Inter Press ServiceWill Higginbotham – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 13 Dec 2018 22:40:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Stop Neglecting African Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/stop-neglecting-african-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-neglecting-african-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/stop-neglecting-african-conflicts/#respond Wed, 13 Jun 2018 12:27:32 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156207 Conflicts have uprooted millions across several African nations and we must not forget them, said a human rights group. Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) timely message was published through their annual list of the worlds most neglected displacement crises. “It’s a sad pattern that we are once again seeing that the crises on the African continent […]

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A group of displaced men, women, and children find refuge at a church on the outskirts of Nyunzu village in eastern Congo. Pastor Mbuyu (pictured) looks after them. Credit: NRC/Christian Jepsen

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2018 (IPS)

Conflicts have uprooted millions across several African nations and we must not forget them, said a human rights group.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) timely message was published through their annual list of the worlds most neglected displacement crises.

“It’s a sad pattern that we are once again seeing that the crises on the African continent seldom make media headlines or reach foreign policy agendas before it is too late,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.

This year’s results found that six of the worlds 10 most neglected conflicts are found in Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – where years of civil war have displaced more than 5 million people – topped the list.

South Sudan, Central African Republic, Burundi and Ethiopia rounded out the top five.

But why are such conflicts so neglected?

Lack of political and diplomatic will is among the NRC’s major concerns.

“We – the West – are good at turning a blind eye when there is little geopolitical interest for us,” NRC’s spokesperson Tiril Skarstein told IPS.

“The countries on the list are often considered less strategically important, and that’s why there’s no international interest in finding a solution,” she added.

Skarstein explained that in some countries, the opposite is the case, where there are many actors with conflicting political interests taking part in the conflict. Such are the cases of Yemen and Palestine, where political gains are put before the lives of civilians.

The lack of political will to work towards a solution is one of three criteria on which a crisis is measured in order to be included on the list.

Media Turns A Blind Eye

According to the NRC, the plight of African refugees is also consistently too far removed from the ‘consciousness of the west’ as their stories fail to be told in Western news and media.

If they are, they certainly are not being covered as as much as other humanitarian conflicts in the world.

Expanding on this point, Skarstein drew comparison between Syria and the DRC where the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in both conflicts is approximately 13 million.

“Many people wouldn’t know that. Why? Because the two have had vastly different levels of international exposure,” she told IPS.

Since many of the refugees from the Syria have fled the Assad regime via Europe, many in the West have been forced to “confront and come to terms with their plight.”

“We are literally seeing these people arrive on our doorsteps. In the media, their story in chronicled, tv, online, on social media. And when people get to see others and know their situation people have a tendency to care and act,” Skarstein noted.

Meanwhile, conflicts in the DRC and other African nations often see displaced people flee to neighboring countries.

“They are not arriving on tourist beaches. Crossing one African border to another doesn’t generate the same level of exposure,” Skarstein said.

Less Money, More Problems

Because of the lack of political will and media attention, many of African crises also end up struggling to access humanitarian funds.

“Crises that are given little international attention and are seldom mentioned in the media, are also often declined the financial support needed to meet severe humanitarian needs,” Skarstein told IPS.

DRC is currently the second lowest funded of the world’s largest crises with less than half of the US$812 million aid appeal met.

A further problem is ‘donor fatigue’, a phenomenon whereby the longer a conflict goes on, the harder it is to attract the necessary funding from donors.

“You have conflicts raging for years, sometimes even decades – you get people thinking it’s a hopeless case, it’s all over. We need to fight that,” she said.

So what can get these African conflicts off the most neglected list?

The NRC says the most important thing is for donor states to provide assistance on a needs basis rather than a political one.

The human rights group also highlighted the role of media in bringing attention to overlooked humanitarian disasters.

“Exposure is so critical, that people be heard and listened too is key. The more we speak up about these crises and the more we see of them, the more that can be done,” Skarstein said.

And this list should serve as a reminder to all.

“Just because we do not see these people suffer, it does not make their suffering any less real…importantly, it does not absolve us from our responsibility to act,” Skarstein concluded.

Violence escalated in several parts of the DRC in 2015, forcing almost 2 million people to flee their homes in 2017 alone.

Among the other countries to make this year’s “World’s Most Neglected Displacement Crises” list is the Palestinians territories, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela and Nigeria.

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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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Free Media Under Threat Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-media-threat-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/#comments Wed, 02 May 2018 16:35:27 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155586 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2018 (IPS)

Buoyed on by the likes of United States’ President Donald Trump, a growing number of political leaders are encouraging hostility towards news media and journalists across the globe are finding it harder than ever to do their jobs.

This is among the main findings in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index which examines 180 countries and their relationship with the media.

Mr. Trump signs the UN Secretary-General’s guest book. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

While launching the report, RSF’s Secretary General Christopher Deloire reflected on the erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principles: a free press.

