Inter Press ServiceTharanga Yakupitiyage – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 19 Jul 2018 21:05:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:54:03 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156690 IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

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Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges the young farmers face. Soil degradation will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2018 (IPS)

Land degradation caused by human activities is occurring at an alarming rate across the world, and the cost will be steep if no action is taken.

In recent years, environmental groups have been sounding the alarm on land degradation while stories of the human impact on the environment have inundated twitter feeds and development news—and with good reason.

This year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) produced the world’s first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment highlighting the dangers and far-reaching impacts of land degradation.

The United Nations-backed study found that land degradation has reached “critical” levels across the world as 75 percent of land is already degraded and projections show that such degradation will increase to over 90 percent by 2050.

Since then, more reports have poured in highlighting concerns over the issue.

Most recently, the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission created a “World Atlas of Desertification” and found that an area half the size of the European Union is degraded every year by farming, city expansion, and deforestation.

Before that, the U.N Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reported that the global economy will lose a staggering USD23 trillion by 2050 because of land degradation.

Not only will it affect economies, but the phenomenon will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability.

IPS spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of IPBES’ assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

Q: How is land degradation caused, and what are the dangers? 

Land degradation is kind of at the overlap of many contemporary concerns. For instance, a very long proportion of the current drivers of climate change come out of things that are related to land degradation.

About one-third of current climate change relates to processes of land degradation—either deforestation or decrease in soil carbon for agriculture and other similar processes.

Climate change has a reverse effect on land degradation—as the climate changes, the ecosystems that were in a particular place can no longer exist there. In the transition period while ecosystems try to sort everything out, those ecosystems lose their ability to supply the things on which we come to rely.

The current major driver of biodiversity loss is the loss of habitat, and loss of habitat is directly related to land degradation.

From the human side, these direct impacts come through the supply of food.

The result of a lot of this is that for people who depend on ecosystems for their livelihoods, their livelihoods are undermined. So those people are either worse off or are forced to move off the land and into other people’s territories and that leads to problems of conflict.

Q: What were some of the more concerning or surprising findings in the IPBES assessment?

This is quite likely the single environmental issue within the world today that affects the largest number of people.

There are many environmental issues that are going to have a big effect as the century unfolds—things like climate change and biodiversity loss— and there are many environmental issues that affect limited populations, like air pollution.

But when you look over the entire world, about two people out of every five are directly materially impacted by land degradation.

Q: What are some of the challenges around acting on land degradation? And what action(s) should governments take to overcome such challenges? 

The biggest single constraining factor is the fragmentation of land issues across many authorities … This is costing us, in terms of lost production and risks, billions and billions of dollars. But it’s not obvious to anyone because no one sees the full picture.

I think you need to attack the problem of integration between authorities at multiple levels.

First, the kind of management we do on the land physically has to move to what we call landscape-scale management. In other words, you don’t look at all the little bits individually, you actually look across the landscape and then you fit the bits into it.

When you get a level up, which is national management, it’s probably better that we do this by arranging for more than communication but coordination between the various agencies which have partial responsibility.

We also need coordination at the international level because although land degradation has its primary impact on the local level, many of the drivers of the causes of it have international manifestations.

So you can’t solve it purely at the local level—you have to have a national level which sets in place the right policies, and you need an international level to ensure, for instance, that global trade does not take place in such a way that it drives land degradation.

Q: Is it a matter of achieving land degradation neutrality or do people need to make a shift in lifestyle?

Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

We do need to achieve land degradation neutrality, which is basically equivalent to saying that you are halting the decline. The only way to achieve that in the long term is to alter many of our lifestyle impacts because it is those that are ultimately driving the increasing degradation of the land.

Land degradation neutrality is the strategy we would take but it has to be underpinned by these bigger scale changes in the demands that we put on ecosystems.

Q: What is your message to the international community to act on this issue? 

I am concerned that not enough is being done.

There’s a distribution of responsibility—you can’t solve this all at the international level nor all at the local level. It requires really strong action at all of those levels.

If you think of the Rio Conventions—the three conventions including the Climate Change Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, and the one related to land degradation, which was specifically around dry land degradation—the climate convention has moved forward with some ground breaking international collaborative agreements. Biodiversity is sort of moving forward but perhaps not as fast, and the convention on desertification hasn’t gone anywhere at all. The question is why?

Partly, because up until now, this has not been seen as a critically important issue. [It is an] ‘it affects far away people; it doesn’t affect us’ kind of issue.

What we point out is that both the causes and the consequences ultimately end up being international so it does affect everyone.

It’s a key driver of both the biodiversity loss and climate change, and that’s one of the reasons we have to raise its profile and address it sooner rather than later.

Other ambitions like many of the Sustainable Development Goals will not be possible unless we sort this one out too.

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Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

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Family Planning Is A Human Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/family-planning-human-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-human-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/family-planning-human-right/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2018 07:32:15 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156639 It has been five decades since the international community affirmed the right to family planning but women still remain unable to enjoy this right, which is increasingly under attack around the world. For World Population Day, held annually on Jul. 11, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has focused its attention on “Family Planning is […]

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A basket of condoms passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Without publicly funded family planning services or information, we can only expect to see higher rates of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and infant mortality in the U.S. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2018 (IPS)

It has been five decades since the international community affirmed the right to family planning but women still remain unable to enjoy this right, which is increasingly under attack around the world.

For World Population Day, held annually on Jul. 11, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has focused its attention on “Family Planning is a Human Right,” and aptly so.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights where family planning was, for the first time, understood to be a human right.“Chipping away at women’s access to information is a direct attack on their access to healthcare, and the right to make informed autonomous decisions about their lives and their bodies,” said Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher Amanda Klasing.

“Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children,” the Tehran Proclamation from the conference states.

The historic meeting also linked the right to the “dignity and worth of the human person.”

“Family planning is not only a matter of human rights; it is also central to women’s empowerment, reducing poverty, and achieving sustainable development,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director Natalia Kanem.

However, in developing countries, more than 200 million women still lack safe and effective family planning methods largely due to the lack of information or services.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently found that clinical guidelines are followed in less than 50 percent of cases in poorer nations, resulting in “deficient” family planning.

In such circumstances and without access to contraception, women and girls often turn to dangerous methods such as ingesting or inserting vinegar, which can cause bodily damage.

