Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:35:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Climate Deal on HFCs Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:02:54 +0000 Mauro Teodori By Mauro Teodori
Oct 25 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs are thought to be responsible for contributing to 0.5 Celsius warming of the climate. On October 14, 170 countries came together in Kigali, Rwanda to sign an amendment to the Montreal protocol treaty that will commit nations to eliminate 90 percent HFCs with phasing out work slated to begin in 2019. HFCs are used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols and its usage has been rapidly increasing (at about 10 percent annually) as income levels spurred in Asian countries like China and India with expanding middle classes; the mass scale adoption of air conditioning in homes, commercial buildings and cars was inevitable. The downside to HFCs is that it is considered to be much more destructive to the climate than carbon dioxide.

 HFC gases are widely used in air conditioning units, www.cwcs.couk

HFC gases are widely used in air conditioning units, www.cwcs.couk

The deal will have little impact on advanced nations which had begun to phase out HFCs much earlier. For instance the European Union adopted measures that took HFCs out of their cars as back as 2011. The problem of course lies with developing countries such as ours where the use of HFCs remains widespread. The original agreement signed in Montreal in 1987 replaced another harmful chemical CFC with HFC. However, as we are finding out the “solution” turned out to be not very helpful as global warming was concerned, since scientists identified it as a greenhouse gas.

The reason perhaps why it took so long for developing nations to come to the negotiating table was that companies making air conditioning equipment in their countries still relied on old technology and a ratified treaty would require substantial investment to upgrade both factories and equipment. The age old argument remains that climate change is primarily caused by advanced economies and the penalty being posed on developing nations is unfair. Unfortunately, climate change is a global problem and we all need to do our bit to stem global warming. But the good news is that countries such as China will get a little more time and our time for phasing out HFCs begins in 2028, while for Europe, Japan and the United States (US) it starts in 2019.

The agreement includes provisions for hot countries to reduce their use of HFCs at a slower rate. Developed countries will start to reduce the use of HFCs by 2019, while developing nations have been given a longer time frame in which to freeze their use of the damaging gases. The roadmap points to richer economies like that of the US, Europe and Japan start limiting their use of HFCs within a few years and make a cut of at least 10 percent from 2019. Developing countries like China, Latin American countries and island states will put a cap on use of HFCs from 2024. Other countries including India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States will not freeze their use until 2028. China remains the largest producer of HFCs and getting it onboard the deal was of paramount importance.

According to Durwood Zaelke of the Institute for Government and Sustainable Development (IGSD) “Absolutely it’s a historic day. We came to get a half a degree of warming out of the system and we are going to walk away with about 90 percent from the Kigali amendment”. The sentiment is echoed by Christian Aid’s Senior Policy Advisor, Benson Ireri who stated “HFCs posed an immediate threat to a safe climate due to their increasing use and high global warming potential, thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide”.

While the deal is being hailed as a great success, implementation remains a major issue. If implemented fully, experts calculate that it will remove the equivalent of 70 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2050. The challenge will be to find monies for research and development of viable albeit environment-friendly alternatives to HFCs. Current research points to substances that do not deplete the ozone layer and have minimal impact on the climate, e.g. ammonia. According to experts, super-efficient, cost effective cooling technologies are in the development phase that can help protect the environment by reducing HFC emissions that are also energy efficient. Given that worldwide use of refrigerators, air conditioners, aerosol spray use is increasing at a rate of 10 percent annually, it was imperative that the Kigali deal be signed by participants with realistic timeframes. Any change of this magnitude will require billions of dollars in new technologies to re-equip manufacturers. This issue will be discussed in the next Meeting of Parties in Montreal in 2017.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Lankan Example Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:53:09 +0000 Moeed Yusuf By Moeed Yusuf
Oct 25 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Of late, I have been studying Sri Lanka’s war experience. The country has fascinated students of comparative politics like me as it defies virtually all conventional wisdom about peace and conflict within societies.

