Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Aug 2015 06:47:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 U.S.-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142174 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

New research released today by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an Aug. 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or ‘bomblets’, over a wide area.

“Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured,” Ole Solvang, a senior research at HRW, said in a video statement released Thursday.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent ‘failure rate’ as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks’ proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were “most likely” launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of Jul. 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to a graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash’s brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a Jun. 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body.”

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

“I didn’t even take [his body] back home,” the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. “Residents of the village all fled. You can’t find anyone there now.”

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

“Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing “ZP-39” DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions,” the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Farewell to Arms that Fuel Atrocities is Within Our Grasphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 19:09:41 +0000 Marek Marczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142170 The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Marek Marczynski
CANCUN, Mexico, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The recent explosions that apparently destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda.

But what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? The answer lies in recent history – arms flows to the Middle East dating back as far as the 1970s have played a role.

Marek Marczynski

Marek Marczynski

After taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, IS fighters paraded a windfall of mainly U.S.-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which had been sold or given to the Iraqi armed forces.

At the end of last year, Conflict Armament Research published an analysis of ammunition used by IS in northern Iraq and Syria. The 1,730 cartridges surveyed had been manufactured in 21 different countries, with more than 80 percent from China, the former Soviet Union, the United States, Russia and Serbia.

More recent research commissioned by Amnesty International also found that while IS has some ammunition produced as recently as 2014, a large percentage of the arms they are using are Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armoured vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

Scenarios like these give military strategists and foreign policy buffs sleepless nights. But for many civilians in war-ravaged Iraq and Syria, they are part of a real-life nightmare. These arms, now captured by or illicitly traded to IS and other armed groups, have facilitated summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, and other serious human rights abuses amid a conflict that has forced millions to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.“It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers … But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson”

It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers.

What is even worse is that this is a case of history repeating itself. But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson.

For many, the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq drove home the dangers of an international arms trade lacking in adequate checks and balances.

When the dust settled after the conflict that ensued when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s powerful armed forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait, it was revealed that his country was awash with arms supplied by all five Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council.

Perversely, several of them had also armed Iran in the previous decade, fuelling an eight-year war with Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Now, the same states are once more pouring weapons into the region, often with wholly inadequate protections against diversion and illicit traffic.

This week, those states are among more than 100 countries represented in Cancún, Mexico, for the first Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force last December. This Aug. 24-27 meeting is crucial because it is due to lay down firm rules and procedures for the treaty’s implementation.

The participation of civil society in this and future ATT conferences is important to prevent potentially life-threatening decisions to take place out of the public sight. Transparency of the ATT reporting process, among other measures, will need to be front and centre, as it will certainly mean the difference between having meaningful checks and balances that can end up saving lives or a weakened treaty that gathers dust as states carry on business as usual in the massive conventional arms trade.

A trade shrouded in secrecy and worth tens of billions of dollars, it claims upwards of half a million lives and countless injuries every year, while putting millions more at risk of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.

The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known they would be used for further atrocities. 

The treaty has swiftly won widespread support from the international community, including five of the top 10 arms exporters – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The United States, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 additional countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. However, other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have so far resisted signing or ratifying.

One of the ATT’s objectives is “to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion”, so governments have a responsibility to take measures to prevent situations where their arms deals lead to human rights abuses.

Having rigorous controls in place will help ensure that states can no longer simply open the floodgates of arms into a country in conflict or whose government routinely uses arms to repress peoples’ human rights.

The more states get on board the treaty, and the more robust and transparent the checks and balances are, the more it will bring about change in the murky waters of the international arms trade. It will force governments to be more discerning about who they do business with.

The international community has so far failed the people of Syria and Iraq, but the ATT provides governments with a historic opportunity to take a critical step towards protecting civilians from such horrors in the future. They should grab this opportunity with both hands.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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OPEC Fund Supports UNIDO in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:18:26 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142160 By Jaya Ramachandran
VIENNA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has agreed to give the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) a grant in support of a project aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of the shrimp value chain in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.

OFID is the development finance institution established by the member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1976 as a collective channel of aid to the developing countries.

