BBC 2024-02-01 12:03:26

EU leaders unlock €50bn support package for Ukraine

All 27 EU leaders have agreed a €50bn aid package for Ukraine after Hungary had previously blocked the deal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the new funding, saying it would strengthen the country’s economic and financial stability.

Ukraine’s economic ministry said it expects the first tranche of funds in March.

There had been fears Hungary’s PM would again block the package as he did at a European summit last December.

Viktor Orban, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU, had said he wanted to force a rethink of the bloc’s policy towards Ukraine and questioned the idea of committing to fund Kyiv for the next four years.

The package will help to pay pensions and salaries and other costs over the next four years. It comes as US military aid for Ukraine is being held up by Congress.

News of the agreement was announced less than two hours after the summit started, surprising many observers who had expected talks to go on much longer due to the depth of disagreement between Mr Orban and the other EU leaders.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters that the new deal includes a yearly discussion of the package and the option to review it in two years, “if needed”.

Mr Orban had been pushing for a yearly vote on the package, but this could have left the deal exposed to an annual veto threat from Hungary.

“A good day for Europe,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on X.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “grateful” to EU leaders, highlighting that the decision was taken by all 27 heads of state. He also said that the package would “strengthen the long-term economic and financial stability” of Ukraine.

The funding was important for Ukraine financially – and because it needs Europe to stay united in its support.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had underlined that it was about Europe investing in its own security. He stressed that Ukraine was resisting Russia for everyone – blocking Vladimir Putin’s attempt to challenge the world order by force.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who had been highly critical of what he called Mr Orban’s “strange and egotistic game,” posted on X: “Viktor Orban could be ‘persuaded’… Let’s move on.”

High Court throws out Trump ex-spy dossier case

Donald Trump’s attempt to bring a case in the UK courts against a former MI6 officer who wrote a salacious dossier linking him to Russia has failed.

The former president had been seeking to use data protection laws to sue Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, the company run by Christopher Steele.

Mr Steele compiled the dossier which had unproven allegations about bribing officials and sex parties.

It was leaked to the media just before Mr Trump was sworn in as president.

In bringing the lawsuit, he said the dossier contained allegations that were inaccurate and breached his data protection rights.

A ruling on Thursday by the High Court in London threw out the case.

Mrs Justice Steyn DBE said she did not make any judgement on the allegations themselves but found Mr Trump’s claim had not been brought within the six-year limitation period.

“There are no compelling reasons to allow the claim to proceed to trial,” she wrote.

A statement is expected from Mr Steele later today.

The case stems from 2016, when a US political consultancy asked Mr Steele’s company to produce a report into potential Russian interference in that year’s US general election.

The project was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s Democrats and other political opponents of Mr Trump.

Mr Steele, the former head of MI6’s Russia desk, sent his findings to the FBI, a British national security officer and an aide to a senior US senator.

The dossier, later obtained and published by BuzzFeed News, detailed uncorroborated intelligence claims that Mr Trump had a “compromising relationship with the Kremlin”.

The former president said in his witness statement when he brought the case last year that “none of these things [in the Steele dossier] ever happened.”

“I can confirm that I did not, at any time engage in perverted sexual behaviour including the hiring of prostitutes to engage in ‘golden showers’ in the presidential suite of a hotel in Moscow.”

Mr Trump said official investigations had debunked the dossier but it continued “to cause me significant damage and distress” because people still believed it.

He added that he had not had time to sue in the UK before 2023 because he had been busy being president.

Antony White KC, for Orbis, told the court in October that Mr Trump had accepted that the company was not responsible for BuzzFeed’s publication of the document.

Transfer deadline day: Who will move before the window shuts?

West Ham United

West Ham boss David Moyes has already made a big move during this transfer window by bringing in Kalvin Phillips on loan from Manchester City.

He pointed out that, at one time, Phillips was considered on a par with fellow England midfielder Declan Rice, who the Hammers sold to Arsenal last summer for £100m plus £5m in add-ons.

Now Moyes hopes Phillips can get “back on track” with West Ham, just as forward Jesse Lingard did when he joined on loan from Manchester United in January 2021.

The ‘motiveless’ 1920s murder that shocked the US

One hundred years ago, wealthy Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb brutally murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks. Why is popular culture obsessed with this horrific case?

