Permaculture feeds and empowers refugees in Uganda

January 18, 2019 by  
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Refugees arrive at Palabek refugee camp in Northern Uganda with the clothes on their back and what little they carried. New arrivals, many from South Sudan, receive a tarp, tent poles, a water can, a cooking pot and a ration card for enough food to make starvation a slower process. While aid agencies swarm Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 26 percent of the world’s refugee population, few make their desired impact. But African Women Rising (AWR) is having startling success. The organization educates women and girls in Northern Uganda, schooling them in literacy, micro-finance and agriculture . Within Palabek, the nonprofit’s lessons in permaculture may make the difference between people surviving the camp and eventually thriving in a new home or not. Seeds and tools Permaculture is small-scale agriculture designed to be sustainable and self-sufficient. AWR developed the permagarden program at Palabek “as an antidote to the widespread seeds and tools offerings of most NGOs, especially in refugee settings,” said founders Linda and Tom Cole. “There’s a seldom-challenged maxim within the humanitarian sector that if you provide a refugee with some packets of seeds and a few tools, she might translate that into a regular supply of food for the family.” But the Coles have seen this approach fail, primarily because of poor soil fertility and lack of water. Instead, AWR provides a deeper agricultural education for refugees.  “It focuses on building understanding around the basic principles of water and soil biology, and then uses a design framework to help the farmer understand the best way to capture rainwater and enrich the soil using locally available — and often waste — materials such as manure, wood ash, tree leaves and charcoal dust.” Related: Nonprofit teaches communities how to build homes out of straw, clay and soil When AWR started at Palabek, they trained about 20 people. Now, more than 6,000 South Sudanese refugee families cultivate vegetables here. The permagardeners at Palabek learn to harvest water and capture waste streams to enhance the fertility and productivity of their 30m by 30m plots. They manage existing trees , plant new ones and cultivate living fences and biomass plantings that provide materials for building, pest remedies, dry season nutrition and medicine. “This helps reduce pressures on the environment — such as the collection of fuelwood, gathering of wild foods, burning of charcoal — that will continue to worsen as time goes on, exacerbating tensions between host communities and refugees,” the Coles told Inhabitat. “Strengthening the ecological base of food systems also reduces vulnerability across time by shoring up resilience in the face of climate instability and extreme weather events.” Permagardening is not a magic solution. The refugees don’t learn it in a day. Instead, refugee farmers participate in a series of trainings throughout the growing season. Local field staff called community mobilizers regularly monitor the gardens and troubleshoot problems as necessary. Why women? The Coles founded their nonprofit in 2006 to empower African women rebuilding their lives after war. “AWR’s vision is to build social, economic and political equality for women and girls in Africa,” the Coles said. The small-but-mighty nonprofit’s programs help Northern Ugandan women to improve their lives through increased food production, natural resource management, financial security and education. Women traditionally care for children and keep households going, and therefore carry heavy post-war burdens. As Ugandan women try to feed families, they contend with financial lack and environmental challenges including deforestation , drought, erosion, water shortages and climate change . AWR works with the most vulnerable of vulnerable women: widows, formerly abducted women and girls, ex-combatants, girl mothers, orphans, those who are HIV-positive and grandmothers taking care of orphans, all of whom earn less than a dollar a day. Most have had little or no formal education and are stigmatized for their disadvantages. AWR is adamant about the women themselves being actively involved in decision-making. Before launching programs, AWR partners with community-based groups to find out what the women themselves want and need, then make plans to carry that out. “There was broad consensus that education, savings and agriculture should be the foundation of recovery,” Linda and Tom said. Once programs are up and running, community mobilizers meet weekly with program participants to monitor progress. Money is power, and so is literacy In addition to agricultural projects, AWR is the major player in adult literacy in Northern Uganda. AWR runs 34 literacy centers serving more than 2,000 adults in Northern Uganda. With literacy comes power. Nearly 50 students and staff members at the centers, dismayed by a lack of trustworthy candidates, have run for public office. Two-thirds won. AWR also runs a micro-finance program that teaches financial literacy to women. Participants learn record keeping, basic business skills and strategies for saving money, and they gain access to capital. “AWR groups saved more than $1 million last year,” the founders said. “Groups are on track to save more than $2 million this year, $0.50 to $0.75 at a time.” Related: The farmers growing food across frigid northern latitudes Within the refugee camp at Palabek, the rows of vegetables thriving in the permagardens are a welcome contrast to the bleak expanse of red dirt and a rationed diet of maize, beans, oil, sugar and salt. The permagardens also provide a symbol of hope for the future. “Most refugees arriving in Palabek have lost many of the friends and family structures that were relied upon previously for social support,” the Coles told Inhabitat.  “Apart from providing food for the family and some residual income, the most profound effect of AWR’s programs is to help rebuild those layers of social capital.  Extra food to provide to neighbors. Some small money for school fees or church offerings. Female mentors and role models.” They hope to have the same success in the intense poverty and displacement of the refugee camp as they’ve had throughout post-war Northern Uganda. “AWR began its work in one of the most aid-dependent areas of the world. We have the long-term goal of shifting this paradigm from complete dependency to one of engagement and personal capacity.” If you are interested in supporting AWR in its efforts, donations can be made here . + AWR Photography by Brian Hodges Photography, Thomas Cole and Macduff Everton via AWR