The grant, which amounts to 300,000 dollars, aims at co-financing a project worth close to 900,000 dollars. OFID Director-General, Suleiman J. Al-Herbish and UNIDO Director General Li Yong, signed the agreement in Austria’s capital, where the two organisations are based.

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

Al-Herbish said that the project “will support the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the LAC region through the promotion of more resource efficient, environment friendly and socially equitable fish farming and processing practices.”

It will also contribute to poverty reduction efforts through the creation of direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities, as well as improved food and nutrition security, he added.

UNIDO Director General Li pointed out that the shrimp farming sector represented an important source of income in countries such as Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua.

“However, in most of these countries there is a need to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the sector and its compliance with international quality and environmental standards.”

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, has been a vital source of economic growth in developing countries. Shrimp farming represents 15 percent of the total value of the fishery products internationally traded in 2011. Ecuador and Mexico are currently among the largest producers in the sector at regional level.

The agreement was signed on Aug. 25, within four weeks of OFID and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) signing a co-financing agreement to jointly promote development and economic growth in the LAC region through the expansion of trade financing to banks in the region.

According to the agreement, OFID and IDB will build on the existing Trade Finance Facilitation Programme (TFFP) to provide lines of credit to commercial banks in the LAC region to broaden the sources of trade finance available for LAC importing and exporting companies and support their internationalisation.

In support of global and intraregional integration through trade, this agreement will further strengthen OFID’s long-standing partnership with the IDB and widen OFID’s presence in the trade finance market in the LAC region, OFID said in a press release.

OFID works in cooperation with developing country partners and the international donor community to stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty in all disadvantaged regions of the world.

It does this by providing financing to build essential infrastructure, strengthen social services delivery and promote productivity, competitiveness and trade.

According to OFID, its work is “people-centred, focusing on projects that meet basic needs – such as food, energy, clean water and sanitation, healthcare and education – with the aim of encouraging self-reliance and inspiring hope for the future.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142165 In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142161 A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
MANAGUA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Central America’s toolbox to pull 23 million people – almost half of the population – out of poverty must include three indispensable tools: universal access to water, a sustainable power supply, and adaptation to climate change.

“These are the minimum, basic, necessary preconditions for guaranteeing survival,” Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told IPS.

These three tools are especially important for agriculture, the engine of the regional economy, and particularly in rural areas and indigenous territories, which have the highest levels of poverty.

Campos stressed that this is the minimum foundation for starting to work “towards addressing other issues that we must pay attention to, like education, health, or vulnerable groups; but first these conditions that guarantee minimal survival have to be in place.”

In Central America today, 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And the region is facing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which the international community will launch in September, with the concept of survival very much alive, because every day millions of people in the region struggle for clean water and food.

Everyone agreed on the vulnerability of the region and its people at the Central American meeting “United in Action for the Common Good”, held Aug. 21 in the Nicaraguan capital to assess the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the pillar of the agenda and will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with a 2030 deadline for compliance.

The issues of reliable, sustainable energy, availability and sustainable management of water, and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts are included in the SDGs. But the experts taking part in the gathering in Managua stressed that in this region, the three are interlinked at all levels with the goal of reducing poverty.

“In our countries, our fight against poverty is complex,” Campos said.

This region of 48 million people, where per capita GDP is far below the global average – 3,035 dollars in Central America compared to the global 7,850 dollars – needs to come up with new paths for escaping the spiral of poverty which entraps nearly one out of two inhabitants.

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

According to the 2012 report “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America” by the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “reduction of and instability in the availability of water and of agricultural yields could affect labour markets, supplies and prices of basic goods, and rural migration to urban areas.”

That would have an impact on subsistence crops like maize or beans or traditional export products like coffee, which are essential in the region made up, from south to north, of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. (U.N. agencies also include the Dominican Republic, an island nation, in the region.)

Poverty laid out in the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is divided into two.

The first of the 17 SDGs is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the second is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The sixth is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the seventh is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and the 13th is “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

A key area is the so-called Dry Corridor, an arid strip that runs from Guatemala to Costa Rica, which according to experts has grown.