UNFPA found that in one country, the stiff plastic wrapper of an ice popsicle is used as a replacement for condoms which could result in genital lacerations.

While such practices have generally decreased, countries like Yemen where conflict has restricted access to family planning are seeing more women using unsafe, traditional methods of contraception.

In other places such as the United States, family planning is deliberately under attack.

Just a year after implementing the global gag rule, which cuts off international family planning funds to any foreign nongovernmental organization who advocate or even give information about abortion, the Trump administration is now turning inwards and targeting its own.

Title X is a USD300 million government programme dedicated to helping the four million low-income women who wish to access birth control and other family planning services

However, new proposed regulations echo a sense of a “domestic gag rule” by restricting people’s access to family planning care. One such proposal forbids doctors from counselling patients with unplanned pregnancies about their reproductive options and instead advocates coercing pregnant patients towards having children regardless of their own wishes.

The scenario can already be seen playing out across the country.

Recently in California, the Supreme Court reversed a law that required crisis pregnancy centres, which often trick women into believing they provide family planning services, to provide full disclosure.

The Supreme Court found that it “imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

“It’s clear the U.S. government is taking more and more swipes at a fundamental aspect of the right to health—the right to information,” said Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher Amanda Klasing.

“Chipping away at women’s access to information is a direct attack on their access to healthcare, and the right to make informed autonomous decisions about their lives and their bodies,” she continued.

Withholding such essential resources and information from women also heightens the risk of ill-health or even death for newborns.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, women with unintended pregnancies, which is often higher among the poor, often receive worse prenatal care and poor birth outcomes. When women are able to decide when to have children and space out their pregnancies, their children are less likely to be born prematurely or have low birth weights.

Already, a study found that U.S. babies are three times more likely to die compared to 19 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development largely due to high poverty rates and a weak social safety net.

Without publicly funded family planning services or information, we can only expect to see higher rates of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and infant mortality in the U.S.

And now with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has a history of undermining women’s reproductive freedom, we may even see worse including the dismantling of the historic Roe v. Wade case which legalised abortions.

If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and meeting all family planning needs, the international community should not forget its affirmation at the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights.

“Investments in family planning today are investments in the health and well-being of women for generations to come,” Kanem concluded.

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United Nations Compact Must End Child Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention/#respond Sat, 07 Jul 2018 06:17:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156589 World leaders must commit to ending child migrant detention during United Nations negotiations next week, a human rights group said. Leaders from around the world are due to convene to discuss the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement on managing international migration which is in its final stage of negotiations. As images and […]

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People gathered in the United States to protest against immigrant children being taken from their families last month. The protesters called for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S. Credit: Fibonacci Blue

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

World leaders must commit to ending child migrant detention during United Nations negotiations next week, a human rights group said.

Leaders from around the world are due to convene to discuss the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement on managing international migration which is in its final stage of negotiations.

As images and stories of children trapped in detention centres in the United States continue to come out, Amnesty International (AI) has called on negotiation participants to end child detention. “Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the USA irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action.”

“The appalling scenes in the U.S. have illustrated why an international commitment to ending child migration detention is so desperately needed – these negotiations could not have come at a more crucial time,” said AI’s Senior Americas Advocate Perseo Quiroz.

“Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the U.S. irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action,” he added.

As a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and detained since May after crossing the country’s southern border.

Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S.

“At the U.N. next week there is a real opportunity for states to show they are serious about ending child migration detention for good by pushing for the strongest protections possible for all children, accompanied or otherwise,” Quiroz said.

The current draft of the GCM does mention the issue including a clause to “work to end the practice of child detention in the context of international migration” and to “use migration detention only as a last resort.”

However, AI believes the language is not strong enough as there is no circumstance in which migration-related detention of children is justified.

While U.S. president Donald Trump has signed an executive order reversing the family separation policy, he has replaced it with a policy of detaining entire families together.

This means that children, along with their parents, can be detained for a prolonged and indefinite period of time.

“Now is not the time to look away,” said Brian Root and Rachel Schmidt from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Family separation and detention policies are symptoms are a much larger global issue: how receiving countries treat migrants, who are often fleeing unstable and/or violent situations,” they added.

Recently, Oxfam found that children as young as 12 are physically abused, detained, and illegally returned to Italy by French border guards, contrary to French and European Union laws.

Over 4,000 child migrants have passed through the Italian border town of Ventimiglia between July 2017 and April 2018. The majority are fleeing persecution and conflict in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea, and Syria and are often trying to reach relatives or friends in other European countries.

Children have reported being detained overnight in French cells without food, water, or blankets and with no access to an official guardian.

In Australia, over 200 children are in asylum-seeker detention centres including on Nauru and are often detained for months, if not years.

“The Global Compact on Migration…offers some hope, but it will not work if many countries continue to see the issue purely in terms of border control,” HRW said.

“In addition, this compact will have little effect on an American president who seems to hold contempt for the idea of international cooperation,” they continued.

Last year, the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, just days before  a migration conference in Mexico, citing that the document undermines the country’s sovereignty.

Though the GCM itself is also not legally binding, AI said that it is politically binding and establishes a basis for future discussions on migration.

“Recent events have shone a spotlight on the brutal realities of detaining children simply because their parents are on the move, and we hope this will compel other governments to take concrete steps to protect all children from this cruel treatment,” Quiroz said.

Starting on Jul. 9, leaders of the 193 U.N. member states will meet in New York to agree on the final text of the GCM.

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-way-forward-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/#respond Wed, 04 Jul 2018 08:12:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156531 Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives. While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard […]

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemen - A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2018 (IPS)

Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives.

While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard Rodier told IPS that it was a “failed opportunity.”

“We didn’t have the right people because those who are in a position to make political decisions, the kind of decisions that we need, were not there,” he said.

The conference was co-chaired by Saudi Arabia, one of the parties to the Yemeni conflict, and France, who has long backed the Saudi-led coalition, raising concerns over the event’s credibility.

“We all know that the main problem is man-made and if you really need to find a solution, you need the two parties around the table…we cannot expect from a conference that is only representing one party to the conflict that is supported by allies or countries that have interest on the one-side of the conflict to reach a significant political gain,” Rodier told IPS.

An Escalation of Violence

Since violence broke out three years ago, 22 million Yemenis are now dependent on aid and over eight million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

After a four-day visit, United Nations Children Agency’s (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore observed what was left of children in the war-ravaged country.