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Permaculture feeds and empowers refugees in Uganda

The Netherlands is converting prisons into homes for refugees

June 22, 2017 by  
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Unlike the United States of America, the prison population and crime rate in the Netherlands has been steadily decreasing for years. As a result, the country’s government is repurposing correctional facilities into housing for refugees who are waiting to be granted asylum status — a process that usually takes a minimum of six months. Not only will the refugees not be required to work, they will be supplied with educational materials to learn Dutch, ride bicycles and build connections within the local community. After the number of migrants exceeded 50,000 in one year alone in the Netherlands, the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) proposed a solution for the overflow of refugees: transform empty prisons into temporary housing for families and individuals escaping war. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and photographer Muhammed Muheisen captured the scoop by dedicating the past two years to photographing the refugee crisis as people traversed across continents. After hearing rumors that penitentiaries were being converted to house migrants in the Netherlands, his interest was piqued. He told National Geographic , “I didn’t exactly understand. I thought they feel like they are in prisons.” Related: Green roof with bee hotel tops energy-neutral fair trade building in the Netherlands After waiting six months to get permission to visit the prison and take photos, Muheisen spent 40 days touring three different facilities, meeting residents and documenting their lives. “We’re talking about dozens of nationalities,” he said. “Dozens. The whole world is under this dome.” The refugees will be able to live in the centers for a minimum of six months and are free to come and go as they please. Additionally, they are supplied with resources needed to acclimate to the new country, learn Dutch and even ride bicycles. According to one Syrian man, the prison gives him hope for his future. The refugee told Muheisen, “If a country has no prisoners to put in jail, it means this is the safest country that I want to be living in.” Via National Geographic Images via Wikipedia , Wikimedia

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The Netherlands is converting prisons into homes for refugees