Moeed Yusuf

Moeed Yusuf

Unlike the rest of South Asia, it checks several boxes typically associated with relatively peaceful outcomes for nations. It boasts a 90-plus per cent literacy rate. It is now formally a middle-income country — even when it wasn’t, it didn’t suffer from the kind of abject poverty typical of South Asia. Also, Sri Lanka has an aging population. The worry about scores of youth floating idly and turning to bad things wasn’t as pertinent, at least on paper.

Finally, the country’s majority is Buddhist — a pacifist religion at its core. Yet, it experienced brutal violence lasting decades. The LTTE-inspired insurgency introduced suicide bombing to the modern world and killed thousands. Less known but equally violent insurrections took place in the south of the country.

Sri Lanka’s experience throws out any number of lessons for peer countries, including Pakistan.

First, as significant as the conversation about quantity and quality of education is, Sri Lanka’s experience highlights a slightly different dimension: the bureaucracy and management of the education sector. The Sri Lankan education sector has produced three siloed youth cohorts by running parallel school systems catering to Sinhala, Tamil, and English-speaking kids. This represents both a linguistic and an ethnic faultline: the majority-Buddhist Sinhala who have ruled Sri Lanka since its independence vs the Tamil minority (mostly Hindus) who feel discriminated against by the Sinhala vs the English-speaking urban (mostly Colombo) elite.

Sri Lanka realises that ending a war doesn’t equal peace.

The result is that most of Sri Lanka’s young are mono-lingual and have grown up within their respective echo chambers. The literacy rate is combined with inherently polarised mindsets that live off stereotypes about the ‘other’, with no opportunity to form more informed opinions by interacting across these divides.

Second, hardly any other case provides a more obvious correlation between the politicisation of religion and its direct effect on societal discord and violence. As if Buddhism’s pacifist nature didn’t matter, Sri Lankan governments linked Sinhala nationalist chauvinism with a ‘Buddhism under siege’ mentality. Soon, it was none other than the Buddhist clergy leading the charge, justifying an anti-minority rhetoric, even violence, through scripture. Political violence was made holy, in a way not much different than much of the Muslim world.

Third, Sri Lanka provides an interesting insight into the socioeconomics and violence connection. Literature on the link between poverty and extremist violence is split, with most prominent voices still holding out on accepting a strong correlation. Yet, when one interacts with policy practitioners involved in counterterrorism in developing countries, one recognises their conviction that poverty is the number one driver of extremist violence.

In Sri Lanka’s case, absolute deprivation was lower than several other peer counties. But the island had serious disparities across its geographical regions, and its minority Tamil and Muslim communities harboured a sense of collective deprivation compared to the Sinhala-majority parts. It wasn’t as much about individual poverty and helplessness as it was about young men and women from minority communities feeling relatively deprived vis-à-vis the majority on behalf of their communities.

Finally, Sri Lanka is realising that ending a war doesn’t equal peace. It only represents a window of opportunity to begin to address the above-mentioned and many other deeper structural problems that caused the war in the first place.

Here is another fascinating reality. As I exa¬mine comparable cases, these trends quickly emerge as common themes across countries, including in South Asia. Pakistan is no exception. Our debates and solutions on education still tend to be more conventional than not. Lost amidst all the worries about extremist mindsets is the stratification of the education system and the acute disdain youth from across the elite private vs public vs madressah schools tend to have for each other.

Never do children from across these systems interact constructively with one another. The focus is on Islam’s role in statecraft rather than on calling out the gross misuse of religious dialect for an ultra-nationalist agenda. The question is how to get the majority to stop using faith as a tool to impose its will on the minority. It’s the same for us, the same for Sri Lanka, and the same for any other country with this problem.

Next, we need to examine the sense of collective deprivation across societal fault lines rather than only seeing these as anti-patriotic, externally inspired law-and-order problems.

