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  • Wednesday, October 13, 2021 2:29 PM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)

    This post comes from an Open World Exchange Program alum, who visited New Hampshire in 2019. We have not edited the content, so as to allow for her true voice to come through. Also, we are not using her name, as she still has family at risk in Afghanistan. We hope this gives some added insights into the final days of the U.S. evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.

    "Since fall of Kabul in hands of Taliban, panic shadowed the entire Kabul city. Mob rushed to the civilian airport to board any available flights with no clear destination. I and my mom also tried our luck and went to the airport, however we couldn’t manage to move a meter. The scene was chaotic, people of all age and group were rushing and pushing towards the airport gates. The roads toward the airport were overwhelming with crowds. Taliban at first check points, Afghan Special Force on second and third was the US marines guarding the gates and blocking the crowds’ entrance to the airport.

    We couldn’t make it in our first try, second try was even worse. More people arrived from several part of the country with their families and kids, adding to already overcrowded roads. Taxi dropped us to a road close to the airport, we walked few steps and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by desperate mob. I was separated from my mom whose is a heart patient. The mob pushed me front and mom left behind. I struggled and wanted to swim against the flow, but failed and fell.  People stepped on me, kicked me and didn’t give me the chance to stand up, thus I crawled and crawled, finally reached a corner to hold my hands and stand on my feet.

    I looked around, I didn’t know where the mob has taken me, but I knew I wasn’t close to the gate, but somewhere in the middle. I stood there for hours and hours, looking around to spot my mom and rang her several times, but no answer. It started to darken and I was totally alone among unknowns. I decided to return and it took me two harsh hours to come out of the crowd.

    Once out of the mob, I rang my mom again, it truly added to my anxiety if anything may have happened to her. Finally she picked up, I was relieved. When we were separated by the mob, she was pushed back and hurled toward a wall. She held onto the wall for some time and slowly, slowly moved out of the crowed. She found a calm corner and sat, waiting for my return or to inform her my whereabouts. When I saw her, she looked desperate, exhausted and worry, her heart beating rapidly, she missed her medication. She was not able to walk any step, we stayed there another one to two hours, until her condition was stabilized.

    We decided to return home and stayed as long as we could get a save passage to the airport. Meanwhile, I have registered ourselves in State Department and Defense Department Evacuation Assistance Program.

    Luckily in two days, I have received a call from my US handler and we get connected through WhatsApp. We had regular communications and plans for evacuation, but uncertainty, insecurity and threats were revamping that made it significantly challenging to hold onto one plan and proceed.

    As reaching the airport gates were getting extremely difficult, different methods were used for evacuation such as specific buses, vans and taxis were assigned to pick the people and transport them to the airport through different routes. My US handler assigned me and my mom on the bus list and we waited almost two days to hear from them. It was the second day that we were informed, the bus coordinator will contact us for pick up. The pickup time was not certain, but we were instructed to be ready for any time evacuation, however suddenly ISIS planned huge explosions close to airport gates, claimed many innocent lives and halted the entire evacuation operation. To make the matter worse, Taliban also imposed restrictions on evacuation of Afghans with incomplete documents.

    I am a US permanent resident (green card holder), but my mom is not. I and my US handler made all our best tries to evacuate her with me, however we couldn’t succeed. Our experience of airport gates haunted her and discourages her to try any other routes to the airport except proper transportation.  We couldn’t get her out, her documents and limited opportunities, left her behind, but forced me to leave as my two young kids were desperately waiting for my return and delaying any further may jeopardize my evacuation as well.

    She is there, waiting for unknown future. She is under tremendous medication and treatment. She has high blood pressure, anxiety and taking depression medication. What is happening right now, certainly not in her favor? No good doctors, no proper medication and no way out. She even can’t travel long distance by road or walk. She is very vulnerable to any changes. Part of my broken heart is with her and I don’t know when I will see her again.

    Eventually on 25th August, I received a call from someone who instructed me to reach a certain address immediately. From that address, I was picked up by a van and transported to a much undisclosed location.  There were couple of more Afghan families. Our all electronic devises were taken and we were kept there for hours.

    It was around 8:00pm that we were picked up by cars and dropped off to a different location to be airlifted to the airport. It was dark and again we waited few hours until three military choppers landed and we were all airlifted to the airport.