“We are modifying land use, which is associated with the climate phenomenon, and as a consequence the Dry Corridor is not limited to the Corridor anymore: we are turning the entire country into a kind of dry corridor,” Denis Meléndez, executive secretary of Nicaragua’s National Forum for Risk Management, told IPS.

The “Outlook for Food and Nutritional Security in Central America” report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 says this could hinder compliance with the goal of eliminating hunger in the region.

The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in a global summit in 2000 – now to be replaced by the SDGs – is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, cutting in half the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people by 2015, from 1990 levels.

FAO reported that the countries of Central America have come close to meeting the goal, with the proportion of hungry people being reduced from 24.5 to 13.2 percent of the total, but the percentage is still more than double the Latin American average of 6.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people goes beyond agriculture, access to water, or sustainable energy.

According to ECLAC, two out of three inhabitants of the region live in shantytowns or slums in unsanitary conditions, where climate change will drive up the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, such as malaria and dengue.

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

“Because climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing at the present and in the coming decades, we have to think about adaptation not necessarily as a cross-cutting issue, but in terms of ‘what goes around, comes around’,” Francisco Soto, the head of El Salvador’s Climate Change Forum, told IPS.

This impact has been acknowledged by governments in the region, and in 2010 the Central American Integration System (SICA) described it in its Regional Climate Change Strategy as a phenomenon that would “make social challenges like poverty reduction and governance more difficult to fight.”

Experts like Andrea Rodríguez of Bolivia stressed at the meeting that every government anti-poverty project should take into account the impacts of climate change.

“If this is not taken into consideration, we won’t be able to find an effective solution, because climate change and development are like twins – they go hand in hand and have to be addressed simultaneously in order for aid and cooperation to be effective,” she told IPS.

Rodríguez, a legal adviser to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Climate Change Programme, insisted on the need to jointly plan long-term investment in energy infrastructure and sustainable development.

“The only way to combat climate change and contribute to economic development is by leaving aside fossil fuels and looking for cleaner alternatives,” she said.

Civil society organisations grouped in the Central American Alliance for Energy Sustainability (ACCESE) propose small-scale renewable installations as a solution for meeting the growing demand for energy while at the same time empowering vulnerable communities.

In the region, 15 percent of the population does not have electricity, and up to 50 percent cook with firewood, according to figures provided by ACCESE. This portion of the population is mainly found on islands and in remote mountainous and rural areas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Call for Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons Testinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:58:00 +0000 Katsuhiro Asagiri and Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142157 A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Katsuhiro Asagiri and Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

As the international community gears up to commemorate the 20th anniversary next year of the opening up of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) for signature, a group of eminent persons (GEM) has launched a concerted campaign for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon testing.

GEM, which was set up by Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the September 2013 Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) at the United Nations headquarters in New York, met on Aug. 24-25 in Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, which was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during the Second World War in 1945.

“Multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century” – CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only two cities in the world which have suffered the devastating and brutal atomic bombs that brought profound suffering to innocent children, women and men, the tales of which continue to be told by the ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings).

“There is nowhere other than this region where the urgency of achieving the Treaty’s entry into force is more evident, and there is no group better equipped with the experience and expertise to help further this cause than the Group of Eminent Persons,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo told participants.

The GEM is a high-level group comprising eminent personalities and internationally recognised experts whose aim is to promote the global ban on nuclear weapons testing, support and complement efforts to promote the entry into force of the Treaty, as well as reinvigorate international endeavours to achieve this goal.

The two-day meeting was hosted by the government of Japan and the city of Hiroshima, where CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo participated in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing early August.

On the eve of the meeting, Zerbo joined former United States Secretary of Defence and GEM Member William Perry and Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki as a panellist in a public lecture on nuclear disarmament which was attended by around 100 persons, including many students.

In an opening statement, Zerbo urged global leaders to use the momentum created by the recently reached agreement between the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran to inject a much needed dose of hope and positivity in the current discussions on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

“What the Iran deal teaches us is that multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century. [It] also teaches us that the measure of worth in any security agreement or arms control treaty is in the credibility of its verification provisions. As with the Iran deal, the utility of the CTBT must be judged on the effectiveness of its verification and enforcement mechanisms. In this area, there can be no question,” Zerbo said.

