This week we were “utterly shocked” by the absence of cluster munition survival videos on the web. Check Google, YouTube. All you can get out of those communications is the utter shock of mutilation, death and devastation the murderers take pleasure in leaving you with. Georgia, Syria, now Ukraine.
Alright, shocked and killed we can easily be by just stepping out on the street. That’s not what we expect from the world wide web, folks! We look for life-saving information, we seek solutions to the problem.
As our town of Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine was shelled by heavy weaponry earlier this week, we wondered what the public security experience will be for those who survive the deadly attack by Smerch BM30 rockets. And — here and now — should we really care who launched them as long as we know how to dodge them?!
Okay, let the Kyiv- and New York-based journos speculate about geopolitics. From the safety of their homes.
Most messages beamed by the mainstream based-not-in-Kramatorsk media just drummed up the confrontation tune highlighting the — otherwise important facts that — cluster munitions are banned under international law and that Ukraine was shocked by the attack on a community “some 50 km behind Ukrainian lines and [thus] considered relatively safe before the attack.”
Some bits of life-granting solution communication came from the Governor of Donetsk Oblast Oleksandr Kikhtenko. At a press conference hours after the attack, he shed some light on the mechanics and electronics behind the killing power of 300 mm missiles — sure we all wish we knew that information much earlier; and the media is to still stamp the survival drill into our minds.
Some kudos also go to the Odesa Oblast Administration (Southern Ukraine) and the local news outlet here in Kramatorsk named Vostochnyy Proekt for sharing these bomb survival videos:
Sure thing, Ukrainians start to come out of the cluster munition attacks more resilient, survival tactics savvy. But like in any awareness raising/behavior change campaign having the right communication tools is as important as repeating the vital message a quadrillion times.
Problem reporting is so analog age. In the digital 21st century let’s finally start to think and communicate solutions, not just problems.
To our global reader out there, next time you are “utterly shocked” and think of launching a Twitter campaign — think @clusterbombsurvival not just @banclustermunition.
Oleksandr Pietushkov, Chief International Officer at Ukrainian Union of Building Materials’ Manufacturers, explains the human science behind the magic of minerals. We caught up with him in Munich, Germany during the BAU 2015, world’s leading trade fair for architecture, materials and systems.
Why participate in the BAU? There are similar events throughout the year in places from Sao Paulo to Tokyo all the way to Almaty and Lagos.
The main idea here is: Ukraine has signed the Association Agreement with EU recently, we can see that the European markets become more open for Ukrainian goods. Why not use this? So we go to the fair and present ourselves, Ukrainian building materials and investment potential of our country. Another thing – it’s about heavy goods so you have to study carefully what kind of competitive products you can offer in regard to transportation costs.
Our next step is to pitch our exceptional offerings across local European fairs: think Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Sweden. And of course we should not overlook other big and promising markets – we plan to participate in fairs in UAE, Egypt and the MENA region as a whole.
Did the 2008 global recession boost the international competitiveness of Ukrainian producers of building materials?
Not in the first place. We can see that only after 2008 many industries started to flourish. And the reason for that was the weakness of the local currency and growing potential of the domestic market. For instance, thermal insulation (see pdf): until 2008 we imported almost 100% of it . Two new factories have been put up since those times and now Ukraine exports this quality product with a reasonable price-tag attached to it. We are seeing similar trends emerge in other sectors of construction industry in Ukraine.
So I’d rather say that the present crisis pushes Ukrainian manufacturers of building materials in the direction of foreign markets and makes them increase their competiveness. They have everything here to succeed: cheap and qualified labour, rich resources and weaker hryvna [Ukrainian currency] to boost our exports.
How much is the participation of Ukraine's delegation informed by Donbass reconstruction needs -- however bleak is the peace in Eastern Ukraine at the moment?
I have to say that our mission to BAU 2015 in regards to Donbass was more about informing our foreign partners: people needed information about what’s really happening there. Not from the news — they wanted to hear it directly from us Ukrainians, people who live and work here.
Regretfully, it is very hard to predict how the situation will develop given the current state that a significant part of Donbass is in. The fact remains pronouncing – we have 80% of infrastructural, housing and civil objects damaged and destroyed there. So we will have to deal with it afterwards. The only question for now is priorities – when exactly should we be rolling up our sleeves?
Tells us more about the partnership with UFEMAT?
Europe’s UFEMAT is more of a merchants’ association rather than the producers’ union. In 2014 our Union became the full-bodied member of this organisation. Our agenda with UFEMAT is focused on the following aspects:
and a pilot project to launch the Centre for European standards in Ukraine.
Our first big meeting with UFEMAT showed that we have what to offer to Europe: many of our products are certified for the EU and our price propositions are highly competitive. In March, we plan to continue developing relations through a visit of our delegation to Brussels. There we plan to meet several major builders’ merchants, visit Trade Fair Batibouw. And – last but not least – take part in a UFEMAT meeting where strategy for 2015 will be developed.