“I saw what three years of intense war after decades of underdevelopment and chronic global indifference can do to children: taken out of school, forced to fight, married off, hungry, dying from preventable diseases,” she said.

Approximately 11 million children — more than the population of Switzerland — are currently in need of food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.

Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

“These are only numbers we have been able to verify. The actual figures could be even higher. There is no justification for this carnage,” Fore said.

Violence has only escalated in the past month after a Saudi-led offensive in Hodeidah, which has already displaced 43,000, left three million at risk of famine and cholera, and provoked an international outcry.

Fore said that basic commodities such as cooking gas has dwindled, electricity is largely unavailable, and water shortages are severe in most of the western port city.

Prior to the war, Hodeidah’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports including fuel, food, and humanitarian aid.

“In Hodeida, as in the rest of the country, the need for peace has never been more urgent,” Fore said.

“Parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them should rally behind diplomatic efforts to prevent a further worsening of the situation across the country and to resume peace negotiations,” she added.

However, the struggle for control over Hodeidah forced Paris’ humanitarian conference to downgrade from a ministerial-level event to a technical meeting, preventing any political discussion on the crisis.

“It became a very technical meeting with different workshops to discuss things that really then would have needed the presence of people who have a knowledge of what is happening on the ground. It is good to have workshops and technical discussions with the right people at the table,” Rodier said.

But who are the right people?

A New Hope?

Many are now looking to new U.N. Envoy to Yemen’s Martin Griffiths whose recent efforts have sparked some hope for a possible ceasefire and peace deal.

“The U.N. Special Envoy is in the best position to lead this process. He should receive all the backing from all the countries that are presenting good will and that want to see progress,” Rodier told IPS.

Griffiths has been meeting with both parties to the conflict who have agreed to temporarily halt the assault on Hodeidah and have expressed a willingness to return to the negotiating table after two years of failed attempts.

While control over the port city was a point of contention that led to the failure of previous talks, Griffiths said that the Houthi rebels offered the U.N. a lead role in managing the port — a proposal that both parties accepted and a move that could help restart negotiations and prevent further attacks.

He expressed hope that an upcoming U.N. Security Council meeting will result in a proposal to be presented to the Yemenis.

However, political commitment and international support is sorely needed in order for such an initiative to be successful.

For the past three years, the Security Council has been largely silent on the crisis in Yemen and the U.N. continues to be lenient on Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of human rights.

The U.N.’s recent Children and Armed Conflict report noted that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for more than half of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2017. The report also accused both Houthis and the Saudi coalition of recruiting almost 1,000 child soldiers — some as young as 11 years old.

However, the Secretary-General failed to include the coalition in his report’s list of shame.

Instead, the coalition was put on a special list for countries that put in place “measures to improve child protection” despite a U.N. expert panel having found that that any action taken by Saudi Arabia to minimise child casualties has been “largely ineffective.”

Rodier urged for the international community to maintain a sense of urgency over Yemen.

“We need to have another kind of conference with the ambition to have political gains that is U.N.-led and it has to happen soon,” he told IPS.

“We need some kind of mediation…there will be no military solution to the humanitarian crisis today in Yemen. It has to be a political solution,” Rodier added.

Fore echoed similar sentiments, highlighting the need for a political solution to the conflict.

“We all need to give peace a chance. It is the only way forward,” she said.

It is now up to the international community to step up to the plate to prevent further suffering and violations. If not, peace will continue to remain elusive with repercussions that will last generations.

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America First or America Alone?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/america-first-america-alone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=america-first-america-alone http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/america-first-america-alone/#respond Thu, 21 Jun 2018 19:50:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156347 The United States’ move to withdraw from the Human Rights Council will have “reverberations” throughout the world in years to come, say human rights groups. This week, the U.S. announced its intention to withdraw from the 47-member Human Rights Council, accusing it of bias against Israel. “The Human Rights Council has been a protector of […]

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

The United States’ move to withdraw from the Human Rights Council will have “reverberations” throughout the world in years to come, say human rights groups.

This week, the U.S. announced its intention to withdraw from the 47-member Human Rights Council, accusing it of bias against Israel.

“The Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in a statement.

Nikki R. Haley, new United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations presented her credentials to Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

While it comes as no surprise to many, the move has been condemned by global human rights groups.

“It is the latest in a series of gestures that says we’re really only interested in transactional diplomacy—you give us something we want, and we give you something you want and we better get a better deal,” Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Scott Paul told IPS, noting that it undermines human rights around the world.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar echoed similar comments on the U.S.’ “one dimensional” policy to IPS, stating: “By turning their back on the UN with this decision, they also turn their back on victims in Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Burma—all just because of this concern with Israel.”

Created in 2006, the Human Rights Council (HRC) plays a vital role in addressing rights violations around the world. It has initiated investigations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan while also raising awareness and discussing key topics such as disability rights and violence against women.

Last month, the Council accused Israel of excessive use of force during demonstrations at the border and voted to probe killings in Gaza.

Paul also noted that the U.S. withdrawal is ill-timed as the country’s human rights record is “rightly” under the spotlight.

Most recently, the human rights body blasted President Donald Trump’s immigration policy of separating children from parents at the southern border. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the policy “unconscionable.”

A new report by the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston has also found and criticized the North American nation’s policies which have “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.”

“Quitting this body doesn’t in any way protect you from the scrutiny of the world, or from being assessed by international standards of human rights law…all of those issues are going to continue to be discussed,” Kumar said.

In a letter, Haley attacked human rights groups including Human Rights Watch for opposing her recent push for a General Assembly vote on changes to the Council.

“You put yourself on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue. You should know that your efforts to block negotiations and thwart reform were a contributing factor in the U.S. decision to withdraw from the council,” Haley wrote.

Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau called it “outrageous” and that blaming organizations for the country’s own failure is “taking a page out of the book of some of the worst governments around the world.”

Though Haley promised to continue to work to reform the HRC and to engage in human rights in other fora such as the Security Council, it could be difficult to make significant progress.

For instance, China, a member of both the HRC and the Security Council, has blocked a number of justice and accountability measures at the Security Council including those concerning Syria.

Russia has vetoed Security Council action on Syria 12 times, and very little progress has been made to help protect Syrians.

