September 29, 2014

From the ethics of islands (Part 2) - two different stories

Two places, two different stories in terms of water ethics. Both have one thing in common: they are small islands with a fragile ecosystem.  The Republic of Nauru is located in Oceania, while El Hierro is part of the Canaries, off the Atlantic coast. These two islands have chosen to give very different answers to these ethical questions:
  1. Do we promote long term profits over short term profits?
  2. With what means do we exploit our natural resources and to what ends?
  3. Should we protect our human and natural capital and seek self-sufficiency?
  4. Is there a limit to growth beyond the expansion of economic capital?
  5. How do we provide the island with a sustainable water and energy source?
  6. Is it feasible to bear initial investments by generating renewable energy?
Nauru unlike El Hierro had tremendous amounts of phosphates exploited throughout colonial times and after its independence in 1964. Driven by the international market for fertilizers, Nauru became  one of the world’s wealthiest countries in the 1960s-70s.  In the 1970s its citizens used to buy all sorts of goods, some driving their SUV along the only road, leaving it on the sidewalk once the tank got empty to immediately get a brand new car. However, failing to diversify its tiny economy, phosphate-moneys were squandered abroad in shady real estate and trust funds. After the 1980s the promised return on investments did not occur and phosphate reserves rapidly declined – so did royalties to landowners in Nauru.  Today billions of profits have vanished, state debts are piling up, public health is disastrous due to fast-food diets and inactivity – for years work was subcontracted to foreigners.  The deliberate choice to promote phosphates as the only trade and rampant political corruption have destroyed the island’s ecosystem within less than 50 years. Top-soils have been completely dug out (80% of the Nauru’s surface) causing soil erosion and desertification, underground layers are dangerously hollow and threaten to collapse.  Rising sea levels worsen this phenomenon, as is already the case for other islands in Oceania. Mining activities took a huge toll on groundwater quality and reserves, leaving Nauru a barren land stripped from its plant cover, a reality cast in its topography today (see pictures below).
Courtesy Nauru @ 
Courtesy Nauru @
El Hierro took an entirely different path despite being a resource-poor island. Most of its leaders' decision-making has been aimed at sustainability and self-sufficiency. Ethical choices are set in a strategy called “El Hierro 100% sustainable”.  It required no less than 30 years of persistent lobbying to get approval from Spain and the EU.
Let’s take a look at three of this strategy's key-dimensions:

(1) Agriculture: acknowledging that over 40% of El Hierro's water is going to agriculture, biological farming is considered the less harmful approach.  For instance, sheep and goats are preferred over cows to avoid soil erosion. The Island council rents 20 hectares of agricultural land to farmers including a greenhouse.  Locally bio-labelled products such as banana, pineapples, mangos, papayas, avocados and figs are preferred over water-intensive products (e.g. olives, rice).

(2) Energy & water supply: confronted with water and energy scarcity El-Hierro’s initial problem was to find a cost-effective way to desalinate sea water and harvest energy.  Thereby, the technical concept made use of the only natural resource available in bulk: streams of Atlantic wind!  In a nutshell 5 windmills (total capacity 11.5 MW) generate up to three times electricity needs (11,000 households).  Additional power is channeled to the desalination plant producing drinking water. What if there is no wind? The back-up plan involves pumping water from a lower basin to a higher basin, which is then released thus triggering 6 hydro-turbines (total capacity 11.3 MW) satisfying energy and water demand (see sketch below).
Courtesy El Hierro @ GEO Magazine,
Courtesy El Hierro @

(3) Tourism: El Hierro made the early choice of ecological tourism restraining from building costal sea resorts and huge touristic estates overlooking the main beaches. Instead, its shores are left almost intact with the exception of a small artificial harbor. In turn, scarce resources are not overburdened by mass tourism and local inhabitants do make a living from small businesses (eco-lodges, bed and breakfast, local market ect.) most tourists staying only for a day or two.  The next step is to rely exclusively on electric cars and recycle 100% of waste instead of 50% today.

Ethical choices have bestowed opposite fates upon Nauru and El Hierro – surely we can learn from them in terms of water and environmental ethics.  Islands will always give us valuable insights!



  1. I did read the part 1 also and was anxiously waiting for the second part. Your blogs are always informative and we come to know about many things by reading your blogs.

  2. شركة تنظيب بجازان
    عزيزي العميل عندما لا تجد حل اكيد لتنظيف شامل لكل أركان المنزل الذي تسكنه ومهما قمت بالتنظيف فأنه في النهاية لا يكون بالشكل المناسب وتترك أثار من الأتربة في بعض الأماكن حيث انه من الصعب الوصول إليها تواصل على شركة تنظيف بجازان وسوف نعمل على تنظيف اخطر الأماكن ومنها واجهات الشقق المرتفعة والعالية والتي لا يمكن التخلص من أتربتها بالطرق التقليدية فمع شركة نظافة بجازان نوفر الرافعات التي تقوم بعملية التنظيف بكل سهولة .
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بجازان
    المنازل التي لا تكون جدية التهوية فان الحشرات تسكنها ولا تخرج منها بسهولة حيث أنها تتكاثر داخل المفروشات وفى كل أركان المنزل وشقوقه وعليه يجب التواصل مع شركة مكافحة حشرات بجازان حتى يتم القضاء الفوري على تلك الكائنات الضارة وتحت إشراف عدد كبير من الفنيين لدي الشركة المتخصصين في مجال الحشرات يتم تنقية المنزل من فضلات تلك الحشرات وأثارها بطردها نهائيا وعدم عودتها مرة أخري .
    شركة عزل بجازان
    أفضل شركات العزل هي التي تقوم باستخدام أشكال متنوعة من العزل بين العزل المائي والحراري والفوم وعزل الأسطح وغيرها ومن ضمن الأفضل شركة عزل اسطح بجازان حيث أن المتعاملين مع الشركة شهدوا لها بالخبرة الكبيرة في مجال العزل من خلال الخبرة العالية التي يتعامل بها طاقم المهندسين وأيضا الفنيين المؤمنين بان الجودة هي أساس تصدر الشركة وليس الأسعار وعليه فان هدف شركة عزل بجازان هو التوسع والتجديد التام من الخدمات التي يطلبها العملاء .