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire,” Deloire said.

U.S. Ranking Drops

According to the report, the U.S. is partly responsible for the downward trend of the media’s image globally.

The report highlights the impact of Trump’s “Fake News” slogan- a reference used to discredit and deny news reports.

“Trump’s ‘fake news’ phenomenon has certainly had a global impact. Leaders of countries both democratic and authoritarian have taken advantage of this language to conflate any critical news coverage with false news coverage or misreporting,” RSF’s North America Director Margaux Ewen told IPS.

Trump’s method of dismissing media has been picked up by a growing number of world leaders, the report found.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but instead as an adversary. Trump himself has called reporters ‘enemies of the people,” Ewen said.

“It’s sad that the U.S. – often seen as a shining beacon of press freedom and democracy is slipping, it’s no longer the gold standard,” she continued.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s report saw the United States drop to number to 45 in the index, down two spots from its 2017 rank.

Europe “Not Perfect”

Whilst European countries Sweden and Norway ranked the freest media environments in the world, the region as a whole had more nations drop down the list than any other.

European nations such as Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Serbia all fell considerably.

“With the rise of populist politics and strongmen leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue,” the report stated.

In Europe, recent high profile journalist killings – the murder of Daphne Galizina in Malta and the Jan Kuciak in Slovakia – have been attributed to the region’s dip in rankings.

The report highlighted several cases where countries have slid in the ranks due to ‘strongmen’ leaders.

For example, Philippines dipped to 133 on the list largely due to its President, Rodrigo Duterte, who often justifies the killing of journalists.

Last year, four journalists where killed in the country for their work, earning it the reputation of the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists.

Turkey also fell in this year’s ranking to 157. Its president, Recap Tayyip Erdogan has long held the media in contempt.

The country now has more reporters in jail than anywhere else in the world.

Similarly, Eritrea came in at at the bottom of the ranking. The report noted that the media are subject to the whim of President Isaias Afeworki who has overseen a deterioration in human rights and global freedoms.

After questioning the government’s authoritarian tendencies, Swedish-Eritrea journalist Dawit Isaak was arrested in 2001. He has been detained for the past 17 years without ever being brought to a court.

The UN has since called on his release, and RSF recently submitted a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with concerns over the state of press freedom in the East African nation.

However, RSF found that press freedom in Africa has improved—though the variation from country to country is still considerable.

Whilst Ewen admitted that there was not many positives to draw from the report, she says a silver lining is the future appointment of United Nations special representative for journalists.

“That will mean that we can immediately coordinate international efforts for the press when a journalist is in danger. That’s something RSF has been leading for the past few years, along with more than 130 supporting NGOs and media outlets,” Ewen told IPS.

“That’s something we can look forward to,” she continued.

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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 Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Child Soldiers Released, But Risk Remainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-soldiers-released-risk-remains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-soldiers-released-risk-remains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-soldiers-released-risk-remains/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 16:22:15 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155369 More than 200 child soldiers were released by armed groups in war-torn South Sudan, and help will be needed to ensure their safe and bright future, according to a UN agency. The release took place in Western Equatoria State and follows a similar release last month that saw 300 children freed. Both releases are part […]

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Child soldiers released by armed groups in Yambio, South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 child soldiers were released by armed groups in war-torn South Sudan, and help will be needed to ensure their safe and bright future, according to a UN agency.

The release took place in Western Equatoria State and follows a similar release last month that saw 300 children freed.

Both releases are part of a series, supported by the UN’s children’s agency (UNICEF), that will see 1,000 children freed from armed groups.

“No child should ever have to pick up a weapon and fight” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.

“For every child released, today marks the start of a new life. UNICEF is proud to support these children as they return to their families and start to build a brighter future,” he said.

Laying Down of the Guns

During a ceremony, known as the ‘laying down of the guns,’ the released children were formally disarmed and given civilian clothes.

The 112 boys and 95 girls that were disarmed were from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

“UNICEF, UNMISS and government partners have negotiated tirelessly with parties to the conflict so as to enable this release of children. But the work does not stop here.” Mdoe said.

“The reintegration process is a delicate one and we must now ensure the children have all the support they need to make a success of their lives.”

Counselling and Psychological Services

UNCIEF says that the priority will now be medical screenings, counseling and psychosocial services.

Recent research from Child Soldiers International, a rights group that aims to stop and end all child recruitment, illuminated some of the horrific realities that children face when they fall in with armed groups.

The report, based on interviews with ex-child soldiers, detailed everything form forced murders, spying on neighbors and family members, denial of education and healthcare to forced cannibalism.

For girls, the trauma can be even deeper. It was found that a majority suffered sexual abuse and violence. Rapes, forced marriages and pregnancy are all common for girls caught in armed groups.

