Inter Press ServiceTharanga Yakupitiyage – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 20 Apr 2018 04:58:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 International Community Ramps Up Action on Venezuela Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2018 21:13:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155223 One year into the most recent series of protests and a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight, international groups have called for action to help protect Venezuelans. A complex political and economic crisis in Venezuela has left millions without access to basic services and resources, prompting UN agencies and human rights groups like Human […]

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Venezuelans arrive in Pacaraima, border city with Venezuela, and wait at the Federal Police, the entity responsible for receiving Venezuelans seeking asylum or special stay permits in Brazil, 16 February 2018. Credit: UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2018 (IPS)

One year into the most recent series of protests and a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight, international groups have called for action to help protect Venezuelans.

A complex political and economic crisis in Venezuela has left millions without access to basic services and resources, prompting UN agencies and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch to speak up and urge action.

“Venezuela needs help to tackle and overwhelming crisis,” said singer Ricardo Montaner alongside Human Rights Watch at the launch of the #TodosConVenezuela, or Together with Venezuelans, campaign.

“Join me. It’s not just my job or yours, it’s something we should all do. Tell your friends—let’s do this together,” he continued.

The campaign, launched ahead of the Summit of the Americas where world leaders will discuss the situation in Venezuela, asks the public to tweet at Latin American presidents to confront Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro about government abuses.

Such abuses include the suppression of dissent as government critics are often arbitarily detained and prosecuted in military tribunals.

An estimated 700 civilians have been prosecuted in military courts for offenses such as rebellion and treason.

Numerous UN Special Rapporteurs also found “excessive and indiscriminate use of force” during anti-government protests.

“Protests must not be criminalized,” they said.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has been facing a severe economic crisis since global oil prices plummeted in 2014.

The South American nation now has the highest inflation rate in the world which now exceeds 6,000 percent, making it nearly impossible for Venezuelans to access medicine and food and causing a health crisis.

In one year alone, maternal mortality and infant mortality increased by 65 percent and 30 percent respectively. Over 80 percent of the country now live in poverty.

Driven by the lack of access to basic services as well as political tensions, almost two million Venezuelans have left the country, causing the humanitarian crisis to spill over.

Carlos Miguele Machado told Human Rights Wach that he left his home country because he could not find medicine that his wife needed after undergoing thyroid surgery.

“I had to travel far, go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the medicine, and I could not find it—and it is very expensive in the black market,” he said.

Both Colombia and Brazil have seen the largest numbers of migrants crossing their borders in recent months. To date, over 1 million Venezuelans have reached Colombia while Brazil estimates that over 800 enters its country every day.

“As the complex political and socio-economic situation in their country continues to worsen, arriving Venezuelans are in more desperate need of food, shelter, and health care. Many also need international protection,” said UN High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler.

As public services in Brazil become more and more stretched in response to the inflows, UNCHR has ramped up its efforts to help register and house Venezuelans. The agency has opened up new shelters for vulnerable Venezuelans which are already almost at capacity.

In order to implement its regional response plan, UNCHR made an appeal of $46 million to donors. So far, it is only four percent funded.

Similarly, the International Organizaation for Migration (IOM) launched a regional action plan to strengthen response to the large-scale of flows of Venezuelans.

“IOM’s Regional Action Plan…represents a call for the international community to contribute to and strengthen the government efforts to receive and assist Venezuelans, so that those efforts may be sustained,” said IOM’s Regional Director for South America Diego Beltrand, encouraging host countries to adopt measures to help regularize Venezuelans’ stay.

World Food Programme Director David Beasely also urged the international community step up international donor funding in order to prevent the “humanitarian catastrophe” unraveling at the Colombian border.

“This could turn into an absolute disaster in unprecedented proportions for the Western Hemisphere,” Beasely said while visiting Colombia.

“I don’t think people around the world realize how bad the situation is and how much worse it could very well be,” he continued, pointing to the case of Syria’s crisis which began with a minor food emergency.

The upcoming presidential vote in May in Venezuela could determine the future of the country and its citizens.

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“International Solidarity” at Yemen Donor Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference/#respond Thu, 05 Apr 2018 15:55:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155181 The international community has pledged over two billion dollars towards urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Yemen during a UN event. Convened by the UN along with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, a High-Level Pledging Event brought together the international community to support suffering Yemenis facing a seemingly “forgotten war.” “This pledging conference represents a […]

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (second from left) signs a Voluntary Financial Contribution Memorandum between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations to the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2018 (IPS)

The international community has pledged over two billion dollars towards urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Yemen during a UN event.

Convened by the UN along with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, a High-Level Pledging Event brought together the international community to support suffering Yemenis facing a seemingly “forgotten war.”

“This pledging conference represents a remarkable success of international solidarity to the people of Yemen,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Yemen’s situation today is catastrophic. But with international support, we can and must prevent this country from becoming a long-term tragedy,” he added.

Forty countries and organizations pledged 2.01 billion dollars towards the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) which requested 2.96 billion for lifesaving assistance to 13 million people across the Middle Eastern nation.

Last year’s donor conference raised 1.1 billion dollars in aid.

With the destructive conflict soon entering its fourth year, Yemen has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 22 million people, or 75 percent of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Though both sides are complicit, a Saudi Arabian-imposed blockade has particularly led to severe shortages in food, medicine, and other basic needs.

Approximately 18 million are food-insecure, including over 8 million who are on the brink of famine, and the lack of access to water has led to the world’s largest cholera epidemic.

With the rainy season soon to commence, many are concerned that the number of cholera cases will multiply yet again.

While humanitarian resources are extremely important in saving lives, they are not enough, said Guterres.

“We need unrestricted access everywhere inside Yemen and we need all the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians,” he continued.

Both Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Isabella Lovin and Switzerland’s Vice President Ueli Maurer echoed similar sentiments.

“Humanitarian aid alone cannot be the response to the growing needs of the Yemeni people endangered by the armed conflict,” Maurer said.

In addition to unfettered aid access, the hosts highlighted the need for a political process and a political solution.

Though efforts continue to try to bring warring parties to the negotiating table, attacks persist, terrorizing the people of Yemen.

Most recently, an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition left 12 people dead in the coastal city of Hodeidah. Houthi forces later retaliated by targeting the southern region of Saudi Arabia with a missile.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch and a number of UN experts have pointed to the Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate air strikes as disproportionately affecting civilians over the last year.

Meanwhile, among the generous donors at the conference are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who have fueled Yemen’s conflict. The two countries donated 930 million dolars, one of the biggest contributions the UN has ever received, prompting the UN Security Council to consider a British proposal praising the Middle Eastern nations.

The move, however, has raised ethical questions among many.

“The Security Council should be naming and shaming everyone,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau.

“A statement that condemns one side, the Houthis, but doesn’t even mention the abuses of the other, the Saudi-led coalition, simply nurtures the atmosphere of impunity,” he added.

Guterres called for the full respect for international humanitarian law and an inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue.

“Millions of people depend for their survival on the decisions we take today,” he concluded.

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Solving Japan’s Fertility Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/solving-japans-fertility-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=solving-japans-fertility-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/solving-japans-fertility-crisis/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2018 16:42:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155122 While much of the global discussion for decades has been focused on overpopulation and its consequences, less can be said of the risks of low fertility and an ageing population—risks that are currently threatening the future of Japan. Concerned by fertility trends in Asia, numerous institutions have begun to take action to prevent potentially devastating […]

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Japan: aging population needs more than short-term solutions. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2018 (IPS)

While much of the global discussion for decades has been focused on overpopulation and its consequences, less can be said of the risks of low fertility and an ageing population—risks that are currently threatening the future of Japan.

