Inter Press ServiceManipadma Jena – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:40:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Q&A: “What Price Do We Put on Our Oceans?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/qa-price-put-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-price-put-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/qa-price-put-oceans/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 13:10:24 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153280 IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviews the Executive Director of United Nations Environment ERIK SOLHEIM ahead of the Dec. 4-6 3rd UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, where 193 member states will discuss and make global commitments to environmental protection.

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Erik Solheim participates in the largest beach clean-up in history at Versova Beach Clean-Up in Mumbai, India, in October 2016. Photo courtesy of UNEP

Erik Solheim participates in the largest beach clean-up in history at Versova Beach Clean-Up in Mumbai, India, in October 2016. Photo courtesy of UNEP

By Manipadma Jena
NAIROBI/NEW DELHI, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

“Political resolve is the key for succeeding in our fight against oceans pollution,” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, who is leading hands-on the organisation’s global campaign to clean up seas and oceans of plastic litter, agricultural run‑off and chemical dumping, told IPS.

“It’s about building capacity for strong environmental governance and bolstering political leadership on these issues,” said Solheim, who previously served as Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development.“If action is not taken today, we’re lining ourselves up for the ultimate cost – the destruction of our oceans – down the line."

“One of the big changes has been an understanding of the issue (of marine pollution) and a realization that we are facing an extremely serious problem. As a result, we’re starting to see a range of initiatives,” he said.

“On the community level, there are people like Afroz Shah and Mumbai’s Versova Beach clean-up team, for example. They’re really doing an amazing job of drawing attention to the problem.

“Then we’re seeing the “private sector begin to take serious action,” he said. “For example, Dell is changing its packaging. Certain big national and international chains are changing their practices – for example by using paper instead of plastic, or cutting out plastic straws.

“Then we have government action, which is crucial. Certain countries have banned microplastics, some have banned plastic bags. Kenya, Rwanda and Bangladesh, for example, are recognised global leaders on plastic pollution,” he added.

“This points to a growing understanding of the marine litter problem and a resolve to take concrete action. Ultimately, the problem of marine litter is upstream. We need industries to change. We need people to exercise their power as consumers,” Solheim said.

In what Joachim Spangenberg of Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environment Research called the “political economy” of pollution, where vested-interest lobbies profit by externalizing costs of production and discharging unwanted waste into the environment, anti-plastic law-makers are up against a global plastic industry worth 654 billion dollars by 2020. Dow Chemicals, Du Pont, BASF, ExxonMobil, and Bayer are key players invested in the sector.

But Spangenberg too says that heads of government have great power to address this “political economy” of pollution.

Oceans are the new economic frontier, but ill health eating into its potential

Between 2010 and 2030 on a business‑as‑usual scenario, the ocean economy could double its global value added to 3 trillion dollars and provide 40 million jobs, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) major 2016 study said.

Ocean is the new economic frontier, it said, its growth driven by traditional and emerging ocean-based industries, marine food, energy, transport, minerals, medicines, tourism and innovations.

But OECD warns the oceans’ undermined health would cut into its full growth potential.

“We need governments to make polluters pay, and to ensure we work harder on recycling, reuse and waste management. The solution is stopping the waste ending up in the ocean in the first place,” Solheim told Inter Press Service.

UN Environment chief Erik Solheim. Photo courtesy of UNEP

UN Environment chief Erik Solheim. Photo courtesy of UNEP

Pollution from plastic waste in oceans is costing 8 billion dollars

“Pollution from plastic waste being dumped in the ocean is costing the world at least 8 billion dollars every year, but this estimate is certain to be an underestimate when we factor in the cumulative, long-term consequences,” said the UNEP chief.

Between 4.8 million tonnes and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, 80 percent of it from land sources due to inadequate waste management.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, plastic production is increasing 4-5 percent annually.

Plastic pollution is everywhere; even a tiny uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean far from human contact had 18 tonnes of plastic washed up on it. Plastic waste was found at 36,000 feet in depth – the deepest spot in the ocean in the Mariana trench, he points out.

Plastic aside, land-based sources pump in the maximum waste and pollutants into oceans and coastal waters, mostly through rivers. Farming, food and agro-industry, fisheries and aquaculture, oil and energy sector, waste, wastewater, packaging sector, extractives and pharmaceuticals are major sources.

In coastal regions where 37 percent of the global population lives, these pollutants can stunt neurological development, cause heart and kidney disease, cancer, sterility and hormonal disruption.

Among the little know impacts on marine creatures, ingestion of microplastics (size less than 5 mm) by fish can affect female fertility and grow reproductive tissue in male fish causing their feminization. Chemicals in plastic cause thyroid disorder in whales, physiological stress, liver cancer, and endocrine dysfunction, says UNEP’s 2017 pollution report.

“Then of course we have to look at waste to the economy of plastics being produced, used for a few seconds or minutes and then dumped,” Solheim said.

Why are many law-makers still dragging their feet on strong anti-plastic policies?

Environmental activists say regulating marine pollution needs bold and several restrictive, unpopular policies that on which elected law makers are seen to be dragging their feet.

“It’s a case of presenting environmental action in a positive, constructive way. We need to stop looking at it as a cost or sacrifice, but as an opportunity, a win for health, benefits for the economy and for the planet,” Solheim counters the critics.

The Kenyan government recently banned single-use plastic bags. “There were inevitably complaints from some manufacturers, but we have to consider what the benefits are from making the switch to more sustainable packaging.

“There are business opportunities. There are benefits to tourism, as nobody wants to go on a safari and see plastic bags blowing across the savannah, or spend a holiday on beaches littered with plastic. There are benefits to the food chain too. We’ve seen cows whose stomachs were filled with plastic,” he added.

Actions don’t need to be unpopular. For example, “does any country have a policy to throw rubbish into the sea?” “Certainly not! If that was a real policy, people would be justifiably furious.” he said. But that is what has happened, in the absence of strong policies.

“For too long, the relationship between prosperity and environment has been seen as a trade-off. Tackling pollution was considered an unwelcome cost on industry and a handicap to economic growth,” Solheim says in his ‘Vision for a Pollution-free Planet,’ in the run-up to the UN Environment Assembly. “(But) it’s now clear that sustainable development is the only form of development that makes sense, including in financial and economic terms,” he adds.

“If action is not taken today, we’re lining ourselves up for the ultimate cost – the destruction of our oceans – down the line. It’s cheaper to prevent pollution now than clean up in the future,” he told Inter Press Service.

“That’s the message we really need to get across, so that governments can feel inspired and emboldened to take action.

“After that, what price do we put on our oceans? They sustain human life in such a way that surely we need to look at the oceans as priceless,” Solheim said.

“We have to look at pollution as a factor alongside climate change and over-fishing. We have to look at oceans as interconnected,” Solheim said.

Keeping marine litter high on national environmental policy agendas of the 193 member nations, pollution is the focus of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly 4-6 December at the UN headquarters of Nairobi.

The UN Environment Assembly is attended by 193 member states, heads of state, environment ministers, CEOs of multinational companies, NASA scientists, NGOs, environmental activists, and celebrities to discuss and make global commitments to environmental protection.

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The Urbanization of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/the-urbanization-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-urbanization-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/the-urbanization-of-malnutrition/#respond Mon, 25 Sep 2017 11:52:45 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152223 Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas. One in three stunted under-five children out of 155 million across the world now lives in cities and towns. Degrading land productivity, deepening impacts of changes in climate, conflict, and food insecurity, poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities are driving mostly […]

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Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas: 1 in 3 stunted under-5 children now lives in cities or towns

While Kuala Lumpur boasts islands of artificial rainforest, one of the fastest growing urbanized agglomerations stretching 2,245 sq.km around it, with 7.4 million people, has lost all ancient rainforests to destructive palm oil plantations. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, India, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas. One in three stunted under-five children out of 155 million across the world now lives in cities and towns.

Degrading land productivity, deepening impacts of changes in climate, conflict, and food insecurity, poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities are driving mostly the rural poor into towns and cities, with projections that just 13 years from now, 5 billion people will be living in the world’s urban areas. While the urban population is forecast to double within these 30 years (starting in 2000), the area taken over will triple, increasing by 1.2 million square kilometers, says the Global Land Report 2017.Not only will urban land area triple globally between 2000 to 2030, the projected expansion will take place on some of the world’s most productive croplands.

Close to 90 percent of urban population and area growth is forecast in Asia and Africa, with the most dramatic changes foreseen in Asia, according to this report from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

By 2050, 56 percent of Asia’s population will be urban. China crossed the halfway mark in 2012, India will in 2050. This major shifting of the character of a population, the character of its economic activity, from being predominantly rural to becoming urban is seen to catapult – particularly China and India – to global economic leadership. But its urban growth engines could be riding on a huge malnourished rural migrant population.

From 777 million chronically undernourished people worldwide, 2016 saw a jump to 815 million. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ latest major report, said the increased food insecurity owes to a greater  number of conflicts, often exacerbated by climate-related shocks. These two factors, which studies have now established to be inter-related, are what is driving most migration today, and possibly will continue to do so in the future unless strong multi-sector action is taken soon.

Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas: 1 in 3 stunted under-5 children now lives in cities or towns

In India’s urban slums lack of sanitation is a major cause for child malnutrition and stunting. In this picture inside a slum in Bhubaneswar city in eastern India, the child on the left is a growth-impaired 6 year old always carried by his mother.
Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

From rural food producers to net consumers in cities

Rural marginal landholders, the family farmers, compelled to abandon their food producing role, migrate to urban centres to join instead the growing millions of consumers. Where once they grew their own food, kept aside for their own needs first and the remainder sold to urban food chains, and reached out to the natural ecosystem in hard times, these farmers are migrating into an economic structure where access to cash alone determines their food security.

Poor urban households in many developing countries spend over half their earnings on food, studies find.

Although in cities, food is available year-round, a growing number of urban poor face a daily struggle to feed their families. Price fluctuations, sometimes of staples which are increasingly being imported from other parts of the world, hit the poor hardest.

An illness, a religious ceremony or a family wedding can cut deeply into the fragile food budget of the urban poor, paving the way for malnutrition and stunted childhoods.

When Sunita Behera came to India’s megacity Delhi with her three children, the youngest barely three years old, and her husband, a wage worker for a construction contractor building the 2010 Commonwealth Games stadium, they could afford meat and fish only once a week. But vegetables and lentils – said to be a poor man’s meat because of its rich protein content – were a regular part of their meals.

The price of lentils, India’s staple item, inched up because more was being imported to meet the demand. By 2014, the commonly used variety was 1.5 dollars a kilogram. Reducing the cooked quantity by half, Behera would mix rice starch to thicken it and sauté a few more chilies to spice it up.

In 2015, her husband fell from a construction scaffolding and could not work for months. Lentil prices had doubled and a month’s salary from her domestic work from one household would have gone for purchasing a month’s requirement of lentils alone. She didn’t buy them anymore and they mostly ate rice and potatoes. Her father back in the village grows green grams over half an acre every winter.

Many city-dwellers in Asia, and in India specifically, particularly men when they migrate alone, have limited time and no place to cook or store groceries, relying increasingly on street foods. Poor shelter, lack of sanitation and hygiene in slums, and insufficient family and community support – which were woven into the rural social fabric – further compound the problems of the urban poor. Under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are the result.