    In dark cold night of Kabul, we stayed at the Kabul Military Airport runway for several hours with no food and limited restrooms. Kids were crying, elders were exhausted, and women were worn-out. I constantly communicated with my US handler, updating about my status and she was constantly working on speeding up the boarding and clearance process. Finally at 5:00am, we boarded the military plan, but we had no idea where our destination is. We were sitting on the floor of the plane, so close to each other that made it difficult to stretch our legs or hands. You have to sit without moving any part of your body for four straight hours.

    After three to four hours of flight, the plane landed. When the tail of the plane opened, I felt gush of the hot air on my face, right, it was Qatar.

    We were off boarded the plane and taken to a large tent, equipped with green military beds, organized side by side. You can occupy any available bed but who will be sleeping on your side, is a lottery. After couple of hours, people with proper documents were categorized and moved to smaller tents. I was moved with five families in a smaller tent which had limited beds and few chairs.

    We spent the night there even though Qatar is hot and humid, tents were dry and cold and nights were worse. I didn’t have any warm clothes nor blanket to cover myself. I left home with a small backpack filled with my laptop, documents and my country’s soil and flag. In addition, there were limited restrooms so I even didn’t eat nor drink enough, I was so dehydrated that caused me extreme headache. The next day, our documents were processed and ready to departure for our next destination.

    The marines lined up us and directed us toward a commercial plane. At the plane every individual was so traumatized that you can hear only kids’ noise or cries, no adults were communicating. Looking at every bodies face, they were so soulless, so motionless, so lost that they no longer cared what will come next.  We were harshly shattered.

    After seven hours, the planed landed in Germany and stayed for two to three hours for new crew to board and departed toward our final destination, United States of America.

    It was 9:00pm, we landed at the Dulles International Airport. Once off boarded the plane, I didn’t feel excitement of coming home, going to my kids. Our feelings were lost, no emotions, we were following orders as programmed robots. Sound of laughter and music was hitting us like bullet, you just want to shut it down. Probably we have heard a lot, bullets, bombshells, kids’ squeals, mothers’ cries, and Taliban’s yells.

    The process for clearance at Dulles was lengthy and tiresome, but finally around 2:00am, I made it out of airport, but for me it was not my final destination.

    Since the fall of Kabul government, I have followed the news and the horrors. Today I am sitting in my house with my kids around me, but I am not the person when I left the house. I am silent, joyless and still only watching the news. We are so traumatized and shattered, it may take us time to collect ourselves."

  • Thursday, April 01, 2021 10:58 AM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)

    Every day, Americans are faced with the stark reality that many challenges in the world do not respect national boundaries. From climate change and pandemics to racial injustice and more, now is the time for the country to come together and tackle these issues head on. However, it can be difficult to know where to begin and what steps should be taken.

    To help sort things out, the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire will present “Report on Reports: A Roadmap for U.S. Global Leadership” at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7. Offered in partnership with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), the program will feature Liz Schrayer, President and CEO of USGLC . Schrayer will draw on data from the 2021 Quadrennial “Report on Reports” to guide a discussion on the future of U.S. Foreign Policy.

    “In a town where it often feels like policymakers can’t agree on anything, we have found a lot of agreement when it comes to U.S. global leadership in USGLC’s new Report on Reports,” said Schrayer. “This year, we looked at more than 100 policy reports from across the political spectrum, and in the midst of a global pandemic where no one is safe until everyone is safe, there is a clear roadmap of a foreign policy that delivers for American families.”

    This report focuses on six areas of global leadership where USGLC found strong bipartisan support. These include fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing growing global economic competition, mitigating the effects of climate change, defending against rising authoritarianism, responding to humanitarian crises, and influencing global alliances and partnerships.  Drawing on these meticulously researched reports, Schrayer will distill the vital interests of the U.S. and suggest ways in which the country can rally around these issues.

    This program is part of the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire’s online speakers program, which aims to help people better understand complex global issues facing the nation. These important events can help build consensus and inspire local action to tackle global challenges.

    “Report on Reports: A Roadmap for U.S. Global Leadership is funded with support from Steve and Karin Barndollar, Helen Taft and Peter Bowman, and Peter Berg and Janet Prince.  To register for this event and to learn more about WACNH programs, please visit:

  • Wednesday, March 17, 2021 12:01 PM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)

    In a world defined by conflict, the relationship between the United States and China is defined by a strategic competition for global leadership. While there are many areas of potential cooperation, both sides seem fixated on the issues that divide them. It is vitally important that Americans understand these complex problems to help the government chart a path forward the public can support.