Such experiences for girls, CSI reported, are compounded when they return home, as many are ostracized by their families and labelled ‘prostitutes’ by their communities.

“Every effort will be made to ensure the correct psychological services. There will be immense trauma to overcome.” Mdoe said.

Families will also need support in order to facilitate reintegration.

Other reintegration services

The children involved in this release will also have access to vocational training as well as age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centers.

Their families will also be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance to support reintegration.

The South Sudanese Government has committed to halt child recruitment by armed groups in the country.

Child recruitment ‘far from over’ in South Sudan

Yet despite their commitment and the U.N’s tally of releasing 2,000 children in the country, advocacy groups say that some 19,000 children remain caught in South Sudan’s armed forces and groups.

As peace talks resume, the UNICEF has called on all parties to the conflict to end the use of children and to release all children in their ranks.

But with conflict lingering into its sixth year in the world’s youngest nation, the risk that children will be used in fighting remains.

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The UN tells private enterprise leaders that “Business as Usual Won’t Work”.http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:42:20 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155241 As global citizens face an array of issues from unemployment to discrimination, affecting their livelihoods and potential, a UN agency called upon businesses to employ a new, sustainable, and inclusive model that benefits all. Business leaders from around the world convened at the United Nation’s 2018 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) partnership forum to hear […]

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By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 11 2018 (IPS)

As global citizens face an array of issues from unemployment to discrimination, affecting their livelihoods and potential, a UN agency called upon businesses to employ a new, sustainable, and inclusive model that benefits all.

2018 ECOSOC Partnership Forum. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Business leaders from around the world convened at the United Nation’s 2018 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) partnership forum to hear how the private sector can work with governments to improve global economic opportunities.

“The private sector is an indisputable partner in reducing global inequalities and improving employment opportunities for all” the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the audience.

Mohammed stressed that the private sectors contribution to development was essential if the world is to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, in order for this to happen Mohammed said that “business as usual simply won’t work.”

Instead, leaders were challenged to commit to align their business goals with the SDGs by investing in sustainable business models.

“I would also like to take the opportunity to challenge the business leaders present here today to make bold commitments to a more inclusive future for all,” said Marie Chatardova, president of the ECOSOC.

Chatardova reminded the leaders of the UN’s Business and Sustainable Development Commissions recent research that found that investment in sustainable models could create some $12 trillion dollars in economic opportunities by 2030.

“Investing in sustainable development goals – it’s a ‘win-win partnership,” she said.

Calling for Inclusion

Today, 192 million people are unemployed. Eight per cent of the global population live in poverty. There is a mounting youth unemployment crisis. Women, indigenous and disabled persons continue to face barriers to equitable and meaningful employment.

Attendees highlighted the importance of sustainable business models that prioritize diversity and inclusivity by getting women, youth, indigenous and disabled persons into the workforce.

In panel discussions, many business leaders spoke of their companies’ ongoing diversity programs.

Sara Enright, director of the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC), pointed to Impact Sourcing – an example of inclusive business practice.

Impact sourcing, Ms Enright told the forum is: “when a company prioritises suppliers who are hiring and providing career development to people who otherwise have limited prospects of formal employment.”

The GISC is a global network of 40 business that include – Google, Microsoft, Aegis, and Bloomberg – that have committed to impact sourcing.

In March, GISC members were challenged to hire and provide training to over 100,000 new workers by 2020. Enright said so far ten companies have responded to the challenge, pledging to hire over 12,000 workers across Kenya, Nepal, Cambodia and the United States.

Enright said she expected many more companies to sign up and stressed that the GISC would monitor and measure the outcomes.

The UN applauded GISC’s work as an inspiring example of the private sector working collaboratively and inclusively to meet the SDGs vision.

Curb Your Corruption

Another issue that arose during the forum was corruption in development.

Last year global development funding reached $143 trillion dollars, of which the UN estimates that over 30 percent of funds failed to reach their intended destinations.

The UN told business leaders that if they commit to using technology that better tracks where money goes in development, then it will help curb corruption.

Bob Wigley, chairman of UK Finance, encouraged businesses to invest in technologies like ‘Block Chain’.

Block-chain, or Distributed Ledger Technology, is a digitized public record book of online transactions that was developed in 2008 with the rise of online currency ‘bitcoin’.

It is an entirely decentralized means of record keeping, meaning it is operated on a peer-to-peer basis rather than one central authority.

Wigley said the technology allows the direct tracking of online payments, ensuring that it is delivered correctly.

“If I was the recipient of state aid or wanting to know where my funds are going exactly then I’d be using block-chain systems, not the antiquated bookkeeping that gives rise to potential corruption every time a payment trickles from one set of hands to another,” he said.

“Think of how embracing and enhancing block chain technology could ensure accountability and transparency – things that are critical to meeting the SDGs,” Wigley continued.

