In the southern reaches of Egypt, the city of Aswan is one of the hottest and sunniest in the world. Temperatures reach 41C in the summer and less than a millimetre of rain falls each year. Some years it doesn’t rain at all. Aswan may be one of the world’s least rainy places, but it’s not even close to being the most water-stressed city. It nestles on the east bank of the Nile, close to the Aswan High Dam and the vast Lake Nasser, one of the largest manmade lakes in the world. With a capacity of 132 cubic km, the dam serves the irrigations needs not just of Aswan, but Egypt and neighbouring Sudan as well. Water stress – where the human or ecological demand for water is not met – is caused by a variety of factors. There’s the physical scarcity of water due to lack of rainfall, the natural aridity of the area and, increasingly, changes in climate; but poor management and investment in water infrastructure, and pollution, also play their parts. The … [Read more...] about Where are the world’s most water-stressed cities?
Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports. According to the Akananuru, a collection of Tamil poetry from the period, it was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar, river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.” Another poem speaks of Muziris (also known as Muciripattanam or Muciri) as “the city where liquor abounds”, which “bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately” with “gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats”. The Roman author Pliny, in his Natural History, called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. The city appears prominently on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fifth-century map of the world as seen from Rome. But from thereon, the story of this great Indian port becomes hazy. As reports of its location grow more sporadic, it … [Read more...] about Lost cities #3 – Muziris: did black pepper cause the demise of India’s ancient port?
The closure of 127 public libraries did not get much attention amid the turmoil of 2018, but that does not make it a small story. The loss was felt by users of the culled services and those who worked in them. According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, local authority spending on libraries fell by £30m to £741m over the past year. That is a tiny fraction of public spending. The NHS budget for England last year was £124.7bn and, while libraries matter, it is hard to argue that they matter more than life-saving operations. Yet they also matter in ways that are harder to measure, and their loss tells a more profound story of national malaise. Partly it is a story of austerity, but it does not start there. The loss of facilities behind the frontline of public service is part of a protracted hollowing out of the public realm that increasingly makes itself felt in the decay of nationwide political solidarity. Population imbalances A … [Read more...] about The Guardian view on small-town Britain
For the time being, the days of "art for art's sake" are over in Turkey. A police crackdown on a fresh protest in Taksim Square threatened to overshadow the opening of the Istanbul Biennial, the country's most important contemporary art event, last week. Unaccustomed to street combat, the international art crowd found themselves inelegantly dodging clouds of tear gas as they milled from parties to private views. Calm had returned by the time of the press preview. But the incident highlighted how this year's biennial, which brings together 88 Turkish and international artists, has struggled to avoid being sidelined by political events and has itself become a source of controversy. This year's event, entitled Mom, Am I Barbarian? addresses much of the dissatisfaction with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian regime. Turkish artist Halil Altindere's film Wonderland captures the anger and frustration of Roma youths from Istanbul's Sulukule district, whose … [Read more...] about Istanbul Biennial under fire for tactical withdrawal from contested sites
We are running out of space. Fly over Africa at night and you will see mile after mile of fires burning red in the dark as scrub is removed to make way for human beings. Satellite images of nocturnal Europe or America show vast areas lit up like an enormous fairground. From Shanghai to Sydney, from Moscow to Mexico City, the skylines of our major cities are no longer fixed and familiar. Where we cannot build into the sky, we construct vast chequerboards of smogbound, low-rise dwellings that stretch from one horizon to the other. Our cities expand in every direction as we fight to house a population that is growing at the rate of 200,000 each day. That adds up to a headcount the size of Germany every year. To feed this growing number requires ever more land to farm: each year, more than 150,000 square kilometres of natural forest are lost to agricultural or urban development. Forests cover a third of our planet’s land surface. They produce life-giving oxygen and, by absorbing … [Read more...] about Red alert: Kofi Annan on the photos that capture our choking planet