“So its a rhetorical slight of hand for her to say that the U.S. is still committed to human rights and will pursue it in other spaces when they are walking away from the primary body dedicated to human rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Not only are they withdrawing their membership, the U.S., with almost 18 months remaining on its term, is refusing to attend anymore meetings.

Kumar noted that the move is “really rare” as countries often attend meetings if they come up on the body’s agenda and even if they are not members but are committed to human rights.

“To say that they are not going to come at all is a pretty significant step away from multilateralism,” she said.

“It is really deeply disappointing,” Paul said, noting the withdrawal is a major step back from the U.S.’ legacy at the HRC.

While their engagement with the Council has been spotty, the U.S. has helped some of the body’s key decisions such as the creation of a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in North Korea.

The U.S. has also played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka.

While the HRC is not a perfect institution, the U.S. move to abandon ship does not help the Council either, Paul noted.

“I don’t think we should expect perfection over institutions, I think we should work to make them more perfect…simply walking away because it’s not going so well or because we are not getting everything we want isn’t actually the way to make things better,” he told IPS.

“They are taking themselves off the field and out of really important conversations and that’s something that is going to have reverberations for years to come,” Kumar reiterated.

And just because the U.S. is leaving the Council also does not mean that the North American nation should leave behind its commitments to human rights.

“At some point, we will be back at the table. And in the meantime, we will be doing everything we can to hold our own government to account,” Paul concluded.

The U.S. joined the HRC in 2009, previously refusing to be involved under the Bush administration due to concerns over the body’s members.

Among the HRC’s members are Burundi, the Philippines, and Venezuela.

It is the first time a member has voluntarily withdrawn from the Council.

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Project Population: Addressing Asia’s Ageing Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies-2/#respond Wed, 20 Jun 2018 00:02:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156301 While populations have seen and undergone changes since the beginning of time, one trend in particular is unfolding across the world: less children, older people. In an effort to tackle the complex issue in Asia, government officials are convening to help create a sustainable society where no one is left behind. In Mongolia’s capital of […]

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A seventy-year-old woman laughs with family members inside a grocery store in Tachilek, Myanmar. UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2018 (IPS)

While populations have seen and undergone changes since the beginning of time, one trend in particular is unfolding across the world: less children, older people. In an effort to tackle the complex issue in Asia, government officials are convening to help create a sustainable society where no one is left behind.

In Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, 40 Members of Parliament (MPs) are gathering to discuss sound policy approaches to population issues such as ageing and fertility transition which threaten the future of many Asian nations.

“This is an essential step to mitigating the impact of ageing on social systems and structures to achieve SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals),” the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Mongolia’s Director Naomi Kitahara told IPS.

By 2030, Asia could be home to over 60 percent of the total population aged 65 years or older worldwide, consulting group Deloitte calculated.

According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), East and Northeast Asian countries have the largest such population, accounting for 56 percent of all older persons in the Asia-Pacific region and 32 percent in the world.

Not only is the scale of population ageing in Asia unprecedented, but so is its speed.

In France, the percentage of older people grew from 7 percent to 20 percent in approximately 150 years. However, the same demographic shift was seen in Japan within just 40 years.

Kitahara particularly pointed to Japan’s case as a prime example of population issues and their repercussions.

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.

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: a smaller labor force and spending decreases which weaken the economy and discourage families from having children, which then weakens the economy further.

“Without the younger generation, this system will not be able to maintain,” Secretary-General of the Asian Population Development Association (APDA) Dr. Osamu Kusumoto told IPS, highlighting the importance of fertility research.

“To achieve the SDGs, an understanding of fertility transition is essential. Proper social policies on fertility to mitigate rapid changes have to be considered,” Dr. Kusumoto said.

“High fertility and extremely low fertility may harm the society,” he added.

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, and when the number of older persons grows faster than the working-age population, there are less funds for pensions and social security, thus creating an even weaker economy.

As many Asian countries are expected to follow in Japan’s footsteps, the parliamentarian gathering seems come at a critical juncture.

“This meeting gives countries the opportunity to learn from Japan’s current challenges, as well as successes…[it] provides an opportunity for other countries to share their experience,” Kitahara said.

And it is no coincidence that the meeting is taking place in Mongolia.

Mongolia, unlike many other Asian nations, has had a stable fertility rate of 3.1 and a slowly ageing population of 6 percent. This is in large part due to its population policies which have allowed for not only population growth, but also economic growth.

For instance, the recently approved Youth Development Law supports young Mongolians’ needs in relation to the economy, employment, health, and education including through the Youth Development Fund which provides access to development fund opportunities.

The new policy has also led to the establishment of youth development centers across the country which focus on skills development, helping young people grow into resilient and self-sufficient adults.

The East Asian nation is among the few countries in the region to have a law designated specifically for young people.

However, more must be done in Mongolia, Kitahara noted.

“To achieve the SDGs by 2030 Mongolia must give more attention to social and demographic issues, as well as giving and spending budgets for social and environmental aspects of sustainable development,” she told IPS.

“For instance, there is not sufficient funding to meet the need for modern contraceptives, and this has led to increased unmet need for family planning and reduced contraceptive prevalence,” Kitahara added.

Despite having been one of nine countries in the world that achieved the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG) maternal mortality reduction target, Mongolia’s maternal mortality rate doubled in 2016 largely due to state budget cuts and a lack of access to contraception.

The role of parliamentarians is therefore critical in not only making laws, but also providing state budgets and fiscal management, issues that are set to be discussed during the meeting in Ulaanbaatar.

Kitahara also emphasized the need to employ a human rights lens in population policies and programs, giving individuals and couples to choose when and how many children they wish to have.

In an effort to address its ageing population and a shrinking labor force, China is now considering abandoning its two-child policy which put a cap on a family’s size.

The controversial policy contributed to its uneven demographics as the East Asian nation predicts that approximately a quarter of the population will be over the age of 60 by 2030.

It has also led to a gender imbalance with over 30 million more men than women.

Kitahara highlighted the need to provide equitable access to quality family planning information and services, in line with the SDGs.

“The ability to have children by choice and not by chance transforms communities, lives and countries…by ensuring that the rights of women and girls are respected, and they have access to reproductive health information and services, including contraception and family planning,” she concluded.

Dr. Kusumoto echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Nobody should interfere in other’s lives, but a constructive healthy society is essential to future of each society.”