With over 65 percent of its population below the age of 35, India is set to supply more than half of the potential workforce over the coming decade in Asia, a recent study said. Over the last two decades, India’s urban population increased from 217 million to 377 million and is expected to reach 600 million, or 40 percent of the 1.5 billion population, by 2031. This demographically-powered economic growth is bound to see a huge rural-urban migration. Hundreds of ‘smart’ cities are already underway to capitalize on this migrating workforce.

Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas: 1 in 3 stunted under-5 children now lives in cities or towns

On 1/5th hectare of land in Indian Sundarbans, Alpana Mandal has access to a range of food – fish from their tiny freshwater pond, eggs from a brood of hens and beans, leafy vegetable and rice – all self-grown. But the rising sea threatens this Ganges deltaic village and fleeing to Kolkata city could be their only means of survival. Photo credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Urbanisation, cropland loss and under-nutrition

Not only will urban land area triple globally between 2000 to 2030, the projected expansion will take place on some of the world’s most productive croplands, according to a 2016 study. Asia and Africa alone will account for over 80 percent of global cropland loss. Asia’s 3 percent is world’s highest absolute loss, leading to a 6 percent annual food production loss. Currently around 60 percent of cropland around towns and smaller cities have irrigation facilities and are twice as productive.

This dynamic adds pressure to potentially strained future food systems, says the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

China and India will continue to urbanize rapidly, but with different spatial patterns and development dynamics, it said. China’s cropland losses between 2000 and 2030 are calculated to be 5-6 percent, adding up to 9 million hectares and translating into as high as one-tenth of food production loss.

India’s absolute urban area expansion until 2030 would take over around 4 million hectares, half that of China. The South Asian nation will lose 2 percent production by 2030, mainly because the nature of its urbanization will be more in the shape of small towns and 100,000-population cities, according to the PNAP study. Its peri-urban regions would for the time being continue to grow food and rural-urban linkages have the potential for sustainability.

Indian experts however said India’s infrastructure developments and land use change in favour of industries and mining is already severely affecting the food and nutritional security of the country’s poorest, including many of the 104 million partly forest-dependent indigenous population.

Owing to hundreds of land related conflicts that over the last two decades delayed proposed industries, mining projects, dams and other infrastructure, the government has set aside close to 2.68 million hectares of land-bank, barricading some of them in eight states, according to a recent news report.

An industrial corridor is being planned between the financial hub of Mumbai and the capital New Delhi, which will develop as many as eight new manufacturing cities across six states. India constructed 20,000 km of new and upgraded roads between 2012 and 2017 to improve transport systems. An acute shortage of 18 million urban housing units across India in 2012 has led the government to convert the city fringes for expansion, to cite only a few urban infrastructural projects.

Even when the aggregate amount of cropland on city fringes is high, the weak link is that each patch is relatively small, with vulnerable smallholders finding it difficult to hold out against the government or aggressive property developers.

Cropland loss can be compensated by the global food trade but its impacts are borne mainly by the urban poor. Agricultural intensification and expanding into grazing commons and less productive land can compensate for food production loss. In South Asia, however, much of the suitable land is already under intensification. With climate change already adversely affecting yields, further intensification will be counter-productive.

Policies to ensure sustainable urbanization and adequate quantity and quality of food supply include protecting peri-urban agricultural land from conversion, incentivizing farmers in proximity to cities to maximize production, and encouraging urban residents to grow food even on small patches and rooftops.

However, to date, the quality of governance in countries with important cropland losses tends to be medium to low in emerging economies like India and China, the PNAP study said.

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Indian Journalist’s Murder: The Ultimate Form of Press Censorship?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship/#comments Thu, 07 Sep 2017 22:56:50 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151969 Dauntlessly crusading against curbs on freedom of speech, fifty-five-year-old Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her very doorstep in Bengaluru city on the evening of Sep. 5, taking three bullets of the seven fired in her lungs and heart. She was shot from just three feet away. Known for her vocal stand against […]

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Gauri Lankesh. Credit: Wikipedia

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Sep 7 2017 (IPS)

Dauntlessly crusading against curbs on freedom of speech, fifty-five-year-old Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her very doorstep in Bengaluru city on the evening of Sep. 5, taking three bullets of the seven fired in her lungs and heart. She was shot from just three feet away.

Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritian policies, Lankesh ran bold and forthright anti-establishment reports on the eponymous Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a regional language tabloid published, owned and edited by her since 2005."Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India)." --A senior journalist

She ran the paper only on subscriptions from loyal readers from across remote villages of Karnataka State. The paper carried no advertisements, following in the tradition of her socialist poet, playwright and journalist father who started the original tabloid.

Gauri Lankesh described herself on her Twitter handle as a journalist-activist. Fluent in both English and the regional Kannada language, she fearlessly broadcast her far-left of centre and pro-Dalit ideologies against religious fundamentalism and the caste system, reaching a huge mass grassroots population.

Speaking at her funeral, Karnataka’s chief minister M Siddaramaiah said, “Gauri brokered deals with Naxalites (Left-wing extremists) in Karnataka. She helped them enter the mainstream and played a vital role of a negotiator between the State and the extremists.” An activity which extremists cadres may have wanted to halt, Lankesh’s brother Indrajit Lankesh said today.

Known as a sympathizer of left-wing extremists, Lankesh was among the few who could empathise with the poverty, oppression and injustices that had pushed these people to pick up arms against the government.

In November, Lankesh was convicted in two libel suits filed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarians for her 2008 article alleging that they had criminal dealings. She was, however, granted bail and was planning to appeal to a higher court.

Majority of journalists killed wrote on politics and corruption

Lankesh’s voice being silenced once again highlights that journalists covering politics and corruption in India are most at risk of being silenced by killing.

Over half of the 27 journalists murdered in the country since 1992 were covering politics and corruption – the two beats most likely to provoke violent repercussions, finds the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ). The threat from these seems to be rising.

India continues to languish in the bottom third of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 136th of 180 countries. Among India’s neighbours, most fare better, including conflict-torn Afghanistan at 120, Pakistan at 139, Sri Lanka at 141, , Bangladesh at 146, Nepal at 100, Bhutan at 84 and China at 176. Norway leads while North Korea is at the bottom.

The Index ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

Source: RSF

‘It is not what you said, but why you said it’

A friend of the slain journalist who was also from the media fraternity is quoted as saying that Lankesh was very “in your face” in her brand of progressive activism against radical Hinduism.

“In my frequent interactions with her, I would tell her that her whole rhetoric should be more subtle,” her friend says. “She was very naive and she was politically incorrect. She was very bold, but indulged in sloganeering of a certain kind which I said would not achieve anything. She needed to strategize.”

“Our right to dissent is being threatened,” the intrepid journalist said instead.

Bold red placards at her funeral read, “It is not what you said, but why you said it.”

“Given the ways in which speech is being stifled, dire days lie ahead,” Lankesh told an online portal a few months before her death, in an intuitive foretelling of her violent end.

She installed two closed circuit surveillance systems a fortnight before the fatal attack.

No link has yet been established between her death and her ideology or writing by police investigations, but because she so fiercely fought for freedom of speech and freedom of thought, large sections of Indian media protesting her killing are expressing concern over what they described as a growing intolerance of dissenting political voices.

A senior journalist sums up the current sentiment saying, “Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India). Alternate opinion is no longer debated, it is silenced.”

The Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 index report too blames the rise of Hindu nationalism for India’s drop in ranking.

“The three-year-old (federal) administration has been trying to banish all “anti-nationalist” discourse from the Indian press. Journalists who refuse to censor themselves are the targets of defamation suits or are prosecuted under section 124A of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment, the organization reiterated today.”

Getting away with murder

Hundreds of journalists are murdered, but in nine out of 10 cases their killers go free.

India’s unsolved journalist murders rose by 24 percent within just one year, finds CPJ’s latest Global Impunity Index 2016 which documents the top countries where the killers of journalists go unpunished and where cases of journalists killed remain unsolved. In comparison, Syria is up 85 percent and Brazil 36

CPJ finds it is most often criminal and political groups, government officials in India who get away with journalist murders. Rural and small-town journalists reporting on local corruption, crime, and politics are targeted most. Worse, in addition to failing to solve any journalist murder, India has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.

Impunity is widely recognized as one of the greatest threats to press freedom. The Impunity Index finds globally, 95 percent of victims were local reporters. More of them covered politics and corruption than any other beat. Also in 40 percent of cases, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed. Threats however are rarely investigated by authorities and in only a handful of cases is adequate protection provided. Of serious concern is CPJ’s finding that only 3 percent of total murder cases over the 2006 – 2016 decade have been brought to justice, including the prosecution of the masterminds.

No data on the murder of journalists is maintained separately, according to India’s home ministry, which administers law and crime. Since 2014 the national crime records bureau (NCRB) has however started collecting data only on grievously injurious attacks on media persons.

The federal or any of the State governments is yet to act on RSF’s 2015 call to the Indian government to launch a national safety plan for journalists, or at least establish alert and rescue mechanisms that would also send a strong message of support for media freedom.

India’s information and broadcasting ministry rejected RSF’s index ranking earlier this year, saying it found the sampling random in nature and it does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India.

Earlier in February U.N. Secretary General António Guterres agreed to take steps to address the safety of journalists, at a meeting where RSF and CPJ called for the appointment of a special representative to the UNSG to end impunity, ensure safety.

Attacks on Asia Pacific’s free press escalates: Cambodia’s clampdown via huge back tax

With 34 countries and more than half the world’s population, the Asia-Pacific region holds all the records including the biggest number of “Predators of Press Freedom,” according to RSF.

Earlier this week, the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper published its last issue on Sep. 4 after fighting for the right to report the news freely and independently for 24 years. It was forced to close by an unprecedented form of government pressure – a sudden demand to pay 6.3 million dollars in alleged back taxes, according to RSF.

The newspaper’s editor, Jodie DeJonge regards it as arbitrary and politically motivated, pointing out that no tax audit had been carried out, according to RSF, which also says that the Cambodia Daily has been one of the relatively few independent media outlets to cover corruption, deforestation and other stories that are embarrassing for the government. This clampdown on independent media outlets has come as Cambodia prepares to hold elections next year.

“But this is not a tax issue, it is a free press issue,” DeJonge told RSF.

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One Earth: Why the World Needs Indigenous Communities to Steward Their Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands/#comments Mon, 07 Aug 2017 22:41:07 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151603 This article is part of special IPS coverage for the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9.

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An ethnic matriarch in India's biodiversity-rich Sikkim State in the Himalayan foothills. She is a repository of traditional knowledge on plants both for food and medicinal properties. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

An ethnic matriarch in India's biodiversity-rich Sikkim State in the Himalayan foothills. She is a repository of traditional knowledge on plants both for food and medicinal properties. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

“Showing them a picture-book crow, I intone ‘kaak’ in Bengali, the State language. While others repeat in chorus, the tribal Santhali first-graders respond with a blank look. They know the crow only as ‘koyo’. They’ll happily roll out glass marbles to count but ask them how many they counted, they remain silent because in their mother tongue, one is mit, two is bariah – very different sounding from the Bengali ek and du.”

Teacher Ramakrushna Bhadra faced a formidable challenge at the rural Hatrasulganj Santhal primary school in India’s eastern West Bengal state, until he decided to learn the tribal language himself.Out of 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide, India holds as many as 700 different ethnic groups, adding up to 104 million people.

For Santhals, the largest tribal community in West Bengal, Bengali is a foreign tongue. Hence at school, the new entrants learnt nothing, lost interest, dropped out of classes and joined their parents in seasonal migration. Generational illiteracy has only perpetuated the poverty cycle.

