MS Risk Blog

Panama Water Crisis a Global Problem

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Panama Water Crisis a Global Problem

Panama is experiencing a water crisis, with two decades of decreased rainfall and drought resulting in a decline in fresh water. The water crisis is affecting not only the population in Panama with a reduction in available drinking water but also the Panama Canal. With reduced access to water the canal is unable to operate at full capacity which is having a knock-on effect to the amount of trade passing through the canal. Water scarcity, however, is not unique to Panama and countries around the globe have been affected by a reduction in available drinking water including, France, China and South Africa.  UN water expresses that it is unlikely that there will be a global water shortage, however individual countries and regions need to urgently tackle the critical problems presented by water stress. Water needs to be treated as a precious resource which is scarce. Focus needs to be put on managing the demand of fresh water.

Seventy percent of the earth is made up of water, however, only 3 percent of that water is fresh water. Water is a precious resource with some regions, having very limited or no access to fresh water at all. Water scarcity is more often then not caused by pollution, agriculture, population growth and climate change. Pollution to water comes from many sources including pesticides and fertilizers from farms, untreated human wastewater, and industrial waste. As well as people polluting the water by throwing rubbish into rivers and water ways. Agriculture uses most of the world’s accessible freshwater equalling about 70 percent however, due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods as well as the cultivation of crops which require a large amount of water 60 percent of that water is wasted. Many countries which produce large amounts of crops are close to or have reached their water resource limits; these countries include India, China, Australia, Spain and the United States. The population in the last 50 years has more than doubled. This rapid growth has transformed water ecosystems around the world. Today 41 percent of the world’s population lives in river basins that are under water stress. Water availability is a growing concern as freshwater use continues at unsustainable levels. Not only through drinking and sanitation, the population growth has put pressure on the production of commodities and energy which rely on freshwater to be produced. Increased population means more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere, which affects weather patterns globally. With the changes in weather patterns droughts will become more common in some places and floods in other. Glaciers and snowpack’s will disappear all affecting the freshwater supplies. Combined these will make less water available for agriculture, energy generation, cities and ecosystems around the world.

Panama is facing a water challenge despite having one of the highest levels of precipitation and also having more than 500 rivers naturally dividing the territory. Panama has water in abundance however is facing a crisis of running out of water. Not only for drinking water and sanitation but the Panama Canal as well crucial for the national economy. Panama is seeing a gradual decrease in rainfall with the last five years experiencing the worst in two decades. The rainfall in 2019 was 27 percent below average, which has resulted in years of droughts.

The Panama Canal requires 5.2 million cubic meters of water to function correctly. The waterways and artificial reservoirs which supply the canal’s lock mechanism began the dry season of 2020 with a depth of 84 feet, 10 percent short of the amount needed to operate without restrictions. In 2019 the water levels got so low that the canal authority had to implement limits on the amount of cargo that ships could cross with. In 2019 the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) implemented limits on the maximum authorised draft of shops transitioning the locks. The draft of a ship is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull. In January the limit was restricted to 49 feet, further reductions were made throughout the year. By July the maximum authorised draft has been reduced to 44 feet in the Neopanamaz locks and 39.5 feet in the Panamaz locks. At the beginning of 2020 the PCA implemented further restrictions on the transit of the canal. The number of slots available for ships will be cut due to droughts and a freshwater charge on ships will be implemented to maintain the thoroughfare’s levels. These actions are tightening access to one of the world’s most important trading routes. The charges were implemented on February 15 which include a fixed charge of $10,000 for any vessel over 125 feet long, as well as a variable surcharge based on the level of Gatun Lake at time of transit. The authority has reported that these measures were being imposed due to a lack of rainfall, negatively affected the supply of water from Gatun Lake. Historically the canal has handled 5 percent of world trade and the restrictions being implemented could damage this as it is limiting an important source of money for the Panamanian economy, as well as for global trade. The ACP are concerned that if rainfall does not rise and the restrictions stay in place ships transiting Pacific-Atlantic waters will opt for other global routes. These routes include the Suez Canal in Egypt or via Arctic transits north of Russia or Canada as polar ice melts. The ACP have said that millions of dollars need to be spent to guarantee the water supply to the canal.