It took a lot to shock the US in the 1920s. The country was still reeling from the aftermath of World War One. The age of Prohibition led to a rapid increase in violent organised crime. And the decade was bookended by two of the worst economic slumps in history: the Forgotten Depression of 1920-21 and the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

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However, the US was indeed shocked in 1924 by two affluent students in Chicago, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, and their attempt at the so-called “perfect crime”: a plan in which they believed they could achieve both the apparent thrill of committing a murder and the even greater thrill of not being caught.

Leopold and Loeb in Joliet Prison, Illinois after they were sentenced to life imprisonment plus 99 years for murder and kidnapping (Credit: Getty Images)

What initially started as intellectual curiosity arising from the philosophy they were reading ended in the brutal murder of a child. One hundred years on, the US’s shock still rings out, the crime having had a lasting impact on culture, across film, theatre, literature and television – resulting in works including the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Rope.

The facts of the case

Leopold and Loeb were childhood friends from well-to-do families.  At the time of committing their crime, Leopold, 19, had just graduated from the University of Chicago and was hoping to be accepted into Harvard Law School while Loeb, 18, was studying history at the University of Chicago Law School. On 21 May 1924, after months of planning, the pair lured 14-year-old Bobby Franks, a distant cousin of Loeb’s, into a car. One of the pair killed him, though it’s still debated which one, before they hid his body in a remote area.

The pair then quickly put their plan of subterfuge into action, laying false clues to confuse the police, in particular a fake ransom demand to Franks’s family. But, quickly, the plan fell apart: the body was found just the following day, 22 May, which was sooner than expected, so the ransom ploy failed to convince authorities. Unbeknownst to the killers, Leopold also left a pair of uniquely designed glasses at the crime scene which were traced back to him.

I think it continues to fascinate artists because it defies our ideas about ‘motive’ and about what it means to be ‘civilised’ – Nina Barrett

Under pressure, Leopold confessed to the crime and implicated Loeb as his accomplice. It was the motive behind the murder that shocked the nation, however. Leopold and Loeb presented their crime as an intellectual exercise, driven by their belief in the concept of the Übermensch – the superman who transcended conventional human morality – as explored by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. They saw themselves as thrill-seeking superior beings who could reach Übermensch status through the murder.

Their trial began in July 1924 and quickly became a media sensation. Clarence Darrow, a renowned defence attorney, took on the case and argued against the death penalty. Leopold and Loeb pleaded guilty, and the judge eventually sentenced them to life imprisonment plus 99 years.

The pair went to separate prisons, and their families disowned them. Loeb was later killed by a fellow inmate in 1936, while Leopold was eventually paroled in 1958 and lived the remainder of his life in relative anonymity, publishing some writing and dying in 1971.

The Leopold and Loeb case, as it became known, left a profound mark on US society and the legal system. It was dubbed by the newspapers the “crime of the century”, and sparked discussions around crime, punishment, and rehabilitation.

Hitchcock’s Rope is set in upmarket Mayfair, with the two murderers becoming Oxford students Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo (Credit: Getty Images)

Author and journalist Nina Barrett studied the case in depth for her book The Leopold and Loeb Files (2018). With extensive access to documentary evidence, she believes the reason for the enduring interest in the case is clear. “I think it continues to fascinate artists because it defies our ideas about ‘motive’ and about what it means to be ‘civilised’,” she tells BBC Culture, adding that “despite its having received more scrutiny than possibly any other murder case in modern memory, no one has ever produced a satisfactory explanation of why Leopold and Loeb thought murdering a neighbourhood boy would be thrilling”.

The crime’s cultural impact

The earliest example of its macabre cultural influence is a British rather than American one, tellingly. Come the late 1920s, the US wasn’t quite ready to produce creative retellings of the crime just yet. However British author Patrick Hamilton certainly did have ideas as to why the pair did it. Like many struggling authors, Hamilton liked sitting in cafes and pubs. It was during the long days staving off a growing dependency on alcohol that he began to draft what would become his breakthrough play, Rope, inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case. Hamilton’s work often reflected the psychological depths of individuals, especially in later novels such as Hangover Square (1941): with an eye for the seedier, hopeless side of human life, the killing made perfect raw material.

First premiering on 3 March 1929 at London’s Strand Theatre, Rope was an instant success. Set in upmarket Mayfair rather than Chicago, and recasting Leopold and Loeb as Oxford students, Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, Rope more than echoes the original Franks murder. Hamilton changed the narrative, however, so that the victim is a fellow classmate of the two protagonists rather than a child, while the theatrical staging had the body on stage at all times, hidden in a trunk. Hamilton’s skilful character development chilled audiences, as did the daring presentation of the entire play in one continuous act without intermission.