India even passed a law declaring education as a constitutional right for all children 6 to 14 years old, and to reduce the drop-out rate of ethnic minorities, it provided for mother-tongue primary education and set up free residential schools in tribal pockets.

With a precarious demographic total of around 8,000, and a female literacy rate of 3 percent, the Dongria Kondh tribal community in neighbouring Odisha state has an exclusive girls-only free residential school in Rayagada district set up by the government in 2008. While enrolling and retaining the girls demands continued effort, teachers say older girls who have been in the school for some years have now distanced themselves from their roots, viewing their unique traditional costume and hair-dress as embarrassing.

Retaining unique indigenous cultures, their traditional knowledge systems and sustainable management of natural resources, even while aiding them to access, choose and prioritize from the development pathway so that they are not left behind, has been a challenge for governments around the world.

Out of 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide, India holds as many as 700 different ethnic groups, adding up to 104 million.

Central to this challenge and offering the closest solution is granting their right to customary land and the resources within it.

Their ancestral land and natural resources have a fundamental importance in their livelihood, ways and of life, culture and religion and, in fact, in their collective physical and cultural survival as communities.

One of the Indian tribes least in contact with the outside world, the Bonda community's remote settlements are part of the left-wing extremists Red Corridor, where government education, health and sanitation schemes have had little impact. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

One of the Indian tribes least in contact with the outside world, the Bonda community’s remote settlements are part of the left-wing extremists Red Corridor, where government education, health and sanitation schemes have had little impact. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The government has several specific programmes for indigenous communities such as in education, livelihoods, quotas in educational institutions and jobs, and food security at huge funding expense, whose aim has been to bridge the conspicuous economic gap between them and the mainstream population.

“Poor implementation of existing schemes in the tribal regions has meant that not only poverty

continues at exceptionally high levels in these regions, but the decline in poverty has been much slower here than in the entire country,” according to an earlier national report by the Planning Commission, now Niti Aayog.

Discrimination, official apathy, and insensitivity to tribal ways of life, rampant corruption, denial of justice and human dignity, and political marginalization has led to entrenchment of left-wing extremism is several tribal regions in India.

In India, most of the indigenous groups live in deep natural forests that sit atop rich deposits of iron, bauxite, chromites, coal and other minerals. The government and corporate miners want to get their hands on as much of this as possible.

But the Indian Constitution has given powers of self-governance and autonomy to tribal communities over their habitat, where the village council holds the last word in decisions, even over government’s, on the use of its resources, specifically in the context of the Forests Rights Act 2006 and the Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013.

Still, this power of the village council has been subverted time and again by government agencies and corporate, as numerous studies and reports have established.

Lack of clear recognition and protection of indigenous people’s land rights and natural resources especially forests, is today the root cause of conflict and unrest around a majority of infrastructure and mining projects, resulting in time over run, aborted project with losses running into billions of dollars.

While the ethnic groups have become somewhat more aware, India’s apex court has been keenly monitoring their land and forest rights implementation. This has made a tremendous difference in the last decade. The issue continues to be on the boil as civil society organizations, both local and international keep the debate open and protest ongoing.

Until the 2011 census, more than half of the total indigenous population in India had left home to live in urban areas, completely alien to their nature-loving lives and livelihoods. Poverty, project-related displacement and loss of livelihoods from denied access to land and forests are the main causes for migration.

In Kadaraguma village high in the hills of Rayagada, 66-year-old Kone Wadaka is looking for an heiress to pass on her confidential wealth of medicinal knowledge in forest plants. The oral knowledge of generations was passed down from her father, a tribal healer of a Dongria Kondh clan. Accompanying him as a teenager for days before the sun was up, Wadaka learnt to identify leaves and roots that could prevent conception, alleviate fits and seizures, heal wounds, and subdue pain. Herself unmarried, a young girl she had set her mind on to relay the family knowledge has moved on to school.

As the forest moves further away from their villages, and trees are cut, to be replaced by commercial timber plantations, Wadaka is afraid if she does not find someone suitable soon, the invaluable knowledge might die with her. It saddens her that her people will lose something that was theirs for generations.

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, whose key larger goal remains building inclusive societies, seeks to empowerment of indigenous people through secure tenure rights to land, parity in education and vocational training, doubling of small-holding agricultural productivity and income and encourages States to include indigenous leaders in subsequent reviews of country progress towards the goals.

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SLIDESHOW: When Women Have Land Rights, the Tide Begins to Turnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/slideshow-women-land-rights-tide-begins-turn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slideshow-women-land-rights-tide-begins-turn http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/slideshow-women-land-rights-tide-begins-turn/#respond Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:28:49 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153490 In Meghalaya, India’s northeastern biodiversity hotspot, all three major tribes are matrilineal. Children take the mother’s family name, while daughters inherit the family lands. Because women own land and have always decided what is grown on it and what is conserved, the state not only has a strong climate-resistant food system but also some of […]

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Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Jun 26 2017 (IPS)

In Meghalaya, India’s northeastern biodiversity hotspot, all three major tribes are matrilineal. Children take the mother’s family name, while daughters inherit the family lands.

Because women own land and have always decided what is grown on it and what is conserved, the state not only has a strong climate-resistant food system but also some of the rarest edible and medicinal plants, researchers said.

 

Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women’s secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India’s Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

 

While their ancient culture empowers Meghalaya’s indigenous women with land ownership that vastly improves their resilience to the food shocks climate change springs on them, for an overwhelming majority of women in developing countries, culture does not allow them even a voice in family or community land management. Nor do national laws support their rights to own the very land they sow and harvest to feed their families.

Legal protections for indigenous and rural women to own and manage property are inadequate or missing in 30 low- and middle-income countries, according to a new report from Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

 

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

 

This finding, now quantified, means that much of the recent progress that indigenous and local communities have gained in acquiring legal recognition of their commonly held territory could be built on shaky ground.

“Generally speaking, international legal protections for indigenous and rural women’s tenure rights have yet to be reflected in the national laws that regulate women’s daily interactions with community forests,” Stephanie Keene, Tenure Analyst for the RRI, a global coalition working for forest land and resources rights of indigenous and local communities, told IPS via an email interview.

Together these 30 countries contain three-quarters of the developing world’s forests, which remain critical to mitigate global warming and natural disasters, including droughts and land degradation.

Bonificia Huamán (2nd- L), carries out a communal task with other women in Llullucha, a Quechua community located 3,553 meters above sea level, where 80 families practice subsistence agriculture, overcoming the challenges of the climate in the Andean region of Cuzco, Peru. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Bonificia Huamán (2nd- L), carries out a communal task with other women in Llullucha, a Quechua community located 3,553 meters above sea level, where 80 families practice subsistence agriculture, overcoming the challenges of the climate in the Andean region of Cuzco, Peru. Rights of rural women have seen uneven progress in Latin America Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

In South Asia, distress migration owing to climate events and particularly droughts is high, as over three-quarters of the population is dependent on agriculture, out of which more than half are subsistence farmers depending on rains for irrigation.

“For many indigenous people, it is the women who are the food producers and who manage their customary lands and forests. Safeguarding their rights will cement the rights of their communities to collectively own the lands and forests they have protected and depended on for generations.” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 

In Ghana, the stability of a woman’s marriage and good relations with male relatives are critical factors in maintaining her land rights. Credit: FAO

 

“Indigenous and local communities in the ten analyzed Asian countries provide the most consistent recognition of women’s community-level inheritance rights. However, this regional observation is not seen in India and Nepal, where inadequate laws concerning inheritance and community-level dispute resolution cause women’s forest rights to be particularly vulnerable,” Keene told IPS of the RRI study.

“None of the 5 legal frameworks analyzed in Nepal address community-level inheritance or dispute resolution. Although India’s Forest Rights Act does recognize the inheritability of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ land, the specific rights of women to community-level inheritance and dispute resolution are not explicitly acknowledged. Inheritance in India may be regulated by civil, religious or personal laws, some of which fail to explicitly guarantee equal inheritance rights for wives and daughters,” Keene added.

 

Desertification, the silent, invisible crisis, threatens one-third of global land area. This photo taken in 2013 records efforts to green portions of the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest in China. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Desertification, the silent, invisible crisis, threatens one-third of global land area. This photo taken in 2013 records efforts to green portions of the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest in China. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

 

Pointing out challenges behind the huge gaps in women’s land rights under international laws and rights recognized by South Asian governments, Madhu Sarin, who was involved in drafting of India’s Forest Rights Act and now pushes for its implementation, told IPS, “Where governments have ratified international conventions, they do in principle agree to make national laws compatible with them. However, there remains a huge gap between such commitments and their translation into practice. Firstly, most governments don’t have mechanisms or binding requirements in place for ensuring such compatibility.”

“Further, the intended beneficiaries of gender-just laws remain unorganised and unaware about them,” she added.

 

Women restore degraded land in southern India under a government-funded program. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women restore degraded land in southern India under a government-funded program. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

 

Women’s land rights, recurring droughts and creeping desertification

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), one way to address droughts that cause more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster, and to halt desertification – the silent, invisible crisis that threatens one-third of global land area – is to bring about pressing legal reforms to establish gender parity in farm and forest land ownership and its management.

 

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

 

“Poor rural women in developing countries are critical to the survival of their families. Fertile land is their lifeline. But the number of people negatively affected by land degradation is growing rapidly. Crop failures, water scarcity and the migration of traditional crops are damaging rural livelihoods. Action to halt the loss of more fertile land must focus on households. At this level, land use is based on the roles assigned to men and women. This is where the tide can begin to turn,” says Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, in its 2017 study.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture alone would increase yields on women’s farms by 20 to 30 percent and total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, the study quotes the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as saying.

 

 

An Indian tribal woman holds up her land tenure document secure in the knowledge that now she can plan long term for her two sons. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

An Indian tribal woman holds up her land tenure document secure in the knowledge that now she can plan long term for her two sons. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

 

Why the gender gap must close in farm and forest rights

The reality on the ground is, however, not even close to approaching this gender parity so essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2 and 5 which connect directly with land rights.

Climate change is ushering in new population dynamics. As men’s out-migration from indigenous and local communities continues to rise due to fall in land productivity, population growth and increasing outside opportunities for wage-labor, more women are left behind as de facto land managers, assuming even greater responsibilities in communities and households.

The importance of protecting the full spectrum of women’s property rights becomes even more urgent as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world continues to grow. The percentage of female-led households is increasing in half of the world’s 15 largest countries by population, including India and Pakistan.

 

Women are pivotal to addressing hunger, malnutrition and poverty especially in developing countries

Women farmers clearing abandoned farmland in the drought-affected Nachol village in Northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Although there is no updated data on the growth of women-led households, the policy research group International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in its 2014 study found that from 2000 to 2010, slightly less than half of the world’s urban population growth could be ascribed to migration. The contribution of migration is considerably higher in Asia, it found, where urbanisation is almost 60 percent and is expected to continue growing, although at a declining rate.”

“Unless women have equal standing in all laws governing indigenous lands, their communities stand on fragile ground,” cautioned Tauli-Corpuz.

Without legal protections for women, community lands are vulnerable to theft and exploitation that threatens the world’s tropical forests that form a critical bulwark against climate change, as well as efforts to eradicate poverty among rural communities.

With the increasing onslaught of large industries on community lands worldwide, tenure rights of women are fundamental to their continued cultural identity and natural resource governance, according to the RRI study.