Also speaking at the opening session, Perry expressed his firm belief that ratification of the CTBT served U.S. national interests, not only at the international level but also at the strictly domestic level for national security measures. He considered that the current geopolitical climate constituted a risk for the prospects of entry into force and reiterated the importance of maintaining the moratoria on nuclear testing.

Participating GEM members included Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Japan; Des Browne, former Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom; Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; Sérgio Duarte, former U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Brazil; Michel Duclos, Senior Counsellor to the Policy Planning Department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wolfgang Hoffmann, former Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Germany; Ho-Jin Lee, Ambassador, Republic of Korea; and William Perry, former Secretary of Defence, United States.

István Mikola, Minister of State, Hungary; Yusron Ihza Mahendra, Ambassador of Indonesia to Japan; Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative, Ambassador of Japan to the International Organisations in Vienna; and Yerzhan N. Ashikbayev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan, participated as ex-officio members.

The GEM took stock of the Plan of Action agreed in its meetings in New York (Sep. 2013), Stockholm (Apr. 2014) and Seoul (Jun. 2015). The Group considered the current international climate and determined that, with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, there was an urgency to unite the international community in support of preventing the proliferation and further development of nuclear weapons with the aim of their total elimination.

Participants in the meeting discussed a wide range of relevant issues and debated practical measures that could be undertaken to further advance the entry into force of the Treaty, especially in the run-up to the Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the CTBT, which will take place at the end of September in New York, with Japan and Kazakhstan as co-chairs.

One hundred and eighty-three countries have signed the Treaty, of which 163 have also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon states: France, Russia and the United Kingdom. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

The GEM adopted the Hiroshima Declaration, which reaffirmed the group’s commitment to achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons and, in particular, to the entry into force of the CTBT as “one of the most essential practical measures for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation”, and, among others, called for “a multilateral approach to engage the leadership of the remaining . . . eight States with the aim of facilitating their respective ratification processes.”

The GEM called on “political leaders, governments, civil society and the international scientific community to raise awareness of the essential role of the CTBT in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and in the prevention of the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons for humankind.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142152

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:34:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142149 The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move – banned under international law – is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera’a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up – by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo – making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country’s water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera’a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars – a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the U.N. system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the U.N. marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142147 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142136 Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Military Sanctions on Syria May Face Veto by Arms Supplierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 20:24:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142130 A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

The staggering statistics emerging from the ongoing five-year-old military conflict in Syria – including over 220,000 killed, more than one million injured and about 7.6 million displaced – are prompting calls for a United Nations arms embargo on the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers." -- Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch
But any proposed military sanctions will continue to hit a major roadblock because of opposition by Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), and the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, badly in need of refurbishing or replacements.

As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

According to the latest report by Forecast International, a defence market research firm in the United States, Syria once hosted about 3,000 to 4,000 military advisers, mostly stationed in Damascus.

The Russians also forgave about 9.8 billion dollars in military debts (incurred during the Soviet era) paving the way for new arms agreements back in January 2005 – and ensuring Syria’s military survival against a rash of anti-Assad militant groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS Russia’s resistance to an arms embargo is a given, but Syria’s flaunting of the laws-of-war and of Security Council resolutions require a real response, not just more rhetoric.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers,” she said, adding: “Would such a step make a difference?”

Hicks pointed out that arms embargoes are not a perfect solution, but are a simple measure that doesn’t cost much to implement, and it would make it harder for the government to acquire new arms it could use to attack civilians.

“Action by the Security Council to impose an arms embargo would also send a strong message to Syria that its indiscriminate attacks on civilians must end. So why not impose one?” she asked.

Addressing the Security Council last November, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman pointed out the effectiveness of U.N.-imposed sanctions – from Afghanistan and Angola to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

“We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works,” he said.

