You can’t outrun a mosquito – but you CAN hide.

Online volunteers of Nabuur.com combat malaria through social networks

kids with mosquito nets mawoito

A thousand-mile journey starts with a single step, they say. In this case, a journey spanning the globe starts with a click as Emmanuel, an agricultural Engineer from Uganda, logs onto Nabuur.com.

Soon after posting his message – a request for help outlining his mission to cut death-rates from Malaria in his home village of Wakitaka – his entry is read by a health-worker in a neighbouring village. Two hours later an economics graduate turns on her laptop in a European café. Click. Ideas and offers of expertise pour in from around the world. Click, click, click.

This is Nabuur – a community of impassioned online volunteers who refuse to say “it can’t be helped.” When ordinary people put their unique expertise and energies to extraordinary use, virtually anything is possible. For villagers in Emmanuel’s home village, this means no longer suffering debilitating, and frequently fatal, bouts of malaria.

Emmanuel’s vision takes shape. A collaboration is formed between Wakitaka and neighbouring Mawoito and Jinja Central villages. Funds will be raised to provide 1,000 vulnerable families with mosquito nets and to educate them about malaria prevention and treatment. Efforts will focus on protecting children, 350 of whom are killed by Malaria in Uganda every day. “Most families do not cover their children with treated nets due to lack of funds and information,” says Emmanuel. Tonny Ulambe, Nabuur representative and founder of a centre caring for orphaned children, adds: “the government doesn’t take it on itself to provide for vulnerable children here. Their communities must protect them.”

TweetANet gives private donors a way to help ground-level activists like Tonny by harnessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach donors and spread the campaign’s message: for just 2 euros  – less than the price of a latte – you can protect a child from malaria.

“Both Nabuur and the TweetANet fundraiser are based on the belief that anyone with a computer can contribute and make a difference in villages that have not been reached by the big donors so far,“ says Maria Zandt, TweetANet organizer.

It’s working.

As of April 15th private donors have funded about 170 mosquito nets. This means 170 families protected from this deadly, but preventable, disease. This means children back in school, parents relieved of costly medical expenses. This means healthy communities contributing income to other Nabuur projects such as local education and income-generation initiatives.

These donors – ordinary people with access to the internet  –  are making an extraordinary difference. You can join them by logging onto betterplace.org and making a donation or simply by spreading the word and becoming an advocate in support of TweetANet.

Capuccino?

I think I’ll pass.

Written by on 19.04.2010. Last updated on 15.10.2012.

The betterplace.org and FLIP video contest

So, you always wanted to show your supporters how you are changing the world with your betterplace project? Now’s the chance, with the betterplace.org and FLIP video contest. Not only do we provide a FLIP camera to get the job done, but we will also premiere the best film and provide professional consultation to help structure your project.

Are you picturing a film-report of your project? A portrait of someone who directly profits from your work? Or a collage of interviews? Whatever your idea may be, convince us about it on a maximum A4-sized paper and send it to us by 25 May. Describe the story, how you plan to portray it, and why it will be interesting for your viewers.

We are looking for films that are not only entertaining, but also seek to change the world. Therefore, your ideas should fulfil the following criteria:

  • Your project must be registered on betterplace.org
  • The film must document the impact of your projects in some way
  • And, since no project is perfect, show us at least one weak spot of your project, as well as ideas for possible solutions.

The betterplace.org jury will choose the ten best concept descriptions that are received by May 25, 2010. Selected projects will receive two FLIP cameras each to implement the filming. The chosen projects can keep the cameras and use them to document further project work in the future!

We will provide guidance about where to find the best Internet resources for video filming and editing. The finished films—no longer than 3 minutes in length—will be posted online on August 15 at betterplace.org where betterplace members can vote for their favourites. The winner project will be rewarded with a professional, comprehensive consultation. Depending on your geographic location, we will provide consultation by selected specialists over an Internet seminar (a “webinar”) or at a workshop in Berlin. The exact topic of focus can be decided on together by the winning project and the consultant, but the main point is: it helps to improve your project.

