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Gianna Gruen | Ideas

Stop food waste for climate’s sake

No question, food waste is not good at all. Now, the FAO expressed in numbers how bad it really is – for climate and environment. So, if you need some astonishing reasons to change something – here you go:

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In total, one third of the world’s food production is wasted or lost each year.


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The carbon footprint of the food wasted is 3.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent – which makes food waste the third biggest CO2 emitter after the US and China.


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The fresh water we are wasting by wasting food equals 250 km³ – three times the volume of the Lake Geneva and enough to meet the water demand of all people in the world.


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Growing the amount of wasted food occupied a 1.4 billion hectares of land which equals about 30 percents of the world’s agricultural land or the land area of China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan altogether.

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If you are more a economist kind of person: the economic loss that comes along with this extensive food waste is 750 billion US-Dollar or in other words: the GDP of Switzerland, one of Europe’s stablest economies.


If you know think this it not your problem to solve but a task for companies and politicians – you are, well, not wrong, but not right neither. Here’s a little video produced by the FAO that shows, what can be done.


September 21, 2013



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claudij | Specials

Water blog Part III – An ocean full of solutions?

Water Drop

Credit: flickr/foshydog (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the third and final part of our blog series on water, Julian Claudi looks at initiatives, small and big, around the world that try to tackle the water crisis by advocating more sustainable and efficient uses of water but also various techniques to obtain clean water.

Let’s listen to Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist, environmental activist, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’) and author of the book “Water Wars” summing up the problem of the water crisis in India and how it echoes the global water crisis. Shiva addresses both – communities and water companies:


So, for India – and the world – what are the ways out?

“Governments must make a concerted effort to invest inimproving water infrastructure and management […] We must also engage communities, the private sector and civil society in promoting water conservation and water reuse.”

This is Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in her speech at the 2010 Asia-Pacific Water Ministers’ forum. She called for

“…the use of simple technologies such as drip agriculture, climate appropriate cropping, rainwater harvesting and grey water reuse [which] can go a long way in increasing our water eco-efficiency.”

But can the world wait for governments to finally start doing “the job” more comprehensively?

It looks like a global solution may be some way off, yet. But there are plenty of grassroots initiatives. Barefoot College in India is an example.

The Barefoot College experts are employing an impressive range of different techniques to obtain clean water: Rain water harvesting (RWH) tanks, dams, solar powered reverse osmosis (R/O) water desalination plants, wells and ponds for ground water recharge obtain clean water.

Some of these work well at a local level, but may not be feasible on large scales. In the case of reverse osmosis (R/O) water desalination plants, it would raise serious concerns:

Ocean water desalination harms marine ecosystems, promotes unsound coastal zone management, wastes energy, and impacts human health […and] has a poor track record”,

claims Food & Water Watch, a the Washington, D.C.-based consumer rights NGO, in a special report on reverse osmosis/water desalination:

“Ocean desalination ignores the fact that the water shortages […] are not due to a lack of natural water resources, but rather to shortsighted water policy that focuses on finding new water resources instead of managing existing resources wisely.”

But more sustainable solutions may be facing an uphill struggle. Large-scale desalination is projected to become a highly traded commodity on global markets soon.

“Depleting water supplies, coupled with increasing water demand, are driving the global market for desalination technology, which is expected to reach $52.4 billion by 2020, up 320.3% from $12.5 billion in 2010.“

But even if the trading floors love desalination, the Pacific Institute, an US non-profit research institute, adds that

Perhaps the greatest barrier to desalination remains its high economic cost compared to alternatives, including other sources of supply, improved wastewater reuse, and especially more efficient use and demand management.

It recommends that

Communities should consider whether there are less energy-intensive options available to meet water demand, such as through conservation and efficiency, water reuse, brackish water desalination, storm water capture, and rainwater harvesting.

