Think of Rio de Janeiro, and you think of bustling street life, honking cars and a vibrant atmosphere.
Rio is busy. And this week it is beyond busy.
One carioca (that’s how people born and bred in Rio call themselves) at my hostel complains: “I can’t cope with these crowds! What are all these gringos doing here?”
She’s right. Gringos – as Brazilians call the non-Brazilians – are descending on Rio. And with them come security personnel on every corner and traffic jams caused by shuttle buses and motorcades.
The crowds have come to the UN conference on sustainable development (link) and the parallel People’s Summit. Both events follow on from the original UN conference on Sustainable Development back in 1992, hence the nickname Rio+20.
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Small scaling farming in the Philippines. Credit: Annie Bungeroth
In my work in the Philippines, particularly in the island of Mindanao, I have witnessed how people strive to survive poverty, conflict, and the impact of disasters.
When the Rio Earth Summit happened in 1992, I had just graduated from university and was working with landless rice farmers, struggling to acquire small plots of land through the government’s Agrarian Reform Program. I helped them improved their harvest through organic farming methods.
After 20 years, most of the farmers got their land – although much is now sold or mortgaged – but none became wealthy. Yet I could see changes in some of their lives, not because of increase of wealth, but because of improved discipline, responsibility and accountability. These farmers are now able to produce enough and safe food, manage their limited finances and send their children to school.
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Clara (centre) and friends with the solar panel that helps pump water to their village
Matahatata village doesn’t have piped water. It doesn’t have electricity. But one thing it does have is plenty of sun.
When I visited Matahatata in Zambia last year it was under a typically blazing sun. I was greeted by Clara Nkete, who has lived in this village for 50 years and brought up her ten children here.
She told me how she used to struggle to get water from the village’s single – now broken – borehole: “There were long queues, and if you drew water late in the day it would be muddy, dirty water. You could wait for up to three hours. We had to fetch water three times a day so you might be queuing for up to nine hours a day.”
Looking deep into my eyes, Clara explained, “Whenever you went to the borehole late you’d know you would be drawing dirty water, but our children would be crying for water, crying in thirst, and so we had no option but to give it to them. We had no other choice.”
Harnessing the power of the sun has given Clara and her neighbours another option. Five years ago, we funded a new solar-powered borehole in Matahatata. Continue reading