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Residents along streams in Mali’s capital city could be evacuated for fear of floods   ::   Israel’s health minister joins opposition to controversial mining plan

This week our environmental news roundup looks to Mali and Israel. Media in the two countries reported on cases where local residents’ wellbeing is threatened by what is eventually human activities – be it planned phosphate mining in southern Israel or climate change-induced floods in the Malian capita – and the way governments respond to that.

It’s also a good opportunity to recall two special reports  we published last week, looking into what the latest climate assessments mean for the world’s poor and  how Filipino authorities prepare for extreme weather yet to come.

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MALI

Malian authorities work to prevent deadly floods which affect each year the countries of Sahel region in Africa. Analysts say the floods are related to climate change but the Malian government is looking for the means to avoid the catastrophe the country experienced in 2013.

Image: original: robin.elaine, derivation made by Radosław Botev (CC-BY-SA-2.5) via Wikimedia Commons

According to state-owned daily L’Essor, a plan to expel people settled on natural water channels in urban areas was presented to the government by the minister of Urbanism and Towns on Thursday. Illegal occupations of public and private real estate are common phenomena in Mali and reached a concerning level as railways, protected forests and agricultural areas are being used for housing, the newspaper said.

Last August and September, like many other countries of the Sahel region, Mali faced sudden flooding which killed 60 people in the capital Bamako. Experts linked this inundation to climate change, since it didn’t rain enough in the region during 2013.

Yet, the government believes the human coast of the floods would have been less severe had it not been for the occupation of the water plains’ natural channels in violation of the urban development scheme. “After 2013 flooding, the government engaged to investigate the causes of the catastrophe and to determine the responsibilities”, L’Essor stated.

At the end of the investigation, the government decided to take several actions including launching a drive to inform people on the consequences of illegal occupation of public and private estate. Authorities are also mulling evacuation of dwellings on the channels of the Niger River that are identified as being at immediate risk.

Soumaila Diarra

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ISRAEL

For Israeli media, who rarely report on climate change, the release of IPCC’s latest report last Monday offered an opportunity to touch on the subject.

Yet, coverage of the new report was limited. Commercial TV Channel 10 used the occasion to give a brief (and rather sensationalist) introduction to the climate crisis. Its 3-minute news story included archive footage of anything from smock stacks and polar bears to an underwater mock cabinet meeting held in the Maldives in 2009. The new report, it said, is only the tip of the iceberg, the worst is yet to come. “The main damage from global warming is expected to first hit countries in Asia, South America and Africa,” Channel 10’s international news editor said in the narration. “Leaders of Western nations have so far avoided taking dramatic decisions, but reality will soon force them to do so,” he concluded.

Left-wing news website Haaretz, that has been covering climate change on a largely regular basis, ran a considerably more nuanced and detailed story. Its 700 word news piece, complete with several infographics, focused on the report itself and highlighted those projections ranked by the authors as in higher degree of certainty – changes in natural systems such melting of glaciers, changes in species distribution, and thawing of Arctic permafrost. Like Channel 10 it stressed, that according to the report we already see today the impacts of climate change, and both media outlets dwelled on possible response measures mentioned in the IPCC report. However, both also did not make any reference to Israel.

Many other news outlets did not cover the release of the IPCC report at all, whereas popular news websites Ynet and Walla republished news agency reports.

Yet, Israel’s single largest environmental story last week was the health minister’s decision not to back phosphate mining in southern Israel. No less than ten news stories and opinion pieces were published over the course of Thursday and Friday. Since several years residents in the nearby town of Arad, concerned with potential health impacts of the proposed open-pit mining, have been campaigning against the plan of an Israeli multinational chemicals manufacturer.

Image: איתן (CC-BY-SA-3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Now, an expert report commissioned by the health ministry ruled that the health risk entailed by full scale mining would not meet American and European standards, the minister wrote in a letter to the interior ministry, and therefore should also not be acceptable in Israel.

This is not the first study into the issue, and some of its predecessors came up with different conclusions.

The company involved disputed the minister’s interpretation of the report, and warned that Israel’s phosphate deposits are running low, and that a decision against the new mining could lead to mass lay off of workers, many of them are local residents, as well as a major economic loss to the region.

Financial news site Calcalist, who broke the story, gave considerably more context than those who followed suit, with the exception of the coverage in financial news site The Marker. Some took no sides, running seemingly balanced stories. Others – including popular news website Ynet, conservative daily Israel Hayom, and financial daily Globes – gave more room to critics of the minister’s decision.

An op-ed by Haaretz’s environment correspondent weighed in on the dilemma between health and social-economic concerns, and it also revealed a different dimension to the story. Environmental NGOs, he wrote, had chosen not to take part in the local residents’ campaign because they believed  a decision to reject the current plan could lead to approving mining in other, more ecologically sensitive locations.

However, this is not the end of the story, as all reports stressed, since the mining plan is yet to be considered by the regional planing committee.

Ido Liven

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