Organized by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), the “Strengthening the Capacity of Parliamentarians for the Achievement of the SDGs: Ageing, Fertility and Youth Empowerment” meeting is also supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

Among the countries participating in the 12-13 June meeting is Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Lao, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

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Human Rights Must Be on the Table During U.S.-North Korea Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2018 06:54:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156112 Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert. In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights […]

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Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, addresses the Assembly’s annual general debate. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert.

In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Tomás Ojea Quintana called for human rights issues to be a topic of discussion.

“At some point, whether [in] the next summit or other summits to come or meetings, it is very important that human rights are raised,” Quintana said.

“I am not of the opinion that a human rights dialogue will undermine the opening and the talks on denuclearization at all,” he added.

Instead, DPRK’s participation in a discussion on human rights will give them “credibility” and “show that they want to become a normal state.”

While they have signed and ratified several human rights treaties, North Korea remains one of the most repressive, authoritarian states in the world

A 2014 UN report found systematic, gross human rights violations committed by the government including forced labor, enslavement, torture, and imprisonment.

It is estimated that up to 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps in the East Asian nation, often referred to as the “world’s biggest open prison.”

“My call is for an amnesty, a general amnesty that includes these prisoners, and it is a concrete call,” Quintana said.

The UN Commission of Inquiry also found the “inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Approximately two in five North Koreans are undernourished and more than 70 percent of the population rely on food aid.

Most North Koreans also lack access to basic services such as healthcare or sanitation.

Diarrhea and pneumonia are the two main causes of death for children under five, the report said.

It wouldn’t be the first time that President Trump has taken a strong stance on North Korea.

“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea,” Trump said during his first speech to the General Assembly in 2017.

“It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior,” he added.

In an open letter, more than 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world have also called on North Korea to reform its regime and hope the upcoming meeting will urge human rights improvements as part of any agreement.

“North Korea’s increased dialogue with other countries is a positive step, but before the world gets too excited they should remember that Kim Jong Un still presides over perhaps the most repressive system in the world,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams.

“As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected, so any security discussion needs to include human rights,” he continued.

Human Rights Watch is among the human rights organizations that signed the letter.

Among the letter’s calls to actions, organizations urged Kim Jong Un to act on UN human rights recommendations, increase engagement with the international human rights system, end abuses in detention and prisons, and to accept international humanitarian aid for needy communities.

“If [Kim Jong Un] really wants to end North Korea’s international isolation, he should take strong and quick action to show the North Korean people and the world that he is committed to ending decades of rights abuses,” Adams said.

Quintana echoed similar sentiments, noting that human rights issues were sidelined over two decades ago when the U.S. and the DPRK signed an agreement to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and again during recent six-party talks.

“Those processes, although they were well-intentioned, were not successful,” he said.

“For this new process to be successful, my humble opinion as a human rights rapporteur is that the human rights dialogue should be included because it is part of the discussion. Human rights and security and peace are interlinked, definitely, and this is the situation where we can prove that,” Quintana continued.

Otherwise, any denuclearization agreement would send the “wrong message” and prevent the two parties from building a “sustainable agreement.”

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When Two Becomes One: Blending Public and Private Climate Financehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/two-becomes-one-blending-public-private-climate-finance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-becomes-one-blending-public-private-climate-finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/two-becomes-one-blending-public-private-climate-finance/#comments Wed, 23 May 2018 05:27:21 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155888 With the landmark Paris Agreement now almost two years old, funding for climate-related activities continues to be a challenge. However, efforts have been underway to bring two seemingly very different sectors together to address climate change. While developed countries have committed to channeling 100 billion dollars to developing countries by 2020, trillions may be needed […]

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The Erie Shores wind farm in Ontario, Canada. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2018 (IPS)

With the landmark Paris Agreement now almost two years old, funding for climate-related activities continues to be a challenge. However, efforts have been underway to bring two seemingly very different sectors together to address climate change.

While developed countries have committed to channeling 100 billion dollars to developing countries by 2020, trillions may be needed in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

“Trying to address climate change at current financing levels is like walking into a Category 5 hurricane protected by only an umbrella,” said head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa during a conference.

“Right now, we are talking in millions and billions of dollars when we should be speaking in trillions,” she continued.

Achieving the ambitious climate goals set out by the international community will require major financial investments by both the public and private sectors in order to fill funding gaps.

It also requires coming up with ways for the two sectors to work together.

“International organizations such as the Global Green Institute (GGGI) and development banks are trying and testing different structures, different methods of financing, different blends of public and private financing all the time. And occasionally, things work,” GGGI’s Principal Climate Finance Specialist Fenella Aouane told IPS.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up by UNFCC, was given an important role to serve the Paris Agreement and has since used public investment to mobilize private finance towards low-emission, climate-resilient development.

In March, the GCF approved concessional funding to 23 projects in developing countries valued together at 1 billion dollars.

“This large volume of projects for both mitigation and adaptation – and the additional USD 60 million for readiness support – shows that GCF is ready to shift gear in supporting developing countries to achieve their climate goals…. The projects adopted here will make a real impact in the face of climate challenges,” said GCF Co-Chair Paul Oquist.

Aouane echoed similar sentiments about GCF’s efforts to IPS, stating: “They are testing the waters but that was a very good move by the GCF to say if we’re going to get the private sector, we have got to start dealing with them.”

And waving a magic wand won’t get the private sector, whose sole purpose is to make profits, to funnel money into climate mitigation and adaptation.

“[We need] to make projects more attractive for private sector investment. Reduce the costs, reduce the risks, and do a few using that concessional funding to show that they worked,” Aouane said.

Already, successes can be seen in renewable energy development.

With the help of concessional finance and continued political will, there has been a boom in renewable energy development across the world, opening the door to more players.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the private sector paved the way in renewable energy investment in 2016, providing 92 percent of funding compared to 8 percent from the public sector.

This has helped rapidly reduce the cost of renewable energy, which is set to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.

In fact, solar and wind energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world.

The forestry sector, on the other hand, is finding it more difficult to attract investments, Aouane told IPS.

“Forestry is a struggle in the sense of what is return, where do you make your money in a project?” she said.

But there is an ongoing initiative by the aviation industry that could help protect forests, Aouane noted.

In an effort to offset its carbon emissions, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has looked to buy credits from projects that reduce emissions such as forestry.

This could not only help level out their emissions, but also help nations protect their forests from deforestation and ensure biodiversity.

