A bordered world

Israel is to build a barrier along its Egyptian border. We look at other separation barriers worldwi

Israel has announced plans to build a wall along its border with Egypt to keep illegal immigrants out and protect against terrorism.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that a barrier blocking the main infiltration routes along the 266-kilometre (166-mile) frontier will be constructed and advanced surveillance equipment installed. The total cost will be roughly £170m (one billion shekels).

Thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have crossed the border over the past few years. Netanyahu said that, while refugees could still seek asylum in Israel:

This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

So, the wall is largely a pragmatic measure, but physical barriers are fraught with the symbolism of oppression -- Gaza, the Berlin Wall. Just how common are these physical boundaries, why are they there, and which countries make most use of them?

Here are just a few examples of the separation barriers that exist along country borders. They offer a snapshot of the political tension around them and the complex technology they entail. Interestingly, walls have also been proposed on the borders of Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia/Chechnya. Is this the answer to cross-border conflict and problems such as smuggling and immigration? Please do leave comments below.

Israel

This new barrier will cover nearly all of the country's borders. Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, sums up the Israeli position:

We need a fence, as I said ten years ago, with all of our neighbours. With the Palestinians, we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority. We will be here and they will be there.

Indeed, a barrier runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. The section separating it from Israel was constructed in 1994, and consists of wire fencing with sensors. It is separated from Egypt by a wall of concrete and steel, built after 2004.

A similar barrier around the West Bank is under construction, but has attracted huge controversy. The International Court of Justice declared in 2004 that the erection of the barrier is "contrary to international law". Debate rages, as the wall (in some places, eight metres high) is not being built along 1949 Armistice lines, but within the West Bank, annexing areas with substantial Israeli settlements, as well as water sources.

Settlers, and others, have also protested, arguing that none of the land should be relinquished. Construction paused in 2007, ostensibly due to lack of funds.

Elsewhere, Israel's borders are a physical legacy of past wars with neighbouring states. Its borders with Lebanon and Syria are covered by sophisticated security barriers with electronic surveillance and warning systems, a result of the 1949 Armistice and 1967 war, respectively.

Jordan -- the most peaceful of the borders -- is largely unbolstered, except for the section adjacent to the West Bank.

India

India -- the seventh-largest country in the world -- has also been constructing walls along its extensive borders since the mid-1990s.

Construction of a Kashmir barrier was completed in 2004, covering 550 kilometres (340 miles) of the disputed 740-kilometre (460-mile) ceasefire line; the aim is to prevent arms smuggling and keep Pakistani separatist militants out. The electrified barrier is between eight and 12 feet high, and also carries a network of thermal imaging devices and alarms, where power supply allows. It is well within Indian-controlled territory, though Pakistan claims that it violates bilateral accords.

Roughly half the tumultuous 2,900-kilometre (1,800-mile) border with Pakistan is similarly covered by barriers, and India plans to extend this the whole length. A barrier on the border with Bangladesh is under construction to prevent illegal immigrants from entering. And it is hoped that another structure on the Burmese border will stem smuggling and terrorism.

America

About 554.1 kilometres (344.3 miles) of the 3,141-kilometre (1,951-mile) Mexico/US border is covered by a separation barrier, aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out and stemming the drugs trade. The barrier runs mainly along the border with New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction ongoing in Texas, and consists of a series of short walls with "virtual fences" in between, including a system of sensors and cameras.

In the past 13 years, there have been approximately 5,000 migrant deaths along this border, according to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, a finding that was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.