A Race to the Top

Whilst many businesses are committing to the SDGs and implementing sustainable initiatives, more still needs to be done to unlock the full potential of the sector.

Kristine Cooper from United Kingdom insurance company Avia said it is a question of creating ‘competition’ between business by tracking them in their commitment and delivery.

“Lots of companies are doing great things in diversity and SDG commitments and how they do business to meet these goals, but it’s hard to know who’s doing really well, there is no consistency with reporting,” Cooper said.

“The system lacks the incentives to make right decisions and make organizations live up their responsibility.”

Ranking companies and holding them accountable, Cooper said, would create a “race to the top” and in the process, truly unleash “the power of the corporate and private sector in meeting development goals”.

Discussion points from this meeting will be further discussed in ECOSOC meetings held in May 2018, as well as at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2018.

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Keeping Jewelry Companies Accountable: Where Do Our Gold and Diamonds Come From?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/keeping-jewelry-companies-accountable-gold-diamonds-come/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-jewelry-companies-accountable-gold-diamonds-come http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/keeping-jewelry-companies-accountable-gold-diamonds-come/#respond Tue, 27 Feb 2018 15:12:24 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154524 How many people know where their gold and diamond jewelry comes from? How many people consider the human cost of its production? Not many consumers ask these questions, and, shockingly, neither do many of the world’s leading jewelry brands. It’s a trend that Human Rights Watch (HRW) is trying to change with a new social […]

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Former “Blood Diamonds” now Provide Employment. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/ IPS

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2018 (IPS)

How many people know where their gold and diamond jewelry comes from?

How many people consider the human cost of its production?

Not many consumers ask these questions, and, shockingly, neither do many of the world’s leading jewelry brands.

It’s a trend that Human Rights Watch (HRW) is trying to change with a new social media campaign, #BehindTheBling.

“We want people to think about where their jewelry comes from,” Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights Division at HRW, told IPS.

“Importantly, we want people to tell the brands that. We want them to write, to tweet, to call the big companies to put pressure on them to guarantee that their gold and diamonds are not coming from places that are committing human rights abuses,” she said.

Whilst the campaign has been running for over a year, it was earlier this month that HRW introduced the hashtag “Behind the Bling”.

“When we started the campaign before, the big brands in jewelry told us that [responsible sourcing] was not something that consumers cared about. We wanted to show them otherwise,” Becker said.

Name and Shame

At the time of writing, #BehindtheBling has been used on twitter over 20,000 times since its launch.

Additionally, more than 6,000 letters asking for full disclosure on sourcing practices have been sent to jewelry companies from the general public.

Knowing which companies to target was made easier thanks to HRW, who released their in-house assessment of the sourcing practices of 13 major jewelry and watch brands.

HRW compared the gold and diamond sourcing practices of the brands and ranked them according to specific criteria, including efforts to assess and respond to human rights risks, establish traceability, and publicly report the company’s actions.

The results showed that whilst some companies have taken considerable steps to address human rights risks in the gold and diamond supply chain, others have not.

HRW found that a majority of the companies do not have full traceability for their gold and diamonds, and do not assess human rights risks, with many not even providing the names of their suppliers.

Tellingly, none of the companies ranked as “excellent”.

Only Tiffany and Company ranked as “strong” for taking significant steps toward responsible sourcing, whilst four including Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora, and Signet were ranked as “moderate” for taking some steps toward responsible sourcing and another four were marked as “weak” or “very weak.”

“Slave-Like” Industry

HRW estimate that there are millions of people working in small-scale, artisanal gold and gem mines. They say that in many cases the men, women and children working in them are subject to human rights abuses.

“There’s little to no pay, horrendous conditions, child labour is frequent…there is nothing glamorous about the gold and diamonds that are sourced like that,” Becker said.

The latest statistics from HRW puts the number of children working in mining at over 1 million globally with a majority working in gold and gem mining.

Many of the nations that have extensive documentation of child labour are concentrated in West and Central Africa.

For instance, in Sierra Leone thousands of boys and young men work as diamond miners where they are provided free housing, food and work tools, in return for their labour.

Reports are similar in the Ivory Coast where children have been reportedly trafficked from neighboring Burkina Faso to work in artisanal gold mines. The HRW report on their plight described their living conditions as “slave like”.

Farai Maguwu is man who does not have to read about child abuses in African gold mines. As the executive director for Zimbabwe’s Centre for Natural Resources Governance, he has witnessed first-hand the horrors that some children have endured.

Talking to IPS, Maguwu described a “mounting problem for Zimbabwe” of children engaging in artisanal mining in “deadly” conditions and often abandoning education in order to do so.

“I remember in 2012 I saw three young men who had returned from Marange diamond fields. They told me they were panning diamonds when a tunnel collapsed and killed their friend,” he recalled.

