise a bizarre sham, where an unpleasant reality is hidden behind imaginative Potemkin façades.

One conspicuous aspect of the North Korean personality cult is the “cultural” interests of the ruling Kim family, which manifests itself primarily through extensive film productions, operas, circus performances and the meticulously choreographed mass gymnastics of the Arirang Festivals. Just like Trump, Kim Jong-un appears to be fascinated by the military parades, mass meetings and beauty contests he grew up with.

It is a mystery that a man like the dictatorial and murderous Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un´s grandfather and founder of North Korea´s ruling dynasty, is said to be the author of the play/novel/opera/movie The Flower Girl, which tells a story of how a beautiful girl is plagued by being born poor and oppressed. How could Kim Il Sung and his successors then behave even worse than the feudal lords he had condemned so passionately? Like the Korean landlords´ rule the Kim dynasty´s power is supported by foreign super powers ̶ China and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) and like the former Korean kings the Kim family lives in luxury, while their underlings subsist in fear and oppression.

Whether The Flower Girl really was written by Kim Il Sung remains an open question. Maybe he was just as much the author of this popular tale as Donald Trump was of The Art of the Deal ̶ i.e. not at all. Nevertheless, The Flower Girl has just like Trump´s The Art of the Deal, which constantly is referred to by his supporters and opponents, become something of a trademark for the Kim dynasty, for example The Flower Girl featured on North Korean banknotes (1 won), while the US president on several occasions has stated that The Art of the Deal is his favourite book, “after the Bible” he likes to add.

After he had cleansed his Worker´s Party from opponents, Kim Il Sung turned his attention to his countrymen. Each citizen was subjected to rigorous background checks and classified in accordance with his/her ancestry and family ̶ parents, grandparents, even first and second cousins, their occupations and beliefs. Had any of them collaborated with the Japanese, South Koreans, or Americans? Were they “pure” Koreans born in the country, or was Japanese or Chinese blood running through their veins? With all likelihood this paranoia subsists under Kim Jong-un and is supported by his propaganda machinery, just as Trump promotes xenophobia and racism to strengthen his own power.

Kim Jong-un´s father, Kim Jong Il, was a movie enthusiast, with a collection of more than 20,000 DVDs, among them his favourites ̶ James Bond movies, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla and action movies from Hong Kong. The latter is a taste he shared with both his son and Donald Trump. USA’s own Great Leader does not get tired of watching his favourite movie Bloodsport, in which Jean-Claude van Damme with great variety kills his opponents during martial art contests staged within underground fighting dens. Like his son, Kim Jong Il was also a great basketball fan and like him he organized a pop group consisting solely of female artists, but unlike Kim Jong-un, he enjoyed their appearance and music only in closed company.

The contemporary North Korean popular music success Moranbong Band, is organized by Kim Jong-un and consists of his personal selection of 20 young women from all over North Korea. With their miniskirts and colourful outlook, Moranbong Band has become a trendsetter in North Korea, where women increasingly are abandoning their drab grey or brown uniforms in synthetic materials, for increasingly colourful outfits. Like Trump, Kim Jong-un likes to surround himself with beautiful, young women, especially those who enthusiastically expose their devotion to him.

Apart from attractive young women, Kim Jong-un is also fascinated by impressive, lavishly looking building projects. Pyongyang increasingly assumes the appearance of an oversized Hollywood film set, like something made for a Disneyland-inspired mastodont movie, a kind of glamour version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Visitors marvel at the city’s vast squares and largely empty boulevards, its pastel-coloured skyscrapers dominated by the gargantuan Ryonyong. This huge, unfinished building was designed by the end of the 1980s and intended to be the world’s largest hotel. An oversized 300 metres high Trump Tower like edifice with 3000 rooms. At the top there would be luxury restaurants and a casino housed within a rotating tower. The building is now a huge shell, covered with glass windows. Very few know what is inside, probably it is empty.