Finally, we must recognise that while we have done fairly well in terms of cutting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan to size militarily, it is the performance on the non-kinetic aspects of the National Action Plan that will determine whether or not Pakistan can achieve sustainable peace.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.
Published in Dawn October 25th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Social Media Becomes Mugabe’s Nightmare Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:18:40 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

In a WhatsApp video that went viral in September, a middle-aged Zimbabwean man addresses President Robert Mugabe, telling him that 90 percent of the people in the country are unemployed and do not contribute to the economy because Mugabe cannot provide jobs.

You are assaulting children for expressing their heartfelt disappointment because of your misrule. We are tired of that,“ the man continues, speaking about high-level corruption, injustice and police brutality, and deteriorating social service delivery.

He asks Mugabe: “You wear spectacles, but you can’t see. How many spectacles do you need to see that you are destroying the country?

In a country that reportedly suppresses the traditional media, Zimbabweans have found another way to communicate their frustrations towards the government.

Social media platforms as well as texting services such as WhatsApp have become steadily more popular as means to criticise, but also address Mugabe, who appears to not be easily accessible to ordinary citizens.

The use of social media has especially increased after evangelical pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video earlier this year in April in which he appeared with the national flag around his neck, criticizing the government’s economic strategy.

The video led to the larger social media campaign #ThisFlag in which thousands of Zimbabweans participated, bringing the situation the country into the international spotlight and reaching millions of people on a global level, much to the displeasure of Mugabe.

By using the internet to communicate, Zimbabweans become empowered to relatively safely speak out against the government, and at the same time, state propaganda starts to lose its effectiveness.

The worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe has led to multiple protests against the president and his government. Depending on the source, estimates of Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate range from 4 per cent to 95 per cent, many of the figures not being backed up by reliable data.

Given the precarious state of the economy, unemployment levels however are certainly high.

Economic growth decreased from 3.8 per cent in 2014 to an estimated 1.5 per cent in 2015. Large public expenditures, underperformance of domestic revenues and low export figures have increased the state dept and have had a negative effect on urban development such as housing and transport, as well as social services.

In July, countless Zimbabweans gathered to protest against these issues. Since then, unrest has spread across the whole country.

The Zimbabwean government in return has been accused of blocking social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp to prevent people from gathering to protest.

Zimbabwe, constitutionally a republic, has been under the control of President Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) since the country’s independence in 1980. While the latest presidential and parliamentary elections were held without violence, the process remained neither fair nor credible.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mugabe’s government has been accused of routinely violating human rights. Abduction, arrest, torture and harassment, as well as restrictions on civil liberties such as freedom of expression are daily practices, Human Rights Watch says.

Under Mugabe’s regime, hundreds of civil society activists and members of opposition parties have been arrested for holding meetings or participating in peaceful protests. Newspapers viewed as critical of the government are repressed, journalists silenced, and the ‘Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act’ established, making the practice of journalism without accreditation a criminal offence which can be punished by up to two years in prison.

The Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper with a critical view of Mugabe’s government, had to shut down in 2001 after a bomb exploded in its printing plant, and it failed to receive a government licence needed to publish content legally.

Acknowledging the threat social media poses to his government, Mugabe has activated laws that limit the free flow of information and subject private communication to state surveillance.

At the same time, he warns his citizens against abusing social media, threatening that all SIM cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user, and perpetrators could easily be identified. Any person caught in possession of, generating or passing on what Mugabe calls abusive, threatening or offensive content aimed at creating unrest or inciting violence will be arrested.

Wanting to use social media to his own advantage, Mugabe has called on the youth of his ZANU-PF to promote the ruling party using social media platforms: “Brand Zimbabwe, the image of Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwe that is democratic, hardworking and peaceful.”

The dissemination of regime-critical content through social media, however, appears to be a Pandora’s Box that may prove impossible to close.

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Who Should Lead the WHO Next? Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

By Lyndal Rowlands

Health problems increasingly transcend the borders of the World Health Organization’s 194 member states, a challenge which the six candidates vying to lead the global body must address with care.

Those 194 member states will pick the next Director-General of the world’s peak health body in May 2017, after the current six candidates are whittled down by the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board in January.