“If they do this, then there will be a possible clear return for investors in forestry because they will be able to purchase the forest and then sell the emission reduction assets to an airline who will pay for it. If the price is sufficient, then it’s attractive enough for the private sector,” Aouane said.

The idea has been controversial, however, with environmental groups noting that the move is not enough to substantially offset or reduce emissions.

The environmental group Fern also found that the Virgin Atlantic airline’s carbon offsetting projects in Cambodia have actually led to local residents being “exploited and kicked off their land,” while another project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by Austrian Airlines and the San Diego Airport has resulted in increased deforestation.

Other challenges arise when bringing together two very different sectors with different goals, Aouane said.

“Using some World Bank finance and some GCF finance is relatively simple because they are both heading in the same direction culturally. But when the private sector gets involved, there can often be an issue with trying to get mindsets to work together,” she told IPS.

“You can imagine that the mindsets are very different about how you put a deal together and how you actually get the motives right that the project is right for everybody,” Aouane continued.

The GCF provides a model for bringing the two sectors together, and its new projects could help the private sector become even more involved. But it will take time, Aouane said.

“There is work happening, but I think quite often people forget how long it takes for things to change…but it will get done,” Aouane said.

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To Have Children or Not: The Importance of Finding a Balancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/children-not-importance-finding-balance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-not-importance-finding-balance http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/children-not-importance-finding-balance/#comments Fri, 11 May 2018 18:48:35 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155735 While the world’s population has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, little is still understood about fertility transition and the reasons behind it. Over the last half a century, the global fertility rate has halved, reaching a level of 2.5 births per woman. At the same time, the UN estimates that there will be […]

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While the world’s population has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, little is still understood about fertility transition and the reasons behind it.

Credit: Bigstock

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2018 (IPS)

While the world’s population has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, little is still understood about fertility transition and the reasons behind it.

Over the last half a century, the global fertility rate has halved, reaching a level of 2.5 births per woman.

At the same time, the UN estimates that there will be 11 billion people in the world by 2100.

Given such trends, more needs to be understood about the factors that influence fertility rates, but not enough is known about it, Secretary-General of the Asian Population Development Association (APDA) Dr. Osamu Kusumoto told IPS.

“In general, fertility transition is not properly examined yet. Demographers usually analyze statistics over the cause of statistics,” he said.

But what exactly is fertility transition?

The phenomenon refers to the shift from high fertility to low fertility which first began in North America and Western Europe in the nineteenth century. A similar process was then seen across developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

While some believe that the shift was a response to declining mortality rates, others have looked to culture and socioeconomic factors as driving fertility transition.

“Value determines the behavior,” Dr. Kusumoto told IPS, pointing to Mongolia as an example.

In the 1950s, Mongolia accelerated its social development with help from the Soviet Union.

Following socialist economic models, significant progress was also made in education and health and pro-natalist policies were implemented, leading to an unprecedented rise in fertility rates.

Between the late 1950s to the 1980s alone, Mongolia’s population doubled from 780,000 to 2 million.

But what exactly is fertility transition?

The phenomenon refers to the shift from high fertility to low fertility which first began in North America and Western Europe in the nineteenth century. A similar process was then seen across developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.


However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia’s birth rates plummeted—a rare occurrence for a country in poverty and seemingly a response to the country’s poor socioeconomic conditions.

Many researchers including Dr. Kusumoto also believe the Central Asian nation’s transition to democracy and a market economy have also influenced fertility rates.

For instance, with more freedoms and improved access to education, women have become more empowered.

Unlike many developing countries, Mongolian women are better educated than men, comprising 62 percent of higher education graduates in 2015. They also have lower rates of unemployment than their male counterparts.

While Mongolians postponed childbearing during the chaos of the 1990s, the rise in female education has led to delays in marriage along with delays in having children.

With the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), future demographic trends may be affected around the world.

The SDGs include specific targets on mortality, health, and education, and researchers believe that its implementation can help reduce population growth.

However, in order to achieve the SDGs, fertility research is needed.

“To achieve the SDGs, an understanding of fertility transition is essential. Proper social policies on fertility to mitigate rapid changes have to be considered,” Dr. Kusumoto said.

“Proper fertility is essential, high fertility and extremely low fertility may harm the society,” he added.

Though they are one of the most prosperous nations in Asia, Japan has seen its fertility rate decline to unsustainable levels and has sparked concerns over the social and economic impact of extremely low fertility.

Today, Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 children per woman which has caused the population to decline 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 discourages families from having children, which then weakens the economy further.

At the same time, with a higher life expectancy and a larger ageing population, there are less revenues and higher expenditures for the government, less funds for pensions and social security, and an even weaker economy.

“In Japan, to have children is not rational choice for young individuals because we have social security to support old age…without the younger generation, this system will not be able to maintain…in the future social security that is the supportive condition for their rational choice will be missing,” Dr. Kusumoto said.

At the other end of the scale, African countries such as Nigeria are experiencing the fastest population increases.

By 2050, Nigeria will become the world’s third largest country by population.

The UN predicts that one-third of all people—almost 4 billion—will be African by 2100.

This could hamper efforts to achieve key SDGs such as ending poverty and ensuring peace and prosperity.

“From this point of view, the fertility issue is an equally essential requirement for achieving SDGs,” Dr. Kusumoto reiterated.

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“I Wake Up Screaming”: Gaza’s Children Bear the Brunt of Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence/#comments Thu, 10 May 2018 05:33:48 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155696 Reham Qudaih wakes up nightly to the same nightmare: her father shot, lying on the ground in a pool of blood. “In my dreams he is on the ground shot. When I have that dream – which I’ve had more than once I wake up screaming,” she told the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). In a […]

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Palestinian child on donkey cart next to garbage container in Gaza City. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2018 (IPS)

Reham Qudaih wakes up nightly to the same nightmare: her father shot, lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

“In my dreams he is on the ground shot. When I have that dream – which I’ve had more than once I wake up screaming,” she told the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

In a recent study, NRC found that children living in the Gaza Strip are experiencing are showing increasing signs of psychosocial deterioration since clashes reignited in the region.

“The violence children are witnessing in Gaza comes on top of an already worsening situation negatively impacting their mental wellbeing,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland.

“They have faced three devastating wars and have been living under occupation for the past 11. Now they are once again faced with the horrifying prospect of losing their loved ones, as they see more and more friends and relatives getting killed and injured,” he continued.

