Sunday, March 30, 2008
Photo: Dr. Daniel Livermore holding a defused PMN-2 anti-personnel landmine.
“Landmines are the classic third world weapon,” said Dr. Daniel Livermore, Canada’s former ambassador to mine action and current Senior Fellow at University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
He did not mean that comment in a derogatory way. Mr. Livermore was simply stating the obvious – anti-personnel landmines, which can be purchased for as little as a few dollars, have been – and continue to be – one of the weapons of choice for dictators and non-state armed groups.
To illustrate his point, Mr. Livermore brought out several landmines, including a defused, plastic, Albanian-made landmine (which resembled a child’s pencil case) and showed it to the 25 University of Ottawa students who had come to hear him speak out against the horrible affects of landmines.
Mr. Livermore – who once served as Canada’s Ambassador to Guatemala and El Salvador – described how landmines have been used in conflicts in Central America since the 1960s and emphasized how difficult it is to remove landmines after a conflict ends.
One of the major problems in parts of Central America is that there are rarely accurate records of were landmines have been placed. Minefields are often located by local anecdotal evidence or by talking with landmine survivors.
Mr. Livermore told how landmine warning signs have been stolen by the poor in many Central American countries and used as frying pans, thereby exposing other innocent civilians to unnecessary risk.
When Hurricane Mitch struck the region in 1998, many of the known landmine sites were obliterated and many landmines were displaced into a larger area. This compromised landmine clearance efforts for some time. As a result, countries in the region were eager for the Mine Ban Treaty to come into being.
“Central American states knew the gravity of the landmine problem,” said Mr. Livermore. “Landmines had been placed on prime agricultural land, on major travel corridors, around schools, wells, and other public institutions. I think this is the central issue of landmines – it is a development issue. Land has to be cleared of landmines before that land can be used,“ said Mr. Livermore.
During the question and answer period, students learned where landmines continue to be used and how mine clearance is carried out. They were also informed about the effectiveness of the Mine Ban Treaty and issues related to victim assistance and the importance of mine risk education.
“Central America is the landmine issue in microcosm,” said Mr. Livermore. “It is an issue of leadership, concerted effort, co-cooperation between governments and civil society. What remains though, is to make sure that these weapons don’t return; to make sure that equivalent weapons don’t return and that the region remains in peace.”
Last week the Government of Canada announced a contribution of $750,000 toward mine clearance activities in Nicaragua (which is the only country in Central America still dealing with uncleared landmines).
This is the latest Canadian contribution from the Global Peace and Security Fund to the Office of Humanitarian Mine Action of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Photo: Right to Water advocates outside Ottawa City Hall.
It rained on right to water advocates’ parade yesterday, but that could not dampen their spirits as they marched from Ottawa’s City Hall to the Parliament Buildings to raise their concerns about water issues.
Representatives from the Council of Canadians, Oxfam Canada, CUPE and the Polaris Institute celebrated World Water Day 2008 by chanting and waving banners demanding the federal government do more to protect Canada’s water supply.
Right to water advocates want to see a national water policy with national water standards, a total ban on bulk water exports and a nation-wide upgrade to water services and related infrastructure.
“We have seen no movement on water services or infrastructure investment from the federal government,” said Susan Howatt, national water campaigner with the Council of Canadians.
World Water Day is a chance for people to think about this vital resource and how to protect it.
The statistics are staggering. There are 1.1 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation, according to UN estimates.
Canada is certainly not immune to water problems. Despite having about seven per cent of the world’s supply of renewable fresh water, tragedies like Walkerton and Kasechewan First Nation have had devastating affects on communities.
“We do not provide safe drinking water for all of our citizens,” said Ms. Howatt.
According to the federal government’s 2008 budget, Ottawa will spend over $330 million over two years to improve access to safe drinking water in First Nations communities and an additional $62 million over the next five years to advance the health of the oceans and support greater water pollution prevention.
Ms. Howatt is also concerned that Canada is blocking a resolution put forward to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that recognizes water and sanitation as a human right.
“My feeling is that there is some fear that recognition of the human right to water would compel Canada to engage in trade in bulk water, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Ms. Howatt. “The UN recognition of the human right to water would set down obligations of the state to fulfill within their own country but has nothing to do with international trade,” said Ms. Howatt.
Many environmentalists see bottled water as a form of bulk water and would like to see that industry more regulated.
Part of the problem is the belief that Canada has a never-ending supply of drinking water.
“I think we are (still taking water for granted),” said Ms. Howatt. “We imagine ourselves as the nation of thundering lakes and rivers and we do still have this myth of abundance.”
In fact, Canadians are water hogs. According to Environment Canada, Canadians use about 1650 cubic metres of fresh water per capita each year, more than double the average European rate.
However, according to John Steele of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, bottled water is not the biggest culprit when it comes to water usage.
“The 22 water bottlers in the province are allowed to take up to 18 million litres of water per day,” said Mr. Steele. “This represents only 0.2 per cent of the total daily amount of water drawn from Ontario’s water supply (2006 figures). The big users are you and I, and industry,” said Mr. Steele.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this can be found in the oil sands of Alberta.
Although the revenue generated from Alberta’s oil and gas industry allows Canadians to enjoy the standard of living they enjoy, the industry does consume large amounts of water.
“Oil sands mines are licensed to withdraw 380 million cubic metres annually from the Athabasca River, and another 140 million cubic metres from tributaries, run-off and groundwater,” said Simon Dyer, oil sands program director with the Pembina Institute in Calgary.
It can take between two and four-and-a-half barrels of water to extract and upgrade one barrel of oil. With at least one million barrels of oil being produced every day – that works out to be at least two million barrels of water being used every day.
Up to 90 per cent of the water is recycled until it is no longer usable. At that point it is stored in tailings ponds and other places.
According to Syncrude’s website, no process-affected water goes back into the river.
How long will it be before we are at a tipping point?
“We need a pause on oil sands approvals,” said Mr. Dyer. “We need to take the time to work on better technologies. We are locking ourselves in, approving all of these water-intensive projects,” said Mr. Dyer.