The ninth Director-General of the world’s peak health body will play a key role in ensuring global responses to an increasingly complex and contrasting list of global health problems: the spread of mosquito borne diseases due to climate change, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, the unfinished business of AIDS and HIV, air pollution, domestic violence, the global rise in noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes as well as the inevitable emergence of the next Ebola-like pathogen.

She, or he, will need to navigate a delicate balance between serving each of the global body’s member states while also ensuring that the world’s only global health body is greater than the sum of its parts.

The candidates: 
- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, public health expert and former minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia; 
- Dr Flavia Bustreo of Italy, currently WHO Assistant Director-General for family, women's and children's health;
- Professor Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, former politician and current UN Special Advisor;
- Dr David Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, who notably led the UN's response to Ebola;
- Dr Sania Nishtar, of Pakistan, a politician, author, activist and public health expert;
- Dr Miklós Szócska, former Minister of State for Health of Hungary.

“Today when we talk about WHO’s role it really transcends states, it goes into a global response category,” Esperanza Martinez, Head of the Health Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IPS.

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation – not to confront the states – but to challenge the states to do better, to challenge the states to fulfill their obligations, to challenge the states to be more efficient and effective,” she said.

Yet, like any other UN body, the WHO “is no better or worse than the governments who make it up,” Susannah Sirkin Director of international policy and partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights told IPS.

The new Director-General will take over after a period of heavy soul searching for the Geneva-based organisation following deep criticism of the WHO’s handling of Ebola in West Africa.

“There is an enormous call for increased transparency and efficiency within the organisation,” said Sirkin.

In order to address emerging epidemics, such as Ebola and Zika, Martinez says that it is essential that the WHO is ready and able to spring into action.

“The fact that WHO has to wait for minsters of health and governments to qualify crisis really can delay interventions in critical moments,” said Martinez.

The new Director-General will also need to be prepared to “hit the ground running,” meaning that they should be “someone who already understands how the UN system works and how the WHO works,” she added.

“We need someone who understands the dynamics of humanitarian and emergency responses today.”

For Sirkin, the new Director-General will also need to transcend the “historic limitations”which have often seen the WHO adopt “relative silence” towards matters that are seen as within the control of national governments.

Health is politicised, said Sirkin, when governments fail “to invest to an adequate degree in the provision of both preventative and curative health care, or (fail) to invest a proportionate or reasonable amount of their national budget in health care.”

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation, not to confront the states, but to challenge the states to do better," -- Esperanza Martinez, ICRC.

“The next Director-General has to really have some political courage and the ability to galvanise,” to overcome the constraints which have historically limited the WHO from speaking out.

“Somehow the WHO as an agency needs to transcend that.”

For example, she said the WHO should be able to speak out when the Syrian government “overtly obstructed the delivery of humanitarian including medical aid in an alarming way.”

She welcomed the WHO’s new role in addressing the global problem of attacks on health workers and health facilities, but noted that this is another area where the new Director-General will be required to have political courage.

Beyond humanitarian crises, the new Director-General will face many other complex challenges, including emerging threats such as antimicrobial resistance, as well as much older health challenges such as maternal mortality.

Two of the six candidates for the position of Director-General are women. Unlike the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has always been held by men, two women, Chan and Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have already led the WHO.

However although women and children’s health have been considered priorities of the UN and the WHO, Sirkin says that it is important for the WHO to do more than pay lip service to gender inequality in health, whether a man or a woman holds the role of Director-General, “especially since there is now known an enormous correlation between women’s rights and health.”

“Basic women’s rights – including reproductive rights, violence against women (and) sexual violence – over the long run is going to be a continuing enormous barrier to the development of global health,” she said.

The six candidates will address the members of the World Health Organization as well as members of the public on November 1 and 2.

More than half (4) hail from Europe – Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom – the other two come from Ethiopia and Pakistan. The hopefuls all share backgrounds as medical doctors, and most have extensive experience in public health or politics.

The successful candidate will replace current Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, of China in July 2017.