“It’s not uncommon that type of story and the image of those boys will haunt me as long as I live.”

But the plight of child mining isn’t just a scourge in Africa.

In Myanmar, international trade sanctions were put on the sale of their rubies and gems after reports that their mining industry relied on forced, child and trafficked labour. Reports of industry abuses continue.

Similarly, HRW is concerned about the working conditions in India, where much of the world’s jewelry undergoes the refining processes of being cut and polished.

HRW believe thousands of children could be working further along the supply chain there with many facing unfavourable conditions.

“We need to look at the whole supply chain and make sure it’s clean – we need consumers to make it clear to the companies that it’s non-negotiable,” Becker said.

Becker says the campaign has already resulted in positive outcomes. For instance, German jeweler Christ recently agreed to work with HRW to make sure its responsibly sourcing.

“We’ve made it clear to all of them that we will continue to be checking in and holding them accountable for their sourcing. Consumers need to also,” she concluded.

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Understanding Child Soldier Recruitment Needed to Help Curb Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/understanding-child-soldier-recruitment-needed-help-curb-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=understanding-child-soldier-recruitment-needed-help-curb-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/understanding-child-soldier-recruitment-needed-help-curb-crisis/#respond Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:16:17 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154465 It is not known exactly how many child soldiers there are in the world, but current estimates tell us that in 2018, the number is likely to be in the tens of thousands. Children have been used in hostilities – including as human bombs –by state and non-state groups in at least 18 conflicts since […]

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Former child solider Mulume (front left) feels hopeless about his future. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2018 (IPS)

It is not known exactly how many child soldiers there are in the world, but current estimates tell us that in 2018, the number is likely to be in the tens of thousands.

Children have been used in hostilities – including as human bombs –by state and non-state groups in at least 18 conflicts since 2016 alone.

Today, a staggering 46 nations continue to attract and enlist people under 18 into their militaries.

These are some of the statistics from the Child Soldiers World Index – a newly released database that examines UN member states for their use of child soldiers in the armed forces and non-state groups.

The statistics are indeed concerning, with even the UN declaring that the number of at risk children is increasing at an “alarming rate”.

So what exactly is driving children to become involved with armed groups? And, what can be done to get a grip on the crisis?

These are the questions that the United Nations University (UNU), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Luxemburg and Switzerland have been working to answer by conducting field research on child recruitment practices in Mali, Iraq and Nigeria.

THE ROLE OF “RADICALISATION”

According to the report, entitled ‘Cradled by Conflict: Children in Contemporary Conflict’, a mistake that policy makers are making is focusing too much on the idea that child soldiers join armed groups because they have been ‘radicalised’.

“Currently there is a tendency to attribute child involvement in conflicts to them becoming radicalised and swept up in this violent ideology… but this is rarely the primary factor motivating child association in armed groups,” the project’s leader researcher Siobhan O’Neil told IPS.

For example, the report found that ideology was hardly a factor in Mali where child solider recruitment is often paired with a narrative of radicalisation.

“In Mali, the intercommunal conflicts over resources and cattle, issues made worse by climate change and state corruption– were far more likely to drive children to armed groups,” O’Neil said.

Even in cases where ideology does play a role in a child’s trajectory towards an armed group, it is usually only one of a number of motivating or facilitating factors.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has conflated its religious ideology with a rejection of the Nigerian state, the latter of which, the report found “may be the greater driver of association with Boko Haram for Nigerians who have experienced state oppression and violence.”

“NO CHOICE BUT TO JOIN”

UNU’s research also challenges a re-occurring perception that children can simply avoid joining armed groups.

The report stressed that for many children, especially those living within an occupied territory, neutrality is not an option.

“That’s a fallacy. It’s virtually impossible for children to remain unaffiliated in a war zone,” Kato Van Broeckhoven, a co-author of the research, told IPS.

“When an armed group is the only employer – like they are in parts of Syria and Nigeria – and they have physical control of a region, joining may be the only realistic way to survive,” she continued.

“PRO-SOCIAL REASONS TO JOIN”

The report also found that for some children, armed groups are attractive because they offer a sense of ‘community’, a sense of ‘significance’, and a feeling of ‘order amid chaos’.

For example in both Mali and Nigeria, where strict hierarchical societies are the norm, armed groups can provide a way for young people to express themselves and attain a level of status beyond what society would usually allow someone of their age.

Addressing what this research means for policy makers and programs on the ground, O’Neil told IPS that “ultimately, what we see is that there is no mono-causal reason for children getting involved in armed groups.”

“It’s important any intervention programs geared towards preventing them becoming involved, assisting them with release and reintegration recognise that and take a holistic approach to addressing children’s needs and risks,” she continued.

The report argues that many current interventions aimed at assisting child soldiers have leaned towards an ‘ideological approach’ – one that aims to ‘prevent’ and ‘counter’ violent extremism.