Sweden passes law to become carbon neutral by 2045

June 22, 2017 by  
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Sweden just took a huge step towards becoming even greener than they already are. A new law passed by the country’s parliament will slash carbon emissions all the way down to zero by 2045. The move makes Sweden the first country to upgrade its carbon goals since the 2015 Paris Agreement . A cross-party committee prepared the law, which then passed with an overwhelming majority, bringing the goal to become carbon neutral from 2050 down to 2045, and puting in place an independent Climate Policy Council. The law calls for an action plan that will be updated every four years. Related: Norway moves up zero emissions target to 2030 According to New Scientist, Sweden already obtains 83 percent of its electricity from hydropower and nuclear energy . They met a goal to obtain 50 percent of energy from renewables eight years before their target. They’ll work to meet this new carbon neutral objective in part by focusing on transportation , such as through increasing use of vehicles powered by electricity or biofuels . Sweden aims to slash domestic emissions by a minimum of 85 percent. And they’ll offset any other emissions by planting trees or investing in sustainable projects in other countries. Femke de Jong, European Union Policy Director at Carbon Market Watch , said Sweden has a high chance of success, and other countries in Europe could follow suit. “With the Trump decision to get out of the Paris Agreement, Europe is more united than ever and wants to show leadership to the world,” de Jong said. Public resistance can be an obstacle to cutting emissions, but according to New Scientist in Sweden there’s an unusually high amount of support for environmentally friendly policies. But de Jong warned the country must also show leadership in forests, not simply emissions. They were recently accused along with France, Finland, and Austria of attempting to weaken rules to obscure emissions from burning wood and deforestation . Via New Scientist Images via Håkan Dahlström on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Sweden passes law to become carbon neutral by 2045

Astrophysicist warns asteroid strike is not a matter of if, but when

June 22, 2017 by  
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We humans have done a pretty good job of trashing the Earth all by ourselves, but we don’t often stop to consider external threats – like asteroids . A 1908 asteroid explosion over Tunguska, Siberia ravaged 800 square miles, and Queen’s University Belfast astrophysicist Alan Fitzsimmons said another asteroid collision is simply a matter of time, which could have devastating consequences if we remain unprepared. He said most of us don’t think about asteroids as a threat to our existence. We now remember the day of the 1908 asteroid strike as Asteroid Day . It’s June 30, and Fitzsimmons is joining other experts like physicist Brian Cox and International Space Station astronaut Nicole Stott to call attention to the threat. Fitzsimmons says it’s not a matter of if an asteroid will impact the Earth, but when. He said a strike like the Tunguska one today could demolish a mayor city – and a larger asteroid strike could be even more devastating. Related: NASA rolls out new asteroid detection program to defend Earth from destructive meteors Fitzsimmons said in a statement, “Astronomers find Near-Earth Asteroids every day and most are harmless. But it is still possible the next Tunguska would take us by surprise, and although we are much better at finding larger asteroids, that does us no good if we are not prepared to do something about them.” He said experts have gotten much better about detecting Near-Earth Asteroids, and have found more than 1,800 objects that could be potentially hazardous. But there are more out there – and we need to be prepared. Fitzsimmons is part of a European Research Council-funded project, NEOshield-2, whose mission is to figure out how to deflect the hazardous asteroids. Asteroid Day events will be live streamed here . There will be conversations with space agencies like NASA and a Neil deGrasse Tyson-narrated video series on scientists laboring to protect Earth from asteroids, to name a few. The organization says it will be the first 24-hour live broadcast about space ever. Via Queen’s University Belfast Images via Asteroid Day

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Astrophysicist warns asteroid strike is not a matter of if, but when

Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

January 19, 2017 by  
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Building refugee housing often means fast construction at the expense of beauty and quality, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we take German architect Werner Sobek’s work as any indication. Sobek and the company Aktivhaus recently completed a modular development for 200 Syrian refugees in the German town of Winnenden. Prefabricated in a factory and swiftly assembled on site like Legos, the bright and airy homes are attractive enough for anyone to want to call home. Faced with an influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war , the German town of Winnenden turned to Sobek for a quick way to set up a housing estate for around 200 people in the Schelmenholz district. The development also needed to be flexible enough to be converted for different uses in the future and to be easily expanded on or deconstructed. To minimize costs, construction time, and waste, Sobek installed 38 prefabricated modules from Aktivhaus’ 700 Series. Each 60-square-meter module is constructed using timber frame construction and is stacked to create two stories. The airtight walls, clad in larch , are made with high levels insulation—consisting of hemp and wood fibers—to minimize energy demands. Most materials used are resource conserving and recyclable, with minimal concrete used. The windows are sealed with rubber strips instead of toxic polyurethane foam. Related: Sobek’s Activhaus produces enough green power to light up the house next door Sobek estimates that the modules could last hundreds of years if they are well cared for. The Winnenden development is intended as refugee housing for three years, after which they will be converted into social housing. The development also includes a technology module, two community rooms, and a multifunctional space with washing machines and dryers. The project was initiated and completed last year. + Werner Sobek Via Treehugger , zvw.de Images © Zooey Braun