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Growth Is Real Only If It Is Inclusive Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:35:03 +0000 Dr Fahmida Khatun By Dr Fahmida Khatun
Oct 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Bangladesh had an exceptional six days this month. Starting with the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping and ending with that of the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, the country went through a period of euphoria. During those days, ministers, politicians, experts, business leaders, media personalities and development partners from South Asia and beyond gathered to discuss the region’s economic prospects at the Ninth South Asia Economic Summit organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue. Everywhere Bangladesh’s achievements got prominence. Based on what Bangladesh has done so far and what more potential the country can have, visiting leaders have committed to support the country in various forms. The Chinese President offered a package of investment and trade worth nearly USD 40 billion. Soon after his departure comes the World Bank President with a bag full of praises and promises for Bangladesh. For its spectacular success in reducing poverty, Bangladesh was chosen to observe this year’s End Poverty Day. Kim also committed to increase financial support for improvement of child nutrition by USD 1 billion in the next three years and to invest another USD 2 billion on climate change projects for the same length of period.

Illustration: Michael Morgenster

Illustration: Michael Morgenster

Suffice to say, there could not be a better choice than to pick Bangladesh to celebrate the day. The country has been able to reduce its extreme poverty rate to 12.9 percent in fiscal year 2016 from 18.5 percent in 2010 and from 44.2 percent in 1992. These are the people who live on USD 1.9 per day at 2011 purchasing power parity, according to the World Bank. The reduction has been possible due to the country’s growth spurt by 1 percentage point every decade. With 7.1 percent growth of its gross domestic product in 2016 the country is now among the fastest growing nations in the world. Coupled with economic growth has been its progress in human development indicators over the past decades.

In one sense, the Chinese and the World Bank money complement each other from Bangladesh’s vantage point. While the Chinese have targeted physical infrastructure, the World Bank has chosen soft infrastructure, both crucial for the country’s development. Infrastructure deficiency is blamed for poor investment-GDP ratio in Bangladesh which is still below 30 percent. Indicators such as Global Competitiveness Index, Doing Business and Global Corruption Perception Index reveal structural weaknesses of the economy. As opposed to the feel good factors about the progress of the country, one cannot also ignore the distributional aspect of such development. Income inequality is high with the top 5 percent of the population enjoying 24.6 percent of total national income and the bottom 5 percent only 0.78 percent, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

High income inequality can perpetuate inequality in other areas, in case of social and political opportunities, for example. While access to education and health has increased by a large number of people, the quality of these services vary significantly across economic strata. The quality of education received by the poor is not the same as that of the rich children. Hence youths face unequal competition in the job market. The number of stunted children is very high; they are children from deprived families who cannot afford nutritious food and medical bills when their children get sick. One would not see these children in the class room or in the cricket field. Unequal access to opportunities in turn leads to income inequality. It creates inter-generational poverty. The poverty cycle goes on if the government cannot create equal opportunities for everyone.

Those who have crossed the extreme poverty threshold are vulnerable to shocks – economic, social, environmental and political. There are poverty pockets in Bangladesh such as coastal areas, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Char and Haor areas where the concentration of the extreme poor is higher than other areas. Social safety net programmes for these people and other extreme poor will have to be expanded both in terms of number and amount. At the same time poor working population have to be brought into the employment market. The challenge of providing employment to the two million new entrants into the labour market every year is not an easy task. The structural change of the economy from a predominantly agricultural to an industry and services based one, has not brought adequate jobs and higher income for all. The dual challenge of creating better jobs ought to be addressed through transformation in the whole knowledge ecosystem. Technology and innovation can create opportunity. Education and skills development can provide access to opportunity.