Since the first U.N. sanctions were imposed on Southern Rhodesia in 1966, there have been 25 sanctions regimes – either in support of conflict resolution, countering terrorism or to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, there are 15 sanctions regime in place – the highest number in the history of the United Nations.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, both Russia and China have jointly vetoed four resolutions aimed at penalizing the Assad regime, the last one being in May 2014.

China, which supports the Assad regime, is not an arms supplier to Syria.

In a statement released last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an arms embargo on Syria following repeated air attacks on market places and residential neighbourhoods, which killed at least 112 civilians.

“Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks.”

On Feb. 22, 2014, the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment.”

In August, following attacks on civilians, the Security Council issued a presidential statement reiterating its demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians as well as any indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas.

HRW said Security Council members, including Russia, which has shielded the Syrian government from sanctions and accountability, should take immediate steps to enforce that demand.

In addition to an arms embargo, the Security Council should apply the same level of scrutiny it has put in place for chemical attacks to all indiscriminate attacks by monitoring these attacks, attributing responsibility for them, and sanctioning those responsible.

The Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, HRW said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Alternative Destinations Emerge as Cuba Gets Ready for Tourism Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:28:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142127 Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
El ABRA, Cuba, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Along the road to the Viñales valley, travelled by thousands of tourists to Cuba, lies the home of self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios, which he has turned into a sort of museum to show visitors a wooden home typical of this mountainous area in the west of the country.

“It would be a big help if (state tour operators) included this project on the tourist routes,” the 47-year-old painter told IPS in his home, which doubles as a gallery, where he has his studio and has launched the initiative “Remedios del Abra”.

His project and similar initiatives are overcoming hurdles to tap into the tourism boom in this socialist island nation, which has become fashionable since the thaw with the United States.

The U.S. government put new rules in place in January making it easier for people from that country to visit Cuba, expanding the list of categories of authorised travel to 12, including visits for educational, religious, cultural, journalistic, humanitarian or family purposes.

After that, in the first half of the year, 88,900 visitors came from the United States – 54 percent more than in the first half of 2014.

In that period, the number of foreign tourists totaled 1,136,948, which would indicate an increase from last year’s total by year-end, when the number of visitors climbs.

Viñales valley and El Abra, a mountain village in the municipality of La Palma, are places of spectacular scenery in the hills of Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río.

Offering bird-watching, hiking, and striking landscapes of mogotes or tall, dome-like limestone hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley, the province draws part of the three million foreign tourists who visit Cuba every year.

Remedios’ home is a traditional western Cuban wooden house with a palm-frond thatched roof. Above the wide gate hangs an ox yoke. In the main room inside is a long, rustic table lined with benches, a clay pitcher with fresh water, and a woodstove. The bedrooms are furnished with beds with wire mesh.

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Paintings by the artist, who is registered with the government’s Cultural Goods Fund – a requirement to be able to sell his art – hang on the walls, waiting for buyers.

With the sales of his art works, which are painted in a naive style, Remedios fixed up his museum-home, where he was born and grew up, and bought the materials needed to give free painting classes to local children. He began his project in 2013. He accepts small voluntary donations from visitors.

He says that “to revive peasant traditions and promote local painters” he would like to have more support from the local authorities, in order to build a classroom, an exhibition room and a ranchón or open-walled thatch-roofed structure to hold traditional rural fiestas or festive gatherings on weekends.

Alternatives

“The development of tourist attractions other than sun and beach will depend above all on the efforts made by the provinces, and how they use their own resources and capacities,” Professor Ricardo Jorge Machado, who was an adviser on tourism to the Council of Ministers between 1980 and 1993, told IPS.

Challenges posed by Cuba’s unique character

Among Cuba’s limitations as a tourism destination, experts identify the limited nightlife, a lack of culinary variety, stores with limited supplies and a lack of personalised services.

The biggest attractions, on the other hand, are how safe the country is, and the fact that Cuba is an oasis in today’s globalised world, free of the same old stores, chain restaurants and products. There are no Coca Cola or McDonald’s billboards, or fast food restaurants, they note.