Unfortunately, the situation with the Panama Canal is not all that is affecting Panama and causing a water crisis. There is a pressure on water resources in Panama due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and climate change have all affected the water in Panama. As well Panama has seen a drastic increase in recent years of flooding which contaminates the drinking water. Another aspect affecting the issue of flooding and water reduction is that the forest coverage has decreased significantly. Because forests play an important role in providing clean water, in addition, forests also absorb rainfall, refill groundwater aquifers, slow and filter storm water runoff, reduce floods and maintain watershed stability resilience. As well as a reduced forest in Panama there is also a lack of infrastructure, limiting access to drinking water and sanitation services in non-urban areas. The government in Panama have implemented actions of restoration and conservation around areas of watershed, including restoring forests in watersheds. Also, the implementation of sustainable water management and water infrastructure. The main cause of flooding as reported by Emilio Sempris the Minister of Environment in 2018 was that the storm drains have not been modernised in over 50 years since they were placed. Meaning that water has difficulty running away and causes flooding. Another key element is the lack of education of the population, with people throwing garbage into rivers and not understanding the consequences of their actions.

Water is an important resource and needs to be monitored not only by countries at risk of running out of or are low on water, but by all countries across the globe. It is not just third world countries which are at risk of running out of drinkable water which is crucial to human life. France in the summer of 2019 faced its worst droughts in 30 years. Rivers dried up, reservoirs were struggling to meet demands and rationing measures were implemented in the most severely hit areas. France experienced nine months of exceptionally dry weather with up to 60 percent less rainfall then normal. Climate change and the reduction in rainfall seemed to play a crucial role in the water shortage experienced in France. Farmers reported that their crops were at risk as irrigating fields were restricted in 50 of the country’s 95 departments. Another city which experienced a water crisis was Cape Town, South Africa in 2018. With rapid urbanisation, a dry climate and a high per capita water consumption, linked to three years of poor rainfall, the city announced drastic action was needed to avoid running out of water. A key priority for the administration in Cape Town was to reduce the demand a series of water-saving initiatives were introduced. Including instructions to limit shows to no longer than two minutes. Flushing the toilet when only necessary with a campaign slogan “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”. As well as the pushing of using recycled water. People were limited to a use of 50 litres per person per day which is low, considering the average daily per capital of use in California was 321 litres per person per day. The South African government took a risk and announced “day Zero” a moment when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off the taps in Cape Town and send people to communal water collection points. The announcement did prompt water stockpiling and panic as well as a drop in tourism bookings. However, it worked with the water use in Cape Town dropping from 600million litres per day to 507 million litres per day. Residents said that “The day zero campaign made us all think twice about water, we’ll never, ever, ever take water for granted again.” In most recent events we have seen the effects of climate change and reduced rainfall with the huge bush fires which hit Australia at the beginning of 2020. Due to drought the land was dry, and fires were able to spread easily causing mass devastation across the country. Successive droughts and the extra water that was needed to fight intense bushfires have caused an unprecedented shortage, with these regions now facing the prospect of the taps running out of water. As global temperatures continue to rise, cities and countries around the world will have to figure out how to do more with less water.

Proactive actions need to be taken by governments, businesses and even people across the globe to help prevent the running out of water. Water is a vital resource which needs to be taken seriously, to prevent water shortages. These preventions include sustainable water management, with the improvement of infrastructure as a priority. Using reclaimed water, rainwater harvesting, and recycled wastewater allow for a reduction in scarcity and ease the pressures on groundwater sources. Pollution control & better sewage treatment, without proper sanitation, the water becomes full of diseases and unsafe to drink. A key element in prevention is awareness of the potential scarcity of water and educating people on the possibility of water crises and how to prevent them. It is necessary to radically change the forms of consumption from individual use to supply chains of large companies.

Malawi’s Presidential Elections Ruling: A Bittersweet Turning Point

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Malawi’s Presidential Elections Ruling: A Bittersweet Turning Point

Following months of instability characterised by violent protests and attacks on rights activists, on 3 February 2020, Malawi’s constitutional court annulled the presidential election results from 21 May 2019. Fresh elections will be held within 150 days, according to the court ruling. This new development in Malawi’s electoral destiny signals a progressive new chapter in the country’s attempts to maintain the integrity of its democratic process. Equally, this unprecedented ruling by the constitutional court means that the prospect of further violence and political instability in Malawi is likely to continue for at least 6 months.