In the absence of evidence that links radical ideology to children becoming involved in armed groups, O’Neil and her fellow researchers say that any ‘ideological approach’ to intervention should only be used when there is clear evidence that it would be preventative.

Otherwise, as the report noted, “it’s a one size, fits none’ approach.

In the report, researchers urged for more effective international efforts to prevent and respond to child recruitment and use by armed groups including:

(1) avoid programmes focused primarily on ideological factors; (2) only incorporate ideological components where individually necessary and where they can be embedded into larger, holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children; (3) ensure all interventions are empirically based; (4) rigorously assess interventions over the long term; and (5) engage children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners.

The ‘Cradled bo Conflict’ report and the Child Soldiers World Index data was launched on the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, and the anniversary of the OPAC treaty – the world’s first international treaty wholly focused on ending the military exploitation of children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life-Changing Harm

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

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

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

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

FGM = Gender Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

Change has particularly come from the community level.

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated Action Needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iraq’s Toxic Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/iraqs-toxic-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqs-toxic-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/iraqs-toxic-conflict/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 08:33:08 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154135 In Iraq, thirty years of armed conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, wounded countless more, displaced millions and laid cities and towns to waste. Amongst all of this death and destruction, there is an often-overlooked victim whose harm has far reaching consequences: The environment. Whilst Iraq’s environment has suffered from degradation due to […]

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By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2018 (IPS)

In Iraq, thirty years of armed conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, wounded countless more, displaced millions and laid cities and towns to waste.

Amongst all of this death and destruction, there is an often-overlooked victim whose harm has far reaching consequences: The environment.

Whilst Iraq’s environment has suffered from degradation due to conflict for decades, in recent years it has been exacerbated due to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

“Wherever ISIS has been there has been huge environmental destruction and with that have come potentially major health threats to the public,” says Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at the dutch not-for profit, PAX.

Over the past two years, PAX has used public satellite images, social media and first-hand field research to track the environmental damage and the subsequent risk to public health in the northern parts of Iraq.

The findings are outlined in the report, ‘Living Under a Black Sky: Conflict Pollution and Environmental Health Concerns in Iraq.’

The report focuses heavily on ISIS’s destruction of oil refineries which were a signature move in their ‘scorched earth’ strategy.

In 2014, the group took control of the Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji Oil refinery, the latter being the nation’s largest, producing more than a third of Iraq’s domestic oil production. In both cases, Iraqi forces retook the facilities, but not before ISIS set fire to oil wells as they retreated.

“When we were there, there were burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells,” Zwijnenburg said about his visit to the Qayyarah region last year. “I wanted to walk around to see more but had to wear a gas mask, you could already feel how the smoke affected young lungs.”

“We saw lakes that were full of solidified crude oil, that had spilt form the wells, and there were white sheep covered in black soot. It was surreal and apocalyptic.”

In each of these attacks, the threat to public health is substantial.

“The fires (from these oil wells) have burnt for months, releasing huge amounts of toxic residue into the air that people in the area – some people haven’t left, some can’t leave, some are returning – those people are inhaling this toxic air,” Zwijnenburg told IPS.

In the case of the Qayyarah, the Iraqi oil ministry estimates that about 20,000 cubic meters may have been released into the environment and haven’t been cleaned up yet.

In April 2017, the PAX team in conjunction with the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) conducted a survey with over twenty women from affected local communities about their concerns over the oil pollution in Qayyarah.

One of the participants voiced her worry for inter-generational health consequences.

“Locals have been suffering from burns, deformations and countless disability cases. Human genes are also affected due to the use of chemical weapons and the burning of oil wells and military remnants. The gene mutations will result in having more birth defects.”

Aside from oil pollution, the PAX report also highlighted the human health risks from what it called ‘urban damage’. That is, the dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals realized from damaged industrial sites and abandoned weapons facilities.

There has been extensive PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl) contamination in Mosul, due to damage to the city’s electricity network. Similarly, the city has recorded extensive sulphur contamination, from when ISIS bombed a 50,000 ton stockpile of the toxin. That attack released some 6 million tons of the substance into the air, leaving 20 people dead and hundreds hospitalized.

These other pollutant concerns are not surprising, as even before the ISIS conflict, Iraq was named the world’s most contaminated country.

It continues to see high levels of radiation and other toxic substances flow into its environment – all left over from previous conflicts such as the Gulf War.

So the question now is, how to clean up the region?

In a statement to IPS, Dr. Zaid Noori, an ambassador of Iraq in Nairobi, admitted that “Iraq is an environmental disaster” and that the Iraqi government needs help in cleaning up affected areas.

“The Government is doing all it can to remedy the situation, but due to the great amount of damage, pollution and contamination Iraq is seeking support and assistance from the international community and UN agencies to ensure clean and habitable environment to civilians in the liberated areas,” the statement read.