Rope is the intellectual and moral centre of Hitchcock’s work. Instead of looking askance at murder, he stared right at it – Mark Cousins

“I have gone all out to write a horror play and make your flesh creep,” Hamilton suggested in his own preface. “It is a thriller. A thriller all the time, and nothing but a thriller.” Hamilton was doing himself an injustice. The play delved deep into the evil, intellectual motivations of men who see themselves as above society. With World War Two around the corner, a war in which a similar bastardisation of Nietzschean ideology by the Nazis powered its atrocities, Rope was anything but a simplistic thriller. The play’s West End popularity swiftly led to a New York production, at the Theatre Masque on Broadway, where it was retitled Rope’s End.

Next it made its way to the small screen when, in 1939, the play was adapted by the BBC. Another production of the play was subsequently broadcast in 1947, with Dirk Bogarde as one of the murderers, before Alfred Hitchcock created his own big-screen version in 1948.

Hitchcock’s interpretation

Hitchcock himself was well acquainted with true crime, so it’s unsurprising Rope appealed to his morbid sensibilities. He demonstrated his credentials with the genre early on in his career, when he adapted Marie Belloc Lowndes’s Jack the Ripper-inspired novel The Lodger in 1927. Later, Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1948) was based on prolific serial killer Earle Nelson, while Frenzy (1972) was adapted from Arthur La Bern’s novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square (1966), which itself was inspired by the so-called “Jack the Stripper” murders in 1960s London. Perhaps most famously, Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) was adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch, which echoed the macabre crimes of Ed Gein. In other words, a number of Hitchcock’s most celebrated films derived from true crime, albeit several layers removed.

Director and film historian Mark Cousins recently reconsidered Hitchcock’s work for his film about the director, My Name is Alfred Hitchcock (2023). “Rope is the intellectual and moral centre of Hitchcock’s work,” Cousins suggests. “He wasn’t trying to be funny or amuse. Instead of looking askance at murder, in Rope he stared right at it. He didn’t lighten his form.”

Even though Rope tries to tack on a suitably moral ending, I feel that it also glamorises what they’ve done – Nina Barrett

The film had an added frisson of risk in the – then illegal and heavily implied – homosexual relationship between its Leopold and Loeb ciphers Philip (Farley Granger) and Brandon (John Dall). Bringing Rope to the screen with help from screenwriters Hume Cronyn (also an actor who appropriately played a true crime enthusiast in Shadow of a Doubt) and Arthur Laurents, Hitchcock fleshed out Hamilton’s play with a larger cast of characters, as well as casting James Stewart as Rupert Cadell, the pair’s former teacher and the film’s moral gauge. Cousins considers one moment from the film especially poignant – when Stewart says to the duo “you’ve made me ashamed at every concept I’ve ever had about superior and inferior beings. But I thank you for that shame.”

Rope was also incredibly experimental for Hitchcock: not only was it his first film in Technicolor but, inspired by its theatrical presentation on television, he decided to create the illusion of it being filmed in one simultaneous take. Though it was actually made up of 10 takes, the result still made for a unique, nightmarish film.

Orson Welles starred as a defence attorney in 1959’s Compulsion, a fictionalised account of the case which Leopold attempted to block (Credit: Getty Images)

Rope turned out to be one of Hitchcock’s most effective films, but the uncomfortable questions it raised led to a mixed reception. As Chicago Tribune critic Mae Tinne wrote: “If Mr Hitchcock’s purpose in producing this macabre tale of murder was to shock and horrify, he has succeeded all too well”. She later warned readers that it was “not recommended to the sensitive”. The public took note as the film did poor box office, its commercial failure compounded by various states and cities banning the film. However, Barrett understands the unease that surrounded Rope. “As a film, not just as a story, I personally find it very disturbing, because even though it tries to tack on a suitably moral ending, I feel that it also glamorises what they’ve done.” Nevertheless, the film’s infamy didn’t stop other creatives from looking to the Leopold and Loeb case for inspiration. In fact, it seemed to spur them on.

It was in the 1950s when Leopold was first approached in prison by author Meyer Levin. A contemporary of the murderers and intrigued by the case for a number of years, Levin approached Leopold with the idea of turning the story into a novel. Leopold told Levin he didn’t want his crime fictionalised, instead suggesting Levin help him with his memoir, but Levin went ahead anyway, much to Leopold’s frustration.

