Tobacco: a threat to our oceans | Roy Small

31 May 2017

image Cigarette filters are comprised of thousands of chemical ingredients, including arsenic, lead, nicotine and ethyl phenol, all of which leak into aquatic environments. Photo:

In the run up to the Ocean Conference in June, this blog series explores issues related to oceans, seas, marine resources and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water. Ask the person behind you what the public health enemy number one is. Chances are the answer will be tobacco. And for good reasons. Smoking, including secondhand smoke, kills more than 7 million people each year, most in the prime of their lives. Less well-known are tobacco’s negative impacts on sustainable development, including on oceanic systems. Yes, you read that right – tobacco is a significant threat to our oceans. Each year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide, by far the most littered item, with a significant percentage finding their way into our oceans and onto our shores. The problem is only likely to get worse, particularly as smoking rates continue to escalate in many low- and middle-income countries. This “last socially acceptable form of littering” is far more than just an unpleasant aesthetic. Cigarette filters are comprised of thousands of chemical ingredients, including arsenic, lead, nicotine and ethyl phenol, all of which leak into aquatic environments. In one lab study, the leachate from just one cigarette butt, placed into no more than one litre of water,  Read More

Decision time? First take a look at what makes you crazy | Jacinda Fairholm

26 May 2017

image In the Dominican Republic, UNDP created a risk analysis that improves knowledge about seismic threats and physical vulnerability of the Gran Santo Domingo area. Photo: UNDP

This post is part of a series from UNDP experts sharing their views and experiences in the lead up to the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction taking place in May and the World Reconstruction Conference in June. The most read New York Times article in 2016 was, ‘Why you will marry the wrong person.’ In a follow-up podcast, author Alain de Botton outlines how a romantic ideal obstructs a clear analysis and application of time-tested criteria before entering into, arguably, one of the most important decisions an individual can make. Marriage - at extreme ends both possibly rich and fruitful or miserably impoverishing - is often calculated in heady moments of euphoria and dreams. Poor decision making can have enormous emotional and financial costs, potentially spreading beyond the couple down to children and into the future. He suggests that the vetting process should include one key question: “What makes you crazy?” In other words, analyzing one’s flaws as well as considering what might be risky to the partnership or to one’s self, will result in a much  better decision over the long haul. Indeed, any significant decision should consider the risks, the payoffs and the costs.  Risk assessment. A pragmatic approach to making a decision that could  Read More

Protecting the rights of people affected by disasters | María del Carmen Sacasa

05 May 2017

image In addition to saving lives, the response to the flooding in Peru must seek to promote the active participation of people affected by the disaster. Photo: Mónica Suárez Galindo/UNDP Peru

In the past few weeks we have witnessed the devastating consequences of intense rains and landslides in Peru, affecting thousands of people. In counterpoint to the tragedy, the situation has also presented a unique opportunity to bring the country together. In the best-case scenario, Peruvians can demonstrate to the world that it is possible to emerge from difficulty through solidarity. This means uniting different levels of government, politicians, civil society, people of all ages and the international community behind a common purpose: helping people recover. Humanitarian assistance should be timely and reliable to prevent loss of life. We know that disasters increase existing gaps and vulnerabilities. An estimated 700,000 could join the ranks of the poor because of the coastal El Niño phenomenon, according to research from the Lima Chamber of Commerce. In light of this, it is important to uphold the rights of all people who are affected by disasters. We must guarantee that people have a dignified life, ensuring their safety and security and the recovery of their livelihoods. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and older adults need special and immediate attention. We also have to keep in mind that the aftermath of a disaster exacerbates the risk  Read More

In Belize, local stewardship key to marine conservation | Leonel Requena

25 Apr 2017

image Local communities are at the forefront of marine resources management and their engagement in conservation and shared governance is crucial to ensuring sustainable use of ocean resources. Photo: Avelino Franco/Fragments of Hope