Now in their sixth week, ongoing protests at the border between Gaza and Israel have left over 40 killed and more than 5,500 injured since its inception in March.

While Palestinian demonstrators are reportedly using burning tires and wirecutters to breach the barbed-wire border fence, Israeli forces have retaliated with rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Dubbed the ‘Great Return March,’ the demonstrations are centered on Palestinian refugees’ right to return and resettle in Israel.

NRC’s study—which saw 300 school children aged 10 to 12 surveyed—found that 56 per cent reported they were suffering from nightmares.

Principals from 20 schools also reported a rise in symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children, including fears, anxiety, stress and nightmares.

The principals ranked increased psychosocial support in schools as their top need currently.

One of the many schools in Gaza damaged in Israeli attacks. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Qudaih is fourteen and lives in the Gaza strip. She has suffered from ongoing nightmares since the 2014 Gaza-Israeli conflict.

She was making progress in coping with her trauma, but much was unravelled after her father was shot in the leg while attending the protests.

On the day that Qudaih’s father was shot, Israeli troops killed 20 Palestinian protesters and wounded more than 700 – including children.

“We went there [to the protests] to reclaim our rights that were taken away by the occupation…we do not have electricity, rights or food. We don’t get any treatment or a chance to play,” Qudaih said.

Since 2007, Gaza has faced an economic blockade by Israel and Egypt, contributing to a persistent humanitarian crisis.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), half of the region’s children depend on humanitarian assistance and one in four needs pscyhosocial care.

The United States’ recent move to cut aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees further threatens the already very fragile community.

In addition, there is a lack of medicine and health equipment while power cuts and fuel shortages have disrupted water and sanitation services leaving nine out of 10 families without regular access to safe water.

If such trends continue, the UN has predicted that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.

Inconsolable since the incident, Qudaih constantly worries about the safety of her family and her future.

And her nightmares keep on returning.

Sadly, her story is not a unique for the children living in the Gaza strip.

“The escalating violence in Gaza has exacerbated the suffering of children whose lives have already been unbearably difficult for several years,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere.

Apart from the symptoms of severe distress and trauma, Geert added that children are also experiencing physical injuries.

Fourteen-year-old Mohammad Ayoub was among the children that was killed in the protests, significantly impacting the younger members of his family and the larger community.

“Children belong in schools, homes and playgrounds – they should never be targeted or encouraged to participate in violence,” Cappelaere said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Israeli forces to curb the use of “lethal force against unarmed demonstrators,” while questioning “how children…can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”

NRC highlighted the need for long-term investment in psychosocial suppor. t

“For the children we work with, the nightmares continue for months and years after the violence that causes them. For these children they don’t have a chance to recover from previous trauma before fresh layers arise. That builds up,” said Jon-Håkon Schultz, Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway.

“We need people to look seriously and invest in ways that we can counter these harmful psychological impacts,” he added.

The NRC provides psychosocial support to children living in Gaza and provide training for teachers through their Better Learning Programme (BLP) developed in partnership with University of Tromsø in Norway.

One of the features of the program involved screening children for nightmares and helping them work through their re-occurring ones through breathing and drawing exercises.

Qudaih is among the 250,000 children supported by NRC.

“We want to have dignified lives,” she said, urging the need for peaceful demonstrations.

The ‘Great Return March’ began on 30 March and will end on 15 May to mark what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba”, a day that commemorates Palestinians’ displacement after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Marchers have also pointed to the relocation fo the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as a driver for the demonstration, a move that will take place on 15 May.

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Revving Up Green Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/revving-green-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=revving-green-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/revving-green-growth/#respond Fri, 27 Apr 2018 09:55:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155503 While sustainable development may still seem elusive to some, a new initiative wants to pave a path for nations working towards a greener future. Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030, or P4G, is a new partnership initiative that aims to boost countries’ efforts in achieving the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). […]

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African cities are prone to feeling the effects of climate change. Pictured here is the Democratic Republic of Congo capital, Kinshasa. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2018 (IPS)

While sustainable development may still seem elusive to some, a new initiative wants to pave a path for nations working towards a greener future.

Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030, or P4G, is a new partnership initiative that aims to boost countries’ efforts in achieving the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

By creating and accelerating public-private partnerships, P4G could provide market-driven solutions to real life challenges in developing nations.

“There is an increasing conviction and need that to solve some of the more challenging problems, people are wanting an inter-disciplinary forum where they can talk to financiers, companies, banks…they want a forum like that and they want a forum to be quick, practical, and action-oriented,” Global Green Growth Institute’s (GGGI) Assistant Director-General and Head of its Investment and Policy Solutions Division Mahua Acharya told IPS.

“P4G is really one of those coalitions that is responding to needs…where you can bring private companies, governments, and others together and try to get around a single problem,” she continued.

Established by the Government of Denmark, the initiative will bring together leaders in government, civil society, and business to work together in five key sectors in sustainable development: food, water, energy, healthy cities, and circular economy.

But why these sectors in particular?

“Because they present the biggest climate change challenges,” Acharya told IPS.

The world’s cities emit up to 70 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide—and the figure is likely to be even higher when consumption emissions are included, one of P4G’s organizational partners C40 Cities found.

As city populations are predicted to double by 2050, the amount of carbon emissions is only expected to increase.

In response, cities such as New York have already begun to step up and lead the way against climate change.

Despite the United States’ announced withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord, New York aims to cut its carbon emissions from buildings by 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

Buildings account for almost three quarters of the Northeastern American city’s contribution to climate change.

Like what P4G represents, New York’s government has partnered with leaders in the private and non-profit sectors in order to achieve its ambitious goal. With assistance from the Mayor’s Office, a number of partners from universities, hospitals, and commercial offices have already met their 30 percent goal.

Acharya also pointed to the role that innovative partnerships have played in food waste.

Around the world, entrepreneurs have launched apps to help reduce food waste among households, restaurants, and supermarkets.

In the United Kingdom, FoodCloud allows supermarkets and farms to work with charities in order to donate surplus food, while YourLocal in Denmark gives consumers a discount to food that would otherwise go to waste.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food loss and waste account for 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Food waste is also a major source of other greenhouse gases such as methane, a pollutant that is at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

With apps like FoodCloud and YourLocal, stakeholders can work together to create a cleaner, greener society.