Even wastewater recycling doesn’t appear to be entirely free of side effects, as Vivian Futran, Project Manager and PhD Student at Ben Gurion University in Israel points out here:

“For example, the types of sewage treatment used historically may not remove all micro-contaminantsincluding endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), a class of chemicals that can affect human development and reproductive functions.

She concludes that

“Wastewater recycling is a relatively young technology that, while helping tackle some obvious water-related problems in Israel and elsewhere, may present dangers which still have not been fully characterized.”

Sounds like more research needs to be done. But here’s another, and encouraging example:

“Countries in the Middle East, such as Israel, and Jordan, have already transformed their agriculture [with this system] “, said Stravato. But in the Sahel, drip irrigation, which is almost a minor revolution, is only just getting going.”

Another idea is to collect fog to harvest freshwater from it – a technique that requires no on-going energy input and is considered to have a positive outcome also in connection with reforestation. Have a look at some promising projects here:

Meanwhile, “Citizen Matters” an independent local collaborative online magazine in Bangalore, India’s third most populous city, reminds us that it is vital to be careful with existing water reservoirs. For instance, aquifers – soil layers holding water – should be replenished by rainwater harvesting (RWH) and must not be permanently exploited:

“We need to replenish this water as it is finite and the best method found so far is RWH. Just digging a borewe- well and exploiting all the water is an uneducated move. Use all in your power to replenish the water table mainly with RWH and this can help maintain a good source of clean and fresh water, with the future in mind. ”

A good example to close our blog series. We hope we could shed some light on the complex issue of the global water crisis and the initiatives to address it. Everywhere something can be done on various levels to improve the situation and to make sure the right to clean and fresh water for everyone doesn’t remain a theory.


July 22, 2013



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claudij | Specials

Water blog Part II – should water be privatized?

 Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: whologwhy/ the second part of our special blog series on water, Julian Claudi asks – is it necessary to privatize water, what are the different approaches around the world and what has happened in instances where a private corporation has indeed got its hands on the neighborhood pump or the household tap?

To pick a prominent example of the kind of passions and conflicts water privatization can unleash, let’s go back to the year 2000 – to Bolivia. There, the Andean city of Cochamaba erupted in protest after a private, foreign-led consortium took over the city’s water system. The previous year, in September 1999, the Bolivian government privatized the water supply in Cochamaba and allocated the rights to Aquas del Tunari, an affiliated company of Bechtel Corporation (Bechtel Group) which is ranked as the fifth-largest privately owned company in the US.

It must be said that Cochabamba suffered from a chronic water shortage. Most of the poorest neighborhoods were not hooked up to the network, so state subsidies to the water utility went mainly to industries and middle-class neighborhoods. In the World Bank’s view, it was a city that was crying out for water privatization.In a nutshell, the World Bank threatened to freeze credit to Bolivia if it did not privatize water.

But the consequences for the people were drastic – Aquas del Tunari raised the water rates many times over, which led to a national uprising. As a result, the Bolivian government backtracked and disbanded the contract with the company. In turn, Bechtel tried to sue Bolivia for over $50 million in compensation. Battered by several years of bad publicity, Bechtel finally settled the $50 million lawsuit for a symbolic amount of about 30 cents on January 19, 2006.

To get a glimpse of what happened in Bolivia in 2000, it’s worth watching “Abuela Grillo,“ an animated short film by a group of Bolivian artists which is based on the events in Cochamaba as well as on a myth from the Bolivian lowlands and deals in a metaphorical way with the issue:

Abuela Grillo from Denis Chapon on Vimeo.

The European Union may be far away from such a scenario nowadays, but there are already over one million Europeans who have signed the citizen’s initiative “Water is a human right“. Their biggest worry is that the EU will privatize European waterworks in the mid-term and through the back door.

The reason for the concerns are a much quoted proposal from the EU Commission to change a concessions directive to bring more market competition between public and private water suppliers “to ensure that EU companies have access to business opportunities and that public authorities get the best value for money.”