Like Kim Jong-un, Trump is a child of his times and environment. He lives in his own secluded dream world of luxury mansions and golf courses, fascinated by a make-believe existence of glamorous shows, shallow movies and tributes provided by the fake cosiness of his favourite TV-show Fox and Friends and stirred up mass meetings. He does not read any books, receive most of his stimuli in the form of pictures, mainly television. Like Kim Jong-un Trump surrounds himself with syncopates and thrives on fear of foreign invaders. His written means of expression essentially consists of Twitter and the signing of Executive Orders. It would not be surprising if Kim Jong-un is found to be living in a similar sphere of mental seclusion and that he actually has found a friend, i.e. “a second self”, in an equally narcissistic Donald J Trump.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

Preaching World Peace by Day, Peddling Lethal Weapons By Night

UN Security Council in session.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

The Middle East, one of the world’s most politically-volatile and war-ravaged regions, has doubled its arms imports during the past five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The sharp increase in arms purchases has been triggered – directly or indirectly—by several conflicts and civil wars in the region, primarily the devastating four-year-old military conflict in Yemen which has resulted in “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” with more than 5,000 civilians either killed or wounded in 2018.

The latest figures on military sales released by SIPRI March 11 also identifies the world’s five largest arms exporters in 2014–18, namely, the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. (with the exception of Germany, all four are permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with UK, the sixth largest arms exporter).

Together, they accounted for a hefty 75 per cent of the total volume of arms exports in 2014–18.

The Security Council, the most powerful UN body dealing largely with conflict-resolution, relentlessly preaches the message of peace to the world at large– while all five of its permanent members (P-5s) are peddling arms and sustaining conflicts – in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and fuelling the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The warring parties in all of these conflicts are using weapons either from the US, France, UK, China or Russia—or are receiving military intelligence and air support from the five big powers.

One Asian diplomat put it this way: “They are retailing peace while wholesaling arms”.

SIPRI said arms imports by states in the Middle East increased by 87 per cent between 2009–13 and 2014–18 and accounted for 35 per cent of global arms imports in 2014–18.

Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest arms importer in 2014–18, with an increase of 192 per cent compared with 2009–13.

Arms imports by Egypt, the third largest arms importer in 2014–18, tripled (206 per cent) between 2009–13 and 2014–18 while arms imports by Israel (354 per cent), Qatar (225 per cent) and Iraq (139 per cent) also rose between 2009–13 and 2014–18, according to SIPRI.

However, Syria’s arms imports fell by 87 per cent, despite an ongoing eight-year-old civil war in that country which is militarily supported by Russia and China.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Full Professor with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that SIPRI has once again documented the continuing contribution of the major suppliers to a world awash in weaponry, with the United States remaining the primary culprit.

“Because the supply of major conventional weapons is so concentrated, control measures involving the top six suppliers could have a significant effect on the international market”.

Unfortunately, these countries have allowed profits to dominate principles, said Dr Goldring, who is also a Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Duke University Washington DC program.

She said the consequences of the excessive and destabilizing accumulations of weapons are particularly devastating in the Middle East.

“Each year, the US Department of State documents extensive Saudi human rights abuses. Yet the Trump Administration enables these same abuses with its arms transfers. The Trump Administration has also failed to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

She also pointed out that the Trump Administration continues to focus on increasing profits from arms sales, rather than on the human consequences of these sales.

However, there are still reasons for hope.

For example, Members of Congress are moving to restrict US military activities related to the war in Yemen, and to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, said Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Asked about the rise in arms sales to the Middle East, in the context of conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “None of these conflicts need more arms. They need more political commitment to achieving peace for the people”.

Asked about transparency in arms sales, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS
transparency differs among the top-5 arms exporters, USA, Russia, France Germany and China (and the UK as 6th)

All five (plus UK) usually report their exports of major arms to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA).

France, Germany and the UK also report exports of small arms to the UNROCA, and they report similar data to the Arms Trade Treaty secretariat (the other three are not members to the ATT).

But reporting to the UNROCA is not always complete or accurate, and many states do not submit information.

He pointed out that Germany, the UK and France publish annual arms export reports and submit data to the annual EU arms export report.
There is a large amount of data in there, which gives a good overview of the arms exports of these countries, even do they are not always easy to read, said Wezeman.

He said the US has several administrative procedures for arms exports.

