Yay… so things are moving along amongst scholars in furthering the discussion – and more importantly action – on increasing enviromental awareness amongst Muslims world wide.  At a recent Conference on Islam and Climate Change in Bogor, Indonesia, Muslim scholars from about 15 countries worldwide noted the importance of increasing awareness on climate change amongst Muslim communities.

Several things were discussed, primarily climate change prevention via education, as well as learning from best practices of existing environmental NGOs and faith-based groups (eg. ECO-Pesantrens in Indonesia), and taking steps to “green” the annual hajj. There were also suggestions of establishing the cities of Bogor (Indonesia), Madinah (Saudi Arabia), Sale (Morrocco) and Sanaa (Yemen) as Green Cities (Al Khair). While this all sounds pretty fine and dandy, it would be interesting to see how this would actually materialize.

There has been interest from several Singaporeans and myself on the developments of this conference. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have the chance to participate, but nevertheless we are certain that this is a start of many more activities to come.

Media reports on the event….

Muslim world to promote ‘green haj’ concept, The Jakarta Post, 6 April 2010

Bogor, Madinah, Sale, Sanaa Jadi Green City, KOMPAS, 6 April 2010

Muslim leaders and prevention of environmental disasaters, The Jakarta Post, 9 April 2010

Dunia Islam harus atasi perubahan iklim, BBC Indonesia, 10 April 2010

Muslim leaders told to confront climate crisis, The Jakarta Post, 11 April 2010

Int`l muslim conference on climate change issues Bogor Declaration, Antara News, 11 April 2010

Hello folks, its been a while since the last entry. Nevertheless I’d like to take this timely opportunity during the month of Dhul al-Hijjah to share with you two pieces related to the fifth pillar of Islam- the Hajj.

Beyond the spiritual aspects of the Hajj, these articles highlight issues related to how this fifth pillar has been practiced by Muslims, and more importantly dealing with contemporary issues that have surfaced over the years.

A Green Hajj? by Najma Mohammed on Islam Online, 8 Nov 2009

Ensuring Good Health during the Hajj in a Time of the H1N1 Pandemic by Sofiah Jamil & Julie Balen, NTS Alert Special Edition, Nov 2009

Here’s wishing all a Happy Eid al Adha! Kul a’am wa antum bekhair! 🙂

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So its finally happening! An event not only to commemorate International Day of Climate Action, but also to kickstart a process of reflection and action amongst Muslims on issues relating to the environment.

When? 1.30pm – 4 pm on 24 October 2009. Where? Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) Auditorium , 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4, Singapore. Why? Because being green is not just a fad. Its a way of life.

Put simply, the environment is accorded reverence and respect in Islam. It’s among Allah’s marvelous master pieces. About 750 verses in the Holy Quran alluded to the many tangible and intangible benefits Man derives from it. Thus Man has a moral obligation to, not only appreciate, and sustain Allah’s blessings.

However, Muslim circles have not paid sufficient attention to environmental issues – especially in light of pertinent contemporary challenges such as climate change, and water, food and energy security.Environmental awareness amongst Muslims is low and while there may be various Muslim individuals that care for the environment, there seemsto be a lack of concerted efforts by Muslims as a community.

There is hence a need advocate for a greater sense of environmental awareness and action amongst Muslims – to complement and parallel national and global efforts as well as provide a basis of understanding Islam holistically amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This event seeks to bring together Islamic scholars, environmentalists and the wider public to further understand the various facets of environmental issues and thereby motivate them to take action – no matter how big or small – for a more sustainable future. The event will feature a panel discussion with the following speakers:

  • “The Environment in Islam” by Ustaz Firdaus Yahya Vice President, PERGAS & Director, Darul Huffaz
  • “Muslim Environmental Groups at Work” by Ms. Siobhan Irving, Anthropologist
  • “Championing Environmentalism” by Ms Nur Amira Abdul Karim, ECO-Singapore Representative at COP15.

This will be followed by a video conference with  Mr Wilson Ang, President of ECO-Singapore. Wilson will be joining us from Sweden, while he participates in other 350-related events there, and give us his thoughts on the way forward for the environmental movement in Singapore and globally.