At the same time, the Commission insisted repeatedly in several press releases earlier this year that “the proposed directive will therefore not lead, under any circumstances, to imposed privatization of water services.”  So will that really be the case? Not exactly, according to the non-profit foundation and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). It says the planned directive on concessions of the EU commission could have unforeseen consequences.

“Municipalities who have some form of private participation in their water supply, even a small part, would have to offer their water contracts for EU-wide bidding. This would give private water multinationals like Suez and Veolia new opportunities to expand,” the group says.

At the end of June this year, the EU Commission then unexpectedly said it would reconsider its position in light of “the concerns expressed by so many citizens.”

It’s probably not the last word in the public discussion about water privatization in the European context. Meanwhile, in many places around the world, water privatization is already a hot button issue with various models and strategies being discussed, practiced and fought against.

Advocates of privatization have many arguments. A common one is that “private entrepreneurs are more efficient in increasing access to clean drinking water and have more technological skills and more assets for investment.”

Another is that privatization is the right thing in general if “a government that is strong enough to uphold regulations and to force the private company to do a good job.”

Meanwhile, opponents have their own list of convincing points – mainly that the environmental price for privatization is simply too high. “Privatization has been accompanied by the degradation of water quality, increase in water loss, deterioration of infrastructure and increase in prices,” according to some.

There are yet other, more moderate voices that suggest that say that water must have a certain price to avoid ongoing water scarcity in many places. The Irish think tank, Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), for instance, comes to the conclusion that “water pricing” is an option which must be considered:

Another school of thought sees a constructive solution in re-municipalization – that means putting the water supply back in public hands. That’s what happened in Paris and Argentina:

A project from Greece called “Initiative 136” takes a different tack. It’s an attempt at a third way by avoiding both water privatization as well as public-private-partnerships.

“The idea is that if every water user bought a non-transferable share, ‘the public could own the water company through a system of neighbourhood co-operatives of water users coming together through a single overall co-operative.’136 euros is the figure you get from dividing the 60 million euros for which the company is to be put on the stock market by the number of water meters in the city.”

At the time, activists from the citizen campaign “Human Right to Water” are going in the same direction but aiming at high level EU institutions directly. “We are taking up the challenge to get implementation of the human right to water and sanitation’ on the European political agenda,” they say.

Meanwhile in Bolivia, residents of Cochabamba’s southern zones “frustrated with both the private and public water management models,[…] are increasingly relying on traditional community-run water systems as an alternative.”

There are a host of players involved in the water privatization debate – public state supply advocates, private companies, public-private-partnerships and cooperative citizen shareholder movements. They all have their own concepts about how access to water can be best ensured. In the best case, the different ideas will merge into a sustainable and resilient supply system and contribute to a fair and free global right to water distribution for everyone.

Surely this goal is only achievable under the premise of a local and global framework of sustainability and participation and not with an overarching focus on profit.



July 12, 2013



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claudij | Ideas

Water blog Part I – can virtual water tackle a looming crisis?

The “water footprint” is the total amount of water used to produce goods and services (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Thor/

In 2010, UN Resolution 64/292 explicitly recognized the human right to clean water and sanitation, acknowledging that they are essential to the realization of all human rights. The numbers are staggering. The UN claims that 783 million people had no access to clean water in 2012.

But according to Asit Biswas, a former member of the World Commission on Water, the real figures are probably much higher.  “Look at South Asia alone. Some 1.7 billion people live in this region. I challenge anyone to show me a single city or village where people have access to clean water. My guess is that some 2.3 billion people are now without access to clean water”,  Biswas told The European.

So is the world fast running out of clean water, or is it all a question of better water management? And if so what could it look like? This three-part blog series by Julian Claudi will focus on several proposed and partly tried and tested methods and techniques for improving the situation.

We start off by taking a closer look at virtual water trading and real water trading. What’s the deal with these concepts? They’re not really new terms and a lot has been said and done about them for several years. But could they become tools for a solution?