Concerned by fertility trends in Asia, numerous institutions have begun to take action to prevent potentially devastating economic and social consequences.

One such group is the Asian Population Development Association (APDA), that serves as the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) and is dedicated to research and studying population-related issues in countries such as Japan where limited work and research has been done around the issue.

“While population increase has been the overriding global concern, the risks of low fertility and ensuing population decline were not foreseen until recently. Thus it is understandable that no research has been done, nor has any thought been given from the government,” said Chair of the APDA Research Committee on Ageing Kei Takeuchi during a meeting.

The Young, the Old, and the Restless

Though the decline in fertility rates is not a new phenomenon, the East Asian nation has seen its population rapidly diminish in recent years.

According to the United Nations, Japan’s fertility rates were approximately 2.75 children per woman in the 1950s, well above the total fertility rate of 2.1 which has been determined to help sustain stable populations.

Today, Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 children per woman leading to the population declining by one million in the past five years alone.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that if such trends continue, Japan’s population is expected to decrease from 126 million today to 88 million in 2065 and 51 million by 2115.

With fewer children and young adults, a vicious cycle is set in motion: spending decreases which weakens the economy, which dispels families from having children, which then weakens the economy further.

“As the population aged 18 years old is decreasing, the number of universities needs to be reduced, which will limit the number of new academic posts, lack the opportunity to cultivate researchers, and diminish Japan’s competitiveness in the international arena,”

At the same time, as people have a higher life expectancy, the elderly now make up 27 percent of Japan’s population in comparison to 15 percent in the United States.

This means less revenues and higher expenditures for the government, less funds for pensions and social security, and an even weaker economy.

Chair of the Asian Population and Development Association Yasuo Fukuda, a former Prime Minister of Japan noted that a dwindling population is not bad in and of itself but rather its rapid decline.

“The true problem is that when the population decreases too drastically, the social systems will become unsustainable and incapable of responding to problems associated with it, which will make it harder for young people to develop concrete visions for their future,” he said.

Are the Kids Alright?

One of the factors that is often considered to be a driving force of lowering fertility is urbanization, APDA said, as urban fertility rates are often lower than those in rural areas.

This is often because urban areas tend to boast better access to services such as education and employment as well as gender equality, all of which affect people’s decisions whether or not to have children.

Japan is one the most densely urbanized countries in the world.

In 1950, 53 percent of the population lived in urban areas; by 2014, the figure shot up to 93 percent.

Japanese rural towns are disappearing at a rapid rate as young adults move to cities for work and the ageing population either moves out or dies out. Wild boars are now found to be taking over the abandoned areas.

However, the correlation between urbanization and fertility is still unclear due to different contexts and data limitations.

Many have also pointed to the lack of opportunities for young people in the country.

Though the unemployment rate is below 3 percent, the rise in unstable employment may be leaving young men and women unable or unwilling to have children.

Approximately 40 percent of Japan’s labor force is “irregular,” or have temporary or part-time jobs with low salaries. According to the Labor Ministry, irregular employees earn 53 percent less than those with stable jobs.

Men, who are still considered breadwinners for the family unit, may therefore be less likely to consider getting married or having children because they can’t afford to do so.

On the other end of the spectrum, Japan’s culture of overwork may also be impacting birth rates as young people find themselves with no time for a social life or even basic needs like sleeping or eating.

Such conditions have even led to “karoshi,” or death by overwork, across the country.

Most recently, journalist Miwa Sado died of a heart failure and investigators found that she had logged 159 hours of overtime work in June 2013 alone, one month before she died.

In 2015, 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide. It emerged that she worked for over 100 hours of overtime at her advertising job and had barely slept in the period leading up to her death.

Both deaths were ruled as “karoshi.”

Research, Action Needed

Due to the lack of data around the issue, APDA highlighted the need to promote research in order to help create and implement policies to ensure sustainable development and a stable, healthy population.

Shinzo Abe’s government has begun working on the issue in recent years, promising to raise the fertility rate to 1.8 by 2025.

They have also taken steps to make it easier for people to raise children by providing free education, expanding nursery care, and allowing fathers to take paternity leave. Local governments have even set up speed-dating services across the country.

However, Abe’s administration has been criticized for not doing enough, particularly around labor reform.

“Measures for low fertility, gender-equal society, and work-life balance are three important pillars,” said Chief Research Advisor APDA Project Research Committee on Ageing Makoto Atoh.

The APDA team also pointed to the need to invest in and revitalize regional areas and communities.

“This is a serious situation. We must come to grips with the issue of low fertility, but there is little research on it,” Takeuchi said.

APDA plans to hold several meetings and events in order to raise awareness and widen coverage on the issue of low fertility.

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Conflicts Force Up Global Hunger Levelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:23:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155063 Largely driven by conflict, the number of hungry people has dramatically increased around the world, reversing decades of progress, according to a new report. Launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the Global Report on Food Crises 2018 has exposed the worrisome scale and […]

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Almost 400,000 famine victims who fled to the Mogadishu for aid at the height of famine, are still living in one of the many refugee camps outside Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2018 (IPS)

Largely driven by conflict, the number of hungry people has dramatically increased around the world, reversing decades of progress, according to a new report.

Launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the Global Report on Food Crises 2018 has exposed the worrisome scale and magnitude of today’s crises.

“It’s been a very difficult year,” FAO’s Senior Strategic Adviser and lead author of the report Luca Russo told IPS in response to the staggering figures.

The UN agencies found that almost 130 million people across 51 countries face severe food insecurity, an 11 percent rise from the previous year.

Russo pointed out that insecurity has increasingly become the main driver of food insecurity, accounting for 60 percent, or 74 million, of the global total. If this population made up a country, it would be larger than the United Kingdom and France combined.

The report attributes the increase to new and intensified conflict in countries such as Myanmar, Nigeria and Yemen.

Russo expressed particular concern for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, both of which have become Africa’s largest humanitarian crises.

In the DRC, an escalation of violence and political clashes has left over 13 million Congolese in need of humanitarian aid, including 7.7 million who are severely food-insecure.

In 2017, the UN declared the DRC a level three humanitarian emergency—the highest possible classification on par with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

The UN Security Council echoed Russo’s concern and highlighted the need to “address the presence of armed groups in the country” and called for “transparent, credible, and inclusive elections.”

While an international conference has been organized for April to mobilize funding for the DRC’s 1.7-billion-dollar humanitarian appeal, South Sudan also continues to struggle with low humanitarian funding and a population at the brink of famine.

Both FAO and WFP warned that without sustained humanitarian assistance and access, more than 7 million—almost two-thirds of the population—could become severely food-insecure in the coming months while over 150,000 may be pushed over the line to famine.

“Unless these humanitarian gaps are addressed, we may have to declare again a famine in South Sudan,” Russo said.

So far, just 8 percent of the country’s 1.7 billion appeal has been funded.

However, while humanitarian aid can help save lives, Russo noted that such assistance won’t provide long-term solutions.

“Because of the fact that the conflicts continue, you have more and more people on the brink of famine…with humanitarian assistance, we are able to keep them alive but we are not able to provide sustainable solutions,” he said.