Poverty is an absolute concept and is defined mostly in income terms even though economists have attempted to develop multi-dimensional indices of poverty. Inequality, which is measured in relative terms indicates the need for distributive justice. This has to be ensured through strong institution and good governance. How the efficiency of both external support and domestic resources will be utilised will depend on the effectiveness of institutions. How higher growth will benefit people across the board will depend on how just the governance system is. After all, benefits of Chinese infrastructure development and World Bank’s child nutrition improvement and climate change projects have to reach the poor by way of creating more jobs, higher income and reduced vulnerability. As Bangladesh is upbeat on taking the growth to a new height to reach a middle income country by 2021, it should not lose sight of making growth equitable and inclusive by creating opportunities for all.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Poverty Elimination and Reduction of Inequality: Global Trends and Policy Imperatives Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:26:36 +0000 Editor sunday By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Oct 24 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The elimination of poverty has been a popular promise among political leaders in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Despite their repeated promises of eliminating poverty, poverty persists. The rhetoric on poverty elimination has far surpassed efforts to reduce it and not been adequately backed up by policies that mitigate poverty and reduce income inequality. The people left behind by economic growth have not been adequately taken care of by social security safety nets. The global experience provides useful insights on how poverty and inequality could be reduced.

President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to eliminate poverty in two years. President Premadasa moved a resolution at the SAARC Summit in Colombo in 1990 to banish poverty in South Asia. Yet South Asia remains the region that has the highest number of the poor. Although poverty has been reduced quite significantly in South Asia, a high proportion and number of people remain in poverty and income inequality has increased significantly in India and Sri Lanka. Reducing the incidence of poverty and reducing income inequality remain demanding challenges in both countries.

Ending poverty and reducing inequality are two of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. These may be the most difficult of the SDGs to achieve unless the rhetoric is supported by significant changes in economic strategies and social policies. The rhetoric of poverty elimination must be translated into effective economic and social policies. Economic policies that encompass growth with equity and social policies that improve the capabilities of the poor and redistributive income policies are vital to reduce poverty and income inequality.

Even though poverty is still a significant feature of many economies the world over, income poverty has been reduced in many countries and several regions of the world in recent decades. Economic growth and economic and social policies have been responsible for this achievement. In contrast, the widespread experience of most developed and developing countries is that inequality has grown. Latin America that has one of the severest inequalities of incomes has been able to reduce income inequality recently.
Experiences of China and India
China’s poverty level of 84 per cent in 1981 was reduced drastically in 2010 to 18 per cent. India’s poverty of 60 per cent in 1981 was reduced to 33 per cent in 2010. Although a third of India’s population is in poverty, the decline has been impressive. Poverty continues to decline and is perhaps around one fourth of her population now.

In both countries rapid economic growth has been the most significant reason for this achievement. The more impressive decline in poverty in China has been due to less initial inequality in land, reforms in land use, better health and the higher literacy. India lags behind in all these features. Disadvantaged communities, caste and gender discrimination too are impediments in mitigating poverty in India.

Increasing income disparity
In contrast to the achievement in the reduction in poverty, income inequality has grown in both countries. China’s inequality, as measured by the Gini Coefficient, has increased from 37 per cent in 1990 to 47.4 per cent in 2012, while India’s inequality has increased from 33 per cent in 1993 to 37 per cent in 2010. Although China’s poverty is much reduced, her income inequality is higher than in India.

India’s vast strides in economic growth have not led to a more equitable distribution of incomes. In fact inequality has grown as the rich grew in an exponential manner, while the improvement of incomes of the poor was much less. Low literacy levels, especially inadequate primary school enrolment are reasons for the widening income disparities. Literacy and primary education, though rising is still inadequate.

East and South East Asia
East and South East Asia was able to reduce poverty in tandem with economic growth. Among the reasons for this were land tenure reforms and conscious interventionist economic policies that benefitted the poor that were implemented at the same time as the economy grew. The fast track economic growth provided increasing urban and industrial employment and the government’s fiscal capacity enabled expenditures that benefitted the poor.

