World Environment Day: the best and worst performing countries listed and mapped

By Ron Mader via Flickr, Creative Commons

This post was first published on 5th June but some technical issues forced me to republish it today. 

Today, 5th of June, is the World Environment Day, a recurrence established by the United Nations to encourage awareness and action for the environment.

This year’s theme of the event is “Seven billion dreams. One planet. Consume with care” and it is not a coincidence that the country hosting the 2015 event also hosts the World Exposition 2015, this year focused on a similar theme.

So, let’s take a look on how Italy and the other UN members perform in environmental matters.
The Environmental Performance Index is a measure developed by Yale University and Colombia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the European Commission.

The index is a composite of two umbrella-groups of variables, Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality, under which are evaluated water quality, pollution, CO2 emissions, use of non-hazardous pesticides in agriculture, and other factors.

The map below shows the 10 year-period change of each country performance values and how they rank globally.

Surprisingly, some of the lowest ranking countries have managed anyway to improve their performances over the decade. Kuwait and least developed countries Niger, Timor-Leste, Djibouti, Sierra Leone have experienced an over 20 points improvement, while Arab country Bahrain‘s performance was 4 points lower than 10 years ago, likewise Qatar‘s (-1.3) and United Arab Emirates’s (-0.95).

Northern and Central European countries were among the highest ranking, with Switzerland (87 points) and Luxembourg (83) topping the league, followed by Australia (82) and Singapore (81).
Access to water is the field where these countries have scored the highest points, whereas for people living in the lowest ranking countries Somalia (15), Mali (18) and Haiti (19) seems more difficult to have the service at all.

For the performances of all countries see the table below.

Expo 2015: 5 partners of the event you (probably) don’t want in the future food industry

Today (1st of May) the World Exposition has kicked off in Milan. This time the wider theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, so food production, its sustainability and future.

Indeed it is an interesting topic and surely a critical one to be discussed between world leaders if humans want to stick around for some more years. And being the hosting country, Italy, one of the greatest exporters of high quality food products, it is also a strategic one for the Bel Paese.

Apparently, the event fails its premises as Expo 2015 S.p.A, the organisation who manages the event, is partnering with companies that have demonstrated poor sensibility towards the environment, health and food. Is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” what the fair will be really about?

McDonald’s, Coca Cola and other multinationals are sponsoring and will get
significant space during the event, while, as explained by University of Milan’s academic Vittorio Agnoletto, if the official theme was the real one “the lead in the event should have been in the hands of associations of small farming enterprises and organisations who have fought for land, food and water rights”.

Below five of the big corporations that will, instead, be at Expo 2015. The list will be further updated.

Riso Scotti S.p.a.

The company has always been in the Italian imagery as the symbol of genuineness. This huge family business was founded in 1860 and since then members of the family has been running the company.

In 2012 the president Angelo Dario Scotti was arrested for illicit waste management, fraud and corruption for the activities of subsidiary Riso Scotti Energia, accused of burning hazardous waste, mixed with waste produced by the rise production process, for which the facility was meant.

Then the company would label the energy produced out of the incineration as green, claim public subsidies and sell it at a higher price.


One of the major symbols of corporate America is also one of the sponsors of Expo. It contributes 6 million Euros to the sustainability activities in the event.

However, the same company has also a long record of sustainability controversies. Last year a plant was closed in India due to exceeding quantities of groundwater was used in the drink production and after it emerged the facility released pollutants above legal limits in rivers.


The largest Italian industrial multinational is making great efforts to improve the sustainability of its activities. It is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and claim to improve the lives of Sub-Saharian Africans through targeted investments in the area.

These operations might have gone too far from its initial target as the corporation has been accused to practice landgrabbing in Africa.
The organisation GRAIN included ENI in its database of landgrabbing deals in Africa and it is one the big companies buying more land in the continent.