Finally, we end off with some light refreshments (no red meat so as to reduce our consumption of natural resources) with the use of biodegradable utensils kindly sponsored by Olive Green.

We look forward to seeing you there. Kindly do RSVP to Shereen at shereen@amp.org.sg or visit our Facebook event page. And bring a friend or two, while you’re at it! 🙂

We would also like to encourage our participants to wear Blue or Green for the event.

This event is organised by the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) in Singapore with the cooperation and support of ECO-Singapore and Olive Green.

Click HERE  to view our flyer in pdf format. For directions to AMP @ Pasir Ris, click HERE to view a map in jpeg format.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

By Mely Caballero-Anthony, Irene A. Kuntjoro & Sofiah Jamil*

The devastation and catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Kestana on the Philippines’ capital Manila reflect a huge gap between rising vulnerabilities and preparedness at the national and regional level. As more studies reveal that climate change results in more devastating cyclones, how can the region better prepare for future emergencies?

Tropical cyclones and flooding are nothing new to the Philippines. On an average, the country experiences about 20 typhoon storms annually. Yet, when typhoon Kestana hit the country, the deluge caused the worst floods in more than 40 years, with a death toll rising to at least 250, and displacing more than 500,000 people. This suggests that there remains a gap between what is known about the increasing vulnerabilities of populations as a result of climate-related disasters and what is effectively being done about it. The Kestana experience is only a preview of what is to come for low-lying regions in Southeast Asia unless immediate efforts are done to address this gap.

The Science, the Insecurities and Ill-preparedness

Kestana and its aftermath have vividly shown the kinds of human insecurities that stem from the effects of climate change. Firstly, the heavy rainfall as a result of Kestana reflects the severe impact of climate change as indicated in climate change studies, which have predicted the emergence of more intense and frequent storms. Secondly, the coastal and low-lying areas that have been inundated by Kestana – in particular the National Capital region and Central Luzon – have already been highlighted in scientific reports as highly vulnerable to tropical cyclones and flooding. The International Development and Research Centre’s report on Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping in Southeast Asia is the latest of these findings. Thirdly, the intense rainfall has opened the floodgates to a plethora of human insecurities – damaged properties, significant population displacement, destruction to agricultural crops that threaten economic livelihoods and food security, and the threats of infectious diseases stemming from the lack of clean water and sanitation.

Yet, while these climatic effects are not uncommon to the Philippines, government officials found themselves struggling to cope with the humanitarian emergencies that are unfolding days after the typhoon’s aftermath. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, government officials have largely been reactive in their response to the disaster. There continues to be a lack of improvement made in Philippines’ disaster preparedness capacity. Reports indicated that public warning systems failed to effectively alert the communities of what was happening due to power shortages caused by the storm. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, a member of the Philippines’ National Disaster Co-ordinating Council also admitted that the authorities were inadequately prepared to respond to several affected provinces all at the same time. Thus, the assumption that annual floods would only affect a few provinces occasionally has strained limited resources, especially at the local government level.

The reactive response relates to the fact that the country’s politicians have failed to recognise the importance and implications of climate insecurities. The failure to think in the long term and acknowledge the relevance of scientific evidence render the country even more vulnerable to predicted climatic impact, resulting in haphazard responses—a little too late.

Thirdly, while government agencies are now doing their utmost in responding to humanitarian emergencies, the lack of effective rescue and relief assistance available to all affected citizens only heighten their insecurities. News reports of food aid shortages and the lack of sanitation facilities in overcrowded shelters have led to a great deal of anger and frustration within the local population towards perceived government inefficiency. The tough conditions in these temporary shelters has only exacerbated the problem with some flood victims refusing to evacuate from their homes with rescue workers as they would rather take the risk and remain behind to protect their property from looters.

Faced with the daunting task of reaching out to hundreds of thousands of victims, the Philippines has appealed to the international community for humanitarian assistance. While efforts are on-going, one thing is certain: reactive measures are unsustainable and will not guarantee the security of communities and the stability of the state in the long run.