The landmark ruling is significant because this is the first election to be legally challenged since Malawi’s independence in 1964. The ruling demonstrated the independence of the country’s judiciary, and more crucially, the judiciary’s ability to flex its legal muscles in a meaningful way. While the judges ruled that the election was not stolen, it said that there was blatant evidence of widespread rigging, which compromised the integrity of the election. This ruling came in favour of opposition parties, despite reports on 22 January 2020 of bribery attempts by a prominent Malawi Banker, Dr Thompson Mpinganjira. The implications of this decision are multi-fold. At a local level this is a win for opposition parties in Malawi and impedes on a culture of widespread impunity. The ruling also stands to change the political landscape of Malawi because the judges have declared the current first-past-the post system is unconstitutional; a gain of more than 50% is required in future elections. This has effectively weakened the power of the incumbent ruling party which had won 38.6% of the vote. Furthermore, this could change the strategic approaches of opposition parties in future elections, where coalitions are more likely.

At a regional level, Malawi’s decision has disrupted the status-quo of mired elections, dogged by broken and ineffective judiciaries. The recent contended results in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe election could have brought a different outcome, if the judiciary had taken similar action to that of Malawi. This ruling also comes at an opportune moment where opposition parties in the southern Africa region in 2019 generally fared badly during their respective elections. A big power shift from liberation movement parties to more contemporary parties had been projected, amid growing dissatisfaction with regional governments, poor service delivery, rising unemployment and inequality. The annulment of Malawi’s 2019 election signals an opportunity for the continued spreading of democracy in the wider southern Africa region, after it appeared as though these gains were backsliding. This hope is important at a time where former liberation movements see their support base eroding, and some governments look to “managed democracies” like Russia or China as a model.

Although the election annulment could have set a precedent of fair judicial arbitration in Malawi, it could prompt more authoritarian regimes to limit the effectiveness of an independent judiciary.

From a security perspective, the judicial ruling may have worked to maintain the integrity of a fair democratic process in Malawi; however, it has done little to assuage the challenge of maintaining public order and political stability amid heightened political tensions. In the months after the 21 May 2019 elections, there was widespread violence which involved looting and destruction of property. Two people, one police officer and one civilian- were reportedly killed during the multitude of anti-government demonstrations. In a report released in December 2019, by Malawi’s Human Rights Commission, it confirmed that at least 8 women were raped and sexually violated during October’s post- election unrest. The incident of the rapes had led to E.U diplomat to Malawi, Sandra Paesen, being ordered to leave the country for protesting the crime.

Despite the constitutional court ruling on 3 February 2020, reports surfaced on 6 February that foreigner’s shops were looted by mobs seeking to take advantage of the political uncertainty. On 13 February 2020, protestors padlocked the offices of the electoral commission in an effort to force the chairwoman of Malawi’s Electoral Commission to quit.

On the same day, the Constitutional Court in Malawi rejected the appeal brought by President Mutharika and Malawi’s Electoral Commission, to suspend its earlier judgement.

Although the judicial intervention in Malawi’s calamitous election saga may have protected the integrity of Malawi’s democratic process, so far this has resulted in more questions than answers, causing further instability in the country. As Malawi attempts to fund and run new presidential elections in under five months, it is likely for political tensions and civil unrest to escalate, which may result in demonstrations and incidences of violence continuing. The constitutional court has not just ordered a rerun of the elections, it has ruled that the country should do away with the first-past-the post system. In theory it is a matter of implementing the ruling, in reality, a consensus is unlikely on the exact interpretation of the decision. How political parties decide to strategically organise themselves and potentially coalesce for the elections, could be another source for instability and possible violence.

The period leading up to this rerun, the unknown outcome, and reaction to the results means that Malawi is likely to experience continued instability for at least the next 6 months.

Belarus: Caught between the East and West

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The recent escalation of tensions between Russia and Belarus has created concern that Moscow is gearing up to annex Belarus like it did with Crimea. Russia and Belarus began 2020 without renewing their oil and gas contracts, resulting in Russia stopping its deliveries to the latter. This came after new oil taxes were expected to cost Belarus between $8-12 billion by 2024. While Belarus’s view is that Russia is exerting undue economic pressure on it, Kremlin-controlled media has accused Belarus of exploiting Russian resources. The country asked Russia last year to compensate its losses due to its ‘tax maneuver’. Russia responded by demanding a revitalisation of a 1999 Union State Treaty between the two. Belarus and Russia created this integration format in which they would retain sovereignty, territorial integrity, and constitutions. It provided for the unification or coordination of most economic and social policies, and at some time a united parliament and a constitutional act. Most importantly, they would share one head of state.