 

Zimbabwe’s legislation is silent on the issue of women’s rights to inherit communal land. And upon their husband’s deaths, many widows find themselves evicted from their matrimonial homes. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

 

“When women’s rights to access, use, and control community forests and resources are insecure, and especially when women’s right to meaningfully participate in community-level governance decisions is not respected, their ability to fulfill substantial economic and cultural responsibilities are compromised, causing entire families and communities to suffer,” said Keene.

Moreover, several studies have established that women are differently and disproportionately affected by community-level shocks such as climate change, natural disasters, conflict and large-scale land acquisitions, further underscoring the fortification of women’s land rights an urgent priority.

With growing feminization of farming as men out-migrate, and the rise in women’s education, gender-inequitable tenure practices cannot be sustained over time, the RRI study concludes. But achieving gender equity in land rights will call for tremendous political will and societal change, particularly in patriarchal South Asia, researchers said.

 

Having land has made all the difference to Zar Bibi, a 60-year-old widow in Pakistan (centre). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Having land has made all the difference to Zar Bibi, a 60-year-old widow in Pakistan (centre). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

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When Women Have Land Rights, the Tide Begins to Turnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/when-women-have-land-rights-the-tide-begins-to-turn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-women-have-land-rights-the-tide-begins-to-turn http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/when-women-have-land-rights-the-tide-begins-to-turn/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 00:01:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150836 This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

The post When Women Have Land Rights, the Tide Begins to Turn appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

In Meghalaya, India’s northeastern biodiversity hotspot, all three major tribes are matrilineal. Children take the mother’s family name, while daughters inherit the family lands.

Because women own land and have always decided what is grown on it and what is conserved, the state not only has a strong climate-resistant food system but also some of the rarest edible and medicinal plants, researchers said.The importance of protecting the full spectrum of women’s property rights becomes even more urgent as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world continues to grow.

While their ancient culture empowers Meghalaya’s indigenous women with land ownership that vastly improves their resilience to the food shocks climate change springs on them, for an overwhelming majority of women in developing countries, culture does not allow them even a voice in family or community land management.  Nor do national laws support their rights to own the very land they sow and harvest to feed their families.

Legal protections for indigenous and rural women to own and manage property are inadequate or missing in 30 low- and middle-income countries, according to a new report from Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

This finding, now quantified, means that much of the recent progress that indigenous and local communities have gained in acquiring legal recognition of their commonly held territory could be built on shaky ground.

“Generally speaking, international legal protections for indigenous and rural women’s tenure rights have yet to be reflected in the national laws that regulate women’s daily interactions with community forests,” Stephanie Keene, Tenure Analyst for the RRI, a global coalition working for forest land and resources rights of indigenous and local communities, told IPS via an email interview.

Together these 30 countries contain three-quarters of the developing world’s forests, which remain critical to mitigate global warming and natural disasters, including droughts and land degradation.

In South Asia, distress migration owing to climate events and particularly droughts is high, as over three-quarters of the population is dependent on agriculture, out of which more than half are subsistence farmers depending on rains for irrigation.

“For many indigenous people, it is the women who are the food producers and who manage their customary lands and forests. Safeguarding their rights will cement the rights of their communities to collectively own the lands and forests they have protected and depended on for generations.” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous and local communities in the ten analyzed Asian countries provide the most consistent recognition of women’s community-level inheritance rights. However, this regional observation is not seen in India and Nepal, where inadequate laws concerning inheritance and community-level dispute resolution cause women’s forest rights to be particularly vulnerable,” Keene told IPS of the RRI study.

“None of the 5 legal frameworks analyzed in Nepal address community-level inheritance or dispute resolution. Although India’s Forest Rights Act does recognize the inheritability of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ land, the specific rights of women to community-level inheritance and dispute resolution are not explicitly acknowledged. Inheritance in India may be regulated by civil, religious or personal laws, some of which fail to explicitly guarantee equal inheritance rights for wives and daughters,” Keene added.

Desertification, the silent, invisible crisis, threatens one-third of global land area. This photo taken in 2013 records efforts to green portions of the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest in China. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Desertification, the silent, invisible crisis, threatens one-third of global land area. This photo taken in 2013 records efforts to green portions of the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest in China. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Pointing out challenges behind the huge gaps in women’s land rights under international laws and rights recognized by South Asian governments, Madhu Sarin, who was involved in drafting of India’s Forest Rights Act and now pushes for its implementation, told IPS, “Where governments have ratified international conventions, they do in principle agree to make national laws compatible with them. However, there remains a huge gap between such commitments and their translation into practice. Firstly, most governments don’t have mechanisms or binding requirements in place for ensuring such compatibility.”

“Further, the intended beneficiaries of gender-just laws remain unorganised and unaware about them,” she added.

Women’s land rights, recurring droughts and creeping desertification

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), one way to address droughts that cause more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster, and to halt desertification – the silent, invisible crisis that threatens one-third of global land area – is to bring about pressing legal reforms to establish gender parity in farm and forest land ownership and  its management.

“Poor rural women in developing countries are critical to the survival of their families. Fertile land is their lifeline. But the number of people negatively affected by land degradation is growing rapidly. Crop failures, water scarcity and the migration of traditional crops are damaging rural livelihoods. Action to halt the loss of more fertile land must focus on households. At this level, land use is based on the roles assigned to men and women. This is where the tide can begin to turn,” says Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, in its 2017 study.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture alone would increase yields on women’s farms by 20 to 30 percent and total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, the study quotes the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as saying.

An Indian tribal woman holds up her land tenure document secure in the knowledge that now she can plan long term for her two sons. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

An Indian tribal woman holds up her land tenure document secure in the knowledge that now she can plan long term for her two sons. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Why the gender gap must close in farm and forest rights

The reality on the ground is, however, not even close to approaching this gender parity so essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2 and 5 which connect directly with land rights.

Climate change is ushering in new population dynamics. As men’s out-migration from indigenous and local communities continues to rise due to fall in land productivity, population growth and increasing outside opportunities for wage-labor, more women are left behind as de facto land managers, assuming even greater responsibilities in communities and households.

The importance of protecting the full spectrum of women’s property rights becomes even more urgent as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world continues to grow. The percentage of female-led households is increasing in half of the world’s 15 largest countries by population, including India and Pakistan.

Although there is no updated data on the growth of women-led households, the policy research group International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in its 2014 study found that from 2000 to 2010, slightly less than half of the world’s urban population growth could be ascribed to migration. The contribution of migration is considerably higher in Asia, it found, where urbanisation is almost 60 percent and is expected to continue growing, although at a declining rate.”

“Unless women have equal standing in all laws governing indigenous lands, their communities stand on fragile ground,” cautioned Tauli-Corpuz.

Without legal protections for women, community lands are vulnerable to theft and exploitation that threatens the world’s tropical forests that form a critical bulwark against climate change, as well as efforts to eradicate poverty among rural communities.

With the increasing onslaught of large industries on community lands worldwide, tenure rights of women are fundamental to their continued cultural identity and natural resource governance, according to the RRI study.

“When women’s rights to access, use, and control community forests and resources are insecure, and especially when women’s right to meaningfully participate in community-level governance decisions is not respected, their ability to fulfill substantial economic and cultural responsibilities are compromised, causing entire families and communities to suffer,” said Keene.

Moreover, several studies have established that women are differently and disproportionately affected by community-level shocks such as climate change, natural disasters, conflict and large-scale land acquisitions, further underscoring  the fortification of women’s land rights an urgent priority.

With growing feminization of farming as men out-migrate, and the rise in women’s education, gender-inequitable tenure practices cannot be sustained over time, the RRI study concludes. But achieving gender equity in land rights will call for tremendous political will and societal change, particularly in patriarchal South Asia, researchers said.

Having land has made all the difference to Zar Bibi, a 60-year-old widow in Pakistan (centre). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Having land has made all the difference to Zar Bibi, a 60-year-old widow in Pakistan (centre). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

 

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Trolling of Women Journalists Threatens Free Presshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/trolling-of-women-journalists-threatens-free-press/#respond Mon, 01 May 2017 23:16:23 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150244 “It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it,” says Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classics professor about online trolling. “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients.” Women […]

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Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger known as a courageous advocate for free expression and secularism, received death and rape threats. Credit: Center for Inquiry

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger known as a courageous advocate for free expression and secularism, received death and rape threats. Credit: Center for Inquiry

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, May 1 2017 (IPS)

“It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it,” says Mary Beard, a Cambridge University classics professor about online trolling. “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients.”

Women professionals in many countries across Asia and the Pacific have increased their number in the newsrooms, according to a study, but they still represent only three out of ten news staff. Even with this low representation, they have now breezed into the male bastion of hard stories, among them politics, corruption, conflict, governance, environment with confidence and impact.“Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.” --Dilrukshi Handunnetti

They speak their mind, put forth their opinion and debate knowledgeably and vigorously with readers on matters of import on social media platforms.

Societal images of women have remained largely conservative.

Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger, received death and rape threats and an email from an Islamic extremist group that claimed the killing of  six Bangladeshi bloggers which said,  “Since the Islamic  Sharia (law) views working of women outside their homes without purdah (head cover) as (a) punishable offense, their employers are guilty to the same degree. We are urging the media to release their women from their jobs.”

In India, as part of an anti-trolling campaign by national daily Hindustan Times, Harry Stevens and Piyush Aggarwal set out in April to demonstrate how hard it is to be an outspoken woman on Twitter. They gathered a week’s worth of tweets sent to four prominent Indian women journalists. Out of these Barkha Dutt, a television veteran, received 3,020 abusive tweets, and Rana Ayyub, a Muslim, received 2,580 hateful tweets, often coloured by Islamophobia.

Internet trolls have had a free run in the region for at least six years now. Women journalists who tackled trolling and abusive comments on social media by ignoring or blocking the persistent trolls, now find that stalking and direct threats of attack have increased, forcing them to seek legal recourse or police protection.

“Journalists’ safety is a precondition for free speech and free media,” says the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“Online media today allows for the fast flow of information and the public’s active par­ticipation in sharing ideas, news and insight. An open, free and safe Internet is essential for public debate and free flow of information and therefore should be duly protected.”

Female journalists, bloggers and other media actors are disproportionally experi­encing gender related threats, harassment and intimidation on the Internet, which has a direct impact on their safety and future online activities.

Twitter threats like “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it” have been directed even at the sexagenarian Mary Beard.

About the vitriolic abuse she faces, Dutt asks, “Why isn’t anyone discussing the marriages, divorces, and affairs of my male colleagues? Why the fixation with my private life? Because the public scrutiny of women – and especially those of us who are proudly ambitious and fiercely independent – is very different from the standards used to measure men. And the subtext is always sexual.”

“Cyber bullies are the same as goons who threaten in real life,” psychiatrist Samir Parikh says.

The personalized online abuse women journalists get for doing only what is expected by their professional job “can make them feel traumatized, helpless, angry and very frustrated,” says Parikh. “In some, it can even cause self-esteem issues, affect social life and lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. For women, the abuse and threats of violence are often openly sexist and sexual, which makes them tougher to deal with.”

“(Online) it is possible to cloak one’s identity and attack individuals in the most unethical and harmful manner,” says Dilrukshi Handunnetti, an editor in Colombo. “Shaming and harming women is an age-old practice, except that real time information sharing through technology makes the outreach far greater and the damage huge.”

It does little to ease the trauma for journalists to know that trolling correlates with psychopathy, sadism, and Machiavellianism, according to a 2014 empirical personality study. Other studies found boredom, attention seeking, revenge, pleasure, and a desire to cause damage to the community among motivations for trolling.