The PAX report similarly noted that Iraq would not likely be able to clean up the pollution and manage health fallouts alone.

“It really needs to be an international effort,” says Zwijnenburg. “We should have States pledging and proving funding and expertise to relevant UN organizations such an UN Environment, UN Habitat and UNDP – all of who are working with the Iraqi government.”

Currently, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is concentrating much of its efforts in Mosul, cleaning up ‘urban damage’.

There is no current international effort to clean up the regions oil pollution.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, told IPS that it is regrettable that environmental recovery work is not taken more seriously in reconstruction efforts.

“If environmental recovery work is built into the wider reconstruction effort – which it should be – recovery can and will happen in Iraq,” he says. “Now is the time for donors to make that investment, because we can’t afford to push it to one side.”

Zwijnenburg agrees. “Environment disasters like this are not always the top priority in recovery,” he says.

“The people living here know that and they’re concerned that as the fires die down, as time passes, that that their cause will be forgotten.”

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Pacific Islands Struggling to Meet SDG7 Energy Targetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pacific-islands-struggling-meet-sdg7-energy-targets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-struggling-meet-sdg7-energy-targets http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pacific-islands-struggling-meet-sdg7-energy-targets/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 00:17:37 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153374 The four Pacific Island nations who are amongst the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) may be falling behind in meeting energy access targets because they are too busy devoting resources towards climate change. The Pacific island nations that are classified as LDC’s are Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. “Most of the resources in these nations […]

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A large scale energy renewal project in Samoa. Credit: UNDP Photo

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

The four Pacific Island nations who are amongst the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) may be falling behind in meeting energy access targets because they are too busy devoting resources towards climate change.

The Pacific island nations that are classified as LDC’s are Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

“Most of the resources in these nations meant for development –including energy development – have to be diverted towards adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts,” said Gauri Pradhan, the Global Coordinator of the policy and campaigning organisation, LDC Watch

“Due to this, Pacific Islands have focused less on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (energy access) and more on those such as SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (oceans) and SDG15 (terrestrial ecosystem).”

LDC’s refer to a group of nations formally recognized by the UN as confronting severe structural impediments – they usually also face extensive economic and environmental vulnerability. Currently there are 47 nations classified as LDCs. Nations may graduate from the list if they meet certain criteria.

Pradhan’s comments follow the release of the United Nations Conference for Development and Trade (UNCTAD) ‘Least Developed Countries Report 2017.’

The report highlighted that LDC’s are falling alarmingly behind in their ability to meet Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) which pledges to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Indeed, according to the report, the majority of LDCs populations go without access to electricity.

The report stressed that energy is central to everything in development, stating that productive use of electricity is “critical to spur productivity and economic transformation” and ultimately lift nations out of the poverty trap.

Currently the energy situation in Pacific Island LDC’s is fairly bleak. For example, according to The World Bank, only 10 percent the population in the Solomon Islands enjoys access to electricity. The story is only marginally better in Vanuatu which has 30 per cent of its population connected.

In an interview with IPS, a spokesperson from the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) said that Pacific Island LDC’s face unique barriers to energy access compared to their landlocked counterparts.

“They face some unique challenges such as geographically dispersed populations spread across several small islands, lack of technical and human capacity as well as complex land tenures,” the spokesperson said.

Following a similar line of thought, Pradhan said that such barriers have kept Pacific Island LDC’s largely reliant on imported fossil fuels – exposing them to unpredictable and volatile prices fluctuations.

The sad irony here is that Pacific Island LDCs are blessed with an incredible abundance of water, wind and solar resources.

“Going forward, the only real, sustainable and long-term option is for these nations to invest in these renewable energy sources. But they’ve been limited to date by their geographical remoteness, their financial constraints, a lack of adequate energy infrastructure, technology, and weak institutional mechanisms,” Pradhan said.

Pradhan also highlighted that an overlooked reason for slow results in the renewable energy sector is because Pacific Island LDC’s resources are being spent trying to deal with climate change.

To illustrate his point, he provided this example:

“Pacific islands are experiencing unprecedented sea level rise… Saltwater intrusion into freshwater lenses can cause sever drinking water scarcity in the region. Kiribati has already expressed urgent need for funding for desalination plants to provide safe water for the 110,000 residents of country, where much of the water has become contaminated by seawater intrusion into groundwater,” he said.

“Most of the resources meant for development have to be diverted towards mitigating these types of climate change impacts.”

Despite this, Pradhan did make special mention of Vanuatu, stating that it’s the “only Pacific Island LDC that’s shown significant improvement in development of renewable energy.”

The Vanuatu Government’s ‘National Energy Road Map’ outlines a path for the nation to achieve universal energy access to energy by 2030. Already they have an immediate goal to have 65% of their energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

They have not only articulated their intentions but actively began to commit to them. The World Bank earlier this year approved a 4-million-dollar project to deliver solar and micro-grid electricity generators that will give 45,000 people across rural Vanuatu access to electricity for the first time.