While the outlook for 2018 remains bleak, not all hope is lost.

Russo highlighted the importance of working along the humanitarian-development nexus in order to move beyond focusing on short-term assistance to addressing long-term issues which can help secure peace.

Most recently, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) brought together South Sudanese pastoralists and farmers who have long clashed with each other over land and resources.

To this end, the meeting allowed the two parties to discuss methods of conflict resolution and establish a mutually beneficial agreement in order to prevent future conflict.

Though it may be a small step in a small part of the country, such efforts can help to reduce tensions and create a more substantial chance for peace.

Russo urged for the international community to act on global crises, pointing to the case of Somalia’s 2011 famine which only saw assistance and action after over 250,000 died and the UN’s declaration of a famine in July 2011.

“Even if some of these situations are not in the media, they are there and they exist and they are likely to expand. We should not wait for a famine to be declared to act,” he said.

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A Whole New Decade for Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/whole-new-decade-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whole-new-decade-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/whole-new-decade-water/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 10:59:21 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154961 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Water Day on Mar. 22.

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Whether they like it or not, many Africans faced with the possibility of having to access water through prepaid meters have resorted to unprotected and often unclean sources of water because they cannot afford to pay. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2018 (IPS)

As old and new challenges continue to threaten its access, the UN has dedicated the next decade in order to protect a crucial but fragile natural resource: water.

On World Water Day, the UN launched the “International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development” which aims to mobilize implementation and cooperation on water issues as it relates to sustainable development.

Already, many are hopeful that the initiative will boost international commitment.

“It is an important initiative because it shines a light on water and sustainable development which came out of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Global Water Partnership’s (GWP) Head of Communications Steven Downey told IPS.

Unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the globally-adopted SDGs have a dedicated water goal that moves beyond issues of drinking water supply and sanitation. It includes targets to improve water quality by reducing pollution, increase water-use efficiency, implement integrated water resources management, and expand international cooperation and capacity-building.

Along with the MDGs was its own Water Action Decade from 2005-2015, which End Water Poverty’s International Coordinator Al-Hassan Adam said was insufficient.

Though such initiatives give political momentum to global water crises, it is also a time for reflection, he told IPS.

“The success of this decade depends on not repeating the same focus and messages that we had in the last decade,” Adam said.

Global Crises

Around the world, in both developed and developing countries, communities are coping with numerous dimensions of water crises.

“There’s not a place in the world that you can go to that isn’t having some kind of, if not crisis, water challenge,” Downey said.

According to a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), more than two billion people live without safe drinking water, affecting their health, education, and livelihoods.

In the United States, the city of Flint, Michigan drew international attention when its drinking water was found to contains dangerously high levels of lead. Lead, which has a particularly damaging effect on children’s development, has threatened the health of more than 25,000 children in the area.

But unsafe drinking water is not unique to Flint. A new study found that more than 20 million Americans from California to New York used water from systems that did not meet quality levels in 2015. Contaminants found in the water included lead, arsenic, and fecal matter.

HLPW also found that approximately 3 billion people, almost half of the world’s population, are affected by water scarcity. Without action, this figure could rise to almost 6 billion by 2050, with as many as 700 million that could be displaced by severe water scarcity by 2030.

With limited water, the risk of conflicts is heightened.

While events in Syria have sparked fears about water scarcity driving civil war, tensions have been brewing in northeastern Africa over an Ethiopian mega-dam.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), being built on the Nile river, is set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant, which will boost Ethiopia’s energy production and economic growth.

Approximately 70 million Ethiopians lack access to electricity and one-third of its population live below the global poverty line.

With the energy-producing dam, industries and employment will be able to flourish, which will be crucial as Africa’s population is estimated to double by 2050.

However, the project is threatening to spark a geopolitical war over water between Ethiopia and Egypt, which has long relied on the Nile river.

The Nile supplies nearly 85 percent of all water in Egypt. While Egypt is already expected to see water shortages by 2025, the dam could exacerbate the issue.

“Water is a security issue,” Adam told IPS. “You can’t treat [water] as a zero sum game…there is room for cooperation,” he added.

Turning to Nature, Calling for Ownership

In order to meet emerging challenges to water security, new solutions are required.

“Sustainable water security will not be achieved through business-as-usual approaches,” UN World Water Development Report’s Editor-in-Chief Richard Connor told IPS.

In the new report, Connor and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proposes solutions that are based on nature to manage water better.

Such nature-based solutions (NBS) use and mimic natural processes to enhance water availability and improve water quality such as soil moisture retention, groundwater recharge, and natural and constructed wetlands.

Connor noted that communities have long relied on “grey” or man-made infrastructure such as dams which will not be enough to solve water-related issues.

NBS, which include green infrastructure, can substitute or work in parallel with grey infrastructure in a more sustainable, cost-effective way, he said.

The report pointed to the success of NBS in Rajasthan, India which saw excessive logging and one of the worst droughts in its history. Using NBS, the local community was able to replenish their rivers, boost groundwater levels, and increase productive farmland.

“Without a more rapid uptake of NBS, water security will continue to decline, and probably rapidly so,” Connor said.

Adam told IPS that while NBS is important, governments must also take action and ownership in working towards water-security.

“If you say nature-based solutions and governments sign a mining contract where mining companies can pollute water with impunity…if that’s the attitude, then it’s just rhetoric,” he said.

“It’s about governments having the guts to hold big polluters accountable…if we don’t have that ownership from governments, we will end up with the same results as we had previously,” Adam added.

Downey echoed similar sentiments, highlighting that water management has to be a national priority and that all stakeholders across sectors must be involved.

“Water is linked to every sector—energy, food, health, education,” he told IPS.

For Water Action Decade, GWP has already begun a series of support programs on water-related issues, including integrated water resource management and integrated drought management.

“Water is irreplaceable…If you don’t have water, what are you going to do? You can’t go drink diesel,” Adam said.

The Water Action Decade commences on World Water Day 22 March 2018 and ends on World Water Day, 22 March 2028.

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Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Water Day on Mar. 22.

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Rohingya Crisis May Be Genocide, UN Officials Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2018 09:51:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154806 In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar. Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought […]

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A Rohingya refugee woman carries relief supplies to her makeshift shelter. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 2018 (IPS)

In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar.

Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought with them stories of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and the deliberate burning of entire villages.

“I am becoming more convinced that the crimes committed following 9 October 2016 and 25 August 2017 bear the hallmarks of genocide and call in the strongest terms for accountability,” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

She expressed concern that the “repressive practices of previous military governments were returning at the norm once more.”

Spreading Hate through Social Media

Lee highlighted the toxic use of social media to incite violence and particularly pointed to the role of Facebook in spreading high levels of hate speech against the Rohingya minority in the Southeast Asian nation.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar…it was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said.

A UN fact-finding mission also recently found that social media had a “determining role” and was “substantively contributing” to the violence in Myanmar.

Most recently, Facebook suspended the account of Buddhist monk Wirathu who is known for his nationalist, anti-Muslim messages particularly disseminated through social media.

Though he has denied fueling violence in Rakhine, Wirathu recently claimed that the state was experiencing “terrorism of Bengalis,” a label implying that Rohingya are from Bangladesh rather than Myanmar.

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast,” Lee said.

A Systematic Removal

Having been denied access to the country, Lee presented a report to the council this week based on her visits to neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Thailand which revealed the extent of Myanmar’s human rights violations.

