Peak salt: is the desalination dream over for the Gulf states?

The Middle East is home to 70% of the world’s desalination plants, but the more water they process, the less economically viable they become

Gulf states are among the most water-scarce in the world. With few freshwater resources and low rainfall, many countries have turned to desalination (where salt is removed from seawater) for their clean water needs.

But Gulf states are heading for “peak salt”: the more they desalinate, the more concentrated wastewater, brine, is pumped back into the sea; and as the Gulf becomes saltier, desalination becomes more expensive.

“In time, it’s going to become impossible to use desalination in a way that makes economic sense,” says Gökçe Günel, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. “The water will become so saline that it will be too expensive to desalinate.”

Read the full article: Peak salt: is the desalination dream over for the Gulf states?


Damned: Jo Brand’s new sitcom finds the humour in social work

Channel 4 comedy aims to portray social workers in a refreshing and realistic way, although the writers admit some scenarios had to be toned down

Are social workers damned if they do, damned if they don’t? So suggests the title of a new Channel 4 sitcom that documents the ups and downs of a group of social workers.

Jo Brand and Alan Davies play Rose and Al, slightly jaded colleagues in the children’s services department at a local authority, struggling to deal with various personal issues – a cheating (soon-to-be ex) husband and a demanding girlfriend respectively – as well as their own exhausting caseloads.

There’s also Nitin, the constant target of Rose and Al’s teasing, and Martin, who’s been signed off sick for months but still comes into the office with a fake work pass to support his overstretched colleagues.

Read the full article: Damned: Jo Brand’s new sitcom finds the humour in social work

Sustainability in the pipeline: securing water and sanitation for the future

As the global population increases, ensuring a supply of water and sanitation for all becomes ever-more important

Can access to water and sanitation be secured now for future generations? We don’t have a choice; sustainability must be at the heart of all efforts to deliver these services.

This was the central message of a panel discussion hosted by the Guardian at the annual World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden. The panel was organised in association with the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and supported by Fundación Femsa, which works to create programmes around conservation and the sustainable use of water.

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) – an ambitious agenda for social, environmental and economic change – were adopted by world leaders at the United Nations general assembly in September 2015. The agenda sets a target of “ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

Read the full article: Sustainability in the pipeline: securing water and sanitation for the future

How can we better value water as global shortages start to threaten economies?

With water shortages exacerbating inequalities and causing damage to economies, making sure the commodity is properly valued by all is essential

Water is essential for life, whether to irrigate crops, to manufacture goods, or for drinking, washing and cleaning. But the intensification of climate change, a growing population and increasing demands from cities, agriculture and industry – coupled with poor water governance – is driving acute water shortages around the world.

The World Bank predicts that by 2050 this scarcity will deliver a significant hit to the economies of Africa, central Asia and the Middle East, taking double digits off their GDP.

To address these challenges and ensure that every person, country and business has enough, it is essential to determine the true value of water throughout the supply chain. But how?

Read the full article: How can we better value water as global shortages start to threaten economies?

Do you need an office for your business?

Many smaller organisations are managing to scale operations and employ diverse staff without an office space, but it’s not for everyone.

Operating without an office has long been common for small businesses looking to keep overheads low as they start out, but, even as they become more established, companies are choosing to stick with the virtual office model. The employees of open-source content management system WordPress all work away from its rarely-used office, while PricewaterhouseCoopers recently reduced office space per employee by 30% to become a more virtual business.

So, is the era of the office over?

Remote working isn’t just for small companies

The 16 employees and 27 associates of Caffeine, a business consultancy, decide where and when they work. “I don’t mind where or when you do it, as long as you deliver for the client on time and to a good quality,” says chief executive Sophie Devonshire. Employees work from home or coffee shops, and use private members clubs to meet clients.

At Sensee, a customer service provider, almost all 800 employees work from home. The company provides all the software, but staff must have their own desktop computer, phone, broadband connection and a secluded space to work. “It’s as much for the security of the employee as for the data of the client,” says Steve Mosser, founder and chief executive. “We don’t do things with laptops, as Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure – and we have a health and safety responsibility to the people we employ, which is limited to the vicinity of their work stations.”  

Read the full article: Do you need an office for your business?

Halve traffic accident deaths and injuries by 2020: can it be done?

The UN has an ambitious goal to cut road deaths and injuries by 50% in five years. Are governments and donors finally prioritising the issue?

“If you read any newspaper in India, across Africa or south-east Asia, you regularly see big stories about crashes involving multiple casualties,” says Saul Billingsley. “There’s awareness that these things are happening [in developing countries] but not an awareness of how to deal with it.”

Some 90% of the 1.2m deaths caused by road crashes each year occur in developing countries. Road injuries are the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29, and the ninth leading cause of death overall, according to the World Health Organisation.