But some interviewed trolls viewed their online comments not as harassment, but as a needed counterweight to opinions and news items they believe are flawed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As threats get too dangerous to ignore, women journalists are being forced to seek recourse from the law, despite their misgivings about how the law is framed and doubts about whether law-enforcing agencies can ensure speedy and sensitive investigation.

An Online Harassment Social Media Policy drafted March 2016 by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) lays out a road map for media houses to protect journalistic voices, create safe online spaces for open and respectful debate, and deal with abuse and harassment faced in particular by female staff.

Among the mechanisms to ensure digital safety and freedom from harassment, the road map calls for a special cyber cell in media organizations that equip women journalists particularly, with legal awareness and resources. When the harassment is extreme, measures must also include physical security, legal hand-holding, and support to pursue police complaints and psychological support and trauma counseling.

Meanwhile, a Byte Back handbook for women journalists being cyber-bullied gives out handy advice – ignore, filter, block, report and if it gets worse, name-and-shame, shout it out, and don’t forget to save and document abuse.

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Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:44:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149509 This story is part of IPS coverage of World Water Day, observed on March 22.

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Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

In Asia, it likely will not be straightforward water wars.

Prolonged water scarcity might lead to security situations that are more nuanced, giving rise to a complex set of cascading but unpredictable consequences, with communities and nations reacting in ways that we have not seen in the past because climate change will alter the reliability of current water management systems and infrastructure, say experts.China plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetan Autonomous Region; the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 said a water crisis is the most impactful risk over the next 10 years. The effects of rising populations in developing regions like Asia, alongside growing prosperity, place unsustainable pressure on resources and are starting to manifest themselves in new, sometimes unexpected ways – harming people, institutions and economies, and making water security an urgent political matter.

While the focus is currently on the potential for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and a much greater flow of forced migration that is already on our doorsteps, a 2016 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warns Asia not to underestimate impact of industrial and population growth, including spiraling urban growth, on serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by 2050.

Asia’s water challenges escalate

To support a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 percent and water demand is projected to go up by 55 percent. But the horizon is challenging for developing regions, especially Asia, whose 3.4 billion population will need 100 percent more food – using the diminishing, non-substitute resource in a warming world said the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, the latest regional water report card from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More than 1.4 billion people – or 42 percent of world’s total active workforce – are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2016.

With erratic monsoons on which more than half of all agriculture in Asia is dependent, resorting to groundwater for irrigation, whose extraction is largely unmonitored, is already rampant. A staggering 70 percent of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia, with India, China and Pakistan the biggest consumers, estimates UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2050, with a 30 percent increase in extraction, 86 percent of groundwater extracted in Asia will be by these three countries, finds the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal use 23 million pumps with an annual energy bill of 3.78 billion dollars for lifting water – an indicator of the critical demand for water, and to an extent of misgovernance and lack of water-saving technologies (AWDO 2016).

AWDO sounds alarm bells warning that we are on the verge of a water crisis, with limited knowledge on when we will tip the balance.

Analysts from the Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia say the start of future transboundary water conflicts will have less to do with the absolute scarcity of water and more to do with the rate of change in water availability.

 

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India's Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India’s Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

‘Resource nationalism’ already strong in water-stressed Asian neighbours

With just 30 days of buffer fresh water stock, Pakistan’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 2014 measured a perilous 297 cubic metres, Bangladesh’s 660m3 India’s 1116m3 and China’s 2062m3. When annual water access falls below 1700m3 per person, an area is considered water-stressed and when 1000m3 is breached, it faces water scarcity.

ADB describes Asia as “the global hotspot for water insecurity.

By 2050 according to AWDO, 3.4 billion people – or the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2050 – making up 40 percent of the world population, could be living in water-stressed areas. In other words, the bulk of the population increase will be in countries already experiencing water shortages.

Underlying geo-political standpoints are slowly but perceptibly hardening in Himalayan Asia nations over shared river basins, even if not intensifying as yet, seen in the latest instances last year. They are, as water conflict analysts predict, spurts of bilateral tension that might or might not suddenly escalate to conflict, the scale of which cannot be predicted. The following, a latest instance, is a pointer to future scenarios of geographical interdependencies that riparian nations can either reduce by sensible hydro-politics or escalate differences by contestations.

There was alarm in Pakistan when Indian Prime Minister took a stand in September last year to review the 57-year-old Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours. India was retaliating against a purportedly Pakistan terrorist attack on an Indian army base at Uri in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

By co-incidence or design (several Indian analysts think it is the latter), at the very same time China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River which is the upper course of the Brahmaputra in India, as part of the construction of its 740-million-dollar Lalho hydro project in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River originates in the Himalayan ranges, and is called the Brahmaputra as it flows down into India’s Arunachal Pradesh state bordering Tibet and further into Bangladesh.

China’s action caused India alarm on two counts. Some analysts believed Beijing was trying to encourage Dhaka to take up a defensive stand against India over sharing of Brahmaputra waters, thereby destabilizing India-Bangladesh’s cordial ally status in the region.

The second possibility analysts proffered is an alarming and fairly new military risk. River water, when dammed, can be intentionally used as a weapon of destruction during war.

Pakistan had earlier raised the same security concern, that India may exercise a strategic advantage during war by regulating the two major dams on rivers that flow through Kashmir into Pakistan. Indian experts say China is more likely than India to take this recourse and will use the river water as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations.

South Asia as a region is prone to conflict between nations, between non-state actors and the state. Its history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences makes it more volatile than most other regions. Historically China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had territorial wars between them. The  wary and increasingly competitive outlook of their relationships makes technology-grounded and objective discussions over the erupting water disputes difficult.

China already plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetian Autonomous Region with the Tibetan Plateau, around which the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic. The glacier-fed rivers that emanate from this ‘water tower’ are shared across borders by 40 percent of world population, guaranteeing food, water and energy security to millions of people and nurturing biodiverse ecosystems downstream.

The largest three trans-boundary basins in the region – in terms of area, population, water resources, irrigation and hydropower potential – are the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra.

Both India and China have embarked on massive hydropower energy generation, China for industrialization and India to provide for its population, which will be the world’s largest by 2022.

With growing food and energy needs, broad estimates suggest that more than half of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Dams have enormous benefits, but without comprehensive water-sharing treaties, lower riparian states are disadvantaged and this could turn critical in future.

While there are river-water sharing treaties between India and Pakistan, and with Bangladesh, there is none with China except a hydrological data sharing collaboration.

Security threats emerge when it becomes difficult to solve competition over scarce natural resources by cooperation. Failure may result in violent conflicts. A ‘zero-sum’ situation is reached, when violence is seen as the only option to secure use of the resource, says a 2016 report by the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

When drivers in Asia, like population growth, the need for economic growth, poverty reduction, energy needs, the impact of high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyles, confront resource scarcity, it could bring a zero-sum situation sooner than anticipated.

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Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/#respond Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:34:56 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148974 Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed […]

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More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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For South Asian Policy-Makers, Climate Migrants Still Invisiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/#respond Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:49:42 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148197 Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today. She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that […]

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Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today.

She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that fateful day, they watched it engulf all their hopes and dreams.“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse.” --Harjeet Singh of ActionAid

Soon her husband had to take a job as an unskilled construction worker in Saudi Arabia to repay the loan they had meanwhile taken to buy food and rebuild another hut further back from the river. Her teenage son left for the capital Dhaka, leaving Tasura Begum with her youngest 4-year-old boy and an adolescent daughter who dreamt of becoming a doctor so she could cure her mother’s painful kidney ailment.

Crop failure, rising sea levels and flooding all caused by climate change is pushing migration like never before in South Asia, says a joint study released Dec. 8 Climate Change Knows No Borders  by ActionAid, Climate Action Network-South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt).

Address policy gaps before climate forces mass migration, xenophobia, conflict

The three international organisations warn of the devastating and escalating strain climate change places on migration, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and call for governments to recognise and fill the policy gap before it blows up into mass migration, unrest and large-scale conflict over resources.

Sudden events such as cyclones and flooding can lead to temporary displacement. However, if these events happen repeatedly, people lose their savings and assets, and may eventually be forced to move to cities or cross borders, even illegally, to find work, several studies have shown.

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Slow onset events such as salinization from rising sea levels and loss of land to erosion also push people out of their homes in South Asia, where livelihood dependence on natural resources – as well as poverty – is high.

In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, causing widespread damage with reconstruction costs estimated at 1.7 billion dollars.

The impact of drought and crop failure this year was spread across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, affecting 330 million people in India alone.

In 2015, South Asia – recording 52 disasters and 14,650 deaths, a staggering 64 percent of the global fatalities – was the most disaster-prone sub-region within Asia-Pacific, which itself is the world’s most disaster-prone region, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Between 2008 and 2013, over 46 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in South Asia. India ranked the highest with some 26 million people displaced, estimates Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) a leading data-source on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The UN Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) 2016 warns 40 million Indians and 25 million in Bangladesh (approximately 3 percent and 16 percent of respective populations) will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050.

“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse,” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, told IPS.

“The invisibility of those forced away from their homes as a result of climate change means that they are falling through gaps in policy, and they may not be granted the same protections and rights granted to internally displaced persons or refugees,” Singh added.

“Populations forced to migrate, driven by desperation and lack of options, are least secure when they leave home for unknown lands. They have to opt for lower jobs, are often exploited and face harassment from enforcement agencies,” Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network – South Asia’s Director, told IPS.

Trafficked and exploited women face brunt of climate migration, lack social safety net

The report also flags the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the disproportionate burden placed upon women left behind at home like Tasura Begum, whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Women migrating alone across borders are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Young Nepali and Bangladeshi females, migrating alone to seek work in India, have no other contact except those of local ‘agents’ who promise to arrange employment, mostly as housemaids. But in many cases, these agents are in fact traffickers. Once the migrating girls arrive in cities they may be forced to work in brothels against their will.

While this phenomenon has been taking place for years and is widely recognized, the extent to which climate change is contributing to this and further threatening girls’ safety is not yet fully understood, the report points out.

According to the World Bank 12.5 percent of households in Bangladesh, 14 percent in India and as much as 28 percent in Nepal have a female head and many of these are as a result of male migration.

Farm or other work-related stress, increased childcare and household burdens, high occurrence of poor health and threat of physical and sexual violence are faced by women left behind, according to a 2015 UN Women documentation of the experiences of Tasura Begum and others.

“Clearer definitions are needed for climate migration and displacement, and these need to provide the basis for data gathering, analysis and clear right-based policies,” Singh told IPS from the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Bangladesh where civil society organizations, policy makers, UN bodies and migration experts met over Dec. 8-12 to find solutions to migration issues.

“The UN’s Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people forced to migrate or displaced by climate change,” Singh said.

Politics over trans-boundary water issues increasing climate vulnerability of poorest 

Trans-boundary water issues, which are largely political processes and highly complex, are also exacerbating communities’ vulnerability to climate change, the report highlights.

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers originate in the Himalayas region and pass through two or more countries. These rivers provide critical water, ir­rigation, livelihood, food security and culture to hundreds of millions of people in river basins.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have tried to navigate these trans-boundary water flows through a series of treaties and ongoing negotiations. However, amid geopolitical power tussles, the implementation of these legally binding bilateral agreements is often being contested. New dam or hydropower developments constantly bring newer dimensions to the debate.

“The governments of South Asia must recognize that climate change knows no borders,” Vashist said, adding, “governments have a responsibility to use our shared common ecosystems, rivers, mountains, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages being experienced.”