Among the issues raised by refugees, the Special Rapporteur was especially saddened by the targeting of Rohingya children.

She estimates that at least 730 children under the age of five were killed in the first month of violence alone.

While approximately 60 percent of the refugee population is children, the UN estimates that up to 200,000 children are still in Rakhine.

Earlier this month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that Rohingyas who try to leave their villages “are taken away and never return” and found a “recurring theme” of women and girls being abducted.

The agency also found an ongoing systematic campaign of “terror and forced starvation” which are forcing Rohingya out of the country.

In a recent report, Amnesty International reported that forces are bulldozing land and building military bases where Rohingya villages were burned down.

Not only does this prevent refugees from returning, but it also hides authorities’ crimes.

“The bulldozing of entire villages is incredibly worrying. Myanmar’s authorities are erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult,” said Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan.

This has raised concerns for both Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur over the Bangladesh-Myanmar arrangement to repatriate Rohingya refugees as they will return to find their homes gone and face continued discrimination.

“No one should be returned to Myanmar until they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity – something that is clearly not possible today,” Amnesty International said.

Accountability for Peace

In light of Myanmar’s denial that any atrocities were committed, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who also suggested acts of genocide may be taking place, called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“What we’re saying is…there are strong suspicions, yes, that acts of genocide may well have taken place. But only a court, having heard all the arguments, will confirm this,” he said.

In her report, Lee urged for steps towards accountability in order to bring long-lasting peace and stability in Myanmar.

“This must be aimed at the individuals who gave the orders and carried out violations against individuals and entire ethnic and religious groups…the government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop, or condemn these acts must also be held accountable,” she told the Council.

Lee called for an impartial and comprehensive investigation not only in Myanmar, but also into actions by the UN system in the lead-up to and after the reported attacks in 2016.

“The external review should assess whether the UN and international community could have prevented or managed the situation differently,” she said.

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Helping Women, Periodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/helping-women-period/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-women-period http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/helping-women-period/#comments Fri, 09 Mar 2018 20:05:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154741 The United Nations Headquarters and Brooklyn Bridge were lit up on Thursday night not to help tourists navigate the major landmarks but to bring attention to a key issue that many women and girls face today: period poverty. In commemoration of International Women’s Day, the innovative menstruation-proof underwear company THINX shed the light on period […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 9 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations Headquarters and Brooklyn Bridge were lit up on Thursday night not to help tourists navigate the major landmarks but to bring attention to a key issue that many women and girls face today: period poverty.

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, the innovative menstruation-proof underwear company THINX shed the light on period poverty and urged world leaders to ensure that menstrual equity exists around the world.

“Today of all days on Women’s Day, we want to come together and light the path forward for greater equality,” Vice President of Brand at THINX Siobhán Lonergan told IPS.

But what is period poverty?

The Poor Have Periods Too

Half of the almost 4 billion women around the world are of reproductive age. For these women and girls, menstruation is a natural monthly reality.

However, millions of poor and marginalized women and girls around the world still lack access to basic sanitary products to help manage menstrual bleeding.

“Period poverty is having access to products that basically allow you human dignity to get up and do what you need to do everyday whether that is go to work or go to school,” Lonergan said.

“If you don’t have access to products for a human bodily function that happens every month, then how can you exist? How can you go about your regular everyday functions?” she continued.

In Bangladesh, many families are unable to afford sanitary pads and instead use rags from old clothing.

In India, only 12 percent of women have access to sanitary products leaving others to use materials from old newspapers to sand.

The use of unsanitary materials often has health implications, including reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer.

Approximately one in 53 Indian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The lack of such hygiene products also affects girls’ attendance and participation in school.

In Nepal, 30 percent of girls report missing school during their periods.

This is partly due to the lack of sanitation facilities at schools such as private toilets and clean water needed for girls to clean and manage their menstruation.

Another significant dimension which keep menstruating girls from school is ongoing cultural taboos.

“Untouchable”

Menstruation has long been shamed in many communities, including those around South Asia.

Such stigma has put over 100 million adolescent girls between the ages of 12-14 at risk of dropping out of school in India.

In August 2017, a 12-year-old girl in Tamil Nadu committed suicide after a teacher shamed her over a period stain on her uniform.

The stigma arises from customs such as Chhaupadi which banishes girls and women to a hut outside of the main house for the duration of their period

Translating to “untouchable being”, Chhaupadi dictates that she cannot enter her home, cook, touch her parents, and go to school or temple.

The UN has found reports of pneumonia, attacks from wild animals, and rape when women and girls are banished to a shed.

However, if a woman doesn’t follow the rules, she is told that she will bring destruction and misfortune to their family.

Though Chhaupadi was outlawed in Nepal in 2005, the practice is still widely observed across the South Asian region.

Shopna and Monira, 14- and 17-year-olds from Bangladesh, told the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) of the stigmatization of periods in their community including the ideas that monthly periods are shameful and menstrual blood is dangerous.

“We are taught that things will be spoiled if we touch them during our periods…we can’t touch food, cooking utensils or the kitchen gardens,” Shopna said.

“Hindu girls can’t touch cows or even the cow-shed because cows are holy,” Monira added.

They also described the lack of family support as mothers rarely speak to their daughters about their menstruation.

“The topic of periods has never been at the forefront of conversations, it’s always been this thing that has been kind of brushed underground,” Lonergan told IPS.

Lighting the Way Forward

Lonergan highlighted the importance of menstrual care and as it is a health care issue, governments must take action and provide access to affordable hygiene products.

“If we are working towards true gender equality, we must expand access to menstrual products whether that is in public spaces, schools, or in the workplace. It is really imperative that we have policies that ensure menstrual products are safe and available for those who need them,” she said.

At the grassroots level, citizens have already sprung into action to find ways to make such products accessible, including Arunachalam Muruganantham.

Also known as the ‘Pad Man’, Muruganantham set about to create affordable sanitary pads after discovering that his wife had been using dirty rags during her periods.

“When I asked her why, she said we would have to cut half of our milk budget to buy sanitary pads,” he said.

Muruganantham has become a pioneer of menstrual health after successfully developing a machine that produces low-cost sanitary pads and teaching women how to use it.

Media groups like Inter Press Service (IPS) have also conducted workshops for teachers and students about the importance of healthcare and hygiene in Bangladesh.

Lonergan pointed to the need for women and girls to learn about reproductive health and menstruation.

“It starts with education—a basic understanding of what your period is before it happens and then how to actually manage it and then having access to products to get you there,” she said, adding that both boys and girls must be educated about the natural bodily function.

“Without periods, none of us would be born in the first place,” Lonergan concluded.

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Syria’s ‘Human Catastrophe’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/syrias-human-catastrophe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrias-human-catastrophe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/syrias-human-catastrophe/#comments Wed, 07 Mar 2018 10:09:29 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154671 Despite calls for a ceasefire, violent clashes have continued and humanitarian access remains limited in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, leaving the international community extremely concerned. Since the Syrian government intensified its attacks in recent weeks, more than 700 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in Eastern Ghouta. On Monday alone, over 90 were killed […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 7 2018 (IPS)

Despite calls for a ceasefire, violent clashes have continued and humanitarian access remains limited in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, leaving the international community extremely concerned.

Since the Syrian government intensified its attacks in recent weeks, more than 700 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in Eastern Ghouta.

Jan Egeland – Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On Monday alone, over 90 were killed despite the Security Council’s call for a 30-day ceasefire and a Russia-sanctioned five-hour truce in the area.