Whither the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management?

It is an irony that Kestana occurred in the same month the Philippines ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). As all member states have finally ratified the agreement since it was signed in 2005, AADMER will enter into force by the end of 2009. This reflects a collective will to build a more rigorous regional disaster response. Having to experience a series of humanitarian emergencies and being a vulnerable region to various climatic hazards, ASEAN has learnt to cooperate and coordinate on disaster management. Even before the AADMER was ratified, a comprehensive framework was initiated under five components of the ASEAN Regional Programme on Disaster Management (ARPDM) 2004-2010. A number of activities have also been implemented. This indicates a substantial amount of progress on the part of the regional bloc in improving its preparedness.

When national capacity is overwhelmed by the unprecedented magnitude of a disaster as shown by Kestana, humanitarian assistance from the international community is imperative. In comparison to Cyclone Nargis last year, the Philippines government has set a good example by opening up to international assistance. Therefore, ASEAN, that aims to be an action-based integrated community, should be the first to come in with a cooperative and coordinated regional response. However, looking at recent developments, it has failed to act in a timely manner.

This calls for further strengthening of the regional capacity on disaster management. The ARPDM has set a platform for a comprehensive approach to disaster management but the existing framework continues to be under-utilised. The AADMER is designed to put in place structures, mechanisms and strategies for regional cooperation on disaster management. In order to serve its purpose, several key points are noteworthy. First, an integrated disaster management starting from risk reduction, responsive relief and sustainable rebuilding should be implemented equally. However, developing a reliable and responsive relief could be a practical starting point. This brings us to the second point on the importance of military operations other than war (MOOTW) in disaster relief. The military has the advantage of assets and personnel to be effectively involved in relief efforts. However, the involvement of the military could be perceived as an interference to sovereignty. Therefore, in cases such as that of Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN should play an intermediary role. Third, civil-military cooperation should be fostered as it is part of the actions to building an ASEAN Security Community.

Fourth, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) should be formed soon. The first task of this Centre would be to adopt operational guidelines for the coordination and cooperation of ASEAN member states. The AHA Centre should be able to build effective partnerships with other international organisations such as the World Health Organization, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations as well as with ASEAN dialogue partners through ASEAN-related frameworks such as ASEAN+3, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asian Summit. Fifth, apart from mainstreaming disaster management into development plans, ASEAN should factor climate change into its political, security, social and economic policies. Clearly, a declaration focusing on sustainable development is far from enough. ASEAN environmental cooperation and policies need to be revisited and geared towards developing a more comprehensive approach to building state and community resilience.

An Opportunity to be seized

Disasters such as Typhoon Kestana have once again provided an opportunity to revisit existing national and regional disaster preparedness mechanisms, as well as to realise different components of the AADMER. ASEAN and its member states do not need to wait for another disaster to build momentum to advance national and regional disaster preparedness. Against the scenarios of climate-induced vulnerabilities, it is imperative that disaster preparedness mechanisms be strengthened in parallel with long term initiatives on sustainable development, in order to build societal resilience in ASEAN.

*Mely Caballero-Anthony, Irene A Kuntjoro and Sofiah Jamil are, respectively: Head, Associate Research Fellow and Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. To view this commentary in pdf format, click here.

How often do you get to meet someone who you’ve only admired and known about through books and the media? 28th August 2009 was one such day for me. I met Professor Emil Salim of Indonesia.

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With Prof Emil Salim

Though an unassuming man in his late 70s, Pak Emil’s vast experience as an Indonesian policy maker and international advisor is larger than life. My colleagues and I were delighted that he was able to accept our invitation for our Conference on Climate Insecurities, Human Security and Social Resillience. I was all the more ecstatic as I had the chance to conduct a brief interview with him after the Conference.

All eyes and ears were peeled as Pak Emil delivered his presentation on Sustainable development  full of passion, sincere frankness and a good dose of wit. I was inspired by Pak Emil’s visionary thinking as he reiterated phrases such as “this is the future” when discussing the prospects of renewable energy and other sustainable development measures.