“Shared initiatives such as regional early warning systems, food banks, and equitable approaches to trans-boundary water governance can enhance cooperation and learning and strengthen resilience,” Singh said.

“South Asian solidarity will also put the lid on regional xenophobia before it can rear its ugly head,” he added.

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Q&A: Land Degradation Could Force 135 Million to Migrate in Next 30 Yearshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-land-degradation-could-force-135-million-to-migrate-in-next-30-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-land-degradation-could-force-135-million-to-migrate-in-next-30-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-land-degradation-could-force-135-million-to-migrate-in-next-30-years/#respond Tue, 18 Oct 2016 10:30:33 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147418 Manipadma Jena interviews the executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) MONIQUE BARBUT

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A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI/BONN, Oct 18 2016 (IPS)

One of the critical challenges facing the world today is that emerging migration patterns are increasingly rooted in the depletion of natural resources.

Entire populations are being disempowered and uprooted as the land that they rely on for their survival and for their future no longer provides sustenance.

Many people will move within their own region or to nearby cities, driving unplanned urbanisation. Up to 135 million people are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation in the next 30 years, says a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) vision document.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change both envision land rehabilitation and restoration as significant actions in development and addressing climate change.

Governments from all over the world are currently meeting in Nairobi in order to agree on the strategic direction of the Desertification Convention. IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, ahead of the ongoing fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) in Nairobi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Q: With as many as 170 countries affected by drought or desertification, how could these factors drive conflicts and forced migrations?

A. Two Somali proverbs, nabadiyocaano meaning ‘peace and milk’ and col iyoabaar which means ‘conflict and drought’, illustrate the strong connection between stability and access to pasture and water. The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

But neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration. But they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify ongoing conflicts. Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.

Droughts are natural phenomena, they are not fated to lead to forced migration and conflict. Severe droughts also occur in countries like Australia and the United States, but government intervention has made these experiences bearable.

For poor countries where safety nets do not exist, the intervention of the international community is vital.

In Mali, for example, unpredictable and decreasing rainfall seasons have led to a decline in harvests. More and more herders and farmers’ are moving into cities searching for employment. In Bamako, Mali’s capital, population in just over 20 years has grown from 600,000 to roughly   2 million with living conditions becoming more precarious and insecure. As Lagos fills up with those fleeing desertification in rural northern Nigeria, its population now 10 million. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are easy prey for smugglers, organised drug and crime cartels, even for Boko Haram.

Pastoralists face similar challenges when they are compelled to move beyond their accepted boundaries in search of water and pasture and risk clashing with other populations unwilling to share resources. Clashes between pastoralists and farmer are a serious challenge for governments in Somalia, Chad and Niger.

Q: Which other countries are showing signs of vulnerability to extreme droughts in the near future?

A: Drought occurs in almost every climatic region. With climate change, droughts are expected to spread to new areas and to become more frequent and more intense. The vulnerable regions are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East and North Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Brazil, India, U.S. and China. In the coming decades, most of the United States, the Mediterranean region, Southwest Asia, Western and Southern Africa and much of Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil, will face extreme droughts.

The more important question, however, is “who is going to be affected and what can be done about it?” The livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be the most impacted because they rely heavily on natural resources.  So, more investment is needed to incentivise them to adopt sustainable land management (SLM).

But frankly, the investments we have for land rehabilitation are insufficient. We must also improve land tenure security because farmers with secure ownership are more likely to adopt good practices. Improving access to markets and rural services will create alternative non-farm employment, reducing pressure on land and the impacts of droughts in turn.

Q: A lot now hinges on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) which requires a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘protect-sustain-restore’. UNCCD aims to achieve LDN by 2030.  Given the tremendous and diverse pressures on land for economic growth, also from large populations in regions like Africa and Asia, where do you see their achievements in 14 years?

A. We want to move from business as usual to a future where the amount of productive land passing from one generation to the next remains stable.

In the current scenario, large numbers of people and a large share of national economies are tied to the land sector, particularly in the developing countries. So any degradation of the land reduces a country’s productivity. Unsustainable land use practices costs Mali about 8 percent of its gross domestic product, for example.

By 2030, along with a higher world population, a large middle class will emerge, accelerating the demand to draw more from these land-based sectors. For Africa and Asia to bridge these gaps, the farmers need to keep every inch of their land productive. This switch to sustainable land management however needs strong government support – to move farmers to scale up these good practices, to recover degraded lands and to prevent losing the most productive lands to urbanisation.

Reforms would move credit, market access and rural infrastructural development to ignite sustainable growth in agriculture. This is what it will take, to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative that seeks to restore degraded lands and create green jobs in the land-based sectors is a good example of this vision. The Desertification Convention is working with partners around the world to develop initiatives that are linked to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Q: Which countries are faring better in turning around land degradation and what is the key factor driving this achievement?

A. A 2008 global assessment showed that most of the land restoration since 1983 was in the Sahel zone. But we have seen a rise in global attention to land degradation through diverse initiatives. that include the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change,the Bonn Challenge on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the New York Declaration on Forests. There are also regional initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 in the Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa’s Great Green Wall and initiative AF100, also in Africa.

Once the SDGs were adopted last year, our ambition for 2016 was to have at least 60 countries committing to set voluntary national targets to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. We have surpassed that target. Today, we have more than 100 country commitments.

This achievement is due, in part, to the success of a pilot project that enabled 14 countries to assess and politically communicate the potential returns each would get by reversing land degradation in target areas. Armenia, Belarus and Ethiopia could quantify how they could meet their national obligations under the climate change agreement by pursuing land degradation neutrality.

Some common patterns among the countries that tend to fare better in fighting land degradation and drought (DLDD) is strong government leadership that values the socio-economic benefits accruing to their people and political commitment to make effective policies. They also have active champions of good land use practices which can be NGOs, development and private sector partners as well as small and large farmers.

Q: UNCCD is open to private business funding for projects under LDN. Which type of projects would businesses -for- profit show investment interest?

A. There is a growing appetite in the private sector for sustainable land use projects that can contribute to land degradation neutrality. More industry players have committed to LDN-related initiatives and other environmental targets. Companies committing to reduce the ecological impacts of their commodity supply chains rose from 50 in 2009 to nearly 300 by 2014, Supply Change reported in 2016. Many businesses dealing in agricultural and/or forestry commodities get raw materials from the land, and may be interested in investing in projects that make their supply chains more sustainable.

But there is no dedicated public funding pool investing globally in projects to combat land degradation, and public financing alone is not sufficient to protect our planet’s ecosystems. The private sector needs to step up. This is what created the need and opportunity for a new dedicated funding source –the LDN Fund. It combines public and private capital in support of the SDG target of land degradation neutrality.

The sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry (including agroforestry), land rehabilitation and conservation, and the ecotourism sectors can support profitable investments. Forestry has attracted 77 percent of all capital raised for LDN investments to date. Agriculture is expected to see the strongest increase in investments and to grow by nearly 350 percent by 2021. It is clear that projects that incorporate at least some component of food and/or timber production are more likely to generate a stable cash flow are more appealing to private investors in LDN.

In the developed countries, many of the conservation activities receiving private investment are backed by government legislation. A strong regulatory framework provides certainty to the market and helps to create end buyers. As a result, the investments attract steady flows of private capital.

Q: Do governments need to put in place smallholder-safeguard mechanisms for private investments in land?

A. Safeguard mechanisms that recognise the land rights of smallholders are vital, even when the farmers have no formal tenure. Smallholdings support billions of livelihoods, which makes these households extremely sensitive to land use change.

In developing countries, government policies designed to attract investment are often biased towards large-scale farming, and hardly offer the protection to smallholders require. Private investors should have their own safeguards but governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce mechanisms to protect smallholders. The LDN Fund is designed to align with progressive global environmental and social standards.

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Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/#respond Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146984 Every November, India’s Gahirmatha beach in the Indian Ocean region develops a brownish-grey rash for 60 to 80 days. Half-a-million female Olive Ridley turtles emerge out of the waves to lay their eggs, over a hundred each. For the sheer numbers, this arrival is hard to miss. However, knowledge about this IUCN’s endangered species’ exact […]

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The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Every November, India’s Gahirmatha beach in the Indian Ocean region develops a brownish-grey rash for 60 to 80 days. Half-a-million female Olive Ridley turtles emerge out of the waves to lay their eggs, over a hundred each. For the sheer numbers, this arrival is hard to miss.

However, knowledge about this IUCN’s endangered species’ exact migration route across oceans has remained fragmentary for conservationists seeking to protect its globally declining population owing to destruction of habitat, global warming and trawl fishing.Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses - diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza.

As pressures from climate change, ecosystem loss and wild life crime threaten biodiversity and wildlife around the globe, scientists are responding by harnessing the power of sophisticated space technologies.

Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses – diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza. Radars will help locate poachers through infrared, detect through an elephant’s agitated movements, its imminent poaching. Cameras orbiting in space can capture the presence of crop diseases and invasive species in remote locations. The realm of science fiction has already stepped into the real world.

The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) project, whose trial phase starts in 2017, is developing solar-powered sensors weighing 1 to 5 grammes which can be attached to migratory songbirds, even dragonflies, beetles. The transmitted data will inform not simply the geo-positions and movements but provide important clues about the body functions or senses of the animal, giving significant indicators about impending natural disasters.

By 2020, ICARUS sensors could be small enough to fit into locusts, possibly even to use the micro-sensors to control the locust flight path to divert the swarm from valuable crops, say its researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Scientists working on ICARUS say battery life is a major limiting factor for tracking small animals since the miniature batteries they can carry do not last long.

However, Russian space agency Roscosmos’s International Space Station, on which ICARUS hardware will be installed, is closer to the Earth than satellites, thus decreasing the amount of power required to upload data. Saving more battery life, the Station will wake the bird-mounted mini transmitter from its energy-saving mode only when it has visual contact to the in-flight bird. It’ll take only a few seconds to transmit all data back to the Station.

The urgency to go beyond manual patrolling to advanced space-based technology to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade comes strongly from the World Wildlife Crime Report 2016.

The report builds on the data platform World WISE (The World Wildlife Seizures) that contains over 164,000 seizures related to wildlife crime involving 7,000 species from 120 countries spanning 2004 to 2015.

Trafficking of wildlife is now recognised as a specialised area of organised crime and a significant threat to many plant and animal species. The focus of the upcoming 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is set to be the illegal wildlife trade. According to a 2016 UN Environment Programme report, the wildlife trade is estimated at 7 to 23 billion dollars annually.

With poachers increasingly using more sophisticated technology, wildlife rangers need to be equipped too. When a poacher moves in for the kill, elephants and rhinos will often behave unusually. Animal sensors help detect such behavior and send alerts to law enforcement, giving them time to act.

Other high-resolution constellations (10 or more) of radar satellites, unlike optical Earth observation satellites, are powerful enough to penetrate dense forest canopies, clouds and cover of darkness that aid poachers from detection. Infrared sensors attached to drones controlled by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can also be used to detect campfires or warm bodies hiding in African bush land, say researchers.

Sophisticated satellites are already monitoring the extent of illegal logging, rate of deforestation and even soil moisture. The launch of hyperspectral imaging satellites that record detailed images in hundreds of electromagnetic wavelengths can assess the extent of disaster, crop growth and diseases, availability of water in remote locations and glacier melts, besides general biodiversity.

Development experts say the role that space tools can play for achieving the SDGs is broad and diverse, specifically Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable management of ecosystems, forests, soil and biodiversity, monitor not just wildlife but assess whether management practices put in place are having the desired effect.