The Syrian government has denied any wrongdoing, including a recent suspected chemical attack in the town of Hammoria.

A UN convoy recently delivered the first aid in weeks to the estimated 400,000 civilians trapped in the deadly enclave. However, the mission was cut short and left without unloading all of its supplies after nearly nine hours of shelling.

As frustration mounts among human rights officials, IPS spoke to the Special Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria and Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland about the humanitarian crisis not only in Eastern Ghouta but across Syria.

Q: Would you say the conflict in Syria is the worst crisis the international community is currently facing?

The Syrian conflict is the bloodiest witnessed in a generation.

It is terribly unique in two ways. Firstly, we have seen unparalleled brutal force used indiscriminately against civilians throughout the seven-year conflict. I know of no other place on earth that is close to having so many children, mothers and fathers fleeing for their lives, murdered or maimed. Over a quarter of a million people fled their homes in January alone, many for the second, third or fourth time.

Secondly, Syria’s merciless war is unique because conflict parties have specialised in denying aid organisations access to communities trapped by the fighting. Civilians die needlessly every day because relief workers are prevented from delivering critical medicine, water and food.

Q: What are the most pressing needs on the ground in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta? What is your response to the situation there?

The besieged Eastern Ghouta is experiencing a real human catastrophe.

Four hundred thousand civilians are trapped inside with no safe way out. Twenty-four attacks were reported on civilian targets in five short days in February, including against 14 hospitals, 3 health centres and 2 ambulances.

International humanitarian law was created many generations ago to prevent attacks against civilians and medical facilities. Today, Eastern Ghouta and other besieged communities in Syria are utterly devoid of respect for international law.

The most urgent humanitarian need now is for a real pause in the fighting that is agreed by all sides. Humanitarian agencies must be allowed to enter to provide sustained services and evacuate the wounded and sick. The convoy that reached Douma on March 5th was a rare achievement.

The Russian-agreed five-hour pause is neither long enough nor agreed by all sides, and as a result, civilians continue to shelter from the violence and flee the unfolding ground offensive with little to no access to basic services.

Q: Has the UN done enough to help civilians on the ground?

UN agencies and aid organisations are ready and willing to do so much more to help civilians in Eastern Ghouta and across Syria, but we have not been granted access by various parties to enter Eastern Ghouta.

Our relief trucks are packed with lifesaving medicine, our warehouses are full with food. All we need is a guarantee from the conflict parties that aid workers and the convoys will not be attacked if they enter these besieged areas. Aid agencies and partners inside the enclave themselves have had to suspend operations as they have been targeted in the violence.

Before the Douma convoy, only one cross-line aid convoy in Syria successfully delivered relief in the past 8 weeks out of over 25 convoys that we requested access for. This convoy reached 7,200 people in Nashabiya, Eastern Ghouta. We reached zero of the other 2.5 million civilians stuck in hard-to-reach cross-line areas before a convoy to Dar Khabira close to Homs on March 3rd.

Q: You told the 23 member states of the Humanitarian Task Force that they have failed to help Syrian civilians. Why did you feel it was necessary to tell them that?

My message was blunt but clear. They are responsible for failing to help Syria’s people. Many of these states wield the power to stop this human nightmare today but choose not to.

We call on Russia, Iran, the US, Turkey and the Gulf states that all have some influence in Eastern Ghouta to help us with several things: put down the weapons, enable sustained delivery of aid and basic services to all places in Eastern Ghouta each month, and enable the medical evacuation of 1,000 critically ill civilians. All of this is possible if the power players pressure the warring parties.

Q: Is Russia’s daily 5-hour pause enough to help civilians? And do you believe that the Security Council’s resolution is strong enough and that their call for a 30-day ceasefire will be implemented?

I know of no aid organisation who thinks 5 hours is enough time to deliver relief into Eastern Ghouta, or to organise orderly medical evacuations. We are going to sit down with Russia and other influencing powers, to see if they can help negotiate between all parties that a humanitarian pause will be respected, and for an adequate length of time.

The UN Security Council promised a month’s ceasefire which would have enabled us to do our work, had it been respected.

While all eyes are on Eastern Ghouta, there are dozens of other places inside Syria, like Idleb province with more than a million displaced, where violence continues and civilians bear the brunt of the conflict.

Q: Who is to blame for the lack of humanitarian access? Have the UN/member states been unwilling to push for humanitarian access or is the lack of access largely due to parties to the conflict’s actions to block it?

The main reason for lack of access is the Government of Syria denying the so called “facilitation letters” that are needed to get the security forces to allow loading of relief convoys.

The UN has been the main force in securing access to hard to reach and besieged areas, but there has been a hardening of positions from the government and some of the armed opposition groups and a less effective pressure from member states on the Syrian government and the other armed actors.

Q: What should the international community’s next steps be? Is access to Eastern Ghouta feasible in the near future?

We hope to get new convoys soon to follow the Douma breakthrough. Only 27,000 were served and that happened under continuous nearby shelling. Our next step is to sit down again with Russia and the United States and all of those who can influence the armed opposition groups and get an agreement that will help the rest of the civilian population. This is feasible, if those with influence decide to use their power for good.

*Edited for length and clarity

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A Step Towards the Light: Ending Human Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/step-towards-light-ending-human-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=step-towards-light-ending-human-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/step-towards-light-ending-human-trafficking/#comments Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:05:35 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154408 A new initiative aims to use data to shed light on a pervasive multi-billion dollar criminal industry: human trafficking. Created by the International Organization for Migration and Polaris, the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) is the world’s first human trafficking data portal. It collects data from various counter-trafficking organizations around the world in order to help […]

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Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 21 2018 (IPS)

A new initiative aims to use data to shed light on a pervasive multi-billion dollar criminal industry: human trafficking.

Created by the International Organization for Migration and Polaris, the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) is the world’s first human trafficking data portal.

It collects data from various counter-trafficking organizations around the world in order to help stakeholders identify and respond to trends.

“We are really just starting to see the beginning of what could be done with this type of information in the future,” Data Management and Research Specialist Harry Cook told IPS.

“Data can be really useful to build the evidence base for policy making and programming to counter-trafficking,” he added.

With approximately over 20 million victims of human trafficking, the portal captures 80,000 cases from women being coerced to perform sexual acts to teens forced to work long hours with little to no pay.

“It is a significant amount of data. We are really hoping it will shine the spotlight,” Cook said.

“If you imagine all around the world, there are lots of actors providing direct assistance to victims…so if we can all get together and actually harness the data that we have and put it there for those who are also working to combat the crime, then I think in the future it is going to be a pretty big step,” he continued.

Among the portal’s first findings is child trafficking trends.

Analysts found that almost half of identified cases of child trafficking begin with some family member involvement.

Families are also more likely to be involved in trafficking of boys who make up of 61 percent of cases.

Though the majority of children are trafficked for sexual exploitation, many are also trafficked for forced labor.

Carlos was 16-years-old when he made the journey to the United States from Guatemala in order to get a better education at the invitation of family members.

Upon arriving however, Carlos was forced to work instead of go to school. He worked in construction for 12 hours a day, six days a week and any income earned was taken by his stepfather who said that it was in return for rent, food, and the debt associated with Carlos’ journey.

“We hadn’t really seen it in these kinds of statistics…the fact that there is such a scale suggests that we need to change tact a little bit in terms of where we focus our efforts,” Cook told IPS, noting that family coercion is not always meant to be malicious.