    On Wednesday, March 24th at 6:00 p.m., the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire (WACNH) will present “The U.S., China, and Their Global Strategic Competition,” an evening with Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project, Ms. Glaser has the background and insights necessary to inform the audience about such potential flashpoint as Taiwan, the South China Sea, global leadership, and more. 

    "Strategic competition with China is a defining feature of the 21st century," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently stated. “China is engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge, and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations.” 

    America’s competition with China is an important and timely topic. For example, the trade war between the two countries has cost New Hampshire taxpayers more than $152 million in tariffs. It is also estimated to have cost the state 8,100 jobs in just over a year. The data shows, in stark terms, the hidden costs of this global competition.

    This program is part of WACNH’s Global Tipping Points series, a three-part speakers program that will focus, this spring, on various parts of the U.S./China relationship.  The two other sessions will address Human Rights in China and how these two countries interact with each other, as well as the world, through international trade. More details to be announced soon.

    The U.S., China, and Their Global Strategic Competition” is funded with support from Steve and Karin Barndollar, Helen Taft and Peter Bowman, and Peter Berg and Janet Prince.  Register for this event HERE.

  • Tuesday, January 12, 2021 2:10 PM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)

    What we all witnessed at the US Capitol on January 6th was shocking and appalling. Never would I have imagined such a scene unfolding here in the United States, as this is something that I thought was reserved to less developed democracies and dictatorships. 

    Working for an organization that is dedicated to building understanding and creating change through dialogue, I feel compelled to say what shouldn't need saying.  This assault on our democracy is wholly unacceptable and not in line with the democratic values of our country.  No matter where you want to place the blame for these actions, we as the United States of America need to all agree that there is no place for this violence in our country. Each and every person who illegally entered the capitol building should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    In addition to being a national embarrassment, this further weakens the US', and democracy's, appeal abroad. Dictators around the world can use these images as propaganda to show their citizens what "democracy" looks like. They can say "you may not like the tight control I impose, but at least we do not allow violent mobs to storm our government buildings." 

    Another issue that is not getting a lot of coverage is what has been going on while the US has been, rightfully so, distracted by the false accusations of election fraud. Iran has been building up their nuclear and missile arsenals, North Korea has been taking an increasingly aggressive stances, and China has been flexing its muscles all over the Pacific. All of these issues can impact our National Security, but have been relegated to back burner status as the US has needed to stay focused on the undermining of our democracy. 

    Finally, I hope that having this incident occur on our home soil will help us all better understand when similar things happen abroad. Without a doubt, this drives home the point that democracy can be fragile, anywhere in the world, and we all must do what we can to support it, both at home and abroad. 

  • Monday, November 02, 2020 9:53 AM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)

    Former Secretary of Defense William Perry to Headline Fall Forum 2020

    MANCHESTER/PORTSMOUTH – Little Rocket Man. Dotard. Fire and Fury. Nuclear Buttons. It was not that long ago that tensions between the United States and North Korea flared to the point where threats of nuclear strikes were made publicly. Fortunately, the rhetoric has cooled off for now, but this arguably was the closest the world had come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. On Tues., Nov. 10 at 6:00 pm, the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire will kick-off the first night of Fall Forum 2020 by hosting a virtual discussion on presidential power and nuclear weapons policy.

    Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Tom Collina, Ploughshare Fund’s policy director, will discuss the dangers of nuclear war and proliferation, the necessity for robust international legal frameworks governing nuclear weapons, and why the United States should reconsider vesting the sole power to launch a nuclear strike in the President alone. With so many hot-button issues around the world and a failing non-proliferation regime, this discussion will provide vital insights into why Americans need to be aware of the danger nuclear weapons pose.

    “The outcome of the upcoming Presidential election will be crucial in deciding the future direction of U.S. global leadership,” said Tim Horgan, WACNH Executive Director. “The Council is committed to bringing insightful programs to help the public better understand issues such as the threat of nuclear war. Only one non-proliferation treaty still stands between the US and Russia and understanding the new Administration’s views on nuclear weapons will be important to understand.”

    With the New START Treaty set to expire in February 2021, the next Administration will be quickly challenged on their nuclear vision for the future. A five-year extension would continue to build confidence in a non-proliferation regime and create the basis for future discussions between Russia and the US. In addition, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will be coming into force on January 22, providing further restrictions on the production and use of nuclear weapons. A broad understanding of the challenges and advantages of non-proliferation will be important for Americans to grasp.