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Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

Tesla’s Gigafactory is getting a $350 million upgrade to build Model 3 parts

January 19, 2017 by  
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Tesla ‘s massive Gigafactory near Sparks, Nevada is expanding weeks after kicking off production of lithium-ion batteries . The electric carmaker and clean energy storage company is planning to invest $350 million in a project to manufacture electric motors and gearboxes for the Model 3 — Tesla’s first affordable EV, which is priced at $35,000 before tax incentives and is expected to hit the assembly line this year. Tesla will hire an additional 550 people for the project on top of the 6,500 workers the company has already committed to employing at the Gigafactory. The expansion news was revealed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval during his State of the State address on Tuesday and confirmed by Tesla. Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, told the newspaper the Nevada Appeal that he expects Tesla will eventually have 10,000 workers at the site, which when completed will be the biggest building in the world with a footprint of 10 million square feet. According to Tesla, the Gigafactory will indirectly create another 20,000 to 30,000 jobs in the surrounding area. Related: Tesla to power Gigafactory with world’s largest solar rooftop installation Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s goal is to make 500,000 mostly Model 3 electric cars by the end of 2018 and one million EVs by 2020. The cars are assembled at the company’s Fremont, California factory. The city recently approved a major expansion of the facility that includes 11 new buildings covering 4.6 million square feet of manufacturing space. The city anticipates that the factory expansion will increase employment by 3,100 workers. Tesla is also planning to build a second gigafactory in Europe, with the location still to be announced. Gigafactory 2 will manufacture both lithium-ion batteries and electric cars. + Tesla Via CNBC Images via Tesla , Wikimedia

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Tesla’s Gigafactory is getting a $350 million upgrade to build Model 3 parts

Total sea ice levels on Earth lower than ever before recorded

January 19, 2017 by  
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Arctic sea ice levels have been plummeting, and once again, the total amount of sea ice we have on our planet is currently at a record low. One meteorologist said, based on reconstructions, we probably have the least amount of sea ice Earth has seen in millennia. The area covered by sea ice floating on Earth’s oceans is the smallest we’ve ever recorded since we started monitoring via satellite in the 1970’s. National Snow and Ice Data Center measurements reveal global sea ice levels are low in 2017 after setting similar dubious records in 2016 . Related: Here’s how much Arctic sea ice melt you are personally responsible for Low levels of Arctic sea ice can be connected back to both climate change and strange weather events that were probably impacted by climate change. Sea ice extent should be growing right now, as it’s winter in the Arctic, but warm air incursions have raised temperatures in addition to the effects of climate change. The case is slightly different in the Antarctic ; there, scientists say low levels of seasonal sea ice could have resulted because of natural variability, although sea ice area has been plunging even swifter than expected for summer. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus said on Twitter , we have “the least area of sea ice on our planet that we’ve ever measured – probably the lowest in millennia” and pointed to a PAGES (Past Global Changes) article written by two scientists who reconstructed past sea ice extent for evidence. It’s possible sea ice levels could rise in the near future, but then fall back down to levels even lower than what we’re experiencing today. Climate scientist Ed Hawkins said Arctic sea ice decline is like a ” ball bouncing down a bumpy hill ” – sea ice will continue to decline, but might rise up temporarily before continuing its distressing descent. Via New Scientist Images via Pixabay and National Snow and Ice Data Center

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IKEA Better Shelter refugee house pops up in west London