The Union State treaty has been at the centre of the dispute. Belarusian President Lukashenko has previously accused Russia of using this oil cut-off to attempt to force Belarus into joining it. “I understand what all those hints mean: You get the oil but you break up your country and join Russia,” he said at a December news conference. In January, he said that he did not wish to be the last president of Belarus. The Belarusian government has responded to the oil cut off by announcing it would reduce its energy dependence. Russian oil could be replaced with Norwegian, Polish, Ukrainian, and even American. Despite these efforts to retain Belarus’ sovereignty several protests against an integration with Russia were held in Belarus throughout January. Talks between the two has been conducted in secret, generating fear that Belarus will give up its sovereignty.

However, Lukashenko has warned that that unless the energy dispute is resolved Moscow could lose its only ally on the western border. If Russia continues pressuring the country, it may follow in Ukraine’s footsteps and start viewing it as a hostile nation. This would be a problem for Russia as it wants to retain Belarus as an ally. According to Yalowitz, former US ambassador to Belarus, Moscow has never forgotten that both Napoleon and the Nazis were able to come through Belarus when invading Russia. The country has long provided discounted oil to Belarus in return for it being a loyal buffer between Russia and Europe. The confrontation between Russia and the West after the 2014 Ukraine conflict started has only aggravated disagreements between Russia and Belarus. The worst-case scenario is one where a military conflict between NATO and Russia is initiated. Situated between the two, Belarusian territory could then become a battleground. In order to prevent this from happening it has taken a neutral stance in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and have encouraged peace talks. However, Moscow has started using economic levers, including the oil issue, to push Belarus to stand by it. If Russia succeeds in ‘taming’ its ally, this could be a potential problem for Western countries.

With Moscow’s history of invading neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula, it is no wonder that there is speculation that Belarus might be next. Clark and Bugayova, analysts with the Washington D.C Institute for the Study of War, wrote in a May 14, 2019 briefing that the Kremlin “has a strategic interest in consolidating control over Belarus and ensuring the long-term alignment of its government and its people with Russia.” They wrote that Putin likely fears further integration between the West and Belarus, and wants to expand its military basing in the latter country. In addition, Putin could view leadership of the Union State as a possible way of remaining in power after the end of his last presidential term in 2024. However, other experts disagree. While Russia has in recent years performed several land grabs, annexation between Russia and Belarus is less likely. They say that Belarus does not have the same geostrategic appeal for Russia. From a military perspective, annexation would mean that the border between Russia and NATO would be lengthened which could increase Russia’s vulnerability. The move would also most likely provoke a tough response from the West.

In any way, Moscow will most likely continue to try asserting influence over Minsk. Even if full integration remains unlikely, at least for the immediate future, Russia will keep using political and economic means to strengthen its influence over Belarus. Meanwhile it will be difficult for Belarus to turn to the West as long as it remains an authoritarian state. Despite these tensions, Belarus could be the key to solving issues between Russia and the West. It could provide a place for regional security talks for the actors, including Russia, Ukraine, the EU, and the United States. It is uniquely placed to encourage the establishment of regional security cooperation as it is situated between NATO and Russia. Indeed, it has held peace talks to settle the situation in Donbas, which was considered key in the search for ways to restore peace in eastern Ukraine. In this way, Belarus could play an important role in reducing tensions and improving Eastern European security.

French Pension Reform Strikes: Rise of the Far-Left

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Since 5 December 2019, French workers have been conducting massive strikes by marching on the streets across France in order to protest the pension reforms announced by French President Emmanuel Macron. The series of strikes, which are still going on today, have been acknowledged as being the largest strikes of the decade in France. On the first day of the strikes, 30 worker unions across the country have carried out strikes. French Interior Ministry stated that between 800,000 and 1.5 million people have joined the strikes across France. It has disrupted the whole country by shutting down public transport services and greatly reduced the number of workers at including staffmembers at hospitals, as well as teachers, firefighters, lawyers, and even police officers. The cause behind the strikes, which are the controversial pension reforms, are actually aimed to simplify the old system. The old pension system divided the pension into 42 different schemes, which is considered very complicated. It is also predicted that the country’s pension deficit could reach 17 billion euros in the near future if the system is not changed. Therefore, President Macron wanted to prevent this situation by creating a unified pension system using an earning point scheme. This plan has been rejected by as many as 61% of the French population, and the workers unions have argued that a unified system will cause inequality between pensions and that workers will receive lower pension funds. At first, the strikes began as a mass movement to oppose this single issue. However, since January 2020, they have seen as being more radical and representing broader issues, campaigning anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-fascism rhetoric within each strike.