    Fall Forum 2020 is a 2-part fundraising event by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to exploring critical international issues and promoting greater understanding of the world. Fall Forum continues on Weds., Dec. 2 at 6:00 pm and will feature Former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, who will speak on the future of America’s global leadership. Tickets are available for one or both events. For more information and ticket prices, please visit:

  • Thursday, July 30, 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Abrita Kuthumi

    Photo credit: BBC News

    The Saudi Arabian government has announced its safety protocols regarding the annual holy Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca amid the coronavirus. To prevent the spread of the virus that has accumulated to a total of 268,934 confirmed cases with the 2,760 deaths in Saudi Arabia so far according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the government’s most impactful instruction has been to curb international visitors. 

    Therefore, for 2020, the Hajj Ministry of Saudi Arabia has limited the number of domestic pilgrims to be between 1,000 to 10,000. Of those, 70% will be foreign residents living in Saudi Arabia whereas the remaining 30% will be Saudi citizens. The foreign residents are required to be between the age of 20 and 50, in good health, and visiting Mecca for the first time. As for the Saudi citizen pilgrims, priorities will be given to essential workers such as healthcare workers and security personnel who have survived and recovered from coronavirus as “a token of appreciation for their role in providing care.” 

    The Hajj Ministry has also made alterations during the prayer. Typically, prayers are held in tight spaces with people positioned shoulder-to-shoulder through the five days of rites. This year, pilgrims will be asked to practice social distance during the prayer. They will not be allowed to touch the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site and metaphorical God to avoid transmission through high touch surfaces. The holy water will be bottled plastic water and pebbles used to throw will be sterilized beforehand. People will also be required to wear masks and bring their own rugs. 

    The Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali of Saudi Arabia explained this safety measures by stating, “protecting the pilgrims… and the sacred sites from the arrival of this disease is very important [...] Saudi Arabia feels a sense of responsibility, therefore we took these temporary decisions, which will constantly be reviewed.” 

    Prior to the pandemic, the Hajj pilgrimage drew around 2.5 million people from all over the world. Pilgrims start making their way to Saudi Arabia starting Ramadan, the holy fasting month. However, this is no longer an option for Muslims living outside Saudi Arabia. The most impacted country is Indonesia which has the world’s largest Muslim population. Previously, around 150,000-200,000 Indonesian pilgrims would make this journey. 

    These decisions have hurt the economy of Saudi Arabia, a country that was already struggling from decrease in oil demands due to national lockdowns. Saudi Arabia on a normal year rakes about $12 billion through the Hajj. With the sharp decrease in tourism, Saudi Arabia’s benchmark stock index has decreased by 1.1% as tourism-related firms such as business for Jabal Omar Development, Seera Group, and Al Hokair Group were dry this year.
  • Monday, July 27, 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Abrita Kuthumi

    [Aljazeera/How Hwee Young/EPA]

    As China has quickly ascended as a global power that will come to influence the world during the 21st century, the country’s ongoing human rights violation records have come into question. The Chinese government, with the leadership of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping, has taken draconian measures to control its people under the state. This has been demonstrated recently through the lockdowns and tracking devices during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this method has been praised belatedly as it narrowed Covid-19 cases in the country, it has also been criticized for impeding on people’s rights. 

    However, prior to the issue of Covid-19, the Uighur people living in China have been experiencing multiple violations against their human rights. The Uighurs are an ethnic minority Muslims that closely identify to the cultures and ethnicities in Central Asia. Around 11 million of them reside within the region of Xinjiang, the most northwest region in China. They are known for their agriculture and trade. Because the region is governed independently from China, they speak their own language known as Uighur, and they are ethnically and culturally different from the rest of China, the Uighurs people have sought to separate by declaring independence during the early 1900s. However, the communist state of China crushed the movement in 1949 and claimed its sovereignty over the territory. 

    Although an autonomous region, the policies passed from Beijing have heavily impacted Uighurs in Xinjiang. In 2014, the Chinese government banned people from fasting during Ramadan and making visits to the mosques. In 2017, Xi Jinping was even recorded making comments that directly targeted Muslims: “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation”. Beyond Islamophobic remarks and actions, the state has further abused human rights through its re-education camps, forced labor, and limited child policies. 

    The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report claiming more than 1 million Uighur Muslims were kept in re-education camps that forced them to give up their religious and ethnic identity and to pledge allegiance to the state. They were obliged to attend night schooling to study Mandarin, sing the Chinese national anthem, and follow other activities that the state demanded in the name of patriotism. 

