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72 Years After Hiroshima, Where Is Japan's Commitment to End Nuclear Weapons?

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The "original" Greenpeace crew on-board the Phyllis Cormack on their voyage to Amchitka Island. Robert Keziere / Greenpeace

By Yuko Yoneda

It started with just 12 of them. With a bold mission, this group of activists set sail to Amchitka island off Alaska to protest the detonation of an underground U.S. nuclear test. It was September 1971, and though the mission was initially unsuccessful, it was the beginning of what became Greenpeace, and just one of the many issues—the elimination of nuclear weapons—that the environmental organization would campaign endlessly against.


Fast forward to 2017, and what was once a hard-fought battle and one of Greenpeace's legacy issues, has now become a successful defeat. On July 7, the United Nations adopted the "Nuclear Weapons Treaty" with an overwhelming majority—an epoch—making agreement that prohibits not only the development, experiment, manufacture, possession and use of nuclear weapons, but also the "threat to use." Nuclear and chemical weapons and anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs were also banned. The treaty will be open for signature by states on September 20.

To our disappointment, however, Japan did not join the 122 countries or two-thirds of the United Nations member countries, that stood up to stop nuclear weapons. The peculiar absence of Japan, whose preamble explicitly recognizes "unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (Hibakusha) as well as those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons" begs explanation.

Greenpeace activists hold up flags of the nuclear nations along with a 5 meter high mock nuclear bomb outside the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (1996).David Adair / Greenpeace / Ex-Press

The Government of Japan expressed a concern that the treaty that was negotiated only among non-nuclear weapon states could create "a more decisive divide" between the states with and without nuclear weapons. From a standpoint of realpolitik of the Cold War era, Japan is under an American nuclear umbrella, and as such, would violate a treaty prohibiting the "threat to use" if it were to be a signatory. Therefore Japan sides with the nuclear weapons states (the U.S., Russia, China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries that rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The adoption of this historic treaty by an overwhelming majority of the UN membership, nonetheless, represents a hard-won victory for people such as the Hibakusha (Japanese word for the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), victims of American nuclear tests and their descendants , and grassroots activists who worked tirelessly against the European nuclear deployment and uranium mining in Australia. The treaty is a long lasting legacy of their testimonies, protests and actions of the past decades, and keeps a hope alive for realization of the nuclear free world.

Protest at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. (2016)Ian Foulk / Greenpeace

Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima atomic bomb victim who now lives in Canada, told delegates of the treaty negotiations:

"I want you to feel the presence of not only the future generations, who will benefit from your negotiations to ban nuclear weapons, but to feel a cloud of witnesses from Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

"We have no doubt that this treaty can—and will—change the world."

Peace doves released on the 60th Anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace

On the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, we stand in solidarity with the survivors and those across the world who have campaigned against nuclear weaponry and call for Japan to join the treaty. The elimination of nuclear weapons has been the cause that Greenpeace campaigned so passionately and heavily for since 1971. As the only country in the world hit by a nuclear attack, Japan's commitment to the treaty would not only be a long-fought win for the country's tainted history, but also an important step towards a future world that is ultimately safe and nuclear free.

Yuko Yoneda is the Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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