Latin American experience
In contrast to other regions in the world, Latin America, though the region with the most unequal income in the world has decreased inequality with rapid economic growth. The reasons behind Latin America’s decline in income inequality are, well-designed interventionist policies increased expenditure especially on higher education, stronger FDI and increase in tax revenues. Improving access of low-income families to education has been an efficient means for boosting equality of opportunity and lowering income inequality. Strengthening access to quality education is pivotal in Latin America that already has relatively high educational spending but poor outcomes. Raising low tax revenues has contributed to declining inequality as higher revenues provide more space to finance well-targeted redistributive policies.

Policy implications
These experiences provide useful lessons and policy implications for poverty reduction and for mitigating income inequality. Most important is the need to achieve rapid economic growth that has been the driver for reducing poverty in all countries.

The Chinese and Indian experience, as well as the development of East and South East Asia and of Latin America, provides ample evidence of this. While East Asia was able to achieve more equity of incomes, the Chinese and Indian experiences were ones of increasing income inequality with rapid growth. In contrast, Latin America was able to reduce huge income disparities.

What these experiences imply this that economic growth while reducing poverty does not ensure equitable income distribution. The initial conditions of land ownership, education and health and social stratification have an important bearing on the impact of growth on the equitable distribution of incomes. Interventionist policies that redistribute resources or entitlements have an important impact on the extent of equity in incomes that is achieved. Improvements in literacy and education reduce inequality of incomes. Public expenditure on these is very important and therefore government revenues must be adequate to enable the fiscal space for such expenditure.

The manner of raising tax revenue could also be important in reducing inequality. Progressive income tax systems, including recurrent property taxes, high taxes on luxury expenditure of the affluent, who are notorious for evading taxes, capital gains taxes and death duties would enable better income distribution by reducing incomes of the rich and enabling policy interventions that enhance the entitlements of the poor. Such policy imperatives rather than rich rhetoric on poverty are crucial.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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How to Save Thousands of Children’s Lives Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:41:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable, and humanitarian aid agencies need to be able to respond immediately to save their lives.

In order to help save thousands of children’s lives during catastrophic disasters, the IKEA Foundation has signed agreements with two of the world’s foremost humanitarian aid organisations.

For this purpose, the Foundation on 17 October signed framework agreements with Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) that will enable the organisations to access the funding they need right after a disaster strikes.

Protecting children in the deadliest disasters

As climate change wreaks bigger and more frequent disasters, Save the Children’s teams are working around the world to help children access their rights to protection, healthcare, education, and child-friendly spaces in which to play.

The IKEA Foundation’s new agreement will give Save the Children access to up to 2 million euro within 72 hours of a category-one disaster—an extraordinary emergency affecting more than one million children and causing widespread destruction.

Save the Children will use the funding to quickly and efficiently help children and their families survive the unthinkable and begin to recover in the months that follow.

“Save the Children is tremendously excited to deepen our relationship with the IKEA Foundation, and even more so, to further our mutual commitment to do whatever it takes to save children’s lives in emergencies around the world. Quite simply, rapid response save children’s lives,” said Daniele Timarco, Humanitarian Director Save the Children.

“This partnership, allowing for substantial and immediate funding of emergency response, allows us the flexibility to immediately begin our work on the ground, Timarco added.

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

“I hear repeatedly from seasoned response workers around the world that this is the kind of partnership we need to take humanitarian response to the next level. On behalf of Save the Children, I want to thank the IKEA Foundation for partnering with us and driving innovation in the sector.”

Providing medical care during “unseen” disasters

Around the world, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gives medical care to thousands of families suffering from disasters that receive little or no international media attention and for which it is difficult to raise support.

Thanks to this new agreement with the IKEA Foundation, MSF will be able to access emergency grants of up to 3 million euro to help children and their families survive these disasters.

“Emergency humanitarian action often happens in places the world seems to have forgotten, in places that are hard to reach for journalists,” explains Bruno Jochum, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The IKEA Foundation grants will help our teams provide lifesaving medical care and, in so doing, show the families caught in these crises that we’re trying to support them in their time of greatest need.”