Exports in which the US government plays a leading role, either because it involves military aid or selling surplus DoD (Department of Defence) equipment or because it involves what is called Foreign Military Sales (FMS) in which the DoD helps allied states with administering and negotiating arms procurement in the US, such arms exports are generally rather transparent.

The government will release formal announcements when a country officially starts negotiating for a major arms deal and also when the actual contract is signed.

However, when a country buys weapons directly from a US company, with the government only providing the export permit, information will be more scarce.

Wezeman said Russia and China do not publish national arms export reports.

Asked whether there are any restrictions on the use of these weapons by the buyers– for example using them against civilians — or any restrictions on the transfer of these weapons to third parties without the permission of the exporting country, Wezeman said there can be restrictions on end-use.

For example, when Germany supplied armoured vehicles as military aid to Turkey it has at times included a clause that these were not to be used in the East of Turkey, in the war with Kurdish groups.

Last week, it was reported that the US appears to have included a clause that Pakistan not to use its American-made F-16 fighter planes over Kashmir, though exactly what the clause says is not known.

A clause that the weapons are not to be used against civilians is not likely to be included, as using arms deliberately against civilians is already prohibited by international law.

Wezeman said it is common to include clauses that the buyer of arms be not allowed to transfer them to anyone else without the explicit permission from the exporting state.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Nigeria Mourns the Loss of Leading African Academic Who Was in Ethiopian Airlines Crash

Professor Pius Adesanmi was on board the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 that crashed on Sunday with no survivors.

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

Nigeria is mourning along with the rest of the world after the downing of Ethiopian Airlines Flight, which claimed all of the 157 lives onboard. The fatalities included people from 35 countries, 19 United Nations officials and two Nigerians, one of whom was regarded as Africa’s leading academic and labelled a genius by many. 

Professor Pius Adesanmi and Abiodun Bashua, a retired career Ambassador, who was on contract with the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), are being mourned.

Adesanmi, at the time of his death, was a professor at the Institute of African Studies in Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He was on his way to a meeting of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council in Nairobi.

The award-winning writer held dual Nigerian and Canadian citizenship and made his mark in both countries and beyond. This has been manifested in some of the tributes that have been paid to him.

“The contributions of Pius Adesanmi to Carleton are immeasurable,” Pauline Rankin, dean of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said in a statement.

“He worked tirelessly to build the Institute of African Studies, to share his boundless passion for African literature and to connect with and support students,” Ranking said, adding that: “He was a scholar and teacher of the highest calibre who leaves a deep imprint on Carleton.”

In Nigeria, tributes are pouring in for Adesanmi, acknowledging him for being a remarkable writer, literary critic, satirist, and columnist.

Bayo Oluwasanmi, a newspaper columnist described Adesanmi as “a flaming writer with a fiery message of rebuke for the oppressive and wicked governments in Nigeria.”

Oluwasanmi further described Adesanmi as a “watchman with bravura and strong moral fibre committed to a strong sense of right and wrong,” adding that he “writes with the supple grace of a swan and the boldness of a beaver.”

On Adesanmi’s Facebook page one user, Yemi Adeeko, said: “Tribute to a genius Nigerian I never met.”

Another user commented on the photo that Adesanmi posted just before boarding Ethiopian airlines flight along with this comment: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me – Psalm 139:9-10”

Atiba Oluwatosin said in response: “These last words depict your conscious awareness that your destination is a cross over to see your creator face to face. RIP Prof. Of Academics.”

Adesanmi’s genius and great mind was indeed manifest in his regular newspaper columns and in his works.

These include his book “Naija No Dey Carry Last.” The book which is a collection of satirical essays, portray the decay in the Nigerian system, including the persistent lack of a government in the country.

The book shows Adesanmi’s ability to present serious issues in a light-hearted manner that leaves his readers laughing while at the same time feeling sober.

The late academic was born in Isanlu, in Kogi State, Central Nigeria.

He studied for his Masters Degree in Nigeria before going to the University of British Columbia where he bagged a PhD in French Studies in 2002. He joined Carleton University in 2006.