November 15, 2016 by  
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Design Museum installed the 17.5-square-meter IKEA Better Shelter outside the South Kensington Underground station in west London, close to the Design Museum’s new location on Kensington High Street. Nominated in the Beazley Designs of the Year’s Architecture category, the Better Shelter was selected for its socially beneficial design, a characteristic that Design Museum curator Gemma Curtain says is at the core of the Beazley Design Award. IKEA’s temporary shelter was developed in collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency. Thousands of Better Shelters have been deployed worldwide, from Botswana to Greece, where they serve as temporary homes, registration centers, medical facilities, and food distribution points. Related: United Nations to send 10,000 flat-packed IKEA shelters to refugees worldwide Each flat-pack structure meets the basic needs of living, such as privacy and security, and is designed to last for at least three years and accommodate five people. The house-like shelters are made with a sturdy galvanized steel frame with semi-hard, recyclable polymer plastic walls and lockable doors. A rooftop solar panel charges an indoor LED lamp, which includes a USB port that can charge a mobile phone. Though the Better Shelter is designed for temporary housing, each unit can be anchored to the ground and withstand harsh elements. Every structure can be easily set up without tools in four hours and can be expanded upon thanks to its modular design. Better Shelter will be on display outside the London tube until November 23, 2016, after which it will be moved to the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition that runs from November 24, 2016 to February 19, 2017. The Award winners will be announced on January 26, 2017. + Better Shelter Via Dezeen Images via Design Museum , by Luke Hayes

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IKEA Better Shelter refugee house pops up in west London

Wildfires in the southeast US are so bad they can be seen from space

November 15, 2016 by  
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An outbreak of wildfires across the southern United States is creating plumes of smoke so vast they can be detected by NASA’s orbiting satellites. Spread across seven states, the fires are affecting Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. The thickest plumes are rising from the southern Appalachians, but all of the affected regions are visible from orbit. On the ground, the air pollution is so bad that authorities have warned residents in some areas to wear masks when they go outside. Normally, fires in the Southeast are fairly small and don’t produce much smoke, unlike the massive blazes seen in the American West. However, drought conditions have dried out the region’s vegetation, leaving considerably more fuel for the fires. Related: NASA builds more advanced shelters to protect firefighters from wildfires More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff are currently attempting to contain the blazes. In the case of the fires in Georgia, there are concerns the flames are starting to creep “ dangerously close ” to the metro Atlanta area. It’s suspected that the various fires are manmade rather than created by natural causes, although it’s not clear if all of the fires were set intentionally. Kentucky has already made two arson arrests, and Tennessee has followed suit. Unfortunately, drought conditions are expected to continue through January at the very least. We may be seeing more of these fires throughout the fall and winter. Via Discover Images via Nasa Worldview

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Wildfires in the southeast US are so bad they can be seen from space

Japanese box house uses passive design to slash energy bills

November 15, 2016 by  
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Designed by Japanese firm Sola Sekkei Koubou , which specializes in passive design, Fukuoka H House is a two-story, nearly 1,010 square feet home. The home owners wanted an environmentally-friendly home that would provide a peaceful retreat at the end of the day. The home design capitalizes on sunlight for heating, and insulation retains the heat during cold weather. A corner wood-burning stove allows for additional warmth if necessary. Related: Gleaming Holy Cross House saves energy with passive design and natural ventilation According to Sola Sekkei Koubou, the total primary energy consumption is a mere 72.89 kilowatt hours (kWh)/square meter-year. Annual heating load for the home is 52.21 kWh/square meter-year. The home is also equipped with a rainwater tank to capture water. Fukuoka H House obtained a low-carbon housing certification, per the house description on Sola Sekkei Koubou’s website. Inside the house, stone tiles, white walls, and wood furnishings create a snug, modern ambiance. High ceilings with exposed beams make the house feel spacious, and a mezzanine work area adds extra space. Although the lot on which the house sits is small at around 3,381 square feet, the family made the most of their outdoor space by planting a garden . The home design even benefits the family pet. A beam allows the cat to travel to a landing where it can look out the windows high above the ground. Other secret walkways throughout Fukuoka H House let the cat explore. + Sola Sekkei Koubou Via Homify Images via Sola Sekkei Koubou

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