A closer retelling

The novel was Compulsion (1956), a thriller which stayed uncomfortably close to the truth. Unlike Rope, Compulsion was set in Chicago. It followed the intellectual manoeuvrings of the two characters, this time renamed Steiner and Strauss, their romantic relationship together and their crime, followed by the drama of the trial. Leopold was more than unimpressed on finally reading a copy, not least as Steiner, his fictional cipher, was explicitly shown to be both the instigator and perpetrator of the crime.

“The impact of Compulsion on my mental state was terrific,” Leopold later wrote of the book. “It made me physically sick, I mean that literally. More than once I had to lay the book down and wait for the nausea to subside.”

This case, unlike your run-of-the-mill true crime story, has really attained the status of myth – Nina Barrett

The book became a best-seller and Compulsion quickly found its way to the stage, before once again Hollywood smelled blood in the water, getting accomplished director Richard Fleischer to adapt it for film.

Fleischer would develop a strong relationship with true crime over the years, later making what is still perhaps the most effective true crime film ever made, 10 Rillington Place (1971). With a cast that included Orson Welles as attorney Jonathan Wilk (a fictional version of Darrow), the film was a hit in spite of Leopold attempting to block the film’s production. But years later, in 1970, Leopold brought a case against Levin, his publishers and the film’s distributors for invasion of privacy. However an Illinois judge rejected the murderer’s case that, because the book and subsequent film may have mixed fact with fiction, it was damaging to the plaintiff’s character. The judge declared that, in Leopold having been found guilty of the supposed “crime of the century”, there should be little sympathy for his privacy.

Leopold’s various attempts to stop Compulsion were one of the earliest examples, if not the earliest example, of a figure involved in a case condemning its true crime media representation – though typically today it is victims’ families who condemn true crime, not the perpetrator.

The third season of The Sinner saw Matt Bomer play a Nietzsche-inspired psychopath with obvious shades of Leopold and Loeb (Credit: Alamy)

For better or for worse, the influence of the case has continued to pervade popular culture. More books inspired by it appeared quickly in the wake of Compulsion, such as James Yaffe’s novel Nothing but the Night (1957), and Mary Carter’s Little Brother Fate (1957), a collection of three stories inspired by infamous US murder cases of the 1920s. In film and television, there has been Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), which is the most recent direct dramatisation of the case. Arch sleuth Columbo got in on the action, too, in the 1990 episode Columbo Goes to College, which took clear inspiration from Leopold and Loeb in its story about the detective bringing two students to justice. As recently as 2019, the murderers’ Nietzsche-inspired psychopathy was the inspiration for the central storyline of the third season of the hit US crime show The Sinner, and no doubt more retellings will appear as the century’s true crime gluttony continues.

So why does this grim case continue to inspire so much art? Barrett has a stark answer. “This case, unlike your run-of-the-mill true crime story, has really attained the status of myth. And it did so very quickly, because of all the very profound questions it raised, almost all of which are difficult if not impossible to answer,” she concludes, referring to the terrible fascination with murder whose motives are utterly beyond general human comprehension. It certainly does seem that the crime of the 20th Century is determined to live on into the 21st.

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Can tree planting solve a water crisis?

The Dominican Republic’s forests are being cut down for grazing land – and it’s also having a serious effect on the water supply. Is planting new trees a natural solution to the crisis?

Dominga Reynoso turned her rusted, squeaky tap above the kitchen sink. Nothing, not even a drop, came out. Even the pipes, which usually gurgled in anticipation, stayed silent. Reynoso and her neighbours, who live in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, would go without running water for 22 days – an increasingly common occurrence across the mountainous Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which the country shares with Haiti.

Historically, the country has relied on bountiful natural supplies of water, which are freely accessible to both public and private entities. Over the past century, however, that supply has been under threat. Increased demands from the tourist, mining, and agricultural industries have meant less is left for local people.

“Economic and population growth are putting great pressure on the Dominican Republic’s traditionally bountiful water resources,” says Chloe Oliver Viola, a senior water supply and sanitation specialist at the World Bank. “Reforms and greater investments are urgently needed to ensure sustainable use and safe water supply for businesses and households.”