The country has begun to improve infrastructure, with new hotels, ports that can serve cruise ships, terminals for the ferries that will begin to arrive from the U.S. state of Florida in September, and the expansion of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The expert advises local governments not to wait for financing from the tourism ministry but to undertake their own initiatives in conjunction with the private sector and with cooperatives, using their own funds made available by the current economic decentralisation process.

In its plan for the period up to 2030, the Tourism Ministry has prioritised 100 sun-and-beach projects and only two ecological tourism initiatives.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-biggest source of revenue, after the export of professional services. In 2014 tourism brought in more than 2.7 billion dollars.

The government’s strategy appears to focus on beach resorts and high-end tourism, with the construction of controversial golf courses and the boom in cruise ship traffic, which has risen nearly two-fold from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.

For the first time, the tourism authorities recognise the country’s growing private businesses and cooperatives as indispensable partners, while they attempt to capture foreign investment.

Up to now, the best-promoted tourism areas are the capital, the beach resort of Varadero, 140 km east of Havana, and the keys to the north of the main island.

The Cuban archipelago consists of the main island and 4,195 small islands and keys, where nature is exuberant.

Even in the capital, Machado estimates that there are 90 strong tourist attractions but says that only 12 are exploited, like the El Floridita bar, where U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a habitué, the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, and the Tropicana cabaret.

“Cuba should do more to vary its tourism products, putting an emphasis on elements of its public image that strengthen credibility: its health system and the safety of the country,” said the analyst. In his view, “more specialised forms of tourism, such as long-stay and health tourism, associated with older adults, should be a priority.”

He pointed out that competitors in the region, like Mexico and Colombia, are getting involved in medical tourism – including doctors trained in Cuba – but this country could offer even lower costs.

One million people from the United States travel abroad for health tourism every year.

Alternatives of this kind could generate opportunities in different parts of Cuba, because there are skilled healthcare professionals throughout the country, he said.

“It’s obvious that more and more visitors are arriving,” said Reina Ramos, a schoolteacher, walking down an avenue in central Havana, who pointed to the large numbers of tourists riding about the city in classic cars or convertibles now painted in bright colours – pink, purple or yellow – and serving as taxis.

If the U.S. Congress removes the restrictions on travelling to Cuba in the near future, as lawmakers are currently debating in Washington, the influx of visitors would set new records for the local tourism industry, posing the risk of collapse for the country’s hotels and other services.

In the meantime, villages and towns off the beaten track, with stunning landscapes or colonial-era architecture, have set their sights on tourism, but are facing difficulties creating lodgings, networks of services and even roads that would make it possible for them to share the benefits of the tourism boom.

With its cobblestone streets, spacious plazas and colonial-era houses, the historic centre of the city of Camagüey in central Cuba is drawing up its own plans for increasing the number of visitors.

“The idea is for tourists to come here as part of a circuit of colonial-era cities, similar to the one already offered by the Havana City Historian’s Office,” Camagüey city historian José Rodríguez told IPS.

He said the offices aimed at preserving the country’s heritage are designing a tour that would take visitors to Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Bayamo and Camagüey, whose historic centre was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Camagüey office is developing a list of high-quality tourist offerings, ranging from small charming hotels to a thriving nightlife, with a variety of cultural options for tourists and the 300,000 inhabitants of the country’s third-largest city.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Security Council, in Historic First, Discusses Gay, Lesbian Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/security-council-in-historic-first-discusses-gay-lesbian-rights/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 21:27:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142122 Advocates hope a historic U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights could bring greater equality. Credit: Bigstock

Advocates hope a historic U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights could bring greater equality. Credit: Bigstock

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), whose primary mandate is the maintenance of international peace and security, has occasionally digressed to discuss global issues such as climate change and HIV/AIDS.

But in a historic first, and at a closed-door meeting co-hosted by the United States and Chile, the UNSC took up the issue of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights – providing a platform for an Iraqi and a Syrian, both of whom escaped persecution by the radical Islamic State (IS) purely for their sexual orientation.

“In a world where there's homophobia and transphobia, the U.N. should lead by example." -- Hyung Hak Nam, President of UN-GLOBE, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) staff fighting for equality and non-discrimination in the U.N. system
The meeting took place Monday, under what is called the “Arria-formula”, named after Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela who initiated the practice back in 1992.

