Feature Story

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The Philippines’ Ifugao rice terraces, located in the highlands of Luzon Island, are a unique paddy farming system that has seen over two millennia of use. The terraces, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, reflect a unique connection between humans and the landscapes they depend on.

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By Jahda Swanborough, lead, environmental initiatives, World Economic Forum and Aengus Collins, lead author, The Global Risks Report 2018, World Economic Forum

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By Kevin Rabinovitch

When you go to the doctor for a checkup she measures your weight, blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate and more to assess your health, and compares your numbers to science based benchmarks. If your numbers are off, you put together a plan for getting back on track. Wouldn’t it be great if we had such a checkup to assess the health of the environment that sustains us all?

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The sea is rising around the world posing serious danger to coastal communities. In Liberia’s low-lying coastal settlements, a large number of people live in ramshackle dwellings of cardboard and zinc that are ill-equipped to weather any storm.

Coastal erosion from rising sea levels, exacerbated by widespread (though illegal) sand mining, has already made various parts of Liberia’s coast disappear. The erosion has been so severe that it has washed away a police station and homes, and displaced thousands of people.

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In 2002 a small nation on the fringe of Southeast Asia declared its independence. The vote heralded a bright new future for a people excited to claim back their sovereignty.

Since that time, Timor-Leste, a young country – in fact one of the world’s youngest – has been actively investing in nation-building. As part of this, the Government has been building roads, bridges and cargo sea ports to improve mobility, economic activity and access to public services for its people, now numbering over one million.

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Sami Jan, a 45-year-old villager, remembers the day flash floods erupted near his fields in Balkh district, 25 kilometres northwest of Mazar-e-Sharif city in northern Afghanistan. His crops – his sole livelihood—were washed away and he was trapped in the rising water.

“I had no way to escape,” said Sami. “I would have died that same day if an army helicopter hadn’t rescued me. But my crops were ruined.”

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It’s the beginning of the end for Ethiopia’s stores of DDT, an internationally restricted pesticide. The East African country is moving to eliminate once and for all the largest officially reported global stockpile of the toxic chemical.

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The Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot. It has over 11,000 plant species, about 72 of which are found only in this region. Its diverse animal species include many exotic fish and birds.

The world benefits from this biodiversity, so when these species are exploited for commercial use – for example in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals – source countries need to be compensated.

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Charito Elcano turned 60 this year, a milestone in a life fraught with ups and downs, challenges and opportunities and – in her case – tragedy. A tragedy that took the life of her brother and son and made her a fierce advocate for non-mercury small-scale gold mining.

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By W. John Kress, distinguished scientist and curator of botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

This summer 7,000 botanists from 77 countries – attending the largest international conference of plant scientists in nearly a decade – agreed, almost unanimously, to focus their research and educational efforts on finding solutions to increasing environmental degradation, unsustainable resource use, and biodiversity loss.