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Net gains: how India trawlers’ plastic catch is helping to rebuild roads | Global development

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For years, plastic caught by fishing communities on the Kollam coast in India’s southern state of Kerala was thrown back into the water, damaging aquatic ecosystems and killing fish.

But fishers are spearheading an innovative initiative to clean up the ocean – along with their daily hauls of fish, they pull in and collect the waste that gets enmeshed in their nets.

Bottles, ropes, toys, shoes, discarded fishing nets and polythene bags are sorted, washed, shredded, before being recycled into material added to asphalt to help to build local roads.

In 2017, the Keralan government’s harbour engineering department (HED) launched its Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) initiative, providing nylon bags to the 1,000-odd fishing boats for the crew to collect the rubbish. The plastic is processed onshore and fed into a shredding machine, then sold on to roadbuilders.

Nearly 3,000 fishers and boat owners in Kollam are involved in the initiative. Now the programme is expanding to other harbours and with one million people working in the fishing industry in Kerala, of whom 25% are directly involved in fishing, scaling up the project could have a real impact.

Peter Mathias, president of the All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators’ Association, says: “Previously, we didn’t care much about the plastic we collected in our nets. We’d simply take the fish and toss the rest back into the ocean. But not any more – we’re now protecting the ocean to save our livelihoods. Had we continued to be reckless, there wouldn’t have been any more fish for us to catch.”

Washing and sorting the collected plastic is also providing jobs to a small group of local women in a traditionally male-dominated sector. “Most of the garbage is too mangled to recycle in traditional ways. So we shred it into strips and sell it to local construction companies, who mix it with asphalt to construct roads. This helps us pay the women’s salaries. This road surface is increasingly popular as it makes the roads more resilient to India’s extreme heat,” says VK Lotus, an engineer with the HED.

Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) scheme workers sort, clean and shred plastic waste. The project creates jobs for women in a male-dominated sector.
Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) scheme workers sort, clean and shred plastic waste. The project creates jobs for women in a male-dominated sector. Photograph: Netfish-MPEDA

“Every kilometre of plastic road uses the equivalent of a million plastic bags, saving around one tonne of asphalt. This not only saves the environment but also cuts costs by roughly 8–10% per kilometre of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road,” she says.

Since its launch, about 80,000kg of plastic waste has been collected from the seas off Kollam, of which more than half was recycled to lay 84 miles (135km) of road.

The project has resonated with many fishing communities – including clam collectors and divers – along Kerala’s 375-mile (600km) coastline. Other groups are now approaching government departments and aid organisations to mobilise funds to help launch their own plastic collection and recycling programmes.

Rubbish washed up on a beach at Varkala, Kerala
Rubbish washed up on a beach at Varkala, Kerala. The project has resonated with fishers along Kerala’s coastline. Photograph: Anne-Marie Palmer/Alamy

The initiative has not only brought in tangible economic gains for Kollam but ushered in a major shift in the fishing community’s perspective about their environment. They now try to ensure that local people and tourists do not litter the land or sea with rubbish, and have pledged to cut back on their own use of plastic. “Our boats also carry stickers to create awareness against marine pollution,” adds Mathias.

However, due to the Covid pandemic, the project has hit a bump. Work has slowed down and with rising fuel prices, fewer fishing boats are going to sea.

“On average,” says Mathias, “a vessel travels 45 kilometres into the ocean to fish, requiring 500 litres of diesel. However, the government has stopped our diesel subsidy, so we now have to pay about 80p for one litre of diesel instead of the previous 55p. This has affected our income drastically.”

But the project must continue, says Mathias, who believes the community has never before been so united and effective in protecting the ocean.

“Our future depends on it. Our children are also getting inspired, which can be life-transforming,” he says.

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Covid-19: Italian and Spanish PMs meet in Madrid ahead of EU recovery fund summit | International

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Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was in Madrid on Wednesday for a meeting with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), to discuss their countries’ joint strategy for an upcoming summit on the European Union’s coronavirus recovery fund.

Spain and Italy, the two European countries to be hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, are joining forces against the so-called “frugal” countries – Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – which oppose the idea of a €750 billion fund, of which €500 billion would be non-recoverable grants and the rest made up of loans.

Sánchez and Conte have shared interests, as their countries stand to benefit the most from the fund, according to Italian and Spanish sources who added that Germany and France back this position as well.

“This time Italy, Spain, France and Germany are clearly in sync. We all support the European Commission’s proposal,” said Spanish sources.

“With the meeting held today with @GiuseppeConteIT we are relaunching relations between Spain and Italy. We agree that the good understanding between our countries must be taken to the political arena. We hope to hold a new Italian-Spanish summit in 2020,” tweeted Spain’s Sánchez on Wednesday.