What are the key international markets as Ukrainian manufacturers of building materials see them? What are the prospects of getting a market share in those target markets?
Good quality, a sound raw materials base and cheap labour are the key factors for getting a share in these markets.
What are the two low price/high quality materials by Ukraine's manufactures that you think we should definitely know about? How come it is Ukrainians who excel at manufacturing these?
I think it’s definitely bricks and insulation. Bricks – as we have about 30-40% of world reserves of white clay and kaolin and we mastered the production very well. For insulation, besides raw materials, we also have harnessed innovative technologies.
But there’s still a lot of work ahead. We need more ceramic tile and bathroom ceramics factories. There are more than 3,800 developed deposits for building materials production: high-melting clay, kaolin, limestone, gypsum, granite, gabbro, labradorite, basalt, resources for glass production etc. These deposits have huge export potential. For instance, only in Zhytomyr region (100-150 km away from Kyiv) there are 116 deposits of granite, gabbro and labradorite with proven reserves north of 150 million cubic metres. Regrettably, more than half of those deposits are not being processed and more of the working quarries need new technologies in processing.
Oleksandr, this is not your first time attending an international building fair. How is it different this time?
The global count of cadavers as a result of smoking aside, this account of 21th century Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Revival will cold-shower you with its ridiculously low wages and remind you of the environment-unfriendly stance held by international lender-funders like the World Bank. On top of that, there is deforestation and mountain acacia’s best friend — western Zimbabwe-sourced coal.
Coal emits warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while the water-hungry eucalyptus trees may deplete water sources.
With this, be reminded that the world as a whole is in a mess and it’s high time for all of us to come up with Swiss-knife solutions to the complex problems. Right..
Then remember: if you can’t measure it you probably can’t make it. And yet again, our local, national and international sets of data are a reflection of the world as it is: complex and incomplete, outright fraudulent at times.
Only 37% of the country’s land receives rainfall considered adequate for agriculture. This is according to the data sourced back in 2014 from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture website — which was down at the time this post went public.
Local press reported back in May 2014 that most farmers pay their workers USD2-3 for eight hours of hard labour for either cultivating or applying chemicals in the fields. This was a far cry from the agreed poverty datum line of around USD520 — probably a monthly stat.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agricultural extension was introduced in Zimbabwe in 1927 by Emory D. Alvord, who started with nine agricultural demonstration workers.
Most of Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers are reported to rely on wood to cure tobacco, a practice that’s stripping Southern African nation of its woodlands. Chopping down the trees to get flue-cured tobacco –used to flavor cigarettes — proves to be cheaper than using coal or electricity. Coal can amount to 10 % of the farmer’s production costs.
While coal is cheap at source — about 800 km away in Hwange, western edge of Zimbabwe, close to the renowned resort area of Victoria Falls — the cost of transporting it to the tobacco-growing regions makes it expensive.
A farmer needs at least 3.5kg of coal to cure a kilogramme of tobacco
In an interview for IRIN, a news agency focusing on humanitarian stories in regions overlooked by international media, Rodney Ambrose of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association said the average cost of coal to a farmer is USD170 per ton.
Eating into the otherwise small profit of over 90,000 small-scale cultivators is the cost of inputs like seed, fertilizer and chemicals.
The growers account for about 15 % of Zimbabwe’s annual deforestation of about 330,000 hectares, according to the state’s Forestry Commission.
An estimated 7.5 million trees are destroyed annually, mainly due to curing tobacco.
At the current rate, expect indigenous forests to disappear within 50 years.
Only 45 % of natural forest to go
Back in the day, Zimbabwe rivaled the U.S. as the source of the world’s best quality tobacco. 237 million kilograms is no small amount, is it? The record crop is forecast to be back this year.
Does the tobacco revival mean Zimbabwe sees msasa, mountain acacia and mnondo — indigenous hardwoods — out of the door by 2050?
State-run Tobacco Industry Marketing Board:
While in 2000 all of the crop was sold at auctions, today 70 % is grown under contracts for the likes of British American Tobacco Plc and Universal Corp.
Do the multinationals lead the environmental movement around the world?
Mind you! It’s not that bad in Zimbabwe only. Guided by the reduction of poverty as their official goal, the World Bank still suffers from a pervasive ‘loan approval culture’ “driven by a perverse incentive system that pressures staff and managers to make large loans to governments and corporations without adequate attention to environmental, governance and social issues.”
World Bank lending for coal, oil and gas was USD3 billion in 2008 — a sixfold increase from 2004. In the same year, only USD476 million went toward renewable energy sources.
Scarcity of land under management of small-scale farmers and low margins probably mean no big incentive for the cultivators to plant trees in a sustainable manner.
In Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, Sustainable Afforestation Association — set up in October 2013 by tobacco growers and merchants with the support of Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board — vowed to spend USD33.5 million to replant about 5,000 hectares of trees a year by 2021.