Send us your ideas: The deadline for descriptions is 25 May to skr@betterplace.org.

We will send two cameras to each of the ten best ideas. You can keep the cameras for future use too! You will then have until the 15 August to produce your films and send them to us.

Here you can find all the information in a pdf that you can print and post. betterplace is looking forward to your ideas!

Categories: Archive
Written by on 14.04.2010. Last updated on 14.04.2010.

the story of bottled water

Distilled facts on bottled water:

  • An estimated 200 billion water bottles are consumed globally each year.
  • Only 1 in 5 bottles are recycled. (The other 4 contribute to the 300 billion pounds of waste from plastic water bottles).
  • 40% of bottled water is bottled tap water, sold at up to 10,000 times the price of tap water, and often containing chemical contaminants that exceed strict health standards.
  • 3 bottles of water are required to produce 1 single bottle. 17 million barrels of oil are used globally to produce water bottles each year. That’s enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year.

Add this to the information you’ve already gleaned from our recent Water Knowledge Portal, where you can learn about the scarcity of water in many locations worldwide, and the environmental, health and economic impacts that follow.

While bottled water is a useful and vital solution in the aftermath of crises, where there is limited or no access to clean drinking water, in the developed world the trend toward expensive plastic bottled water is an increasing environmental and health hazard that must be addressed, as Anna Lenzer attempted in her 2009 controversial critique of pricey Fiji water–Obama’s favourite drinking habit.

Check out this terrific video on The Story of Water for a simple overview, or for a longer history, see the 2008 documentary Flow, which was the official selection of Sundance Film Festival.

And what can you do to make a difference?

  • Drink tap water or, if you’re worried about chemicals, get a good water filter.
  • Use stainless steel or reusable bottles to make your water portable.
  • Campaign to remove bottled water from conferences, your workplace, or even your town.
  • Request that your town restore drinking fountains
flickr cc: Klearchos Kapoutsis

flickr cc: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Note: the above facts were mostly taken from this bottled water infographic by Online Education.

Categories: Archive
Written by on 13.04.2010. Last updated on 13.04.2010.

Ratz, Chad and the Elbe

Last summer Heinz Ratz re-imagined the triathlon. His triune discipline: swim, music and inform. The 42-year-old German musician is currently hard at work swimming 15 to 20 kilometres through German rivers before going ashore to give a concert and raise awareness for the protection of the water ways.

The rivers are plagued by dredging, canalisation or just pure rubbish. In cooperation with the BUND, a German association for environment and nature protection, in the summer of 2009, Ratz swam until his skin pruned and wrinkled—a total of 1,000 kilometres. The Water Portal from betterplace.org has posted a short film and further links on the topic.

One of these links follows one of Ratz’s colleagues. The U.S. American Chad Pregracke, so-called “Garbage Man” has been collecting garbage with his NGO Living Lands & Water for over ten years.  The result: 83 toilets, 775 refrigerators and over 55,000 tires – altogether several hundred tons of garbage.

The Elbe (flickr cc: Blumenbiene)

The Elbe (flickr cc: Blumenbiene)

Back in Germany, there’s also some good news to be had: not every river is going belly-up. The Elbe river is relatively close to its natural state; for 600 kilometres, the river is free from canalisation and dams. However, due to economic reasons, the Elbe’s ecosystem is not unquestionably safe. Deepening for the inland waterway vessels and graveling the banks and shores endangers the natural water habitats.

The BUND has campaigned successfully for the protection of the Elbe. The organisation hinders such destructive projects by applying public pressure. In the meanwhile, they have founded several citizen initiatives along the Elbe, with great success: with the dismantling of dikes, 420 hectares of flood plains were gained, including a 350-hectare large forest. Where? Learn more here on our water portal.

Categories: Archive
Written by on 6.04.2010. Last updated on 6.04.2010.