Decades of deforestation to make way for cattle grazing, natural disasters like hurricanes destroying already-fragile sewer systems and infrastructure, and mismanagement of water resources have resulted in the country experiencing a water crisis it has never seen before, says Francisco Núñez, the Central Caribbean director of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organisation specialising in water and land conservation. “We’re going through a severe drought,” he says. “Animals have been dying, crops failing. To build a dam to conserve water supplies is not enough – we need nature to provide water, we need to go back to the ecosystem and rebuild from the beginning.”

Many people in the Dominican Republic have to rely on bottled water or water tankers because access to safe, potable supplies is unreliable (Credit: Getty Images)

In 2011, Núñez helped launch a multi-country project called the Latin American Water Funds Partnership, bringing millions of dollars of funding from conglomerates such as the world’s largest bottler of fizzy drinks, to invest in water projects in the Latin America and Caribbean regions. The partnership established 24 water funds throughout the region, forming a set of guidelines in order to set standards and best practices for each fund.

Núñez, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, spearheaded two water funds in his home country – one restoring three river basins in the Santo Domingo region, and one high in the mountains, in the watershed of the Yaque del Norte, the longest river in the country. The aim of the water funds is simple, says Patricia Abreu, head of the Santo Domingo Water Fund: “to focus on nature-based solutions contributing to achieve water security for the future”.

To achieve this, the projects have been increasing tree canopies, ensuring the water is managed efficiently, delivering clean water to local communities, and bringing sustainable and long-term economic empowerment to rural areas – through environmentally beneficial industries.

The Yaque del Norte river basin is home to significant agricultural production, as well as being the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, which has led to increasing tension between water users. “As an island state, we’re very vulnerable to climate change,” Abreu adds. “And the effects are altering the way the water cycle works.”

Of all the water on Earth, only 0.5% is fresh water  available for industrial, agricultural and domestic use. This water is found in groundwater aquifers, freshwater lakes, and rivers – areas vital to the world’s water supply, and which are under threat from deforestation, habitat degradation, and expansion of cities. Although Latin America has the most water sources in the world, 36 million people in the region lack access to clean drinking water.

Núñez and Abreu estimate the drought has been ongoing since 2015, although there is a lack of scientific research within the country when it comes to environmental issues. “It’s a huge challenge,” says Abreu. “As a country we need to build up better data about our water sources – both surface water and underground aquifers. There’s not a whole lot of information about what state they’re in. And we need that information for better decision making, and to work out how we approach the threats of a degraded system.”

Newly constructed wetlands prevent polluted runoff from entering rivers, which many local people still rely on for water (Credit: Getty Images)

Much of The Nature Conservancy’s work has been around data gathering, education, and involving all water users – from public utilities to private corporations to rural farming communities. “Our aim is to get everyone involved, and everyone educated, on the importance of conserving and properly managing water,” Núñez says. “This model is about everybody coming together to work on the same goal.”

The organisation’s work starts at the very beginning of the watershed ecosystem, at 10,000ft (3,030km) in the Cordillera Central mountain range, also known as Madre de las Aguas (Mother of the Waters). Around 80% of the country’s population depends on the water from this area, which is also the source of the Yaque del Norte.

The land, which used to be covered in lush, green vegetation, is now severely degraded, with roads cutting across the parched landscape, stripped of native trees and heavily grazed by cattle. “There’s an understanding now that if we want to fix the water crisis, we need to rebuild the watersheds,” says Núñez.

The team began approaching small scale farmers living in these rural, mountainous areas with a proposition: The Nature Conservancy would help plant either coffee or cacao crops – both plants help prevent soil erosion, which leads to better water retention in the watershed. They are also highly valuable economically; the country is a major exporter of organic fair trade cocoa. Planting a valuable crop means that money is being brought into these rural areas, and farmers are more likely to stick with that crop.

Farmers see how well their neighbours are doing with our programme and they want to sign up – Francisco Núñez

Alongside planting coffee and cacao, the organisation seeds other plants to shelter these crops and help them grow – a practice known as agroforestry. The technique has also been found to improve water resiliency, as trees pull water from the ground and release it into the atmosphere as vapour through a process called transpiration, which leads to local rainfall.

Farmers are also trained in how to monitor the land, aiding in collecting vital data that is fed back to The Nature Conservancy, helping inform future projects and observe progress. “The technicians came and gave us courses and lectures on how to plant cacao,” says Digno Pacheco, a farmer participating in the Santo Domingo project. “Here in this small town there isn’t much work. And we see the benefits of undertaking this cacao project because in the future we can harvest cacao, more people can work, and our economic situation can improve.”