In the run up to the Ocean Conference in June, this blog series explores issues related to oceans, seas, marine resources and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, “Life below water”. The reef was in plain sight, a majestic view with sandy white beaches surrounding cayes with magnificent frigate birds and booby birds flying overhead at Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument. I was eager to put on my diving gear and see the wonders of the 186-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colorful coral reefs, whale sharks, turtles, and hundreds of cubera snappers aggregating three days before full moon at the Gladden Spit Spawning Aggregation Site in Belize.  It was May 2002, and I was participating along with a research team to collect data on Nassau Grouper abundance and distribution which would inform the declaration of eleven Nassau Grouper Spawning Aggregation Sites. Our ocean is rich in biodiversity and is a crucial carbon sink. Coastal wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs support a diverse array of marine life. According to a recent economic study of the Belize Barrier Reef, the estimated services derived for tourism and livelihoods is US$559 million per year with a population of 380,010 people. A healthy reef ensures healthy people and a resilient country. Two decades  Read More

A year after the Ecuador earthquake, we still have work to do | Nury Bermúdez

17 Apr 2017

image With UNDP support, 2,600 families have resumed agricultural production in rural areas of Manabí and Esmeraldas, generating average increases of 50 percent in sales. Photo: Gabriela Ullauri/UNDP

It only took 40 seconds to unleash decades of pent up vulnerability in Ecuador. Substandard buildings, additional stories built unofficially, shoddy building materials—they all took their toll on 16 April 2016. With 671 deaths and over 241,000 people affected, it was unquestionably one of Ecuador’s biggest emergencies in decades. The country’s emergency response capabilities were overwhelmed, making clear the need to strengthen preparedness, prevention and recovery for dealing with large-scale adverse events. In the face of this situation, a national and international solidarity network activated to provide aid and relief during the emergency. Government agencies responded on multiple fronts in regions needing immediate aid. Different protocols and mechanisms were created and put to the test during the emergency. Local governments set up temporary operations since many lost their facilities and were also affected. Civil society organizations were also on the ground in different areas, coordinating, managing and supporting those most in need. The humanitarian mandate to provide people with comprehensive care was fulfilled thanks to contributions and accumulated knowledge, where cooperation agencies played an important role and the Country Humanitarian Team was a hub of action that supplemented the Ecuadorian government’s efforts. UNDP aided the government on several fronts. In the  Read More

To fight Zika, fight poverty and inequality | Jessica Faieta and Magdy Martínez-Solimán

06 Apr 2017

image Beyond economic costs, the Zika virus has the potential to widen gender and health inequities. Photo: UNICEF

Marta and João live in a small town in the state of Paraiba, Brazil. Pregnant with their fifth child, Marta showed symptoms of Zika. Her pregnancy was otherwise uneventful, but an ultrasound at eight months picked up symptoms of microcephaly. Marta remembers: “The nurse and the doctor told me not to worry, that he would be normal. But I was worried.” When Luiz was born, their fear was realized. “We did not expect that this could happen from the bite of a mosquito. The shock is still huge”. At seven months, Luiz requires constant attention. Unsure if he will walk or talk in the future, Marta and João’s worries are compounded by financial woes. “I hope I can work again soon”, Marta laments. “We want to buy a stroller to put the baby in, because he can’t sit. That way I would have a little bit more freedom. But we don’t know how much it costs.” The couple is unable to make short-term plans to resume paid work, creating uncertainty about their financial stability despite the assistance they receive from the Government. Unfortunately, the struggles of Marta and João are not unique. Poor households, like Marta and Joao’s, are both more  Read More

Disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, two sides of the same coin | Matilde Mordt

16 Mar 2017

image Cash transfers is a great tool to help the most vulnerable populations during the early recovery process in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo: UNDP Ecuador