    The ASPI report also noted that Uighur Muslims were being forced to work in factories to make goods for well-known global companies from the United States, Japan, Korea, and more, such as Amazon, Mitsubishi, and Samsung. They were not only being economically exploited but also dehumanized in the process as another instance came up where the US Customs found 13 tons of hair from Uighur Muslims being shipped as products. 

    For Uighur women, there is another story when it comes to human rights violations. The Uighur women can have two children- three if they reside in the countryside- according to the rules of the state. To police this act, the government has given authorities the power to raid homes in search for hidden children and give detention sentences if they are not adhered. To prevent the increase of Uighur population, the state regularly takes pregnancy checks, imposes intrauterine devices, sterilization, and even abortion. This has drastically waned the Uighur birth rates in Xinjiang, a place that once used to be known for its blooming population. 

    With all these human rights violations, the United Nations Human Rights committee has likened these events to concentration camps. The international community has denounced China’s treatment of the Uighur people. The United Kingdom called it “gross and egregious” whereas the Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented that it was “shameful”. When China takes the seat of a global superpower that can interfere and shape the course of the world, what will the nation do when other countries point fingers toward it for its human rights abuses?

  • Monday, July 20, 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Abrita Kuthumi

    Image credit: Alexander Spatar, Teen Vogue

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are one of the most discriminated groups around the world. Although the coronavirus does not discriminate against humans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, the society we have constructed surely does. The LGBT community always had many struggles to face prior to the coronavirus but since then, factors such as lack of access to proper healthcare services, family stigmatization, and socioeconomic slowdown have been aggravating the situation. 

    LGBT people, particularly individuals living with HIV/AIDS, face stigma, discrimination, and negligence in the healthcare system instead of being provided with more support for being more vulnerable to the coronavirus. During quarantine and lockdown, LGBT people, whose large percent of the people are employed in the informal job market, have been forced by their financial circumstances to return to their family. While there is a lot of romanticizing of family bonding during coronavirus, LGBT people do not have that same privilege because the lack of acceptance runs not only outside in the society but unfortunately within family households. Therefore, they are at a higher risk because of anti-LGBT family members who could physically or mentally abuse them during this stay-at-home era. Patterns of these issues have been encountered in many different countries across various continents. 

    United States 

    The Human Rights Campaign found that about among the estimated 16 million queer people living in the United States, approximately one-third of the people are working essential jobs. They work as healthcare workers, first responders, agriculture workers, and so on, being more susceptible to the virus. However, LGBT people do not always visit the doctors because of discrimination, mental health, and poverty. For LGBT people of color, that is especially the case as a study read that “40% of Black trans adults and 45% of Latinx trans adults live below the poverty line”. In the United States, often there is data regarding how people of color and low-income groups have been affected by the coronavirus. However, when it comes to LGBT people, there is no data being constantly collected. Dr. Magfa Houlberg, Chief Clinical Officer at LGBT clinic Howard Brown Health and Chair of the American Medical AssociationsAdvisory committee on LGBT explained the current dilemma that health departments have not tracked LGBT people because of the fear of discomfort, discrimination, and privacy reasons. 


    The World Bank reports that in Argentina, beyond 80 percent of trans women are engaged in sex work job market and due to lockdown, they have been unable to receive wages and have faced evictions. Beyond the economic detriments, trans people have also endured abuses from the police. There is institutionalized discrimination against especially trans people who, due to lack of proper documentation, are unable to access aid from the government. To combat these injustices, the government has set up the Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversity to collect data on women and LGBT people. 


    Anti-LGBT has been on the rise during the spread of coronavirus in Eastern Europe and no country has made it clearer than Poland. The Polish President, Andrzej Duda, has expressed his homophobic opinions by stating he would invalidate same-sex marriage and adoption for gay couples as part of his “Family Card” proposal. He has also declared to ban education on LGBT subject matter in schools within Poland to “protect children from LGBT ideology”. Instead of being an ally to the LGBT communities during these times of hardship, his appalling remarks have spread in the country. Churches have blamed the LGBT community for coronavirus despite no evidence linked between gender and sexual orientation to the spread of virus. 