Poor sanitation has led to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera in the Dominican Republic (Credit: Getty Images)

At first it was tough to convince farmers, Núñez says, as there was little trust in outside programmes and not a lot of understanding about how watersheds worked. It took months to persuade the first handful, but now “we have a waiting list”, he explains. “Farmers see how well their neighbours are doing with our programme and they want to sign up!” The farmers are compensated for planting trees on their farmland, and The Nature Conservancy provides the seeds and fertilisers. To date, no farmers have pulled out of the project.

The project aims to impact the watersheds that produce water for drinking, agriculture,e and electricity, which would benefit more than 60% of the country population, by improving water supplies in urban and rural communities and increasing sanitation and waste treatment. The project has also trained 370 Dominicans in water conservation practices and restored 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of water-producing ecosystems.

“There’s no Plan B when it comes to water,” says Abreu, who has seen firsthand how managing the watershed in the mountains can positively impact people in the city – like Dominga Reynoso. “Water security is so important for sustainable livelihoods, for human health and for economic development in countries like ours,” he says. Up to 40% of households spend 12% of their income on bottled water, while six out of 10 urban households report an intermittent water supply. More than two-thirds use bottles or tanks to store water for daily consumption.

Two-thirds of Dominican homes don’t have sewage connections which treat wastewater

Water quality is just as important as the quantity available, highlights Walkiria Estévez, director of the Yaque del Norte project. Residents in poverty-stricken areas repeatedly report water discoloration and odours from government-run taps, which leaves them at risk of contracting serious illnesses, including cholera. Two-thirds of Dominican homes don’t have sewage connections which treat wastewater, and that leads to groundwater contamination, a World Bank review found in 2021. In the capital, which has the highest rate of treated water, just 28% is treated, The Nature Conservancy found.

“It’s a problem we really needed to tackle,” says Estévez, “and so we started building artificial wetlands to naturally treat wastewater in rural and suburban for communities.”

Getting local people involved and enthusiastic about the replanting has been vital (Credit: Patricia Abreu/Santo Domingo Water Fund)

The Nature Conservancy has built 23 wetlands so far in the Yaque del Norte, Nizao, Ozama, and Haina water basins, with the biggest treating sewage from 1,500 families. These natural filtration systems, built using layers of sand and gravel and native plants such as vetiver, reduce pollutants by up to 98% without using any kind of chemicals or electricity, according to The Nature Conservancy. The water is absorbed by the manually dug basins and drained out through a pipe once it has filtered through the layers of sediment. The water then either goes back to the rivers or is used for irrigating small scale crop growing community projects.

Following the construction of the wetlands, 300,000 cubic metres (10.6 million cubic ft) of sewage water is now treated every year, diverting contaminated water from the rivers, which many locals still use to collect water for laundry, cooking, bathing, and cleaning. The most recent wetland was built in a school, and the team trained teachers to use the artificial ecosystem to educate students about environment and ecology.

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The World Bank recently loaned the Dominican Republic’s government $43.5m (£35.4m) to expand and improve clean water supply and sanitation services in two municipalities on the north coast of the country. The project aims to provide wastewater treatment services to 90,000 people and access to clean water for 105,000 people – 12,700 of whom will be connected to a water supply for the first time.

The government has begun to move forward with policy reforms to address the fragmented framework that currently covers water resources, irrigation and sanitation services, and which is at the root cause of poor water management. (A 2021 World Bank report described the water and sanitation sector as locked in a “vicious cycle”.) In addition, the government has proposed establishing a National Water Authority to lay out guidelines of water resource management. In 2023, the government launched a programme to improve the efficiency of state-owned water providers.

Whilst the government pushes through its top-down legislative reforms, Abreu continues to fight for water on the ground. “Most important to me is the way we integrate everyone in the country, to come together to cooperate for a greater objective,” she says. “Gathering data is important, but we’re translating the data to comprehensive projects that can actually respond to the challenge of water security.”

And the results suggest the approach works. The land that has undergone careful restoration is starkly different from the untouched areas: healthy trees with full foliage dot the landscape; streams are flowing and clear, with vegetation lining the banks; lush green grass covers the hills. It’s a vast improvement to the dry, arid conditions that Abreu and her team were faced with a decade ago.

Over the next 10 years, they hope to double their impact, expanding to 15 more communities, helping another 6,000 people gain access to clean water, and restoring another 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares).

The Dominican Republic’s Environment Ministry did not respond to requests for a comment.

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