The 70,000 hectares bought in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be then employed to cultivate palm oil for biofuel. In times of food insecurity as the ones ahead the company invests in one of the poorest and starving countries in the world to produce food for fuel.. and it sponsors an event on food sustainability.

Eni stands for National Hydrocarbons Authority and, how the name suggests, make most of its profits from oil and gas extraction. As recently highlighted by the Guardian in its “Keep in the ground campaign”, if we are going to extract all the hydrocarbons currently in the ground we will never achieve the 2 °C limits set by the UN to have a chance against climate change.
Therefore Climate change = Food insecurity


The king of fast food will have a significant presence in Expo. An entire restaurant will be used by McDonald’s to cook and serve food. The company has committed to make its products as more sustainable as possible and to feed the world at little cost.

In Expo website, it is explained that 80% of the products sold in Italy are supplied by local agrobusinesses – what about the 20%, a fifth of their ingredients?. However, the giant has been credited to cause diabetes and US. The UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that the presence of McDonald’s at the London Olympics sends the wrong message to kids. What would they said about its presence on an event dedicated to the future of food?

Fast food is bad for children’s health while the company massive marketing campaigns targeting low age groups make an image of trustworthiness to what they sell. On this point it was epic and outrageous the Italian TV ad in which a kid chooses a Happy Meal over a pizza, a traditional Italian food and candidate for UNESCO Human Heritage.

Also beef, an important ingredients for hamburgers, is considered far from sustainable by the UN, as livestock production accounts for a fifth of the global greenhouse gas produced and western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable.

In comparison a partnership with start-up Ento, which promotes gourmet insect-based food would have been more on the point of the event’s theme and far more ethical. But I’ll leave the alternative companies Expo2015 S.p.A. could have partnered with to another post.

Debate: what’s wrong with GM?

This Storify gathers the relevant tweets from the recent debate organised by

Panellists reflects on the importance of an healthy debate and an accurate risk/benefit assessment.
To view the entire debate with longer statements and many scientific resources go on the comments section of the webpage.
What’s your opinion?
Do you feel safe with GMOs in the market? Do we need better labelling regulations?
Do small farmers in developing countries benefit or there are other methods out there?
Write a comment below and let’s discuss…

10 years of floods: a fancy animated map. How many have hit your country?

The map below shows all the 200 floods occurred all over the World during the last decade. 
Stop the animation clicking on the  button and explore the map on your month and year of interest.

How many floods occurred?
How many hit your country?

The visualisation is based on figures provided by Dartmouth Flood Observatory and shows the constant occurring of floods all around the planet. Some countries are hit more than others though..
Read my previous post on the frequency of floods in Europe and how it is likely to rise in the future.

Get here the data used for the map, with additional information on the severity of the floods. 
The figures cover the period 1990-2014.
Or read the Simon Rogers‘ tutorial on how to do a animated map using CartoDB and its new feature Torque.

Are some floods missing? Let me know in a comment below…

The numbers behind the floods in Europe. Romania the most struck in last 30 years

Between the 14th and 18th of May severe floods and landslides hit the Balkans, claiming 50 lives and causing a level of destruction financially comparable to the 1992-1995 Balkan conflict, as Al Jazeera reported.

However, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, the most affected by the tragedy, are not the only ones who have been facing extreme natural events recently, as ten days earlier Italian town Senigallia suffered the same faith as well as the southern British Somerset region, which last January experienced the wettest month ever.
These are of course minor events compared to what happened in the Balkans and last year’s massive flood in Central Europe, but there’s the terrible (and legitimate) concern that these extreme events are getting more and more frequent.

Explore some of the information on floods occurred since 1990 in the map by selecting one year in the drop-down menu

Is it getting better?

According to data collected by the Dartmouth Flood Observatory
on last 30 years’ floods, the number of events seem to be shrinking in both Europe and the rest of the World, after peaking respectively on 2002 and 2003; while the element in slight increase is the average annual magnitude of floods.