“There are many types of satellites flying in space,” said Werner Balogh, a programme officer at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “But how are they being used, is there more that can be done? Can we find joint mechanisms to share this data? It’s an exciting field and there’s still lots that needs to be explored.”

There has emerged consistent demand from developing countries who host rich biodiversity that mutual partnerships, free technical assistance, knowledge transfer, adequate resources and capacity building in space-based technologies to developing countries will significantly help achieve the 2030 Agenda.

But the high cost of technology solutions and access to the latest science and knowledge remain major constraints for the global South.

“In India, we use radio-collars to track movement for large animals like tigers and elephants. However, permits costs and taxes add to the already high cost of obtaining wildlife collars; for example, satellite collars to be used on elephants are available for 2,500 dollars each, plus annual subscription costs of 500 dollars,” Shashank Srinivasan, spatial analysis coordinator of World Wildlife Fund, India, told IPS.

The South Asia region, with 40 percent forest cover in Bhutan and Nepal and precious biodiversity, is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes mainly because there exist easier traffic routes to large markets like China.

“The international community must design low-cost space-based appliances for sharing with developing countries like the solar transmitter chips (ICARUS) Germany is developing. It would be of great conservation value if we could procure it for 50 to 100 dollars,” Saroj Koirala, geospatial technologies expert with the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal, told IPS.

“Even if international commercial companies can provide us with, for example, hyperspectral images as old as of year 2010, this would still help country research. The process to access these are conditional and time-consuming,” Koirala added.

Srinivasan said except for initiatives like wildlabs.net that allow for the sharing of conservation-relevant technology, he knew of no other national, regional or international technology sharing or funding.

Experts say awareness of the importance of space-based technologies needs to be created among law makers for need-of-the-hour policies and fund allocation. Koirala said since nature conservation is linked to livelihoods, people themselves will pressurise democratic governments to set aside funds for latest technologies.

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Water Scarcity Could Impact West Asian Credit Ratingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/water-scarcity-could-impact-west-asian-credit-ratings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-scarcity-could-impact-west-asian-credit-ratings http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/water-scarcity-could-impact-west-asian-credit-ratings/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 23:50:43 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145574 Water scarcity, conflict and refugee exodus is the strongest megatrend in West Asia, indicating the status of current trends and how these factors may shape the future, according to UN Environment Programme’s sixth Global Environment Outlook – GEO-6 Regional Assessment for West Asia released May 2016. Only 4 out of 12 countries in West Asia […]

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By Manipadma Jena
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 9 2016 (IPS)

Water scarcity, conflict and refugee exodus is the strongest megatrend in West Asia, indicating the status of current trends and how these factors may shape the future, according to UN Environment Programme’s sixth Global Environment Outlook – GEO-6 Regional Assessment for West Asia released May 2016.

Families travel in search of water. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Families travel in search of water. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Only 4 out of 12 countries in West Asia remain above the water scarcity limit of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, the minimum limit viable for human population, the assessment warns.

“Water shortage potentially could have more impact on sovereign credit ratings than natural catastrophes as water scarcity conditions are slow onset impacting larger societies,” Moritz Kraemer, Managing Director of S&P Global Ratings told IPS adding, “water scarcity, migration and conflict has yet not been factored into the Environmental Risk Integration in Sovereign Credit Analysis (ERISC) but certainly we need to.”

The ERISC aims to help financial institutions to integrate environmental risks in their overall risk assessments and investment decisions by identifying and quantifying how they can affect countries’ economic performance and thereby their cost of credit in the sovereign debt market.

The analysis premise is that sovereign credit risk can be materially affected by environmental risks such as climate change, water scarcity, ecosystem degradation and deforestation.

“So far we do not have sufficient liquid data on the potential economic implications of water shortage or change in rainfall patterns to be able to simulate numerically what the outcome would be, but we know countries with big water problems will have repercussions well beyond their boundaries, triggering migratory movements to start with. Europe is an example,” Kraemer said.

West Asia has a significant geopolitical location linking three continents Asia, Europe and Africa.

“Jordan in 2013 was the world’s fourth most water-scarce country but within just two years by 2015, it’s status deteriorated to second place, when hundreds of thousands Syrian and Yemen refugees migrated into Jordan,” Carl Bruch, legal expert on armed conflict and the environment, climate change, and water rights at Washington DC-based Environmental Law Institute (ELI) told IPS, illustrating impacts of migration on a natural resources and economy.

“Many of the economies with water problems that we have rated such as Jordan and Morocco have low credit ratings already, so part of their vulnerability has already been baked in like, though not explicitly. Still more research needs to be done,” Kraemer told IPS on the sidelines of the second UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi where world’s environment ministers gathered to take action on the 2030 agenda for sustainable development last week of May.

Political, social coupling with environmental issues trigger migration and conflict

“There is a tight coupling between political and social issues around displacement, but why people ultimately decide to move is often due to environmental problems, increasingly now due to water scarcity recurring very much in West Asia,” Jacqueline McGlade, UNEP’s chief scientist and Director of early warning and assessment division, told IPS.

Land degradation, desertification and scarcity of renewable water resources are currently Western Asia region’s most critical challenges as rolling conflicts damage environment and human health denting the region’s ability to produce enough food to meet the growing population’s needs especially in the Mashriq sub-region ( includes Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories , Syria; and Yemen of West Asia), according to GEO-6 which offers a policy vision and good governance outlook over the next 25 years.

Increasing water demand resulting in diminishing per-person availability, West Asia now faces deteriorating water quality because of groundwater overexploitation, seawater intrusion, depletion and salinization of aquifers, and rising pumping costs. The region has already surpassed its natural capacity to meet its own food and water demand.

Water, land resource degradation and conflict in a vicious cycle

While peace, security and environment are the region’s topmost priority, the vicious cycle of land degradation leading to, and resulting from conflict, can prevent people from returning home and normalizing life (and economy), Daria Mokhnacheva , migration, environment and climate change specialist at International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told IPS.

“The majority of refugees from conflicts in Iraq will not be able to return home to normalize life even if they want to, without clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance planted in what used to be their farms. Clearing of mines and can take decades,” Mokhnacheva said.

Moreover although Iraq has the largest area of available farmland in the region, it suffers the most from soil salinity and wind erosion; 97 percent of its total area is arid, desertification affects 39 per cent of the country’s surface area with an additional 54 per cent under threat according to GEO-6.

“Traditional farmers and herders can lag in temporary camps for years and these if based in water-scarce or drought-prone areas, may drive multiple displacements. Migration to urban areas destroys their lifestyles, customs and livelihoods completely, increasing vulnerability. Camped long-term, girls and women become traffickers’ targets and girls as young as nine years of age are forced into marriage to reduce household’s pressure on food,” she said.

Early identification of water scarcity and migration hotspots critical for conflict prevention

“We have evidence from West Asia that the transition from the rural to the urban starts to sow the seeds of displacement which ultimately can lead to conflict,” McGlade said.

“So the real issue for environmental governance is can we detect early enough the conditions under which either food or water security is likely to fail, can we identify these ‘hotspots’ to take preventive action so that people do not leave the lands that already supports them,” she said.

“We are already seeing three million people from Syria and Yemen on the move towards the borders of Jordan. Could this exodus have been prevented?” she added.

“We need to integrate migration and environmental research with that of social vulnerability to identify hotspots early,” Mokhnacheva of IOM said, adding, “We also need to improve very local evidence to inform migration policies that can respond to actual need.”

Poor governance of natural resource also responsible for conflict

“Poor governance is a deep-rooted problem we have picked up throughout GEO-6 assessments. The other fundamental cues for resource conflict are lack of access and inequality. Conflict can arise from multiplicity of lack of access, whether to justice or to resources themselves,” McGlade said.

“Climate change causes stress on societies but these impacts by themselves do not necessarily indicate water wars in future. How the government institutions, civil society and international community respond to that stress and address the different interests, greatly influences whether a country will cope or whether it will degrade into tensions, disputes and ultimately into conflict,” Bruch said.

“For instance, both Lebanon and Syria experienced precipitation changes that stressed their respective economies. Why then did Syria alone plunge into conflict?” Bruch added.

“Unfortunately there is no legal framework to pin institutional responsibility for forced migration,” said Mokhnacheva.

Good governance implies that issues such as conflict resolution, food, water and energy are examined in a holistic framework,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.

“The Gulf countries can invest around water scarcity, creating artificial, energy-intensive, expensive water but most countries including those in West Asia or the Sahel and Burkina Faso have very little resilience, economic or environmental,” Kraemer said.

Environmental governance could be the key to a nation’s access to international credit and investment in the near future, experts said.

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Q&A: Crisis and Climate Change Driving Unprecedented Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/qa-crisis-and-climate-change-driving-unprecedented-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-crisis-and-climate-change-driving-unprecedented-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/qa-crisis-and-climate-change-driving-unprecedented-migration/#respond Mon, 06 Jun 2016 15:34:24 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145470 Manipadma Jena interviews the director general of the International Organization for Migration, WILLIAM LACY SWING

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Owing to demographic drivers, countries are going to become more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, says William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organisation for Migration. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Owing to demographic drivers, countries are going to become more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, says William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organisation for Migration. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 6 2016 (IPS)

Climate change is now adding new layers of complexity to the nexus between migration and the environment.

Coastal populations are at particular risk as a global rise in temperature of between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees C would increase the mean sea level by 0.36 to 0.73 meters by 2100, adversely impacting low-lying areas with submergence, flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

But even before such catastrophes strike, the 660 to 820 million people who depend on a fishing livelihood – more so subsistence-based traditional fisher families who already find catches sharply dwindling due to over-fishing – will have no option but to abandon both home and occupation and move.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at 11-26 million tonnes of fish each year, worth between 10 billion and 23 billion dollars, causing depletion of fish stocks, price increase and loss of livelihoods for fishermen.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them would be coastal population.

William Lacy Swing, Director General of IOM, spoke with IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena at the second UN Environmental Assembly May 23-27 in Nairobi where 174 countries focused on environmental implementation of the work that would achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What are today the other drivers of coastal migration besides environmental crises and depleting fish stocks?

A: Political crises and natural disasters are the other major drivers of migration today. We have never had so many complex and protracted humanitarian emergencies now happening simultaneously from West Africa all the way to Asia, with very few spots in between which do not have some issue. We have today 40 million forcibly displaced people and 20 million refugees, the greatest number of uprooted people since the Second World War.

If we add to that climate change events like Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines, and the Haiti earthquake, there would be another additional group.

We do not know how many of these natural disasters are climate related, but increasingly we are paying attention to climate change. After the Paris talks it is more evident that we must figure in adaptation strategies, especially in places like Bangladesh and the Pacific Islands, so people can avoid and prepare for the natural disasters.

Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, was saying they were fearful they would lose some of their 33 atolls. They are already purchasing land in neighbouring Fiji for their people to migrate. This is the kind of adaptation action we need to take.

Q. How do you see the picture of global coastal migration by 2030 and subsequently by 2050? What are the approximate numbers of coastal people that are on the move today? From which countries are the maximum movements being seen?

A: Coastal migration is starting already but it is very hard to be exact as there is no good data to be able to forecast accurately. We do not know. But it is clearly going to figure heavily in the future. And it’s going to happen both in the low-lying islands in the Pacific [and] the Caribbean, and in those countries where people build houses very close to the shore and have floods every year as in Bangladesh. Also, we have to look out for places prone to earthquakes. Philippines officials were talking to me last week about preparing for a major earthquake that could happen anytime.