It is projected that Vanuatu may be the next country to graduate from LDC status. The only countries to have previously done so are Botswana (1994), Cape Verde (2007), Maldives (2011), Samoa (2014).


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

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“Ambition & Action” Needed to End Open Defecationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/ambition-action-needed-end-open-defecation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambition-action-needed-end-open-defecation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/ambition-action-needed-end-open-defecation/#respond Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:46:32 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153212 What would life be like without access to a toilet? What if our waste was not properly disposed of? For those in the developed world, such questions are hard to fathom, but for 2.3 billion people around the world it’s a reality. Without access to a toilet many are forced to defecate in the open, […]

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“Ambition & Action” Needed to End Open Defecation

Women village councilors in Penakota, a village in southeast India, go out into a field to relieve themselves, as there are no toilets in their workplace. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2017 (IPS)

What would life be like without access to a toilet? What if our waste was not properly disposed of?

For those in the developed world, such questions are hard to fathom, but for 2.3 billion people around the world it’s a reality. Without access to a toilet many are forced to defecate in the open, significantly increasing the changes of spreading diseases.

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG’s) include a pledge that aims to provide everyone with access to toilets and improved sanitation services by 2030.

“It is possible to reach these targets, we all share the vision of the SDG 6 and we know there has been considerable progress made already.”

“However, meeting the target will require a step-change in our ambition and action,” says WaterAid UK’s Tim Wainwright.

So far progress has been made. According to the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF, in the last 15 years alone, some 371 million people moved out of open defecation – about 25 million people per year.

With improved access to toilets and sanitation systems that properly manage waste, WHO estimate that up to 842,000 deaths could be avoided each year.
Improvements such as this have been in part due to the efforts of agencies such as UNICEF and charities like Water Aid. Both are committed to helping end open defecation, a practice carried out by as many as 900 million people around the world.

Open defecation is defined as the act of eliminating waste in the open – whether it be on the street, behind bushes or near running water.

The poor sanitary practice has been linked to spreading disease including, but not limited to:  cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Unsurprisingly, nations where the practice is most prevalent are also the countries that report the highest rates of child mortality per year.

“It contributes to a health crisis which claims the lives of 289,000 children under five each year, from diarrhea diseases directly linked to dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene,” Wainwright told IPS.

Wainwright stressed that ending the practice would involve more than just implementing toilets.

He said that “behavioral change through education” is needed to ensure that people become accustom to using toilets.

But improving global sanitation and meeting SDG 6 doesn’t end there. After all, even when there is a toilet – what happens to the waste?

It was this question that was given a platform when the United Nations marked World Toilet day earlier this month.

Addressing a roundtable conference to mark the day, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed focused on the full sanitation cycle, emphasizing safe disposal of waste and waste-water.

“Some systems provide treatment and safe disposal in situ, while others are connected to a sewer.  But for many onsite sanitation systems, there is a need for safe emptying and transport.”

“Pit latrines and septic tanks need to be regularly emptied and the waste taken to a treatment facility.”

“For billions of people, such proper sanitation systems are either non-existent or ineffective.”

Indeed, according to WHO, only 39 percent of the global population has access to sanitation service that safely removes their waste.

UNICEF and WHO have been keeping track of global sanitation and hygiene improvements since 1990 through their ‘Joint Monitoring Program’ (JPM).

A spokesperson for UNICEF told IPS: “SDG6 represents an opportunity to shape a much healthier world and we are tracking progress towards its ambitious targets, through the JPM.

“It (the JPM) aims to capture progressive improvements in global sanitation systems. It tracks through sanitation ladders, places with no sanitation services at all – which is open defecation – through to basic sanitation, to safely managed sanitation.”

With improved access to toilets and sanitation systems that properly manage waste, WHO estimate that up to 842,000 deaths could be avoided each year.

When discussing other outcomes of improved services, Water Aid’s Wainwright, stressed that one of the biggest outcomes would be improved lives for women and girls.

“There is a gender element to all of this. We know the impact of not having good sanitation is often worse for women and girls,” said Wainwright.

“For example, they are more likely to be subject to harassment or assault if they have to find a place outdoors to relieve themselves; they are more likely to bear the burden of walking long distances to collect water… and adolescent girls are more likely to miss school if there aren’t safe, private places in which to care for themselves during menstruation.”

Fortunately, SDG 6 acknowledges these issues by striving to ensure “adequate and equitable sanitation” whilst “paying attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

A commitment to vulnerable groups is something that sets the SDG’s apart from the Millennium Development Goals, which were more generalise in its sanitations goals when they are were eventually added to the original MDG’s in 2002.

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