The information provided by the Observatory is derived by collection of news as well as governmental, instrumental and remote sensing sources.

However, considering the earliest year registered is 1985, the data surely needs to be contextualised on information covering a longer period to see any consistent trend.

No, it is not

A recent study reveals the number of floods occurring across Europe will double by 2050 and the financial loss will multiply as a result. The scientists also observed that these events interest all the European countries as “river flows across Europe are closely correlated, rising and falling in response to large-scale atmospheric patterns that bring rains and dry spells to large regions,” as Dr Hochrainer-Stigler said.

The study carried out by Dr Hochrainer & Co. is only available, unfortunately, by payment, but some of the supplementary information has been released, together with the graph below. It seems to confirm the trend of the Dartmouth Observatory data – apparently they took Austria and Hungary as models.

So yes, the number of annual floods has been decreasing, but it is probably going to get worse in the future.

Romania the most affected in Europe

Despite what happened in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, these have not been the most affected countries by floods over the last 30 years. According to the Dartmouth Flood Observatory’s figures Romania suffered the most among the European countries, Baltics included, as 38 floods hit the country since 1985, one every year in average. A third of them were considered “extreme floods”, the highest rate in Europe.

France (33), Italy (33) and Spain (25) follow up.

Get the data.

As simple as that: how we designed the HS2 campaign tool

This post is about the tool me and my team designed for our HS2 campaign in the “Build the news” event and how we came out with the the Fusion table-to-Twitter map with which we won the “Crowd” category. And, as the title suggests, the combination of tools I used are free and really easy to use.

The tool 

What we had in mind was to create a map showing the votes of MPs in the recent HS2 Preparation Bill by constituency, then allowing the users to tweet their opinion about the vote to their MP.
There is already
a way to contact your MP, but Twitter is quicker and the most used among social media UK.

The product we wanted was clear in our mind, but having no developer in our team and very basic knowledge of HTML and CSS coding, we had no clue on how to reach our target. 

But we made it and this the result:

The data we collected 

First of all what we needed was the series of MPs’ votes on the Preparatory Bill set in a spreadsheet. Through “The Public Whip” website we were able to access the official document, which includes the list of MPs’ names and their votes – aye (yes), no. 
This can be done by simply copy and paste the list, but to do a more precise job I’d suggest to use a Google Docs’ =importXml function. 
You can learn how to do it in 5 minutes reading the  tutorial.

Then we scraped the MPs’ Twitter accounts from TweetMinster using the software OutWit Hub – the free version of the software can resolve a lot of your problems when it comes to scraping. 

I did this without writing a line of coding and just using – what I call – the second level of scraping with Outwit Hub. I wrote about how to scrape with Outwit Hub without using coding and the three levels of scraping.

Time is always precious in journalism and not anybody has enough of it to spend learning how to code in REGEX – which I strongly recommend.

Outwit is perfectly designed to scrape several pages with its “forward” function.
But be careful, it seems that it stops when arrives at the ninth – any clue about the reason?
So we had to manually write 10 in the url of the ninth page in order to keep the scraper going and the same each 10 pages, for no apparent reason.

Fortunately the urls are in a good format, with the number of the page at the end.
Then we exported, cleaned combined the list of names and combined it with the one containing the votes using Excel’s function VLOOKUP. But before of this, we got rid of the “@” before the MPs’ Twitter names.
I’ll explain this later.

=right(the cell, len (the cell)-1)
text to column with “@” as a separator.

Also some of the two datasets’ names were different, so it was a matter of cleaning them, one by one.

The time was not on our side and we had yet to find a solution that would allow us to integrate a Twitter interface to each pop up of the Fusion Table’s map. So we searched in the Research Fusion Table search browser a map containing the constituencies’ geometry. We were lucky enough to find a map already in use with constituencies, names and even pictures of each single MP.