The System Theory of Merry-Go-Rounds

I just finished reading a book about system theory. People, businesses, thermostats: everything is a system. Even if one was to take apart a system component by component and see how they’re all connected, it wouldn’t be possible to exactly predict the future. But it is possible to predict the unexpected, to ask the question: “What happens if…?” And when something noticeably isn’t going according to plan, then the system has to be adjusted. Or put another way: one has to learn from failure. A valuable thought now as I write about the case of the PlayPumps in Africa.

In the 90s, the South African company Roundabout Outdoor (currently offline) developed a concept of a water pump that functions from the energy of children at play. The idea depended on the constant that children play often and gladly. The equation was established: the more money that can be gathered, the more pumps can be purchased, and the more water that will become available for people in need.

This equation became clear to Laura Bush, the wife of George W., who then organised a 60 million US-dollar partnership with PlayPumps. The goal was to install 4,000 carousel pumps by the year 2010. According to PlayPumps, these should then provide clean water for up to ten million people.

To date, 1,000 pumps have been installed. The supposed constant turned out to be a variable, since children don’t always play often or gladly on the merry-go-round. And anyway, in order to reach the target outcomes, they would have to play so much that it would constitute as child-labour. One journalist from The Guardian calculated: in order for 4,000 pumps to provide ten million people with the recommended minimum of 15 litres of water per day, the merry-go-rounds would have to be turned nonstop for 27 hours a day.

In addition to this, the pumps are very expensive. At the pricey drilling amount of 14,000 US-dollars, the concept and design were heavily criticised by WaterAid, one of the largest water-NGOs. Also, the technology is complicated and the replacement parts are unique, which makes onsite repairs difficult.

To read about what went wrong, and whether PlayPumps has remedied the situation, visit the betterplace LAB Water Knowledge Portal, here.

P.S. The book also mentioned that the system goals have a fundamental influence on the system behaviours. When one considers that Roudabout Outdoors is a for-profit company, it tends to beg the question: was the system goal to bring clean water to as many people as possible, or rather to glean high profits?

Categories: Archive
Written by on 6.04.2010. Last updated on 6.04.2010.

Detour! How the money for a project ended up with the neighbouring village

Sometimes social projects do not develop according to plan because fluctuations in prices, politics or simply the weather are unpredictable. Just the same applies to projects on betterplace: One always has to expect that donations may need to be used differently than originally planned. The great thing about betterplace.org is, however, that thanks to the direct contact between supporters and project managers, donors stay involved in the project development along the way. Otherwise, we might never have heard about this fabulous story:

In March 2008, Katrina Smith registered a project on betterplace.org with the aim of financing a water supply system for Mukureku – a remote village on the Indonesian island Flores. Katrina had previously been working as a Public Health consultant on Flores and now wanted to support the community in setting up the much-needed water supply. In the project description, she stated: “The 237 families that make up the community of Mukureku have given up waiting for the government, or anyone else to solve their problems.“ The villagers had already collected money from every family in the community and, together with the local NGO Tananua, worked out a plan for the construction of the water supply. The only thing missing was more funding.

They raised this from the betterplace community. After nearly nine months, the required funds were gathered and the implementation of the project endeavour could in fact have begun had it not been for the four month rainy-season on Flores, rendering construction work practically impossible. And in the meantime, the community of Mukureku won a competition for government funds to build a water supply!

Upon receiving this sensational news from Indonesia – Katrina lived in Ecuador by then – she decided without further ado to use the donations collected on betterplace.org to support a neighbouring village on Flores.  Thus, not only is Mukureku now equipped with a functioning water supply, but also the community of Taniwoda. In Taniwoda, the funds raised could even finance the setup of two water pumps. How exactly the project was implemented and the new system is managed sustainably can be read on the project blog. This is a great example of how donors on betterplace.org receive direct feedback about the actual project development, and how a situation can be made even better when things don’t work out the way they were planned!

PS. And speaking of water: have you already checked out the betterplace LAB Water Knowledge Portal?