Many who know him are not likely to forget in a hurry a man described as the first leading African academic to use social media as a classroom to test out his ideas and engage with Nigeria.

The Rising Trend of Zero Waste Lifestyles

By Leyla Acaroglu
MELBOURNE, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

Not too long ago, the term “zero waste” was just one of those boring policy directives or catchphrases thrown around by governments.

But in the last few years, ‘going zero waste’ has taken on a new direction as a lifestyle trend of the insta-famous, who are helping to make zero waste a movement that anyone can get involved in.

A “zero-waste lifestyler” is someone who actively reduces their waste consumption, designing their life to avoid acquiring things that will end up as trash – especially disposable and non-recyclable products and packaging.

They usually plan meals in advance to avoid convenience packaging and ensure they always have a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, straw, and carry bags on hand to actively refuse disposable items.

Actually, a life without waste is nothing new: pre-planning meals and taking your own containers, composting organic waste, proactively purchasing reusable products, and even making essentials like soap and toothpaste at home were a normal part of life before the onset of hyper-convenience encouraged the kind of runaway disposability we have now.

Many of the heroes of the zero waste lifestyle movement have incredible stories to tell of only producing one small jar of actual ‘trash’ a year, all through active lifestyle design and adopting everyday lifestyle changes.

In addition to individuals who take measures at home against waste, larger organizations are getting on board with the lifestyle: dedicated zero waste stores and even entire shopping centers have sprung up in major cities around the globe to accommodate the growing trend of plastic-free, package-free, and zero waste consumption.

Major multinational companies have started to embrace the global trend towards sustainability as well. We are seeing leaders in circular economy emerge in some sectors, such as apparel, consumer goods and furniture.

Loop; a circular delivery service, which is set to launch this year with major brand partners, caters to the growing demand for products and services with a zero-waste philosophy.

Ikea recently announced that they would be 100% circular by 2030, and Lego is working on a plastic-free brick.

But walk down the aisles in any supermarket around the world, and it’s obvious that the vast majority of product providers have yet to catch on to this massive cultural shift.

The last eighteen months have proven particularly important for awareness and action: China stopped taking the world’s plastic trash, which sent ripple effects around the world and effectively broke the recycling industry.

Along with the waves of plastic trash washing up on tourist beaches around the world, China’s bold move has helped bring the destructive nature of hyper-consumption to the forefront of people’s minds, and shown that we can’t recycle our way out of our global trash problems.

One of the big issues that the zero waste movement highlights is that recycling is a flawed solution, one which only works effectively when the flow of used materials is captured and reused in similar or higher value products.

This is often not the case, though, and despite two solid decades of zero waste policies, we are still seeing a global increase in trash generation. The World Bank estimates that at the current rate of increase, we will see 70% increase in waste generation by 2050. This is all by design. Waste, whether it be in trash or recycling, is a design flaw.

At the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya March 11-15, the world will gather to discuss the future of global consumption. From government leaders to industry leaders and from activists to innovators – all will be discussing the next phase of sustainable consumption and production.

At the same time, UN Environment is urging people to take a closer look at their own consumption patterns and “think beyond, live within”, through their #solvedifferent campaign. It is a testimony to the momentum of the zero-waste movement and the positive change on the horizon.

In an initiative together with UN Environment, I have been working to develop an “Anatomy of Actions”, showcasing the lifestyle swaps that anyone, anywhere can take to support a more sustainable life.

From the food we eat to what we spend our money on, and from the way we move around to the dreams and aspirations we all have for a better future – there is a suite of actions you can take to support the cultural shifts needed to achieve the sustainable development goals.

Change takes time and is often hard to see whilst we are in the middle of it. But after years of people pushing in all sorts of directions, we are seeing a global tidal wave of action emerge.

The momentum is contagious, and it’s never too late to join the movement. In fact there are five simple actions you can start with today: Swap out meat for plant-based proteins; Ditch everyday disposables such as cups, plates, bags, and take-out containers; Invest in repairable and long-lasting stuff (and make sure to repair it when it needs to be fixed!); Opt for low-carbon mobility options like biking, mass transit, or ridesharing; and move money from high-impact industries to renewables through swapping energy providers, banks, and investment portfolios.