Creating a Twitter intent with MPs account names 

How is it possible to create a tab in a Fusion Table map window? Well we still don’t know, but it is probably possible with JQuery. Learning how to code in JQuery would not have been time effective, so we asked Google about any way to at least have a Twitter interface on a page reachable through a url, and we found the Web intents.

On the Twitter Developers page it is stated that Web intents

“Make it easy to bring interactivity to Tweets that you display on the Web”

They are basically those little windows that appear sometimes when you are on a website and want to share something from it. They are in fact used as a tool to share contents from websites.

Below on the right, there is an example of window with the intent.

and this the url of the window showed in the image above


Now it is just a matter of making it work for all the MPs’ accounts we have.

As it can be seen there is a “in_reply_to=”a code”. As we do not want to reply but to directly send a tweet, we cancelled all that part until “related=an Twitter name”, which is what interest us. The rest is can be deleted as well, so to have

Look at the Twitter name of the example after “related=”. Understand why the “@” should be taken off?

Opened our Google Docs dataset, we created another column and in the first cell wrote “”&the cell where the Twitter account is&%23HS2“.
The last part – “%23HS2” – is to indicate the #HS2 hashtag in the tweet.

Pasted the same formula along the column we’ll have all the Twitter intent for any account.

Another column will host the colour of the geometry by vote of MPs, as in the Fusion Table we took we were unable to modify the colours because was created by another user.
Choose the HEX code to represent each kind of vote – yes, no, absent – and write the colour’s code in each cell of the new column, after #. We simply called the column “Vote”.

We then merged the Fusion Table we found earlier with the Fusion Table version of the Google Docs spreadsheet by names of the constituencies, to realise the map. On the Change feature style of Fusion Table, we then go on Fill colour/ Column/Use a specific column and select the “Vote” one.

And basically that’s all.

Just one thing.
I have personally modified the format of the urls showed in the Fusion Table window that connect to the intents, transforming it in the nicer “Tweet me“, instead of an ugly and dry url.
It is possible to do that by tweaking the HTML of the window.
Here the tutorial from Google on how to customise the Fusion Table’s windows.

Let me know if and how you can do better in the comment below!

BCU team wins The Times’ “Build The News”

@bhameastside @bcumedia BCU data journalists at the end of #buildthenews.Great fun!
— Marianna Russo (@Mayaruss) February 23, 2014

My team and me won the “Crowd” category of the Times‘ “Build The News” event.

Our project is called “HS2: have a say” and it allows citizens to tweet to Parliamentarians their opinion about the HS2 project, showing how MPs voted in the recent “Preparation Bill” debate, held in the House of Parliament. 

The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill is a paving Bill to authorise further spending on preparation for the HS2 project. 

We created a map which shows how
Member of Parliaments voted during the 31th of October debate, by their constituencies. Clicking one of them will open a window, which shows information about the relative MP, how he/she voted and the political affiliation. 

A further click on “Tweet me” will open a Twitter window, with the MP twitter account already included and “HS2” hashtagged. 

For who doesn’t know what HS2 is or hasn’t bothered much to get news about its development, we aimed to develop a campaign with the most important information regarding this enormous £50 billion project. 

The first work – yet to be completed – is about the people behind the project. 

We visualised a sequence of directors faces, which once hovered by the users, provide information about their salaries, associations with other subjects involved in the project.

In this way we combine campaign journalism and curation, with a dash of investigative journalism. 

But all the project is still in a “working in progress”. We aim to publish something based on it on Eastside soon.

At the event there were three other categories:

  •  Stretch – long form journalism
  •  Tactile – enhance readers experience
  •  Noise – making easier to find details in the Web information overload 
There is also a round-up of pictures shot at Build The News by the Times and Sunday Times news development team.

Or watch the video below shot and edited by French journalist Marion Urban.

The other team from BCU realised a terrific long form journalism piece on pensions

Storified!:The fury of Yolanda/Haiynan .