The Virtual Water conceptreveals how much water it takes to produce any product. It refers to the “hidden” water use embedded in products and helps us realize how much water is needed to produce the goods we use and the food we eat. For instance, for one cup of coffee about 140 liters of water is needed. That includes the water used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the beans that went into that cup of coffee. Read more:

Few are aware of the “hidden” amounts of water that goes into the goods and food we consume daily (Photo credit: Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Ian Murphy/

Virtual water trade refers to the flow of water if food or other commodities are traded from one place to another. That means there is a virtual flow of water from producing and exporting countries to countries that consume and import those commodities.

A new study by the EU commission has shown that agricultural products are by far the largest drain on water resources.  It says that the consumption water footprint of the average EU citizen is 4,815 litres per day, 40 percent of which is the result of imports from other countries, mainly cocoa, coffee and cotton. Comparing imports and exports showed that the EU28 is a net importer of ‘virtual’ water.

John Anthony Allen, a British geographer is widely credited with creating and popularizing the idea of “virtual water” with his book, Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to our Planet’s Most Precious Resources.  “Our ignorance is immense,”  Allen has said. “Most of us don’t have the slightest idea about the sheer volumes of water involved in our daily lives.” He was awarded the the Stockholm Water Prize in 2008 for his contributions.

So would it make sense to use virtual water calculations for a global trading system? Opinions are divided. Much like the criticism surrounding carbon emission trading between industrialized nations and developing ones,  critics of the virtual water trade concept argue that several aspects carry negative consequences for the poorest countries like rising dependency on external water resources or the possibility given by trade to “exploit” water resources in other parts of the world.

A paper written for Germany’s Helmholtz Center for Environment Research  says global interlinkages of water resources induced by trade can worsen gaps between nations.

“Feelings of unfairness arise due to the fact that those countries which are endowed with the most abundant water resources and thus are able to supply virtual water to the arid countries of the South (the Big Five), belong to the group of wealthy industrial countries, which are able to influence agricultural trade in many ways. On the one hand, high levels of protection in the form of tariffs and quotas, especially of the European Union, the USA and Japan, are criticised for being a major constraint for ‘the development of the virtual water market’”.

In contrast, hydrologist Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, sees the virtual water system as a water saving solution, concluding “that in most scenarios the total amount of virtual water trade will decrease by 2030, but the amount of water saved as a result of the trade will increase.

The whole virtual water phenomenon has also led to a debate on water trading markets, which some say have the potential to revolutionize the way water is managed.

Yet, the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) says in the study “Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia” that allocation of water should not be based on commodification and economic efficiency alone.

“The national water sector reforms underway in many countries should consider the hidden costs of existing market based approaches, and should be premised on the notion of water as a commons, available first and foremost for public purposes (including the realization of right to water and right to food).”

Millions of people around the world lack access to clean water (Photo credit:CC BY 2.0: John O’Nolan/

Finally, one thing most experts seem to agree on is that the virtual water concept does raise awareness about the daily water consumption in the western world. 

But at the same time it appears that as long as the concept of virtual water is inextricably linked with the current prevalent global economic trade system, there is always the risk of an ineffectiveness of the system causing unjust financial advantages and a distraction from the search for other solutions.

Some experts such as Maude Barlow, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, warn of water’s close links to the international trading system.

“We’ve got to stop thinking that the water wars of the future will be on a battlefield somewhere, they’re going to be on the grain markets, the stock markets and grain trading as part of the international trading system. It is about the water that has been pulled into this profit-making mostly food production and it’s very dangerous,” Barlow said.


July 5, 2013



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Global Ideas Reporter | Reporter's Log

The equatorial water flow mystery

The sink water spin mystery from DW_Global Ideas on Vimeo.

Our reporter Joanna was very surprised when she found out which way water drains away when she was filming at the Equatorial Line in Uganda. Can you guess what happened?


March 5, 2013



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