Described as “informal and confidential gatherings”, they enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views – but with no official commitments.

Critical of this restricted political dialogue, Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS that Monday’s meeting was clearly “not an official U.N. Security Council meeting.”

Security Council members are not obliged to attend or participate in these meetings, he pointed out. “Having said that, I think it is interesting” this debate was held, Dittrich added.

He said testimony given by people who experienced the IS attacks on human rights will draw attention to the atrocities perpetrated by IS against gay men – or men who are perceived to be gay.

“The debate will not end in the adoption of a UNSC resolution. For LGBT people in Iraq and Syria the importance of the debate lies in changes on the ground,” he argued.

“Will the debate lead to less human rights abuses against LGBT people? Or will heightened attention at the U.N. level lead to more targeted killings by IS?” he asked.

“I don’t have the answer, but I will be interested to hear what the panelists have to say about that,” said Dittrich.

He said the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should take care that its staff members on the ground in Turkey and other countries, where LGBT asylum seekers flee to, will be sensitized to address the issue of homosexuality in a speedy and serious manner.

Too often, he said, HRW hears stories of asylum seekers who flee persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, that their issues are ignored.

“This is something the U.N. could actually do. It would be a great outcome of the debate,” he noted.

Asked about the UNSC digression into non-security issues, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative, told IPS: “Well, I believe, maintenance of international peace and security depends on many interrelated things and issues.”

It is therefore “absolutely unrealistic, impractical and irresponsible” to categorize any issue as having no implications for maintenance of peace and security, he said.

“I recall in the past, the Security Council has considered HIV/AIDS, climate change and serious violations of human rights.

“I also remember the Council issuing an agreed statement on the floods in Mozambique because the torrential flood water washed away many landmines from their original positions which were mapped by U.N. for demining,” said Chowdhury, who presided over Security Council meetings when he was the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations.

“Even when the core concept which ultimately became UNSC resolution 1325 was introduced to recognize women’s equality of participation at all decision-making levels during my Presidency of the Security Council in March 2000, I was criticized for overloading the Council agenda by introducing a ‘soft issue’ in the area of international peace and security and was pressurized not to push for a resolution on the issue, particularly by its permanent members,” Chowdhury said.

Of the 15 members in the UNSC, five are permanent (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) and 10 are non-permanent members elected for two-year terms on the basis of geographical rotation.

For the last 70 years, said Chowdhury, the Council has narrowly focused on state security and military strategies – not on human security, as the complexity of today’s global situation requires.

“This perspective has to change if the Council wants to be meaningfully effective in its decisions and actions,” he added.

Hyung Hak Nam, President of UN-GLOBE, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) staff fighting for equality and non-discrimination in the U.N. system and its peacekeeping operations, told IPS, “When I read reports of the horrible violence perpetrated by the Islamic State against LGBTI individuals, I think of the victims.”

“[But] I also think of the U.N. offices or missions in these countries, and whether or not they are prepared to handle such cases. And I think of LGBTI staff working in these countries and whether they feel safe and feel their U.N. offices would be able to protect them,” he said.

There’s a long way to go before the U.N. mainstreams LGBTI issues into the way it operates, including in its employment policies, he added.

“I do hope the U.N. will move towards becoming a showcase for others of what full equality and inclusion for all, including LGBTI staff, looks like.”

“In a world where there’s homophobia and transphobia, the U.N. should lead by example,” he declared.

Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer at the Human Rights Foundation, told IPS his Foundation applauds UNSC member states Chile and the United States for their initiative to hold an ‘Arria-formula meeting’ highlighting the plight of LGBT people in territories currently controlled by IS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS).

ISIS, a terrorist organization currently committing numerous crimes against humanity and perpetrating a genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq and Syria, has already been condemned by the council repeatedly, he pointed out.

So, Chile and the U.S. are now taking the opportunity to highlight ISIS’s barbaric crimes against a particular minority that is deliberately ignored or discriminated against by several authoritarian governments that sit on the U.N. Security Council, El-Hage said.