These are big numbers, and the issue goes beyond the immediate impact. Every year, 1 million children are either killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and miss out on an education. If a parent is injured or killed, children often have to drop out of school to look after them or find a way to earn money. And there is a strain on health systems that are already under pressure, says Billingsley, director of the FIA Foundation, a global road safety charity.

Read the full article: Halve traffic accident deaths and injuries by 2020: can it be done?

Where are the world’s most water-stressed cities?

More than 2.5 billion people don’t have access to basic levels of fresh water for at least one month each year – a situation growing ever more critical as urban populations expand rapidly

In the southern reaches of Egypt, the city of Aswan is one of the hottest and sunniest in the world. Temperatures reach 41C in the summer and less than a millimetre of rain falls each year. Some years it doesn’t rain at all.

Aswan may be one of the world’s least rainy places, but it’s not even close to being the most water-stressed city. It nestles on the east bank of the Nile, close to the Aswan High Dam and the vast Lake Nasser, one of the largest manmade lakes in the world. With a capacity of 132 cubic km, the dam serves the irrigations needs not just of Aswan, but Egypt and neighbouring Sudan as well.

Water stress – where the human or ecological demand for water is not met – is caused by a variety of factors. There’s the physical scarcity of water due to lack of rainfall, the natural aridity of the area and, increasingly, changes in climate; but poor management and investment in water infrastructure, and pollution, also play their parts.

Read the full article: Where are the world’s most water-stressed cities?

How do you solve a problem like a broken water pump?

Long considered a symbol of development aid, up to 40% of handpumps in sub-Saharan Africa are broken at any one time. Technology is offering smart solutions

Over the past few decades, the humble handpump has become the go-to option for rural water supply in developing countries. They’re used to extract groundwater which is mostly clean, easy and cheap to access, and available year-round. Handpumps are usually a better option than open wells – which are highly vulnerable to contamination – and piped schemes or motorised pumps, which require the skills, finances, and management that’s often lacking in remote, rural areas.

However, though around 60,000 handpumps (pdf) are installed across sub-Saharan Africa every year, typically 30 to 40% of those in the region do not work at any one time, according to estimates made by the Rural Water Supply Network.

More often than not, broken handpumps are abandoned and fall into disuse. The World Bank has estimated that over the last 20 years this represents a loss of investment of more than $1.2bn (pdf).

Read the full article: How do you solve a problem like a broken water pump?

Bisi Alimi on LGBT rights in Nigeria: ‘It may take 60 years, but we have to start now’

After he came out live on Nigerian TV, Bisi Alimi was disowned by his family and arrested. He is now a British citizen, campaigning for change in his homeland

Being gay in London, says Bisi Alimi, is boring. “You get in the queue in front of G-A-Y or Heaven. You go in, party, and leave. Where’s the excitement?”

Being out in Lagos and going to underground parties, he says, is far more thrilling. It’s how Alimi, a LGBT rights and HIV activist, imagines the scene would have been in the UK in the 1960s and 70s. “We had this party that got broken into and many people got beaten up and soaked in blood. But the next week we were all back for the party, because life has got to go on.”

Given the potential dangers of being openly gay in Nigeria, is there a neighbourhood similar to London’s Soho – well-known for its LGBT nightlife – in his former home of Lagos? “I wish,” he laughs. “You would meet people through friends or at parties. When I left Nigeria, [the website] Gaydar was quite popular but it was very underground – people would go to an internet cafe and minimise the window if someone walked past.”

Read the full article: Bisi Alimi on LGBT rights in Nigeria: ‘It may take 60 years, but we have to start now’

Volunteer travel: experts raise concerns over unregulated industry

Sending untrained young people to volunteer with vulnerable people is unlikely to help communities, warn responsible tourism and child protection experts

It seems like such a wonderful idea, to head off across the world to help orphans and children, to build schools and conserve wildlife. But scepticism about the genuine value voluntourists provide for local communities is growing, and NGOs are asking whether an unregulated industry providing young unqualified westerners is really a good way to support developing countries.

There are, of course, plenty of situations where volunteers have turned up, done a wonderful job and left again. But both on and offline there are growing collections of volunteering stories that have ended less than happily. “I know of school trips where local builders were working during the night to straighten the walls of a house built by foreign student volunteers the previous day,” says Frederikke Lindholm, the communications manager of The Shelter Collection, a children’s NGO in Vietnam.

In one particularly horrific incident, a 21-year-old man from Oklahoma was convicted of seven counts of illicit sexual conduct with children while volunteering at an orphanage Kenya.

Read the full article: Volunteer travel: experts raise concerns over unregulated industry