There are many challenges ahead of us when it comes to sustainability, and major corporations are still far behind in the trend of adopting the changes needed to adapt to a circular economy.

But the progress is real, underway and transformative. The question is not if, but when we will see the tipping point where we, as a collective species, start to design goods and services to be a positive influence on the planet.

Access to Water Is a Daily Battle in Poor Neighborhoods in Buenos Aires

Julio Esquivel and two children in the La Casita de La Virgen soup kitchen in Villa La Cava stand next to the filter that removes 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and parasites, with a capacity of up to 12 liters per hour. The purifier became the starting point for raising awareness in this shantytown on the outskirts of the Argentine capital about access to water as a human right. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Julio Esquivel and two children in the La Casita de La Virgen soup kitchen in Villa La Cava stand next to the filter that removes 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and parasites, with a capacity of up to 12 liters per hour. The purifier became the starting point for raising awareness in this shantytown on the outskirts of the Argentine capital about access to water as a human right. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

“Look at this water. Would you drink it?” asks José Pablo Zubieta, as he shows a glass he has just filled from a faucet, where yellow and brown sediment float, in his home in Villa La Cava, a shantytown on the outskirts of Argentina’s capital.

In La Cava, as in all of Argentina’s slums and shantytowns – known here as “villas” – the connections to the water grid are illegal or informal, and it is very common for homes to be left without service. And when the water does flow, it is generally contaminated.

“If we have money, we buy 20-litre jerry cans for drinking and cooking. If we don’t have enough money, we drink the water we have, although there are entire weeks in which it comes out yellow. I’ve already been intoxicated several times,” Zubieta’s wife, Marcela Mansilla, told IPS, with the resignation of someone who has lived with the same situation for as long as she can remember.”The water here comes out with sand and dirt, and it stinks. It’s been like this for years and that’s why it’s common to see kids with pimples, gastroenteritis, diarrhea or worse. In recent years we have had more than 10 cases of tuberculosis and outbreaks of hepatitis.” — Julio Esquivel

At the door of the bare brick house where the couple and their four children live there are some old rusty artifacts, which they picked up in their work as “cartoneros”.

This is the term used in Argentina, for garbage pickers – people excluded from the labour market who every night drag their carts through the streets of the cities and scavenge in search of recyclable materials or other objects that may have some commercial value.

A few meters from where the Zubieta family lives, a community soup kitchen has been operating for 25 years in a single-storey building painted white, where 120 children from La Cava are fed every day and which also functions as a recreational center, with activities aimed at keeping them off the streets.

It is called La Casita de la Virgen and in November 2016, a large blue and red plastic device was installed there, which quickly became very important in the lives of the local residents.

It is a microbiological water purifier designed by a Swiss company that can filter up to 12 litres per hour of contaminated water, eliminating 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and parasites.

The equipment, which does not use electricity or batteries and has been distributed in humanitarian crises in different parts of the world, was installed by the Safe Water Project, a social enterprise founded in Buenos Aires in 2015, which promotes immediate and replicable solutions to the problem of access to water.

The residents of La Cava also participate in activities promoted by the company, in which they talk about and discuss their experiences and needs in terms of water, learn about its cycles, and acquire healthy habits to prevent illnesses due to misuse, all of which strengthens their access to water as a human right.

José Pablo Zubieta shows one of the hoses with which the different houses of Villa La Cava make their informal connections to the grid to get water. The service is available a few hours a day but provides contaminated water to this shantytown of 10,000 people north of the Argentine capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

José Pablo Zubieta shows one of the hoses with which the different houses of Villa La Cava make their informal connections to the grid to get water. The service is available a few hours a day but provides contaminated water to this shantytown of 10,000 people north of the Argentine capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The purifier helps ensure clean water to the children who eat in the soup kitchen, who often bring empty bottles or jugs, so they can take home clean water.

The Safe Water Project, which is financed with contributions from companies, state agencies and civil society organisations, is actives in 21 of the country’s 23 provinces and in Uruguay.