Typhoon Yolanda has caused so far more than 5,000 dead. The updated death toll shows that the number of victims has increased by around 1,000 casualties during this week.
Yolanda, named Haiyan internationally, struck Philippines two weeks ago and the tragedy still have its space in the news.

The BBC and the Time liveblogged the event, while Al Jazeera and, more consistently, the Filipino on-line magazine Rappler are still providing updates.
I have used Storify to cover the event after days from the event, using it to tell the story from the days before the impact, to the recent debate over climate change as a trigger. I wanted
in this way to demonstrate that brilliant new curation tools like Storify can make a difference in the storytelling process, even if  reporter is temporally and geographically far from what is happening.


Are you using already Storify? Do you do far better than I did? Have you got any suggestion?
Just write a comment below and help us to understand the tool. 

Social media meet local journalism: two British news organisations examples

The BBC wants to have a totally digital presence on events as they happen. The recent introduction of Local Live has this aim, using heavily social media and community management.
The experiment has been brought to life in three key cities, Derby, Birmingham and London and is just some months old. e hard. 
local project done by the other giant The Guardian was community-focused too, but it was stopped 2 years ago because financially unsustainable. 
The initiative has been presented to a Danish group of journalist. They comment: “Replicate it in our country would be hard. Social media are not used in journalism”.

BBC Local Live 

A mixed group of Danish journalists and Birmingham City university media students was invited the last week by the BBC for a presentation about the recent Local Live local project. 

“Live Local is live, social and mobile”, 

comments Douglas Marshall, social media responsible for BBC England, about the initiative. 

 “With the use of social media the short-form journalism is getting more important day by as the readers often just scan the articles’ titles contained in a page. Then it gives the opportunity to journalists to cover events while they are happening without be in the office”. 

Local Live consists of a side space in the Birmingham & Black Country webpage in which are listed local news with short texts, pictures, tweets and videos. The topics covered are general news, sport, travel and weather and it includes links to both external and internal sources, like TV programmes as well as tweets from the local Council meetings. 

The BBC Birmingham & Black Country local page with BBC Local Live. It uses the @bbcwm twitter account.

The newsgathering technology used by the team to monitor the social media environment is 
mainly represented by Tweetdeck and Geofeedia
The first is a pretty well-known application to make twitter more flexible (read its Wikipedia entry for more information), while the latter represents an important instrument to track the social media presence in a particular area. 

According to Douglas Marshall the BBC uses heavily Geofeedia to search for local stories in real time as it reports entries from various platforms, including Twitter, Flickr, You Tube, Instagram and Picasa.

To offer a complete experience to the users, every of its 39 BBC England local pages offers links to other local news outlet. This is a singular choice that is observable mostly in the BBC website due its different business model, making the “click” competition with other more market-dependent outlets 
The clicks directing outside the website amount to 6% of the total.

Douglas Marshall and Kate Newman show the Birmingham BBC website page with Live Local  

As Marshall continues:

“Another aim of Live Local is the resurface of local BBC material, revisiting what the BBC does nationally in a local context”.

The failure of Guardian Local 

The day after the BBC presentation it was the time to hear about another experimental project, the Guardian Local
The Guardian’s journalist Hanna Waldram got an overview of her experience with Guardian Cardiff
This was a more ambitious initiative compared to the BBC’s, and was conceived in 2010 to serve also the communities of Leeds and Edimburgh.
Its “beatbloggers“, respectively John Baron, Tom Allan and Hanna Waldram worked alone to cover the assigned cities using a multimedia approach as well as social media.
As Hanna Waldram describes the job done for the Guardian,

“the work of a beatblogger consists in both community management and contents production. At the time of the start of Guardian Cardiff the local newspaper South Wales Echo were stopping to cover the Council affairs giving me the opportunity to begin with it”. 

The beatblogger used to write several stories in a single day across all the topics regarding the Cardiff community, from politics, infrastructure management, sports, arts through long-form stories and using different kinds of media, like slideshows, videos, timelines, data, pictures.