    In the archipelago of Indonesia, many LGBT people hold jobs in the informal business. Thus, the coronavirus has made a huge impact among LGBT Indonesians who no longer have the daily or weekly wages through their work in the beauty, arts, sex work, and others. At least 640 trans women have experienced a loss in income which has impacted their ability to put food on table. The government has not been helpful, which does not come as a surprise given the anti-LGBT history of the country which proposed “family resilience” law that would provide rehabilitation to “people who engage in sadism, masochism, homosexual sex, or incest”. Instead of relying on others, the LGBT community in Indonesia has organized to help not only people who identify within their group but also others; in Yogyakarta, trans women have created food banks to support the low-income people in need and in Maumere, trans organizations have helped others with food, masks, and rent.
  • Thursday, July 16, 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Stuart Johnson

    Mist rising from the Amazon rainforest at dawn. Image Credit: Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

    Since the outbreak of COVID-19, much attention has been drawn to plummeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions around the globe and the revival of urban natural habitats as a result of government-imposed lockdowns. Unfortunately, this trend has not applied to deforestation rates in the Amazon - which have increased during this same period. This recent alarming trend can be attributed to macroeconomic market forces - within the last three years the global demand for beef has gone up a staggering 23 percent while available farmland in the Global North (particularly in the Midwest) has decreased. But more importantly, it is linked to the increased economic desperation on behalf of out-of-luck loggers and farmers desperate for cash - an acre of deforested land in the Amazon is worth a lot more than a forested one.

    Granted, and as a WACNH blog post pointed out last summer, the Amazonian fires last summer and today’s dire situation can also be attributed to politics - when right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil’s President in 2018 he slashed the budget for the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) by over 25% and reversed a downward trend in illegal deforestation since 2004. However, to blame politics alone is to pull attention away from the deep social learning that sustainable development solutions must continue to undergo in order to be put into practice successfully. Even neoliberal policies like the UN sponsored Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program, which promised to have Global North countries compensate Global South countries for reducing their deforestation rates, have failed to be implemented effectively.

    As such, it stands to reason that any multi-faceted approach to address deforestation today must meet meat and agricultural producers where they are - by developing methodologies that positively incentivize good behavior rather than merely punish bad actors in the big agribusiness and meatpacking industries. The COVID-19 crisis has laid out the case for this. Deforestation is a sustainable governance problem that requires effective strategies that can address socio-economic problems while also meeting ecosystem preservation goals.

    The “Tipping Point”

    In 2019, Brazil’s Amazon ecosystem saw its highest deforestation rates in over a decade. First-quarter losses in 2020 have been even steeper – up more than 50 percent compared to first-quarter 2019, according to Brazilian satellite data. As depicted by the graph above, the Amazon’s rate of deforestation is close to a “tipping point” - the five main drivers of deforestation: agricultural expansion, livestock ranching, logging, infrastructure expansion, and overpopulation are pushing towards a point where the forest itself will no longer serve as a carbon sink. A recent New York Times investigative study revealed that much of this devastation is being done by transnational criminal networks which work in remote places in the Amazon that are still technically protected lands but where enforcement is relaxed.

    The Politics of Deforestation

    In short, the perceived politics of deforestation are much more nuanced than they are made out to be. Logically, the poll above reveals the point that two things can simultaneously be true but contradictory at the same time: 75% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that “other countries’ interest in the Amazon is legitimate because it is important for the entire planet and is under threat,” yet 61% also strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement “Other countries’ interest in the Amazon is only an excuse to be able to exploit its resources.”

    The larger point here is this: how do you separate the idea that emissions and GDP are linked? Today, G20 countries currently make up 78% of the world’s emissions. It’s a logical conclusion to think that they are tied together. Yet, they should not be. In order to move towards a more sustainable governance model, countries have to believe that in reducing their emissions they won’t be negatively impacting their economic output. As such, sustainable governance is about acknowledging that the livelihoods of the poorest affect those at the top just as much as those at the top affect those at the bottom. And yes, unwanted foreign influence is real, but widespread public support for more sustainable governance strategies clearly exists (as this poll shows) - it just takes the right messaging to capture it.

    Incentivizing Forest Preservation - UN’s REDD+ Program & Carbon Offsetting

    In September 2019, 230 institutional investors with more than $16 trillion in assets called on companies to implement anti-deforestation policies for all of their supply chains. This type of negative reinforcement demonizes bad actors but does not compensate those who are trying to do the right thing. According to estimates from the Woods Hole Research Institute (WHRC), reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to zero within 10 years would cost $100 million to $600 million per year under a UN-sponsored program involving carbon credits for forest conservation (REDD+). In effect, this program (also known as the Amazon Fund) compensates indigenous and small landowners for the opportunity costs they would lose if they were to raze the forests on their lands rather than preserving them. Unfortunately to date, these programs have largely been unsuccessful due to lack of consistent strategies and the complex nature of the financial compensation system but are promising in principle.