Checked today, last time the SAS site reported news was back in June 2014.
The money — SAS promised in a local news report — would be raised through a 0.5 % levy on net annual tobacco earnings.
The Environmental Management Agency’s Steady Kangata told IRIN that more trees are being felled than being planted.
Tobacco farmers are required to pay USD25 for a permit to cut firewood to the Forestry Commission every year. This money is then used to plant seedlings in deforested areas.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board reportedly talks with various coal distributors to see if they can make the coal available in affordable bags for the farmers.
Delivered by the wagon load of about 40 tons, most small-scale growers only afford to buy 50 or 100 kg bags of coal at a time.
And then there are rocket barns (furnaces), which use 50 % less wood because of their design. How many can you buy at USD5,000-6,000 a piece?
According to IRIN, income from tobacco in 2013 accounted for at least 10.7 % of Zimbabwe’s GDP and 21.8 % of all exports, compared to 9.2 % for other agricultural commodities.
For comparison, agriculture as a whole contributes 14 -18.5% to the GDP. Zimbabwe’s nominal GDP currently hovers around USD11 bn.
On the UNESCO website, there is a talk of one Rural Afforestation Programme , a government-run program implemented with the help of national and international NGOs — World Development Bank, African Development Bank, The Netherlands Development Organization among them — to grow mainly gum trees like Eucalyptus spp, “to provide communities with a source of fuelwood and with poles for construction”.
No figures in view on the above-mentioned UN-run page to cry out SUCCESS STORY!
Ultimate solution? There have been reports of research by the Tobacco Research Board on the use of solar energy and biogas in Zimbabwe.
Environmental Management Agency’s Steady Kangata maintains renewable, clean energy is the ultimate solution for tobacco growers.
Now major question remains: what exactly do we all need to prioritize to help promote these alternative energy sources in Zimbabwe? And don’t forget those two-dollar per diems!
Donald Kaberuka @DonaldKaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, began his recent speech at the Center for Global Development, by quoting American business magnate, politician, and philanthropist Michael Rubens Bloomberg :
In God we trust, everyone else bring data
Embarking on a social documentary project, a creative team of social activists needs to always be reminded that if it can’t be measured it cannot be done. Ukraine’s film-makers Sergey Volkov, Maxim Rudenko and expereinced social activists Julie Sachuk and Denis Petrov know their numbers well.
About 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. About 90 % of those affected live in developing countries. Preventable causes are as high as 80 % of the total global visual impairment burden.
Всматриваясь во тьму is a topical film. Armed conflict, European values, society in rapid transformation, human resilience. These are some of the burning — and relevant internationally — issues the Ukrainian producers (and their international partners like the Baltic to Black Sea Documentary Network) put into the same sentence with word “Ukraine”.
For some people, the acronym УТОС (the Ukrainian Association of the Blind) does not ring any bells. But for many on the contrary, these four letters mean a lot. Despite the fact that this organization caters to many Ukrainians, sometimes they catch themselves thinking that they live in a country of their own, an absolutely isolated country. In that imaginary country, their problems remain unnoticed and conveniently ignored, as if in the real-world Ukraine there is no visual impairment burden at all. At times, it looks like the rest of the “healthy” people in Ukraine became blind.
A screenshot from Всматриваясь во тьму, a social documentary by Sergey Volkov of Ukraine.
A screenshot from Всматриваясь во тьму, a social documentary by Sergey Volkov of Ukraine.
Denis Petrov, the protagonist of Всматриваясь во тьму, lost his sight when he was a child
A screenshot from Всматриваясь во тьму, a social documentary by Sergey Volkov of Ukraine.
Launched in 1933, the UTOS network of socially-minded enterprises has seen little innovation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Short on government support in a turmoil that is Ukraine these days, uncompetitive production lines of polymed garden equipment and low-voltage electrical products find it difficult to survive. Daily media reports of battleground losses in the east of the country make the problems faced by visually impaired people invisible to the mainstream media.
Denis Petrov, the protagonist of Всматриваясь во тьму, lost his sight when he was a child. He now helps a battle-damaged soldier to survive the obscurity of life in Ukraine.
Denis is a university graduate, fluent in foreign languages. He freelances online and gets good money for what he does. His new friend Dmitriy lost his sight defending Ukraine. Dmitriy now believes there is no life after tomorrow. He needs to learn a lot to continue living in a society that is blind to people like him.
What does future hold for Dmitry and Ukraine? — ask the creators of Всматриваясь во тьму
Film director Sergey Volkov and cinematographer Maxim Rudenko explain:
Amplified by insights from social practitioners like Julie Sachuk — who has experience of work for Amnesty International, — the team behind Всматриваясь во тьму is confident of being able to roll out a proper campaign, uphold the rights of the visually impaired in Ukraine, as the Eastern European country transforms into a nation of people which are not blind to their neighbours’ problems.
Andy Kozlov can be reached on email@example.com