On community management she explains how fundamental was the relationship with the community she was serving:

“Meeting face to face the people of Cardiff helped me to build a relationship based on trust. Having a chat over a coffee or even stay in the central square is vital for a local journalist, it makes you visible; people after all realised that behind Guardian Cardiff there was just me.
In the meanwhile I tried to organise meetups and to seek for collaboration among the citizens, even with rival bloggers”

Ended the project due to financial issues, Hanna was recruited by the same Guardian as a national community manager, where she says, her experience as a community manager has been challenged due to the different scope of the Guardian national’s community.
This operation has been described as a publishing model success supported by a wrong commercial model depending on advertising. 
The closure of the project caused some disappointments in the communities covered, leading in Leeds to the creation of the #SaveGdnLeeds hashtag. 

Danish journalism and social media 

The Danish team of journalists that have been presented the two different experiences claims that such innovative way to do, what has been called, open journalism would be hard to apply in Denmark as social networks are rarely used in journalism.

As Peter From Jacobsen points out:

“There´s a great potential for further use of social media in journalism in Denmark. Surveys show that most journalists are on Facebook, but only half of them use Facebook in their journalistic work. That shows a large potential: they know how it works. It´s only to understand how it can contribute to your work”. 

“As for Twitter we see another picture: Twitter is not so developed in Denmark yet. Only around 150.000 (out of 5 million) are on Twitter. You still have to convince reporters that it is worth the effort to begin to start networking via Twitter”.

The 2013 New Media Trend Watch has classified Denmark as 5th in the global social media penetration (56%), just before the UK (50,2%), but, in fact, the European tweets map shows that since 2009 in Denmark the most active area has been Copenhagen, while the rest is pretty empty.

Peter From Jacobsen comments:

“One of the points to make I think is that journalists are very much focused on volume, and when you only get two retweets and three comments that seems to be not worth it. But social media is not always about volume.

Often it is about quality contacts and networking”. 

EU Agri-subsidies 2012: among millionaires and shadows

Curious about “Who gets What” from the European agricultural subsidies in UK?
Among the millionaires 11 names are currently unknown for privacy reasons, two are aristocrat and five recipients got half of the fund entitled to market support.

Inspired by the work of the team, I have started working on a project on the Commom Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies.

The personal choice of  the UK case is essentially connected to the quality of the information released by the government. Indeed the database of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) includes all the amounts paid by the delegated government bodies to the companies, despite its cover-up of the physical person names, according to the European Commission Regulation No 259/2008.

In the visualization below it is possible to see the millionaire beneficiaries of last year CAP payments round.
The red ones represent the recipients whose names we don’t know.

As it can be seen the covered beneficiaries are 11, and the most significant is ranked 4th in the chart.
At this point, while the policy that regulates the release of the names and the payments looked to follow an obvious right to privacy, now might appear damaging another important right, the citizen’s one to know where his/her taxes are spent.

In this case, are the citizens morally entitled to know who received almost 4 million pounds?
Is this privacy law in need to be limited to payments under one million pounds?
The renewal process of the CAP for the period after 2013 is in realization, but in the proposals these questions are not included.

By the way, the unknown “Scrooge McDucks” considered together account for 15 millions pounds.

While fortunately the policy doesn’t interest the majority of the millionaires’ names, globally the payments taken by the noted recipients are 20% of the total amount.

And the 80% is more then 3 billion pounds and covered behind a question mark.

         The big five and the market support 

The CAP payments are divided in two pillars: the first one includes direct payments and market support funding, while the second is for rural development payments.
While the direct ones are based on the land size, the rural development funding aims to foster those projects, companies or farms that are committed toward a development of the rural society.
The payments reserved for market support are in existence for different reasons, including situations of market destabilization and exporting refunding.

In UK the sum of these amounts to more then 30,5 million pounds. It is shared among 310 companies, but last year 5 of them cashed half of the money, leaving the rest to the others.