Though it will take time for P4G’s partnerships to have concrete results, the initiative acts as a foundation to get the conversation started.

“Can the public sector start to work with private companies towards a solution—short-term, quick, commercial, action-oriented solutions? Can private companies offer solutions that are not just observing but are creating solutions to issues affecting society? They need to come a little closer together and try to speak the same language,” Acharya told IPS.

Over 400 public-private partnerships from over 80 countries have applied to receive funding or support through P4G, proposing a range of solutions to drive sustainable development.

“It was really encouraging, I saw some really revolutionary ideas…I’m very inspired by these partnerships,” Acharya said.

Launched in 2017, P4G awards up to 4 million dollars annually to help between 10-15 partnerships and accelerate sustainable development solutions. Winners will be announced at the first P4G Summit in 19-20 October 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Dreaming of A New Sustainable Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/dreaming-new-sustainable-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dreaming-new-sustainable-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/dreaming-new-sustainable-economy/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 20:59:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155384 Officials from around the world came together to create and support a vision for a new, sustainable economy: a bioeconomy. Almost 1000 bioeconomy experts, from former heads of state to civil society leaders, convened in Berlin for the second Global BIoeconomy Summit to discuss best practices and challenges. Already, over 50 countries have begun to […]

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Bioeconomy - Dreaming of A New Sustainable Economy

Unless leaders act promptly, climate change and environmental degradation will only worsen and cause greater global problems, scientists warn. Credit: Crustmania/ CC by 2.0

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2018 (IPS)

Officials from around the world came together to create and support a vision for a new, sustainable economy: a bioeconomy.

Almost 1000 bioeconomy experts, from former heads of state to civil society leaders, convened in Berlin for the second Global BIoeconomy Summit to discuss best practices and challenges.

Already, over 50 countries have begun to pursue bioeconomy policies in their own ways.

But what exactly is bioeconomy?

Though there is no single definition for the relatively new term, bioeconomy refers to the use of renewable biological resources instead of fossil-based sources for sustainable industrial and energy production. It encompasses various economic activities from agriculture to the pharmaceutical sector.

“How will we feed a growing world population? How will we supply the world with energy and raw materials? How do we react to climate change? The bioeconomy can help us to master these challenges,” said German Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek in her opening address.

“We are facing a huge crisis on climate…people might not be as aware that agriculture and forestry— key parts of the bioeconomy—are in fact major drivers of planetary ill health,”
Frank Rijsberman, Director General, Global Green Growth Institute
“We must use renewable resources, biological knowledge and biotechnological processes to establish a biobased – and above all sustainable – economy,” she continued.

The Globa Bioeconomy Summit provides a forum to discuss such issues and to work towards protecting the ecosystem and developing an economy based on renewability and carbon-neutrality.

Among the speakers and participants at the conference is Global Green Growth Institute’s (GGGI) Director-General Frank Rijsberman.

“We are facing a huge crisis on climate…people might not be as aware that agriculture and forestry— key parts of the bioeconomy—are in fact major drivers of planetary ill health,” he told IPS.

“Our food production system is really not sustainable,” Rijsberman continued.

The world population is expected to grow to over 9 billion by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Feeding such a population means that food production will need to increase by approximately 70 percent. Production in developing countries alone would need to almost double.

However, agriculture, particularly the expansion of agriculture, significantly contributes to increased deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion, and greenhouse gas emissions.

In South America, soybean farming has been a major driver of deforestation across the region including in the Amazon rainforest.

Soy is often used to feed livestock, and as global demand for meat and other soy products have grown, so has deforestation in order to expand soybean production.

According to Greenpeace, almost 70,000 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest was destroyed between 2003-2006 in Brazil alone largely for soybean production. The amount of land lost is larger than the size of Ireland.

Though Brazil recently enacted laws to curb deforestation and disincentivize soybean farming in such areas, concerns still remain across the region.

Rijsberman pointed to Colombia as an example where the government and a rebel group signed a historic peace agreement after a 50-year long conflict.

“Now that there is a peace accord, which is obviously a good thing, the fear is that the part of the country that has not been accessible will suddenly be developed and that like in Brazil, trees will be cut and the cattle ranchers and soybean farmers will destroy the forest,” he told IPS.

Soon after the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), deforestation in the country’s rainforests rose by 44 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Much of the land that was once controlled by FARC has been opened up and lost to illegal logging, mining, cattle ranching, and palm oil production.

GGGI has been working with the Colombian government to come up with alternative ways of developing and using their forests.

“We are trying to support the Colombian government…to get high-value products produced by the forests itself, to have sustainable livelihoods and green jobs…alternatives to cutting the forest down for agriculture,” Rijsberman said.

Other countries have also chipped in, including Norway which has donated $3.5 million over two years to the South American nation to curb deforestation through the adoption of sustainable farming methods and eco-tourism projects.

While bioeconomy can help countries become more green, not all bioeconomy is sustainable, Rijsberman said.

For instance, biofuels, which are made from food crops, have been seen as low-carbon substitutes for liquid fossil fuels to power transportation.

In the United States, 96 percent of ethanol was derived from corn in 2011. Brazil uses sugar cane in order to produce ethanol. Both countries produced 85 percent of the world’s ethanol in 2016.

However, research has shown that the demand for such biofuels leads to the destruction of forests, higher food prices, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, accounting for all factors in production such as land use change, biofuels from palm oil and soybean cause carbon emissions comparable to that of oil from tar sands.

Though research is already underway on new biotechnologies such as deriving clean biofuels from algae, a lot more work is needed to get government policies right, Rijsberman said.

“We need to work together on this issue. We need to find ways to share experiences between countries. That is what this summit helps do—it helps bring people together that share progress in technologies and policies that have worked in different places,” he told IPS.

Karliczek echoed similar sentiments in her opening remarks during the Global Bioeconomy Summit, stating: “We must make use of regional strengths and unite them on the global level because the shift to a sustainable bioeconomy is a global task.”

This involves the inclusion of indigenous communities who are most impacted by harmful environmental policies and are often the frontline defenders of natural resources.

However, they are often marginalized and even killed for their work.

In 2017, 67 percent of activists killed were defending land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of extractive industries and agribusinesses.

Rijsberman also highlighted the need for investments in research and policies as well as technology transfer to countries such as Colombia in order to transform the world’s agriculture and food system into one that is sustainable.

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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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