“We really want to help heads of households to make the best long term plans for themselves and their families and how they can do that in a way that respects the agency and aspirations of their children.

Though Carlos was able to find help through Polaris’ human trafficking hotline, not everyone is so lucky.

After being threatened to join a gang in El Salvador, Fernando escaped the country and paid a smuggler for help getting to the U.S.

When he reached the Texas border, a restaurant owner was waiting to purchase him and Fernando was forced to wash dishes at the restaurant without pay four five years.

Frightened of being deported back to El Salvador, Fernando and others like him continue to work there today.

In the United Kingdom, a Vietnamese teenager who was trafficked into the country’s cannabis industry was refused asylum, prompting national outrage.

He currently faces deportation back to a country where he has no family and at risk of renewed trafficking.

Not only does trafficking have serious and long-lasting impact on the mental and physical health of children, but the lack of of a human rights-based approach to migration leaves children even more vulnerable to exploitation.

“It’s important for people to see that all of these people, children are human beings—these are all children that are moving for the same reasons that anyone in the world would moves,” Cook told IPS.

“[Migration] is not something to be stopped, it is something to be properly managed or addressed at all levels. If that’s not there, then we will continue to have nefarious criminals operating in the cracks,” he continued.

With the portal, increased access to critical information can help strengthen local, national, and international institutions and ultimately eradicate crimes of trafficking and exploitation.

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Turning Promise into Action: Working Towards Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 07:54:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154332 Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency. In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens. Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve […]

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Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency.

In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens.

Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve gender equality, the report points to worrisome trends in the implementation of all 17 SDGs and calls on the international community to accelerate its efforts.

“Unless progress on gender equality is accelerated, the global community will fail to achieve the SDGs,” UN Women Research and Data Specialist and author of the report Ginette Azcona told IPS.

1 in 5 Say #MeToo

Among the issues highlighted in the report is sexual harassment and violence.

UN Women found that approximately one in five women and girls aged 15 to 49 from around the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months.

However, 49 countries still do not have laws that protect women from such violence.

The issue has gained international spotlight in recent months with millions rallying behind the #MeToo campaign which aims to reveal the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women all over the world experience every day.

Though the original #MeToo movement was launched ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, the recent viral campaign has inspired many to come forward with their stories, including those who have exposed celebrities and public officials.

“The women’s movement has been working for many years to raise awareness of the different forms of violence ad abuse faced by women and girls. The current spotlight is therefore a welcomed insertion of energy to this important but too often neglected area,” Azcona told IPS.

Such attention will help advance a number of SDGs such as access to safe public spaces, she added.

Intersectional-Issue Lives

UN Women particularly pointed to the the report’s figures on poverty which reveal a persistent gap between women and men.

In 89 countries, 4.4 million more women than men live on less than 1.90 dollars a day.

This is partially due to the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work that women face, especially during their reproductive years.

Poverty often does not stand alone in the lives of women and girls as different dimensions of well-being, deprivation, and even racial identity often intersect.

For instance, a girl who is born into a poor household is more likely to be forced into early marriage and thus more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer complications during childbirth, and experience violence than a girl from a higher-income household.

“It is the intersection of gender with other forms of discrimination that pushes women and girls from poor and marginalized groups even further behind,” Azcona said.

In the United States, race and income are deeply intertwined.

UN Women found that Black, Hispanic, and Native American or Alaska Native women are more likely to live in poverty. The rates of poverty are highest for Black women at almost 24 percent.

Women who find themselves in the bottom of the income distribution are least likely to be employed and thus lack access to health insurance.

As the range of deprivations that women face span all 17 SDGs, the report highlights the need to make progress on more than the goal to achieve gender equality.

“Progress on some fronts may be undermined by regression and stagnation on others, and potential synergies may be lost if siloed approaches to implementation take precedence over integrated, multi-sectoral strategies,” it states.

Among the report’s recommendations for action is for governments to create and implement integrated policies.

For instance, providing free and universal child care to women would allow them to access employment and income and improve the family’s health and well-being.

Universal childcare can also create generate new jobs and revenue.

Azcona also highlighted the need for spaces for democratic debate in order to hold governments accountable on their promises, including a sustained involvement of women’s organizations.

“Addressing violence and inequality after all is key to greater social and political stability,” she said.

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“No Time to Waste” in Ending FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-time-waste-ending-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/#comments Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:17:11 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154216 More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said. Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further […]

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FGM is a taboo and complicated topic in Liberia and it is dangerous for women to speak out about it. Credit: Travis Lupick / IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said.

Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further 68 million girls face the risk of FGM by 2030.

The statistics from the UN were unveiled today as the world marks the 15th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“The new figures mean that this practice is threatening the life and wellbeing of more girls and women than initially estimated,” the Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on FGM, Nafissatou Diop, told IPS.

“You and I and everybody and the girl next door can be affected,” she continued.

FGM – sometimes called female circumcision or being ‘cut’ — is often practiced for religious, personal, cultural, and coming of age purposes. According to the UN, most cases are inflicted upon girls from infancy to the age of 15.

The increase in ‘at risk of FGM’ cases is partly due to population growth in countries where FGM is common – namely in parts of northern and western Africa, the Middle East and pockets of Asia.

In Egypt alone, more than 90 parent of women have undergone the practice.

Both UNICEF and UNFPA denounce FGM, calling it a “violation of human rights’ and a “cruel practice” that inflicts emotional harm and preys on the most vulnerable in society.

“It is unconscionable that 68 million girls should be added to the 200 million women and girls in the world today who have already endured female genital mutilation,” they said.

Life-Changing Harm

FGM can cause lifelong trauma, including urinary and vaginal problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, and psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Right Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS that the predicted 68 million FGM cases was “unacceptable”.

“It’s a fundamental human rights violation that can ruin girls’ lives,” she said. “So often these girls don’t have a say – at infancy and childhood, how can you?

“There is no health benefit to women being cut, so you tend to see it in those societies that don’t have high levels of gender equality…This practice is rooted in gender inequality,” she added.

FGM = Gender Inequality

Gerntholtz highlighted that in order to tackle the practice, the international community needs to look at not just the specific act of FGM, but at the broader issue of entrenched gender inequality.

“As an international community, we can fight FGM not only by supporting FGM-specific initiatives, but also by looking holistically at the gender inequality in these regions, so investing in programs that support girl’s rights, girls’ education, community education on these things – that’s also key.”

UNFPA’s Executive Director Natalia Kanem echoed similar sentiments, saying that the world already knows what it needs to do to overcome FGM.

“We know what works, targeted investments that changing social norms, practices and lives,” Kanem said

“Where social norms are confronted villages by village…when there is access to health, education and legal services…where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard.”

Change has particularly come from the community level.

Fourteen-year-old Latifatou Compaoré became an advocate for ending the practice after learning of her mother’s experience with FGM.

“She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” Compaoré told UNFPA.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them. And she kept her word,” she continued.

In countries where UNICEF and UNFPA work, some 18,000 communities have publicly disavowed the practice and many African countries have moved to implement legislation outlawing it.

For instance, in 2016 after Kenya banned FGM, FGM rates fell from 32 percent to 21 percent.

Accelerated Action Needed

But legislation and verbal commitments are not enough, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Without concerted, accelerated action, we could see a further 68 million girls could be subjected to this harmful practice,” he cautioned.

Diop similarly called for more efforts in allocating financial and human resources.