    The California Tropical Forest Standard is another step in the right direction, as pointed out in an op-ed by ecologist Dan Nepstad, President and Founder of Earth Innovation Institute who has worked in the Brazilian Amazon for more than 30 years. Essentially what this standard sets out is a principled way in which companies can buy verifiable carbon credits from Amazonian landowners - easing governors’ and community leaders' concerns that their efforts to cut back on illegal deforestation will cost them money while also allowing the private sector more direct access to this market. Moreover, this standard allows for indigenous people and local communities to retain their voice in the process.

    In conclusion, COVID-19 has exposed the unique economic challenges reducing deforestation imposes on sustainable governance models. The politics are complicated yes, but there is widespread public awareness of the importance of forests as climate mitigators. Engaging with and compensating good actors is harder than demonizing bad ones as we have seen time and time again, but ultimately, it will be more fruitful.
  • Tuesday, July 14, 2020 1:30 PM | Anonymous

    By Megan Harris

    As summer is in full swing and we enter July, we draw closer to the date that was supposed mark the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. While postponed to 2021, many questions remain unanswered about the Tokyo Olympics. We decided to take a closer look at the cancellation of the century-old games and explore both Tokyo and the athletes around the postponement.


    Back in February, when neighboring South Korea was going through a spike in COVID-19 cases, Japan continued to live as though the virus was not really a threat. A State of Emergency was declared, schools were shut down temporarily, and strict restrictions were set for those seeking COVID-19 testing as to prevent the spread in hospitals, but very few other measures were put in place. As the rest of the world was closing restaurants and moving to work at home, I watched as friends on social media in Japan continued to live their daily lives, going to restaurants and karaoke, celebrating graduations together in big groups while wearing traditional Hakama and getting their hair and makeup done. The government seemed to act as though the virus wasn’t a threat, being hesitant to ban travelers from China, and there were rumors spreading that many Japanese employers told employees who had tested positive to hide their diagnosis. People living in Japan began to question why the country so notorious for public health concern and cleanliness would be so slow to react to this pandemic whose epicenter was right next door. Many therefore came to the same conclusion—the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Many began to believe that the reason the country refused to shut down was to avoid the postponement of the long awaited and costly Tokyo 2020 games.

    Call from the World and WHO to Pull the Plug

    Despite pressure from athletes and governments around the world, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and the Japanese government continued to insist through the month of March that the games could safely go on. Both Canada and Australia announced they would not send athletes if the games were not postponed, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee received survey results indicating that 70% of Olympic hopefuls thought it would be unfair to continue with the games in July as planned.

    Sources believed that the IOC and the Japanese government may have been playing a game of chicken so to speak, with each side refusing to make the final decision to postpone the games due to fear of economic and legal consequences. On Monday, March 23rd, a special advisor to Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet announced to the BBC that the decision rests in the hands of the International Olympic Committee. However, later that week, after the World Health Organization consulted both parties and explained that the Olympics would be a great accelerator of the virus, the plug was pulled, and the 2020 Olympics were postponed. This is the second time a Japanese Olympics has been postponed, and first time ever that the Olympics have been postponed for reasons other than war efforts.

    What Are Athletes Doing Now?

    Of all those who have been effected by the cancellation of the world’s largest international sports competition, the athlete’s lives have especially been put on hold. After training their whole lives for this year’s competition, many are left worse off not only in mental condition, but worse physical condition as they struggle to find ways to train. In Uganda, Halima Nakaayi, the gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, has had to alter her training program significant; all the gyms and stadiums in Uganda have been closed since March, and her only option is to train on the roads of Kampala. She’s more worried, however, that with the cancellation of not only the Olympics, but competitions slated to take place before and after, that she may be out of her prime before her next chance to compete again.

    The spokesperson of Uganda’s National Council of Sports expanded on this, saying that not only have athletes lost the momentum of the Olympic year, where their determination to do well at the games had put them in the best physical and mental shape of their lives, but they’ve also been put in a tight spot financially, as many of these other competitions are where athletes can make most of their money.

    On the Olympics’ News website, veteran Olympians offer advice to those who were training for 2020. Chinese speed skater Hong Zhang tells other athletes to try to focus on short term goals, to think in terms of days rather than on months, seasons, or years. Canadian curler John Morris suggested switching up their sport for athletes who no longer have access to specific facilities needed for training. The Olympians also stress the importance of connection to others via the internet during these trying times in alleviating the feeling of training or being alone.