Through this collaborative formula, 2,000 families and more than 800 schools and community centres now have access to safe drinking water, reaching around 100,000 people.

“The water here comes out with sand and dirt, and it stinks,” Julio Esquivel, founder and head of the Casita de la Virgen, told IPS. “It’s been like this for years and that’s why it’s common to see kids with pimples, gastroenteritis, diarrhea or worse. In recent years we have had more than 10 cases of tuberculosis and outbreaks of hepatitis.”

“Contaminated water influences health. I’m not a doctor, but it’s easy to see,” adds Esquivel. He is wearing a T-shirt with the image of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in whose projects to assist the needy he has worked in different cities around the world.

José Pablo Zubieta shows one of the hoses with which the different houses of Villa La Cava make their informal connections to the grid to get water. The service is available a few hours a day but provides contaminated water to this shantytown of 10,000 people north of the Argentine capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

A boy looks at a makeshift drainage channel that runs through Villa La Cava, a slum located in the north of Greater Buenos Aires, in San Isidro, a municipality that blends extreme poverty with luxurious mansions home to some of Argentina’s wealthiest families. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Esquivel is what is known in Catholicism as a consecrated layman: he took a vow of poverty and solidarity with the poor and today lives in a small house in La Cava, the same place where he was born 53 years ago.

“Before they brought us the filter, I tried to boil the water, despite the high cost of the cooking gas, or to add a few drops of bleach to purify it. The filter was a big change for us,” he said.

La Cava is located in San Isidro, one of the 24 municipalities making up Greater Buenos Aires, which has a population of around 14 million people, over one-third of the country’s population.

In the poor suburbs surrounding Buenos Aires, Argentina’s most complex and unequal area, there are 419,401 families living in 1,134 slums, according to official data from 2016. This number marks a phenomenal growth in 15 years: there were 385 villas in 2001, the year of an economic collapse that left hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

A visitor to La Cava, home to more than 10,000 people on some 18 hectares, gets a quick x-ray of Argentina’s social reality: to get to the villa you must first cross tree-lined avenues flanked by walls that protect large mansions, where some of the richest families in Argentina live.

They of course have access to clean piped water, just like in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires proper.

In La Cava, however, local resident Ramona Navarro told IPS that “people got used to washing clothes and dishes at night, because during the day the water almost never runs.”

Outside a house are seen a cart and some of the odd objects found by garbage pickers, the informal work on which many of the people of La Cava, a shantytown on the north side of Buenos Aires, depend. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Outside a house are seen a cart and some of the odd objects found by garbage pickers, the informal work on which many of the people of La Cava, a shantytown on the north side of Buenos Aires, depend. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

She and her neighbour María Elena Arispe said that on the hottest days of this southern hemisphere summer, in response to people’s protests, the government of the Municipality of San Isidro sent several trucks one afternoon, which distributed two jerry cans of water to each house – barely a bandaid solution for a situation that is as serious as it is chronic.

The trucks can only drive down the main streets of La Cava, which is full of narrow passageways where children and skinny dogs play in the mud that is formed by the un-channeled drains from the houses.

The lack of clean water and sanitation is a reality that plagues every villa in the country.

In fact, in January, after residents of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires complained about the stench, professionals from the faculty of Community Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires found bacteriological contamination in the water and warned about serious health risks.

That is what motivated Nicolás Wertheimer, a young doctor, to create the Safe Water Project.

“I started working at a hospital in Greater Buenos Aires and when I saw that diarrhea caused by contaminated water was one of the main causes of death among children under five, I wanted to do something,” Wertheimer told IPS.

According to official data, 84 percent of the population of Argentina has access to piped water, but that is no guarantee that the resource is reliable.

“The homes in the shantytowns have the service thanks to informal connections, which generate interruptions in the flow of the network and then often contaminate it,” Wertheimer said.

“In the city of Buenos Aires, the majority of society does not recognise the lack of access to drinking water as a problem. But anyone who has worked in the area of health knows that it is a very serious problem,” said the doctor.

Q&A: Inventor from a Small Fishing Village in Saint Lucia Provides Hope for Water Woes

Karlis Noel has invented the Eastern Caribbean’s first solar-powered, mobile desalination plant.