Several points raised by Pak Emil resonated with themes that I had picked up during my study trip on the United States Institute on the Environment (USIE).* Firstly, he noted the need for greater inter-disciplinary studies, discussion and action so as to address complex issues on the environment in a holistic manner.

Secondly, he emphasized the role of those with technical backgrounds – in particular economists and engineers – as drivers and translators for effective sustainable development. “Getting the price right” and having a strong scientific foundation are essential to see the process through.

Thirdly, Pak Emil noted the power of ideas and critical importance of engaging the right people who can catalyse the process and thereby materialise these ideas.

Finally, a point that was clearly driven during the short interview I had with him, was his belief in the youth as being drivers of change for the future. His words of encouragement were indeed inspiring, and clearly highlighted the momentum available to sustain change in the Asian region, despite existing skepticism. Change can happen with the support of a sense of optimism and perseverance.

To play on the words of Alexander Wendt, “Change is what states and communities make of it”.

*To view my report on USIE in pdf format, please click here

So whats the big deal with reducing consumption? Why should I reduce my consumption and jepoardise my comfortable lifestyle? Why should it matter to me?

The following two videos provide light on these questions. (both with super cute animation! 🙂 )

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  1. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, provides a concise look at consumption patterns and is one of the most well recieved video clips on the environment, with more than 7 million views.
  2. The second video (as seen below) describes Japan’s food production and consumption patterns, but nevertheless has important lessons for other countries.

As the month of Ramadan draws nearer, so does my proposed Green Iftar, which will be organised under the auspices of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) in Singapore on the 5th of Sept. Its quite exciting as this would kickstart a drive of further environmental awareness amongst Muslims in Singapore.

I was pleased to have been sent an article from The Council of Islamic Organizatons of Greater Chicago website (via the DC Green Muslims mailing list) as it only serves to strengthen my resolve of further advocating environmental awareness amongst Muslims. 

In the article, Dr Zaher Sahloul highlights the opportunities of advocating greater reflection and concrete action amongst Muslims on their relationship with the environment. He also provides examples of simple practices that Muslims can adopt for an environmentally friendly lifestyle. The best part of it all,  these practices are simple and complement what has already been advocated in other environmental circles.  Below are a few lines from the article that brought a smile to my face 🙂

“Every person will leave an ecological and a spiritual footprint. Your ecological footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide that you produce in life by using energy, especially fossil fuel, through transportation, use of electricity, consumption of certain food that require transportation and industrial fertilizers, waste and pollution. As Americans, our average ecological footprint is five to ten times that of a person living in other areas in the developing world. We use fasting in Ramadan to cap our eating, our drinking and our impulses, so why do we not use it to shrink our ecological footprint?

Why don’t we advance the concept of the Muslim footprint and educate our community to work collectively to shrink it?

Ramadan can be transformed to be a truly green month, and Muslims, with all people of faith, can live up to their responsibility to be the true stewards on earth and use Ramadan to help us reach that goal.

Ramadan is a once a year opportunity to tackle global issues like overconsumption, materialism, poverty, hunger, wars and yes, global warming.

To view the full article, please click on this link

Its just great to know that more like-minded people worldwide are wanting to make a difference in the Umma. Kudos and more strength to you all.

Ahlan ya Ramadan! Bring it on!

 

This article of mine has been featured in Visions 2009 – an annual magazine by the National University of Singapore’s Muslim Society (NUSMS)

9/11. Osama bin Laden. Iraq. Gaza. Media coverage and political developments on these issues have taken the Muslim world by storm, as the latter continues to struggle in coming to a consensus on how best to manage what is supposedly a dichotomy between Islam and the West. However, there have been a series of other events that require as much attention by the Ummah – Global Warming. “Natural” Disasters. Water Scarcity. Food and Energy Insecurity. These, too, have been a source of social unrest and conflict.

There is clearly a need for Muslims to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, as a means of encouraging a progressive train of thought and being aware of pertinent issues in contemporary times.