The goal of curbing FGM is highlighted in the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its inclusion was praised because it was seen as an acknowledgement of the far-reaching consequences that FGM has – consequences that go beyond the individual to include social and economic repercussions for entire communities.

“Sustainable development cannot be achieved without full respect for the human rights of women and girls,” Guterres said in a statement.

The Secretary-General called upon governments to enact and enforce laws that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM.

He also announced a new UN global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative which aims to create strong partnerships to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

“With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste,” he said. “Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.”

*Marked annually on 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation aims to strengthen momentum towards ending the practice which is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women as well as perpetuates deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.

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Gaza Health Sector on Verge of Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 07:21:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154213 UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages. UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days. In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres […]

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GAZA, Gaza City. Queuing in hope of fuel. Credit: Mohammed Omer / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages.

UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days.

In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Gaza is a “constant humanitarian emergency.”

“Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures…two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services,” he said.

Fuel shortages are threatening Gaza’s hospitals and sanitation services that rely on backup generators to maintain operations.

If the energy supply is not replenished, at risk are emergency and diagnostic services such as x-rays, intensive care units, and operating theaters. Over 100 sewage pools, desalination plants, and solid waste collection capacity are also in jeopardy, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Hospitals have already begun to close. Without funding, more service providers will be forced to suspend operations over the coming weeks, and the situation will deteriorate dramatically, with potential impacts on the entire population,” said OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Roberto Valent.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” he added.

So far, 16 hospitals and health centers have suspended operations.

Hospitals such as the al-Durra children’s hospital were forced to drastically reduce services due to the lack of fuel.

WHO said that Best Hanoun hospital only has its Emergency Department functioning at minimal capacity and estimates its reserve fuel will only last until mid-March.

In 2018, approximately 6.5 million dollars is required to provide 7.7 million liters of emer-gency fuel.

“This is the bare minimum needed to save off a collapse of services,” OCHA said in its ap-peal.

For the full functioning of basic facilities, 10 million dollars is needed per year.

Meanwhile, hospitals continue to face challenges in coping with the influx of trauma pa-tients.

According to WHO, 40 percent of the supply of essential drugs has been depleted, including drugs used in emergency departments and other critical units.

The UN Country Team in Palestine has predicted that Gaza will become unlivable by 2020 unless action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure.

“Immediate donor support is urgent to ensure that vulnerable Palestinians in Gaza can access life-saving health, water, and sanitation services,” Valent said.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is occurring in the wake of the United States funding cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Approximately 65 million dollars has been withheld from the agency which serves over five million refugees with healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

Guterres expressed concern over the move, stating: “At stake is the human security, rights, and dignity of the five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East. But also at stake is the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services.”

Though it began in 2006, the energy crisis worsened in 2017 following a dispute between Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza over the funding and taxation of fuel and Israel’s subsequent move to reduce its electricity supply to the territories.

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UN Refugee Agency Calls for Aid and Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-refugee-agency-calls-aid-peace-south-sudan/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 15:35:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154190 As South Sudan quickly becomes Africa’s largest refugee and humanitarian crisis, the world must come to its aid, said the UN refugee agency. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has launched a global appeal to support displaced persons amid South Sudan’s rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation. “The human cost of the South Sudan conflict has reached epic […]

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South Sudanese refugee new arrivals wait in the registration tent at the Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Arua, northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 5 2018 (IPS)

As South Sudan quickly becomes Africa’s largest refugee and humanitarian crisis, the world must come to its aid, said the UN refugee agency.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has launched a global appeal to support displaced persons amid South Sudan’s rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“The human cost of the South Sudan conflict has reached epic proportions,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“The conflict is purging South Sudan of the people who should be the greatest resource of a young nation. They should be building the country, not fleeing it,” he continued.

Now in its fifth year, the conflict in South Sudan has displaced 1 in 3 of the country’s population with over 2 million fleeing the nation.

The number of refugees is projected to surpass the 3 million mark by the end of 2018, making South Sudan Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide.

On Jan. 30, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also launched an appeal for 103.7 million dollars this year to provide lifesaving relief assistance, support recovery and migration of people affected by conflict in South Sudan.

The insecurity and violence, which erupted in 2013, has also fueled famine conditions and a humanitarian crisis which has left seven million people in need of assistance.

“As civilians continue to bear the brunt of the crisis, experiencing violence and displacement, timely and effective humanitarian assistance is critical,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission William Barriga.

“IOM remains committed to responding to these needs and reaching the most vulnerable, wherever they are,” he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR launched a 3.2-billion-dollar appeal to help both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who have fled to neighboring countries such as Uganda.

South Sudanese twins, Jacob and Simon, meet UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, at Kakuma, Kenya. The boys walked for 21 days to reach the camp and are traumatised by the killing of their father and eldest brother. Credit: UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

Grandi lauded Uganda’s “open border” policy which has welcomed almost 500 refugees per day.

“Uganda has the most progressive refugee policies in Africa, if not the world,” he said.

Uganda is now home to the largest refugee population in Africa, many of whom are from South Sudan.

Grandi noted that refugees often received portions of land to grow food, were allowed to work and access education, health, and judicial services.

However, if the conflict continues unabated, Uganda could end up hosting another quarter million refugees more and further strain on already limited resources.

“Please make peace,” Grandi appealed to warring parties while visiting refugee camps in Uganda.

“We can’t subject these people once again to exile, to suffering. We can’t always take for granted the generosity of the Ugandan people…everybody told me this morning, as in the past, ‘If there is peace I will go back, because this is where I belong. It’s my country.’”

Almost 90 percent of those displaced are women and children and nearly 65 percent are under the age of 18. Women have reported cases of sexual violence and other forms of violence including the abduction of children.

However, the South Sudanese refugee response program only received 33 percent of required funds in 2017.

“For as long as the people of South Sudan await peace, the world must come to their aid,” Grandi said.

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Aid Group Shines Spotlight on the Neglectedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/aid-group-shines-spotlight-neglected/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-group-shines-spotlight-neglected http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/aid-group-shines-spotlight-neglected/#respond Wed, 24 Jan 2018 20:06:15 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153995 Though 2017 was marked by stories of humanitarian disasters around the world, many crises remain under the radar with devastating consequences for those affected, a new report says. While crises from the United States to Myanmar made global headlines, a report by the international aid organization CARE aims to shine a spotlight on the humanitarian […]

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Families queue up to receive food rations in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo on the 25th November 2012. Rebels claimed control of Goma in eastern DRC, causing thousands of people to flee, many of whom had already been displaced by years of fighting. Credit: CARE/Kate Holt

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 2018 (IPS)

Though 2017 was marked by stories of humanitarian disasters around the world, many crises remain under the radar with devastating consequences for those affected, a new report says.

While crises from the United States to Myanmar made global headlines, a report by the international aid organization CARE aims to shine a spotlight on the humanitarian crises that have been largely neglected by the international community.

“We all know that a single photo can make the world turn its attention to an issue. But the people in the countries featured in CARE’s report are far away from the cameras and microphones of this world,” said CARE International’s Interim Secretary General Laurie Lee.

“We rarely hear about people suffering in parts of the world that are not popular tourist destinations, considered a low priority for global security or simply too hard to reach,” CARE’s global humanitarian communications coordinator Johanna Mitscherlich added to IPS.

Though news media face daunting challenges from dwindling funds to a rapid news cycle, she pointed to the importance of telling the stories of people “facing their darkest hours.”