Conte and Sánchez will be traveling separately in the coming days to the Netherlands and Germany, and the Spanish leader is also planning a stop in Sweden, whose government wants to replace some of the EU fund grants with loans, according to Spanish sources. The Spanish and Italian PMs are hoping to arrive at the July 17-18 summit in Brussels with a strong negotiated position that will leave little room for resistance from the “Frugal Four.”

Wednesday’s meeting also served to reinforce bilateral ties that had been weak for years. The last time that the leaders of both countries had come together was in 2014, when then-prime ministers Enrico Letta and Mariano Rajoy met in Rome.

English version by Susana Urra.



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‘Where should we go?’: thousands left homeless as Karachi clears waterways | Global development

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Maqsooda Bibi, 62, did not know the house she had lived in all her life would be demolished, forcing her whole family to become homeless. But on Monday, Pakistan’s supreme court backed the Sindh government in bulldozing her home and hundreds of others, legalising the eviction of thousands who live along narrow waterways – nullahs – that crisscross Karachi.

The verdict came as Bibi and hundreds of others held a protest outside the court. “We hoped that the court would ask the government not to make us homeless, but it did the opposite. Our children also protested on Sunday and urged the supreme court to stop demolition. It seems no one here cares for the future of the poor.”

At least 8,000 houses are being knocked down along the nullahs. The work, which began in February, is in response to the 2020 Karachi floods that saw choked up nullahs overflow and swamp the city. Improvements to Karachi’s water and sewage systems are being financed by the World Bank.

As people watched their homes being turned into rubble, civil society organisations approached the court to try to stop the evictions. They said the houses were not to blame for blocking the waterways.

But on Monday the supreme court rejected the petition.

While dozens of people told the Guardian they were renting their homes, the court said any leasing of land along the nullahs was illegal. Activists and writers have termed the decision “unjust”. Writer Fatima Bhutto, of the Bhutto political dynasty, tweeted: “The supreme court’s decision is a tragedy.”

Maqsooda Bibi, on right, attempts to keep cool during a protest in Karachi against the demolitions.
Maqsooda Bibi, on right, attempts to keep cool during a protest in Karachi against the demolitions. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

In an editorial, Pakistan’s largest English-language daily, Dawn, said: “The demolition of houses situated within nine metres on either side of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs will continue. When this exercise is completed (before this year’s monsoon, according to the plan), at least 100,000 people would perhaps have been rendered homeless. As many as 21,000 children would be out of school and living under the open sky.”

Bibi’s house was her family’s home for five decades. She shared it with four daughters and three sons-in-law. “We all started living on the lawn after they demolished our house but they will snatch the lawn now. At first, they took our shelter, now they will take our land,” she says.

Muhammad Shahid is a heart patient whose house was bulldozed a month ago. He expected justice from the court. He was at home when his house was bulldozed at around 11am one morning.

“We are helpless. Where should we go? We can’t die or live. I had my angiography done and now I can’t work. My children aren’t educated enough. My wife had a paralysis attack,” says Shahid. He says that even he has not got the 90,000 Pakistani rupees (£410) promised by the government.

Muhammad Shahid on the rubble where he used to have two rooms that were bulldozed.
Muhammad Shahid stands where two rooms belonging to him were bulldozed. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

Muhammad Aslam did receive some compensation for the loss of his house. But he says it is not enough. He says: “I want to return the amount because it is of no use for four families.” He lives with 28 others in one room and a tent after his two-storey house was bulldozed. “We are troubled in all ways, there is no gas or electricity or even sanitation. This isn’t living,” says Aslam.

Architect and urban planner Arif Hasan says the government had no “proper plan”. “They are not doing it merely to stop the flood but to make long roads along the nullahs connecting the Lyari expressway with the northern bypass, displace poor and benefit the rich.” He says the World Bank should denounce the Sindh government, as forced evictions are against the bank’s policies.

Muhammad Abid Asghar was one of the first to lose his home, on 2 February. With others, he established Gujjar Nala victims committee and, with activists of Karachi Bachao Tehreek (Save Karachi Movement), went to the Sindh high court.

Bulldozed and damaged houses in Gujjar nullah as the demolitions progress.
Bulldozed and damaged houses in Gujjar nullah, Karachi, as the demolitions progress. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch

After chalking slogans against the demolitions on walls around the city, the activists say they were called by the World Bank team for a meeting in April.

“We had believed the bank was funding the evictions, but the World Bank denied it. They assured us that no leased houses would be bulldozed.”

Sindh minister for information, Nasir Hussain Shah, also says the World Bank is not linked to the evictions. “The government will help residents in rehabilitation,” he says, adding that “not more than 5%” of residents were against the demolition works.

The World Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

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China calls Nato statement ‘slander’

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The Chinese mission to the EU denounced a Nato statement that declared Beijing a “security challenge,” saying China is actually a force for peace but will defend itself if threatened, AP reports. The Chinese news release said the Nato statement was a “slander on China’s peaceful development, a misjudgment of the international situation and (Nato’s) own role, and a continuation of the Cold War mentality and organisational political psychology.”

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