Disaster risk reduction is an intrinsic part of sustainable development. This message came out forcefully during the Fifth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, held last week in Montreal, Canada, in which delegates debated the connections between disaster, climate change and sustainable development.  One way of looking at this is by adopting the so-called “integrated risk management” approach. This is a conceptual and practical approach that today replaces traditional concepts about emergency or disaster management, which focus on the immediate response to an event and the subsequent recovery process.  Integrated risk management requires a more thorough knowledge and understanding of the scenarios of risk. The notion of the "social construction of risk" is central, which points to the existence of chronic risk due to poverty (as expressed in unemployment, low income, malnutrition, etc.), environmental degradation and governance challenges. These drivers of risk reflect the structural conditions of unsustainable development models.  In Central America for instance, El Niño is an event that adds stress to already existing environmental, climatic and vulnerability conditions. Thus, the causes of crisis in the agricultural, health or water sectors are more related to human actions, such as overexploitation of resources, poor land use planning  Read More

Rethink progress in Latin America and the Caribbean | Jessica Faieta

10 Mar 2017

image Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 10 of the world’s 15 most unequal countries. Photo: Antonio Escalante / UNDP Peru

Latin America and the Caribbean have made notable progress on development in recent decades. By 2015, the region had met most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a historical feat, especially with regard to poverty reduction, access to safe drinking water and primary education. From 2002 to 2013, close to 72 million people left poverty and some 94 million rose to the middle class. Even so, inequality continues to be a characteristic of the region. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 10 of the world’s 15 most unequal countries. According to our Human Development Report for the region, 220 million people (38 percent, almost two in every five Latin Americans) are economically vulnerable today. Officially they are not poor, but neither have they managed to make it to the middle class. Among these, 25 to 30 million are at risk of falling back into poverty. It is precisely in this time of economic slowdown that we need a new generation of public policies to strengthen the four factors that prevent setbacks: social protection, care systems, physical and financial assets (such as owning a car, a home, savings or bank accounts that act as ‘cushions’ when crisis hits) and labour  Read More

A need of a “grown-up” approach to address challenges posed by El Niño in LAC | Ruben Vargas and Luis Gamarra

09 Mar 2017

image Through the project, UNDP has monitored governmental and non-governmental interventions to address the impacts of El Niño in 2016. Photo: UNDP Honduras

During the last three years, the media channels have informed about the presence of El Niño phenomenon in the region. First on the imminence of the event and its potential effects and then on the diversity of impacts on the communities and development sectors at national and local level. The message still seems to be that El Niño/La Niña events are the main cause to explain the "extreme droughts and floods" affecting our countries from time to time. Significant progress has been developed in last decades regarding climate observation and monitoring at global, national and local levels. Thanks to this information flow, political and technical actors have the possibility to make timely decisions to cope with adverse effects and/or sometimes to seize opportunities. In case of events like El Niño, these advances are of vital importance. However, this knowledge should orient a clear understanding on the impact over development – e.g. the proposed SDGs -, and particularly a thorough analysis of the social, economic and institutional underlying causes. Through the implementation of the project "El Niño Response and Recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean", UNDP has monitored governmental and non-governmental interventions to address the impacts of El Niño in 2016.  Read More

El Niño in LAC: building capacities in disaster risk management and recovery | Ruben Vargas

24 Feb 2017

image The 2014-2016 El Niño is considered one of the strongest in the course of the last decades. Photo: UNDP Chile

My first memories of El Niño and its impacts take me back to 1992, when I lived in Medellin. The memories were partly pleasant: along some of the main streets, electric bulbs were replaced by oil lamps that were lit in an almost ritual act by street performers every day. This ritual continued for about 10 months due to the "energy-and-water-consumption-rationing law” - better known as “the blackout” - imposed by the government to deal with the crisis. During this period, supply outages persisted for up to nine hours a day. The crisis was attributed to the drought caused by El Niño that, although not classified as severe, affected the country's hydroelectric power generation capacity drastically. The impacts on development were significant - between 2 and 2.5% of GDP for the period, an equivalent to 5-6 billion USD. In the early 1990s, the major cause of "disasters" and the observed impacts were directly attributed to the "unexpectedness" and "intensity" of the phenomenon. At that time, little attention was paid to the country's lack of capacity to foresee potential risks and, accordingly, design appropriate and timely management strategies. How can this situation be compared with the 2014-2016 El Niño? The 2014-2016 El  Read More

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