There are several reasons why the Ummah should consider climate change as a significant driver for ensuring progress from within. Firstly, Muslims – like everyone else – are victims of climate change. Whether it be issues of food insecurity, lack of energy resources or humanitarian disasters (which often overlap each other), these incidents ultimately feed back into a potentially vicious cycle of poverty – the root of all suffering in the Muslim world today.

This is evident as most Muslim countries are less developed countries, and are therefore highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To date, there has been an increasing number of weather related disasters in Muslim countries (i.e. member states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference). According to the United Nations Relief Web statistics, OIC member states have experienced a total of 76 floods/flashfloods since 2006. This is 22 more than the period of 2001 -2005, and close to double the number of incidents in the period 1996 – 2000. Given the low capacity of governments in developing countries, it is often difficult to respond efficiently to these disasters. Moreover, the increasing frequency of weather related disasters complicates the situation, as states would have a reduced amount of time to recover from the previous disaster before the next disaster strikes.

The second reason for greater engagement in climate change issues by Muslim countries would be that they too contribute to climate change. According the World Resources Institute (WRI), gulf Arab countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, are amongst the top ten countries with the highest level of carbon emissions per capita. Indonesia also contributes a high level of carbon emissions with its rapid rate of deforestation and land degradation – largely a result of illegal logging and the increasing global demand for biofuels. Wetlands International notes that if carbon emissions from land degradation were included in existing measurements, Indonesia would be the third largest carbon emitter after the United States and China.

Nevertheless, the Muslim World can provide solutions to this global challenge. For one, Muslim states should take advantage of the global mechanisms available to mitigate and adapt to climate change. One such example would be engaging in the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under the CDM, less developed states would be able to acquire green technology from carbon emitting countries, as a means for the latter to reduce its carbon emissions. Although said to be one of the UNFCCC’s best achievements thus far, few Muslim countries have used this opportunity. Moreover, wealthier Muslim states such as the gulf Arab countries, Malaysia and Turkey, can play a significant role in investing in green technology and supporting the transfer of technology to their less developed counterparts. In addition to this, current international discussions on climate change also include the possibility of extending a carbon trade system to the forestry sector – ie. Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Forest rich countries such as Indonesia, therefore have a significant part to play by conserving its forests to act as carbon sinks. As such, engagement in global deliberations and actions on climate change would demonstrate their willingness to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In light of the above-mentioned points, much of the work would have to come from governmental officials and negotiators in international climate change discussions. Civil societies in Muslim states must also provide support for their governments by promoting environmental awareness on the implications of climate change to the mass public. Often times, it would be difficult to change old habits, especially amongst older generations, who do not see climate change as a critical issue. A useful way of affecting change amongst the older generation would therefore be to speak to them – “in their own language” – such as with common shared values. Islam itself is a beacon of environmental principles, but is often not given much attention in Muslim circles.

Good work has been done in several Muslim environmental groups – such as the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) in the UK and Eco-Pesantren in Indonesia. These organisations have done their bit by engaging Muslim scholars, the public as well as local leaders to advocate environmentalism from an Islamic perspective (Islamic Environmentalism, for short). The point here is not to suggest that Islamic Environmentalism is distinct from the secular notions of environmentalism, but rather that it provides a useful tool to engage fellow Muslims on caring for the environment, and more importantly, encouraging them to think of their faith holistically.

In an upcoming book on Singapore Muslim Youth – under the auspices of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) – a chapter is devoted to Islam and the Environment. In this chapter, a survey was conducted amongst Singapore Muslim Youths. The results were interesting as many were not consciously aware of the emphasis that Islam places on the environment. Moreover, more than 75% of respondents were of the opinion that Muslims would be more environmentally friendly if religious scholars/leaders played a more proactive role in advocating environmentalism. In addition to this, 90% of respondents mentioned that they would like to see more being done by religious scholars/leaders to promote environmental awareness.

What this survey has highlighted is that religious leadership still plays a significant role in influencing or shaping the ideas of the community. In this regard, community engagement – at best a collaboration of religious scholars/leaders, environmentalists and scientific experts – would be a novel way of further building awareness on the environment, as well as bridge the gaps between theology and science in a bid to generate progress in the Muslim community.