    A Call for Permanent Cancellation by Tokyo Gubernatorial Candidates

    During this time of heightened unknowns, there was a risk of further confusion thanks to the gubernatorial elections in Tokyo set to take place on July 5th. The incumbent, Yuriko had been facing widespread popularity following the relatively low number of coronavirus cases reported in Tokyo despite the size of the city. While Koike maintains that Tokyo will have the virus under control enough by 2021 to continue with the Olympics as planned, the few candidates who opposed her ran on platforms that focused on the postponement or even cancellation of the Olympics.

    The most prominent of the opposing candidates, Kenji Utsunomiya, backed by three of the major left opposition parties, suggested that the Olympics should be canceled altogether and that the money be redirected to social welfare measures and economic revival in the fallout of COVID-19. Candidate Taro Yamamoto, former actor and member of the newly formed anti-establishment ‘Reiwa Shinsengumi’ Party, said the cancellation of the Olympics would actually be his primary order of business, should he be elected as governor. Candidate Taisuke Ono, Former vice governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, was supported by the Japan Innovation Party, and believed the Olympics should be pushed back further to 2022 or 2024, not canceled overall.

    However, the long ruling Liberal Democratic Party was backing Koike, and despite the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party backing Utsunomiya, there was a high chance that the major opposition parties votes would likely be split between the many opposition party candidates, leading to a win for Koike.

    Indeed, last weekend on July 5th, this is how the election unfolded, with Koike garnering 3,661,371 votes to Utsunomiya’s 844,151. With this win, Koike emphasized her plan to establish a CDC-like organization in Tokyo in order to support the simplified Olympics in 2021. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics posted a press release following the election, where the President of the Olympics Mori Yoshiro said he looked forward to the continued partnership with Koike, emphasizing the similarity in the way both he and Koike plan to approach the games.

    Economic Impact and More Cancellations?

    The delay of the Olympics alone is projected to cost Japan between $2 and $6 billion, most of which will be shouldered by Japanese taxpayers. Currently, Tokyo is trying to make a plan that will minimize costs as much as possible for the Olympics should they occur in 2021. For example, there’s been talk of combining the Paralympic and Olympic opening and closing ceremonies to cut down on costs, but Tokyo is hesitant to confirm anything yet.

    Despite the high cost of the games, many have argued that cancellation will have negative repercussions on Tokyo. They’re afraid that without the revenue brought in by those coming to work and to watch the games, all the investments made into the Olympics thus far-- a sunk cost—have no hope of being offset without the financial benefit of Olympic tourism. Many believe this fear is what caused Tokyo and the committee to drag their heels on postponement of the Olympics in the first place. However, some experts are arguing that holding the Olympics after all will actually result in greater economic loss.

    Economists Takuro Morinaga and Hiroko Ogiwara have claimed that in the world’s current vaccine-less state, holding the Olympics will actually hurt the economy rather than help it. In the absence of a vaccine, foreigners will be much less likely to travel to Tokyo for the games, and thus Olympic tourism will not provide the economic stimulation that was previously expected. Ogiwara says that the years-long development process for vaccines would make it impossible to be used on so many people in just a years’ time, and that even with a vaccine, the fallout from the pandemic will make people more hesitant to spend the money it would take to go to the Olympics. Morinaga stressed that the only way to minimize Japan’s net loss is to cancel the Olympics or to postpone until 2022, when there’s a higher chance of a vaccine being developed. However John Coates, IOC Head of Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020, still maintains that the event is not dependent on a COVID-19 vaccine.

    So, What Happens Next?

    In late February, Shaun Bailey, the UK Conservative Party’s Mayoral candidate for the London 2021 election, had tweeted boldly that London could host the games instead of Tokyo. However, most of the infrastructure put in place for London 2012 games has been dismantled, and Governor Koike of Tokyo called Bailey’s comments out for being “inappropriate.” At the time, the WHO and International Olympic Committee had told Tokyo 2020 task force members that there was no need to cancel or postpone the Olympics. However, as the games were eventually postponed, it begs a few questions—  if, despite the governor’s wishes, the city were to drop the games, would another country be allowed take them? Would another country be willing to take them? If cancelled, will Tokyo pick up the 2024 Olympics, ruining Paris 2024’s clever bid logo as it’s shifted back to 2028? Is there a future in which the this century-old tradition can continue without development and widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccine?

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