While much of the focus has been on nuclear tensions, the report ‘Suffering in Silence’ found that North Korea’s humanitarian situation has been overlooked by the media.

The UN estimates that 18 million North Koreans, or 70 percent of the population, are food-insecure and are dependent on food aid while two in five people are undernourished.

Coupled with the country’s political regime is its frequent natural disasters such as prolonged droughts which have exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

In July 2017, North Korea experienced the worst drought since 2001, affecting crop production and food security.

Among the most vulnerable are women and children. Nearly one-third of all pregnant and lactating mothers and more than 200,000 children are estimated to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Out of the 10 crises that the report highlights, seven of them are in Africa and among them is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has seen a surge in violence and a dramatic deterioration of humanitarian situation.

“What we have now are all the ingredients for a humanitarian catastrophe,” said CARE’s DRC Country Director Pierre Bry. “If the international community doesn’t react quickly, it will be too late.”

Over four million Congolese are displaced, two million of which fled their homes in 2017 alone.

The conflict has destroyed schools, clinics, water infrastructure, and farms and has left almost nine million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that is expected to increase to over 13 million in 2018.

Almost two million children also suffer from severe malnutrition, making up 12 percent of the world’s acutely malnourished children.

The lack of crisis coverage not only affects public awareness, but it also directly impacts the level of humanitarian funding and thus the lives of those affected, Mitscherlich told IPS.

Of the 10 most under-reported crises this year, six are also on the UN’s list of most underfunded emergencies in 2017.

For instance, Central African Republic received just 39 percent of its funding appeal while North Korea received 31 percent.

“When we speak about forgotten crises, we speak about forgotten people…those with a voice in public, from media representatives to politicians and organizations like CARE, have a social and moral responsibility to shine a light on crises that are mostly off the radar,” Mitscherlich said.

With a global humanitarian appeal of nearly 23 billion dollars to assist 91 million people around the world, CARE noted that media attention can help focus public support for those needs.

However, the responsibility of improving crises coverage not only lies on the media but also on aid actors, governments, and other actors working to facilitate media access.

Among the report’s recommendations are for NGOs to invest in trained communications and media specialists to tell the media and thus the public of the realities on the ground and to call for action.

By keeping media informed, a crisis is less likely to be forgotten and facilitate a push for political change.

“It is important for all actors – including the media, aid agencies, donors and other institutions – to continue to work together and make sure that humanitarian crises globally receive the attention they need,” Mitscherlich concluded.

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Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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“The World Has Gone in Reverse”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-gone-reverse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:06:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153922 A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future. Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable—what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect—the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations—and there is a serious humanitarian concern here—but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland urged the government to reconsider its decision.”

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153861 Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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“We Need to Be Strong” – Award Spotlights Courageous Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:00:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153578 As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before. Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards. “Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those […]

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Awardees Pravit Rojanaphruk, Patricia Mayorga, Afrah Nasser with Joel Simon and Christiane Amanpour. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before.

Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards.

“Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those we honor are the most courageous and committed. They stand as an example that journalism matters.”

Among the awardees is award-winning Yemeni reporter and blogger Afrah Nasser, who noted that being a journalist in Yemen is like walking through a minefield.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) found that the Houthi rebel group is the second biggest abductor of journalists following the Islamic State. When they are not victims of air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, journalists are constantly at risk of detention, forced disappear-ance and assassination.

“I was getting death threats – even subjected to my family – and I was also getting pressure from my family out of protection and love not to write,” Nasser told IPS.

In 2011, as the uprising began in Yemen, Nasser started writing about human rights viola-tions and gender issues in the country, which were soon followed by death threats due to her critical coverage of the regime.

She became a political refugee in Sweden later that year where she now lives and continues to report on Yemen.

“I always believed in the strong power of stories… Freedom of expression is a very vital tool for any community to bring change,” Nasser said.

Though women are often expected to talk about soft topics, Nasser said that she had to express herself.

“I’m not a male, white, Western journalist writing about Yemen…I thought that nobody would take me seriously,” she told IPS about her reaction to CPJ’s award.

But she took the opportunity to highlight the plight of Yemenis and call for international action.

“Being here is not to represent Yemeni journalists only but all Yemenis who feel abandoned by world leaders and international media that are not covering their suffering sufficiently…let’s make sure international media are on the right side of history,” Nasser told attendees.

Like Nasser, Patricia Mayorga also had to seek protection after her colleague was killed in the northwestern state of Chihuahua.

Miroslava Breach Velducea, who covered politics and crime in Chihuahua, was shot eight times in March. A note was found at the crime scene which read, “For being a snitch.”

Mayorga worked alongside her, reporting on the links between politics, corruption, and organized crime. After publishing a story about political candidates ties to organized crime, both Mayorga and Velducea began receiving threats.

“In this moment, I don’t feel fear. I felt courage that I wanted to shout there needs to be justice. But at the same time, you feel like you are living under anesthesia and you have to sort of give yourself up to the experts…because everything got worse,” she told IPS.

Soon after Velducea was killed, Mayorga sought refuge in Peru.

She noted that organized crime was not the only issue for journalists, but also the government’s campaign to silence media on reporting on the reality on the ground.

“When reporters start to question the government, the government starts using surveillance against them. They do campaigns to discredit and criminalize them,” Mayorga said.

“Press freedom isn’t just for journalists, it’s for the people,” she continued.

Mexico continues to be the Western Hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. An estimated 100 journalists have been murdered since 2000.

“Two months before they killed her in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, Miroslava Breach and I asked ourselves why we kept going. She refused to be complicit, and I refused to betray the people who had put their trust and final hope in journalism,” Mayorga told attendees.

“We need to be strong because Mexico needs us to be strong and clear.”

Other journalists who were honored were Thai reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk, Cameroonian corespondent Ahmed Abba, and managing editor of PBS NewsHour Judy Woodruff.

The post “We Need to Be Strong” – Award Spotlights Courageous Journalists appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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A Responsibility to Prevent Genocidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responsibility-prevent-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:43:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153474 Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide. On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018. […]

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Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Credit: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide.

On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018.

“Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”

The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said.

“We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.

One such case may be Myanmar.

After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.

“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.

More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since violence reignited in August.

“They tried to kill us all,” 25-year-old Mohammed Rafiq from Maungdaw Township told researchers when recalling how soldiers gathered villagers and opened fire on them on 30 August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

“There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.”

Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.

“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

On the other side of the border, refugees find themselves living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water, and shelter. They are in need of treatment for not only their physical injuries, but also the mental and emotional scars from their traumatic experiences.

IOM spoke to some of the survivor who made the treacherous journey by boat to Bangladesh including 8-year-old Arafat. His entire family including his parents, two brothers, and a sister drowned when the fishing boat carrying them capsized in stormy weather.

“Where will I go now,” he cried, transfixed with shock.

The government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide.

In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.

Others have come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.

Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis.

As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, what about nations like Myanmar who are already party to the document?

The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from mass atrocities.

“The world has reacted with horror to the images of their flight, and the stories of murder, rape and arson brought from their still smoldering villages in North Rakhine State. But this horror will have to be matched by action on the part of the international community, if we are to avert a humanitarian disaster on both sides of the border,” said IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing.

Perhaps the international community may need to consider additional mechanisms to address and prevent genocide, making sure ‘never again’ really means never again.

To date, a total of 149 member states have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

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“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

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