Written by on 6.04.2010. Last updated on 15.10.2012.

Talking Pictures

The betterplace LAB has now placed another Hamburg Media School production online. It is a Slidecast, a Power Point presentation that anyone can post online with an overlaying audio text.

This Slidecast presentation deals with the potential of using social media for online fundraising. Which platforms offer which services to raise awareness for an organisation? What are Google Grants? And how can Facebook help with my publicity?

Lean back, click on “Full Screen” and enjoy our Talking Picture.

P.S. You can download other media resources—in the form of pdfs—from our cooperation with the Hamburg Media School here:

  • The best way to present your project on betterplace AND to keep it up to date: this pdf
  • Activating your betterplace.org project and networks: this pdf
  • How to setup a Team on betterplace.org: this pdf
Categories: Archive
Written by on 6.04.2010. Last updated on 15.10.2012.

Meat & Water: the steaks are high

Whoever has been haunted by the 1973 film Soylent Green may remember the jubilation of detective Robert Thorn (played by Charlton Heston) upon finding and stealing a dry beef steak while investigating a crime scene. In his world at least, set in the not too distant year 2022, meat production is rare, as are any fresh agricultural products, and the population is barely sustained by tasteless nutrient-sufficient “soylent” wafers, the horrifying source of which I won’t spoil for you if you’re keen to see the movie.

We’re only 12 years away from the dystopian future predicted in Soylent Green, but on the surface it seems as though we’re light years away from the scarcity of meat or agricultural products. However when we look at the clear data indicating water scarcity, it doesn’t take much of a rocket scientist to realise the connection between a shrinking water supply and the agricultural products that we rely upon for life.

And connected to this is the alarming amount of meat products currently being consumed worldwide. Raising livestock for our diets, for example, takes a far heavier toll on amounts of water used than do plant foods. “To the quantities (of water) consumed by animals in their daily lives have to be added the amounts taken to grow feed crops, plus the considerable volume necessary to operate slaughterhouses and processing factories.” (1) A pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce, compared to 250 gallons of water for a pound of soy or 25 gallons for a pound of wheat. The diet of an average meat eater requires 15 times more than a plant-based diet. And the amount of global meat eaters doesn’t seem to be going down just yet, rather the reverse. According to a November 2001 report by the World Bank, the “total global meat demand is expected to grow from 209 million tons in 1997 to 327 million tons in 2020 (56%).” (2)

eatinglessmeat

The increasing amount of meat-eaters in the developing and developed world contributes indirectly to the severe malnutrition of other human populations, as the land used for livestock feed detracts from the overall possible agricultural land used for human nutrition. That is, the crops used to feed animals for meat-consumption in Europe, for example, are taken from Brazil or Africa, whose own populations are suffering from malnutrition. In his book So Shall We Reap, Colin Tudge says of the increasing livestock market: “If present trends of meat-eating continue, then by 2050 the world’s livestock will be consuming as much as 4 billion people do.“ An estimated 3.6 million children could be saved from malnutrition by a 50% reduction in meat consumption in developed countries.

Livestock and Pollution

Besides the devastating land-use impact of raising livestock (30% of the world’s land surface is used for livestock grazing or agricultural feed for the animals)—which includes the massive clearing, slashing and burning of trees and vegetation—the livestock industry is an enormous contributor worldwide to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Estimates of worldwide annual GHG emissions from livestock wastes and processing range from 18% in 2006 to 51%  in 2009 (3-4). Even the most conservative estimate is still enormous, given that, in addition, the largely-untreated amounts of livestock waste (the annual amount of which is 130 times more than human waste) also contributes to alarming water pollution, frequently seeping into the soil or running off into rivers and oceans, creating dead zones. Dead zones are vast tracts of destroyed marine ecosystems that can no longer support life due to the lack of oxygen from concentrated chemical fertilizers and livestock waste. The largest of 146 U.N.-identified dead zones is over 70,000 square kilometres and can be seen from outer space. (5)

What can be done?

the betterplace LAB has identified case studies of sustainable agriculture and local small farm projects on our new Water Knowledge Portal. Groups like SEKEM or the betterplace project Green Desert Peru use sustainable agriculture methods to turn human and agricultural waste and livestock manure into natural fertilizers for crops.