The rise of new participants within the strikes such as firefighters, lawyers, and students has been seen since January 2020. On 25 January, one of the biggest strikes in January occurred. Workers and students from different organizations marched together waving communist “hammer and sickle”, Antifa, anarchist, and Palestinian flags while singing “Internationale”, which is an anthem for the left-wing movement across the world. They also shouted slogans such as “overthrow capitalism” and “revolution now” during the strikes.  On 28 January, violent clashes occurred between protesters and riot police. The protesters involved in the violent clash mostly consisted of firefighters and anarchist groups. Until the end of January, the series of strikes have been known to involve various left-wing movements from workers unions such as CGT and UNSA to the communist and anarchist groups such as Gauche Revolutionaries and Antifa. The strikes which at first began to oppose a single issue have been interpreted as a symbol of left unity among left revolutionaries across the world. However, it is believed that far-left ideas have become fundamental factors that support the on-going strikes.

CGT, a workers union which is considered to be the main power within the strikes, has been acknowledged for their connection with far-left ideas. Throughout history, CGT, which was founded in 1895, has been known to possess a strong link with far-left revolutionaries, such as the Anarcho-Syndicalism before WW1, and later with the French Communist Party from the end of WW2 until the end of the cold war. Even though CGT is currently not under direct communist influence anymore and fights for a more moderate approach for workers, the anti-capitalist idea is still strongly influencing them. Even several federations and regional branches of CGT are still strongly affiliated with WFTU, which is an international trade federation consisting of Marxists. The director of the Institute of Social History and a specialist in communism, Pierre Rigoulot, stated that the modern CGT is still positioning themselves as forces fighting within class antagonism and seeing their end goal as the abolition of capitalism, which basically adheres to Marx’s thoughts. CGT is also known as having a good relationship with Gauche Revolutionaries, a Trotskyist political party which also has greatly involved within the series of strikes. The series of strikes in France for the past 2 months has indeed portrayed the power of left unity among the people. However, it is also important to consider that this is also the rise of the far-left as a strong factor that unites these people.

Massive anti-government civil unrest is currently occurring in many places all over the world, from countries within the Latin America region such as Bolivia and Chile, as well as in Hong Kong which used to be a very peaceful city. Almost all of these protests are more left-leaning within the political spectrum. The strikes within France can be seen as possessing a big potential of becoming the benchmark of anti-government movement across the world, especially if these strikes achieve success in the future. France’s status as a developed country within the perspective of world citizens is likely to become one of the reasons since most of the countries with the massive anti-government movement now are still considered as developing countries. People are demanding changes within the system and what is occurring in France could influence this demand on a worldwide scale. If the far-left could become one of the fundamental elements within French strikes, it could also happen anywhere. As mentioned before, people are demanding changes, but what kind of changes are yet to be seen.

FCO issues update on Burkina Faso

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On 7 February, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued an update on Burkina Faso, for the first time advising against all travel throughout the nation, with the exception of Ouagadougou. In the capital city, the FCO advises against all but essential travel, up to the toll booths on all roads out of the city.

Since 2013, Burkina Faso has seen a significant rise in criminality, ethnic violence and terrorism. The violence initially emanated from Mali, and made its way into northern Burkina Faso. Over the past several years, the violence has continued to push south, and Burkina Faso is replacing Mali as epicentre of Sahel security crisis.

In 2019 alone, the country experienced 200 terror-related attacks, 30 kidnappings, and 32 incidents of violent crime. These numbers could be higher due to unreported incidents. On 27 December, the Burkinabé government extended the state of emergency in fourteen provinces for an additional year. These measures, which give security forces extra powers to search homes and restrict freedom of movement. will remain in place until 12 Jan 2021.

If current trends persist, Burkina Faso risks becoming a launchpad for Islamic extremists to expand towards coastal West Africa, and the epicentre of conflict will likely shift from northern region to the southern Burkinabé border. Outside of Ouagadougou, there have been regular attacks on police, military personnel and civilians, particularly along the borders with Mali, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire and in the Eastern Region.

Terror attacks are very likely in Burkina Faso, including Ouagadougou.  These attacks can be indiscriminate, and targets include security forces, religious sites, restaurants and places visited by foreigners. Travellers are advised to be  vigilant at all times, and particularly around religious holidays.