By Alison Kentish
CASTRIES , Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

Karlis Noel spends his days in his lab in the small, picturesque community of Laborie in St. Lucia. The former fisherman’s story might sound like an overnight success, but his present accolades in the field of engineering are the result of years of hard work and an unceasing drive to make life easier for communities in the throes of a water crises.

Noel was not able to complete primary school, but he never allowed that to interfere with his thirst for knowledge. The self-taught inventor, with a knack for engineering, is receiving acclaim for building the Eastern Caribbean’s first solar-powered, mobile desalination plant. With a grant from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program (GEF-SGP) to the Laborie Fishers and Consumers Cooperative Project, Noel was able to build the facility, which can produce 1,000 gallons of water daily.

The facility is a marvel to behold. It is located near the ocean, opens up ‘transformers-style’ to get the desalination process going andif there is a storm, it can be folded up, taken away and stored in a safe place until the all-clear is given.

In 2018, Noel built a second generation desalination facility for the Government of Nauru in the Pacific, a country beset with problems sourcing potable water. His determination to help solve the water crises was recently recognised by the Government of St. Lucia. Noel received the Saint Lucia Les Pitons Medal (Gold) for having performed long and meritorious service in the field of entrepreneurship and community development.

IPS spoke to Noel from his lab about his plans for the future, the destination for his next solar-powered mobile desalination unit and why he always has Dominica in mind when hammering away on his units. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): Your solar-powered, mobile desalination unit is creating waves and has made it across the world to help the country of Nauru deal with its water crisis. Did you ever think that your invention would one day help nations?

Karlis Noel (KN): I knew it was going to make waves, but what surprised me was the short space of time it took to gain such wide appeal, after the very first video of the facility hit social media. It’s such a good feeling to help a country that needs potable water. I didn’t do it with money in mind, I wanted to help, to make a difference. Just knowing that I can assist in this way is an accomplishment for me.

IPS: Walk me through the process. How exactly does the system work? What sets it apart from other desalination facilities?

KN: Desalination in itself is not new. Reverse osmosis is not new. It is mature technology. What makes this system different is that it is fully mobile and solar powered and there is no brine discharged into the sea. There is a waste management system.

The other thing is that the latest system I developed works on a very broad spectrum. So it can purify anything from fresh water to highly saline water, making it possible to use it by the sea or the river or any source of contaminated water. That’s what makes it unique.

IPS: Tell me about the original problem that your community of Laborie faced, which gave rise to this invention?

KN: Strangely, during droughts we have no water, but one would think that when it rains we actually have a lot of water, but this is not the case. When it rains, the water company has to shut down the system due to debris etc, so we have a situation where when there’s drought we are without and when it rains we are also without water.

IPS: Can this facility help other communities facing water crises?

KN: Definitely, but there is also an issue that I have noted from my research work with farmers. The sea water levels are rising and this means that salt water is entering our rivers at a faster rate. The farmers in some communities (for example Roseau in St. Lucia) are faced with a serious problem as they can no longer irrigate their crops with water from the river. Farmers in the community of Black Bay (south of St. Lucia) are facing a similar problem. We are now getting salt water, two miles into the river. So this presents another aspect of the water scarcity issue, with salt water taking over our rivers. Eventually these communities will need a machine like this to ensure there is fresh water to irrigate fields.

IPS: How do you see it helping post disaster in our region?

KN: This is the bigger goal of this project. What I’m trying to do right now is shrink the facility. If I can make it both smaller and more efficient, for example being able to get 10,000 or 20,000 gallons of fresh water a day from a much smaller unit, this would be ideal.

It means it can be easily deployed post-disaster. This is important to me because we are going to get more severe storms. It is will be necessary to have smaller, more affordable systems with higher output.

My dream is to design a unit that can fit in the back of a car, easily put on board a helicopter, for easy transportation to any community or country that needs it.

For some reason, when I’m designing, I have Dominica in mind. I know what that country went through following the devastation of Hurricane Maria and I want to ensure that I can do my part to help any sister island in their time of need.