Many U.N. Security Council permanent and non-permanent member states are themselves notorious for either repressing LGBT people domestically or blocking LGBT rights advocacy internationally, he noted.

Putin’s Russia, for example, bans the discussion of LGBT rights in the public sphere as “gay propaganda,” while China usually teams up with dictatorships at the U.N. to exclude from the text of U.N. resolutions language that recognizes LGBT people as a minority especially vulnerable to, for example, extrajudicial executions.

Similarly discriminatory of LGBT people in their countries are non-permanent members Chad, Angola, Nigeria, and Malaysia, he added.

“Thanks to the symbolic move by the U.S. and Chile, today they are all being forced to sit through a meeting to address an issue that they would rather avoid,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Children of the World – We are Standing Watch for Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:48:05 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142106

Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, wrote this opinion piece to accompany the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (Cancún, Mexico, 24-27 August 2015).

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSE, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Twenty-eight years ago this month, an indigenous woman stood in the plaza in Guatemala City, watching as the presidents of Central America walked out into the street after signing the Peace Accords that would end the civil wars in our region. When I reached her, she took both my hands in hers and said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

Oscar Arias

Oscar Arias

I don’t need to tell you that I have wondered about that woman’s children ever since. I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. Those children, and others like them, were the audience of the peace treaty I had drafted. They were its true authors, its reason for being. Theirs were the human lives behind every letter we put onto the page, every word we negotiated.

For the presidents who signed the treaty, achieving peace was the most important challenge of our lives. For those children, it was life or death.

But our victory for peace in 1987 did not fully safeguard those children, or millions more like them, because the weapons that had poured into our region during our conflicts did not disappear when the white flag was raised.

For years after arms suppliers channelled weapons to armies or paramilitary forces during the 1980s, those weapons were found in the hands of the gangs that roamed the countryside of Nicaragua, or of teenage boys on the streets of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa. Other weapons were shipped to guerrilla or paramilitary groups, as well as drug cartels in Colombia, ready to destroy yet more lives.“Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons”

We had walked into a new era of peace, but the weapons of the past were shackles at our feet.

As I watched this happen in my region, I also learned that the international trade in arms, free from any regulations whatsoever, was feeding unnecessary violence like this all over the world.

Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons, even when those weapons are being sold to dictators or other violators of human rights, or placed directly into the hands of child soldiers.

So, in 1997, I began my call for a treaty to regulate the trade of arms. I was quickly joined by fellow Nobel Peace laureates, and then by friends and allies all over the world. On Christmas Eve 2014, the International Arms Trade Treaty finally took effect. And now, in Cancún, Mexico, between Aug. 24 and 27, the first-ever Conference of Parties to the Treaty is being held so that its implementation can move forward.

I never thought I would see this day; I am delighted that I have. I am also filled with new determination to make sure that the treaty lives up to its potential.

For the treaty is a powerful tool, but it will only protect our children if we give it teeth. It will only protect our children if we implement it fully. It will only protect our children if we ensure that consensus is not used as an excuse for inaction.

I urge the 72 nations that have ratified the treaty to define an alternative to consensus so that one party cannot paralyse implementation. The perfect is the enemy of the good – and in this case, with human lives depending on our swift resolution of pending issues, inaction would be anything but perfect. It would be a travesty.

We must also continue to raise our voices in the face of tremendous opposition from groups that continue to oppose the treaty, arguing that it infringes upon national sovereignty. Quite the opposite is true: no sane definition of national sovereignty includes the right to sell arms for the violation of human rights in other countries. A nation willing to carry out such an act is not defending itself, but rather infringing upon the sovereignty of other nations that only want to live in peace.

We must also avoid using the danger and terrorism in the world today as an excuse for lack of regulation. Cicero’s famous phrase “silent enimleges inter armas” – among arms, laws are silent – has often been used to support the mind-set that the law does not apply during times of war.

But it is at times of war that the law must speak most bravely. When weapons are circulating freely into the worst possible hands, the law must speak. When the lives of the innocent are placed in danger by an absence of regulation, the law must speak.

And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Saharahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:45:12 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142109 Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega
This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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