We have to have an adaptation policy. The more adaptation you have, the less mitigation you need. The more you prepare the less you have to lose.

Q. Are increasing incidences of conflict over depleting resources being reported within coastal communities or with other groups such as large fishing operators?

A: It is quite clear that we will have more and more conflicts over shortages of food and water that are going to be exacerbated by climate change. Certainly, if coastal stretches have been over-fished for years, there is going to be conflict.
But it may not be just conflict that occurs. In Indonesia for instance, IOM worked hard to evacuate hundreds of fishermen who had been kept for years in human slavery in the fishing industry. With the help of the Indonesian government we freed them, counseled them and got them back to normal life.

Q: Even while migration is increasingly being recognized as a critical global issue, the absence of strong policies on migration is often attributed to insufficient studies and hard data by migration experts. Has there been any improvement in this status after Syria, West Asia, East Africa migration crises?

A: IOM has undertaken several initiatives to support better policies. We just established a Global Data Analysis Centre in Berlin. We are in partnership with a number of leading agencies like Gallop World Poll, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) the research arm of The Economist Group. We are looking for other partners as we see large gaps in the data base.

While a lot of data we have is spotty, a lot of it inaccurate, we however have enough already to know which are the driving forces for migration today and in the future, including demographic drivers. We have an aging population in the industrialized countries that are in need of workers at all skill levels. And we have a very large youthful population in the global south that needs jobs.

Our forecast is that countries are going to become almost inevitably more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
If this is going to work, economies are going to merge then it appears a pretty straightforward future scenario. But the problem is that more national migration policies are out-of-date, they have not kept up with technology. So we keep running into problems where we could in fact turn adversities into opportunities.

Q: What could be some mitigation, adaptation or preventive actions and policies affected countries should undertake? Which countries are already taking action?

A: Even if it is difficult to single out countries to mention as they are all members of IOM, Canada for instance took in 25,000 Syrian refugees earlier in the year. Several Asian countries like Thailand are providing migrants access to free public services because if this is denied you have unhealthy population living amongst you. There are other examples of proactive action being taken by countries but more is needed.

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Not So Smart Ideahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/not-so-smart-idea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-so-smart-idea http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/not-so-smart-idea/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2016 05:59:20 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144615 As Bhubaneswar experiences scorching heat of 43.2 degrees Celsius in early April, 5 degrees above normal, 44-year-old Prasanti Behera barely sleeps at night. Two summers ago, a fire charred 50 homes in her slum and burnt in seconds US$600 she had painstakingly saved over two years for her daughter’s marriage. As the city’s heat graph […]

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India Holds Up Farmers’ Plight from Extreme Weather for COP21 Delegateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/india-holds-up-farmers-plight-from-extreme-weather-for-cop21-delegates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-holds-up-farmers-plight-from-extreme-weather-for-cop21-delegates http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/india-holds-up-farmers-plight-from-extreme-weather-for-cop21-delegates/#comments Wed, 02 Dec 2015 12:17:37 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143187 “If you look at the submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs, the national commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030) by over 150 countries, most have announced mitigation-centric targets, whereas climate change is also about adaptation. India is among the few that has given a comprehensive INDC,” Ashok Lavasa, a key official of India’s […]

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“Bringing Private Funds into Land Restoration is Risky”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/bringing-private-funds-into-land-restoration-is-risky/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-private-funds-into-land-restoration-is-risky http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/bringing-private-funds-into-land-restoration-is-risky/#respond Mon, 16 Nov 2015 05:59:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143007 The world loses 23 hectares to land degradation each and every minute, adding up to the disappearance of 12 million hectares worldwide – an area half the size of the UK. In economic terms this loss of healthy soil from arable land costs the world 400 billion dollars a year, including an annual food grain […]

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Urgently Needed: Studies Linking Land Degradation, Migration, Conflict and Political Instabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/urgently-needed-studies-linking-land-degradation-migration-conflict-and-political-instability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urgently-needed-studies-linking-land-degradation-migration-conflict-and-political-instability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/urgently-needed-studies-linking-land-degradation-migration-conflict-and-political-instability/#comments Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:14:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142912 Some 135 million people could be displaced by 2045 as a result of land desertification, according to a recent UK ministry of defence report. This figure could rise to 200 million who are displaced by other climate change impacts like natural disasters by 2050, said British environment refugee specialist Norman Myers. These could have been […]

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#respond Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest. Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their […]

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Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#respond Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 Scattered across 240 sq km on the remote Niyamgiri hill range in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, an ancient tribal group known as the Dongria Kondh have earned themselves a reputation as trailblazers. Having fought – and won – a decade-long battle with a British mining giant that invested close to a billion dollars […]

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Date palm trees abound in the Niyamgiri hills of the Indian state of Odisha. The fruits contain antioxidants and Vitamin A, and the sap is collected and fermented to produce liquor. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
RAYAGADA, India, May 19 2015 (IPS)

Scattered across 240 sq km on the remote Niyamgiri hill range in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, an ancient tribal group known as the Dongria Kondh have earned themselves a reputation as trailblazers.

Having fought – and won – a decade-long battle with a British mining giant that invested close to a billion dollars in a bauxite extraction operation in this mineral-rich area, the Dongria Kondh set an example in 2013 to millions of tribal people around the world that David versus Goliath-style confrontations can still be won by the underdog.

Now, the indigenous group is once again at the forefront of a global problem – the twin issues of hunger and deforestation – as they continue to nurture an ancient way of life despite a wave of destructive development that is threatening their traditional and sustainable farming practices.

Here, a Dongria Kondh woman reaches for barada leaves, a vital source of iron for the community. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Here, a Dongria Kondh woman reaches for barada leaves, a vital source of iron for the community. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Numbering some 10,000 people, the Dongria Kondh believe the forests and hills to be sacred sites, and have for centuries lived in harmony with the land, with a single family harvesting an average of 130 kg of wild produce in a single year.

Their varied and nutritious diet, which includes over 25 species of plants, comes directly from the forests, while springs originating in the Niyamgiri hills provide fresh, clean water all year round.

But rampant deforestation for large-scale infrastructure projects, coupled with mono-culture plantations of fast-growing trees to supply timber and paper industries with raw materials, as well as mining activities, have reduced food availability for the Dongria Kondh and other indigenous groups by over 30 percent and increased their gathering time by 80 percent over the last 30 years.

Today, 55 percent of adults from the Dongria Kondh community are protein-energy deficient and 60 percent of school-aged children are malnourished.

The situation reflects a trend all across India, a country of 1.2 billion people, where some of the poorest and hungriest live in or around forests.

India is currently home to one-quarter of the 805 million malnourished people worldwide, as well as to a third of the world’s underweight children and nearly a third of all food-insecure people – most of them among the 275 million-strong forest-dwelling population of this vast country.

The irony of the fact that those living closest to readily available food sources are going hungry has not escaped the attention of policy-makers, with the United Nations spearheading efforts to protect forests due to their critical importance in alleviating hunger and mitigating the impacts of climate change, not just in India but worldwide.

With 1.6 billion people – including over 2,000 indigenous cultures – depending directly on forests for food, shelter, income and fuel, preserving these areas feeds directly into the U.N.’s sustainable development agenda, and could also play a role in the ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’, launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012 in a bid to completely eradicate the scourge of malnutrition and food insecurity.

This is easier said than done, given that an estimated 13 million hectares of forests are destroyed annually, denying hundreds of thousands of people of their only source of food.

While this seems like a bleak trend, one need only look up at the Niyamgiri hills for a lesson on an alternative economic model, one based on community management and control of land and resources, rather than the rampant destruction of living ecosystems for profit.

Here in Odisha, the forest-food nexus meets the accumulated traditional knowledge of an ancient people, pointing the way to a horizon where hunger is a thing of the past, not the future.

A major reason for the Dongria Kondh’s opposition to Vedanta Resource’s bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri Mountains in the eastern Indian state of Odisha was that it would destroy their numerous perennial hill streams. Here, a tribal girl washes at a pipe that gushes fresh water 24 hours a day. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A major reason for the Dongria Kondh’s opposition to Vedanta Resource’s bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri Mountains in the eastern Indian state of Odisha was that it would destroy their numerous perennial hill streams. Here, a tribal girl washes at a pipe that gushes fresh water 24 hours a day. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Date palm trees abound in the Niyamgiri hills of the Indian state of Odisha. The fruits contain antioxidants and Vitamin A, and the sap is collected and fermented to produce liquor. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Date palm trees abound in the Niyamgiri hills of the Indian state of Odisha. The fruits contain antioxidants and Vitamin A, and the sap is collected and fermented to produce liquor. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Tribal women collect fistfuls of ‘broom grass’ from the hill slopes of the Niyamgiri range in Odisha, India. Bundles tied together with hemp rope sell for 60 cents apiece in village markets, though urban traders get double the price. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Tribal women collect fistfuls of ‘broom grass’ from the hill slopes of the Niyamgiri range in Odisha, India. Bundles tied together with hemp rope sell for 60 cents apiece in village markets, though urban traders get double the price. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

 

Rich in protein, young bamboo shoots are a delicacy among the Dongria Kondh tribal community in eastern India. The outer skin is boiled with salt and chilli as a source of nutrition. During the monsoon season, when the shoots are plentiful, members of the tribe earn an income from bamboo. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Rich in protein, young bamboo shoots are a delicacy among the Dongria Kondh tribal community in eastern India. The outer skin is boiled with salt and chilli as a source of nutrition. During the monsoon season, when the shoots are plentiful, members of the tribe earn an income from bamboo. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The 'barada' leafy green is sweet, easy to digest and rich in iron. Here, a tribal woman sun-dries the leaves so they can be stored for up to two months. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The ‘barada’ leafy green is sweet, easy to digest and rich in iron. Here, a tribal woman sun-dries the leaves so they can be stored for up to two months. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women shoulder the lion’s share of forest produce collection. A typical day's haul includes tamarind, which fetches a large part of a household's annual income, and wild yams, a dietary mainstay during the lean months of August to October. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women shoulder the lion’s share of forest produce collection. A typical day’s haul includes tamarind, which fetches a large part of a household’s annual income, and wild yams, a dietary mainstay during the lean months of August to October. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The highly valued mahua flowers are collected, dried and made into liquor. Its seeds yield oil that can be used for cooking. Among some tribal groups mahua paste is used medicinally to facilitate childbirth. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The highly valued mahua flowers are collected, dried and made into liquor. Its seeds yield oil that can be used for cooking. Among some tribal groups mahua paste is used medicinally to facilitate childbirth. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Honey is the Dongria Kondh's most precious forest product, valued for its nutrition, medicinal properties and high returns from sale. Because the tribe manages and protects large sections of the Niyamgiri hills in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, hundreds of wild honeybee colonies can still be found here. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Honey is the Dongria Kondh’s most precious forest product, valued for its nutrition, medicinal properties and high returns from sale. Because the tribe manages and protects large sections of the Niyamgiri hills in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, hundreds of wild honeybee colonies can still be found here. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Freshly fermented liquor made from the sap of the Salapa palm tree is often used during rituals. This is one of seven trees considered a ‘must’ in the Dongria Kondh’s sacred grove. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Freshly fermented liquor made from the sap of the Salapa palm tree is often used during rituals. This is one of seven trees considered a ‘must’ in the Dongria Kondh’s sacred grove. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The post Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexus appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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