Sunday, 13 January 2013

NEWSLETTER #5 - SOCIETY OF AFRICAN EARTH SCIENTISTS



    Volume 1, Issue No. 5,  October/ November 2012


Foreword by the Acting Chair of Society of African Earth Scientists, Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu

Welcome to the fifth issue of the bi-monthly newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES).
   In the current issue we address the continent’s unfolding dual challenges of land grabbing and hydraulic fracturing.

Why the World Bank has Refused to Halt Funding of  the Africa Land Grab
Despite receiving a formal request from Oxfam Kenya to stop the financing of land deals, the World Bank has refused to halt its funding programme.1 The World Bank does not accept the Oxfam position, that the funding facilitating land deals are adversely affecting the food security of African nations. The World Bank continues to justify its financial support by claiming their action is designed to ameliorate the effects of rising food prices and the looming prospect of world food shortage.
   Ironically, two thirds of the land acquired in Africa between 2000 and 2010 have been used  for export crops, which will not feed Africans, and much of the remainder is to be used for biofuels which will feed nobody, inside or outside of Africa.
   I was reminded by Dr Emeka Akaezuwa of Stop Africa Land Grab   that this should not be an unexpected response as “African land grab”, he notes, “ is the brainchild of the world bank”. The World Bank is therefore bound to pay lip service to the ideals of   enhancing food security whilst continuing to fund land deals that are further impoverishing Africa and other developing regions.
      The land deals are also to be understood in the context of European climate change targets. European targets to replace fossil fuels with biofuels are contributing to the increase in food prices and global hunger, according to  Oxfam. Current EU mandates require member states to increase the amount of transport powered by biofuels to reach 10% by 2020.  
  
Hydraulic Fracturing in Africa2
Although proving to be an unpopular technology elsewhere in the world, hydraulic fracturing is likely to be coming to Africa. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves the vertical drilling into hundreds of feet of rock followed by   horizontal drilling through shale rock. Millions of gallons of water mixed with rock, sand, and chemicals are blasted into the shale rock at super high pressure inducing fractures in the rock and releasing shale gas. Drawbacks are however, that the process uses massive amounts of water to blast through the shale. The drilling may pass through aquifers that provide local communities with a supply of groundwater. Local water supplies are therefore in danger of becoming contaminated, as evidence from fracking in the US suggests. Also, fracking is well known to cause earth tremors.
   A watershed in the emergence of fracking in Africa is that South Africa has now lifted its previous ban.3 It is now more likely that in time as more companies globally exploit shale gas, other African countries believed to possess shale gas reserves such as Algeria, Morocco and Western Sahara, etc will follow suit.
   To appreciate the concern over ceding the responsibility for ensuring the purity of African rivers, groundwater, and air to the conscience and judgements of corporations primarily driven by the desire for quick profits through shale gas exploration, one has to take into account the oil and gas companies that will be leading this new shale gas exploitation and the appalling record they have in African environmental health and safety. It is shell, for example, that is to lead the exploitation of shale gas in South Africa. What is their record in observing environmental health and safety measures in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region? If their record is appalling there, why would we expect their behaviour to be different elsewhere on the continent? Given limited African technological and infrastructural resources how will African countries cope with potential groundwater pollution, earth tremors and atmospheric pollution? The clear track records of environmental irresponsibility in Nigeria and elsewhere should be stark reminders of  what we may expect.  

The African Union Research Grant Programme4
In its Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) developed in 2005, the African Union clearly recognises the important role of science and technology in Africa’s sustainable development, and this fact must be taken full advantage of by African science and technology organisations. The CPA “articulates Africa’s common objectives and commitment to collectively use science as a development tool…. It addresses the way forward to use science and technology as catalysts for sustainable development.”
   In  meeting these objects, the AU commission  has designed the African union research grant which  has among its objectives the wish to promote intra-african and international cooperation and collaboration in research. The implementation strategy of the grant encourages the creation of research networks and the formation of consortia of scientists that will jointly make bids for the AU research grant.
   The African Union’s Research Grant Programme offers an important opportunity for  African science and technology organisations to work together as consortia to apply for research funding  for well considered research projects that will lead to the improvement of quality of life for African communities.
   It is worthy of note that the priority areas for the 2012 call for research proposals fitted precisely with the objects of SAES and highlight the relevance of considering the AU research grant for  prospective future research.  


Earth Science Book Reviews
Erosion and Sedimentation (2nd edition) by Pierre Y. Julien

The science of sedimentation and erosion  is still in its relative infancy. This volume by Julien5 brings the topic up to date and manages to convey the fundamentals of the mechanics of sediment motion alongside the fundamentals of the relevant concepts in fluid mechanics. The book, aimed at Earth scientists and engineers, is well written and illustrated and appears to make a highly complex subject much more accessible. The volume contains many worked examples and serves well as a text for postgraduate studies in erosion and sedimentation.

Society of  African Earth Scientists  Events
On 8th Nov 2012 the Society held a soil and water conservation workshop at Hampstead Quaker  Meeting Rooms. The notes have been  available on the facebook page and will also become available on the SAES blog.  The notes are intended as a resource to assist soil and water conservation work in an African context.
   Future SAES events will include an event on African land grab, possibly featuring a speaker from the Stop Africa Land Grab movement, and/or the Oxfam Pan Africa Economic Justice Lead.  Following on from this, and not to be forgotten, is a planned workshop on photovoltaics.

Affiliation and Association with other science & technology organisations
SAES is affiliated to both the African Association of Women in the Geosciences and Solar Sister.

Earth Science Events
  
December 3 - 4, 2012
Achieving Food and Environmental Security - New Approaches to Close the Gap
Venue: Royal Society, London
THE ROYAL SOCIETY 2012 scientific discussion meetings at the Royal Society.
3 – 4 December
This meeting is free to attend, but pre-registration is essential.
For more details visit http://royalsociety.org/events

December 3 - 4, 2012
Annual International Conference on Geological & Earth Sciences (GEOS 2012)
Venue: Hotel Fort Canning, Singapore, Malaysia

December 10 - 21, 2012
Conference and Advanced School on Quantification of Earthquake Hazards in the Caribbean – The Gonave Microplate
Venue: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.
Two-week workshop dedicated to understanding the  deformation processes around the Gonave microplate and the related earthquake hazards, followed by an advanced school on the theory and application  of modern seismological and geodetic methods

 April 16-19,  2013
12th International Conference Groundwater-Soil-Systems and Water Resources Management
Venue: Barcelona, Spain

May 3 - 5,  2013
Colloque maghrebin de geophysique appliquee
Venue: Meknes, Morocco
Overview of  latest scientific developments and recent work to help the fight against the loss of environmental resources and ensure environmental sustaoinability.

Some selected Reading, Links, etc
5. Julien, P. Y.., Erosion and Sedimentation, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
6. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
 7. Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-african-earth-sciences/

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