In her interview, Dr. Lena Partzsch—water expert from Greifswald University—explains how conscious consumerism and cutting back on meat consumption are valuable measures that individuals can take in reducing their water footprint.

The Water Knowledge Portal features a glossary of water-related terms, including the description of a “Water Footprint” and a calculator that you can use to find out your own water footprint, and how to tread more lightly. You can also zoom in to explore this wonderful infographic (below) that provides one clear pictures of daily water use.

Other innovative measures include eating locally (see the Tyee series on the 100-mile diet), consuming consciously (see the Good Stuff? Guide), or thinking out of the box, as Sweden did, in turning their trains and public transportation system into biogas engines, fuelled by the methane from livestock.

Let’s save water by reducing our meat consumption, and hopefully avoid the soylent green future of tasteless food and water scarcity.

waterfootprint

Sources:

  1. Compassion in World Farming Report: The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat (pdf) (http://www.ciwf.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/g/global_benefits_of_eating_less_meat.pdf)
  2. Livestock Development – Implications for Rural Poverty, the Environment, and Global Food Security
  3. The 2006 U.N. Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm)
  4. 2009 study by Robert Goodland & Jeff Anhang: “Livestock and Climate Change” (pdf) in World Watch magazine
  5. Dead Zones – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_%28ecology%29)
  6. Why Veg? www.whyveg.com
  7. WorldWatch: www.worldwatch.org
Categories: Archive
Written by on 29.03.2010. Last updated on 29.03.2010.

Water isn’t just something you give to houseplants: water and the environment

Throughout our ecosystem water plays a complex and important role. But countless important water sources, from the Ganges to the Colorado and the Aral and Chad Sea, are threatened by extensive outtake and pollution, a situation aggrevated by climate change.

In out new water portal you’ll find well-researched theses and exciting solutions in the realm of water and environment:

„It can’t get any worse“, says tropical water expert Dirk Walter, regarding the situation of rivers in India. Nonetheless, he explains in this interview why he is still optimistic.

To protect against fragile ecosystem deterioration, the German NGO BUND is actively working to salvage the Elbe River. Their lobby is strong and has already taken back many hectares of wetlands.

River Regions Management: it sounds professional, and it is. The holistic methods of the Watershed Organisation Trust are exemplary and are increasingly being adopted by other organisations.

Until the skin gets pretty wrinkly: the musician Heinz Ratz swims up to 20 kilometres per day in the German rivers in order to raise awareness about their quiet deterioration.

Discuss and comment these approaches and case studies here!

Categories: Archive
Written by on 17.03.2010. Last updated on 17.03.2010.

They are everything but still: Our experts share their experience concerning water and food

It sounds banal, but it’s vital: agriculture requires water. And people need agriculture to have full stomachs.

It’s difficult to find an area of human life that is untouched by water. The areas affected by water problems vary so radically, as do their solutions. In our new water-portal our experts describe their experiences in the realm of water and food:

Lena Partzsch, water expert from the work group GETIDOS (“Getting things done sustainably”) at Greifswald University, provides a situation update and challenges users to do some serious rethinking.

Tread at the bottom, pump at the top: The Money Maker Irrigation Pump from the organisation Kickstart sounds enticing. Almost 100,000 small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa have already invested in the technology. Rightly so?

Work like an Egyptian: exploitative working conditions can be reduced through a combination of educational and health measures. That’s what SEKEM is doing.

To improve groundwater levels, the Indian initiative “Barefoot College” uses rainwater. Other lands are now adopting this exemplary model.

Comment and discuss these approaches and case studies here!

Categories: Archive
Written by on 17.03.2010. Last updated on 17.03.2010.