Save the Children is one of the IKEA Foundation’s longest-running partnerships, and the two organisations have teamed up to help children enjoy their rights in dozens of countries, including during disasters such as typhoons and flooding in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The IKEA Foundation and MSF have partnered since 2013 to bring lifesaving medical care to people suffering in conflicts and disasters, including those wounded in Syria. The IKEA Foundation gave its largest single emergency donation ever—5 million euro—to Médecins Sans Frontières to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing funding in crisis areas and tackling climate change are critical to achieving this goal. That’s why it’s crucial that we give organisations such as Save the Children the resources they need to save children’s lives and help families rebuild in the wake of catastrophes.

“Our agreement with MSF is a unique way of ensuring families trying to survive unseen emergencies can get the medical care they desperately need. We know there are huge gaps in humanitarian funding, and those gaps are more than simply academic; they cost people their lives,” he added.

“With our funding, we hope not only to help MSF save lives but also to create visibility for disasters that receive little or no international media attention and to mobilise other donors to support children who need it the most.”

Read more about the IKEA Foundation’s support for children in emergencies.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papua Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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World Must Tackle the Biggest Killer of Whales – and it’s not Whaling Mon, 24 Oct 2016 05:20:27 +0000 Leigh Henry 0 Limitless Cigars and Rum for U.S. Tourists in Cuba Sun, 23 Oct 2016 12:47:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

After more than a half-century of a commercial, financial and economic embargo, U.S.-Cuban trade relations took a significant step forward this month.

On Oct. 14, the Barack Obama administration announced a round of executive actions designed to increase trade and travel with Cuba. One of these included lifting restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars for U.S. travelers in Cuba.

The executive actions were taken following a series of changes made since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were committed to normalise relations after decades of enmity.

The lifting of trade restrictions signifies the willingness of both policymakers and the public to form a positive relationship between the U.S and Cuba. Many hope the breakdown of trade barriers will lead to a new era of economic vitality for Cuban citizens.

The Obama administration has called for a rescinding of the 50-year-old economic embargo on the island. The U.S. administration’s ultimate goal would be to make Obama’s trade policy with Cuba irreversible through the establishment of a wide network of trade relationships strong enough to defeat any future opposition from the public or Republican lawmakers alike.

Although lifting restrictions on cigars and rum may seem like a small step, these reforms could pave the road to open trade between the nations. There is just as much demand in Cuba for U.S commodities such as rice, wheat, and corn as there is in the U.S. for organic fruit, seafood and sugar produced in Cuba. With over 11 million citizens just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Cuba presents itself as a prosperous market for U.S food and agricultural exports.

Advocates of normalising trade relations say it would not only enhance Cuban citizens access to affordable food, it will also provide the U.S agri-business sector with a host of new trade opportunities with the island nation. Lifted restrictions will also make it easier for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals and for Cuban citizens to purchase affordable, high-quality products from the U.S online.

“The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew explained in a statement.

“Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contract, and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.”

Many believe this lift could rebuild the booming rum and cigar trade relations the U.S. shared with Cuba in the past. In fact, cigars are widely considered to be Cuba’s most prized export. The island is renowned for being one of the world’s best tobacco producers.

In the 18th century, tobacco was the second most exported product in the nation, after sugar. Before the embargo, the U.S and Cuba shared a close trade relationship with the U.S having consumed some 300 million Cuban cigars by the mid-19th century, and many Cuban cigar-makers migrating to nearby Florida, where Tampa became known as “Cigar City” by the early 20th century.

Now, U.S citizens can also enjoy the limitless consumption of what has made Cuba’s known as the ‘Isle of Rum’. Through an age-old tradition of rum-making using a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban “Maestro Roneros” (master rum-makers) this distinctly Cuban beverage is sought after the world over.

Lawrence Ward, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, an international law firm focused on U.S. national security law, international trade compliance law and licensing, said that, “Today’s announcement is a massive development in further opening trade between the United States and Cuba. The Obama Administration has been committed to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations and these new changes come at an interesting time when U.S.-Russian relations are quite tense.”

Ward added that Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought after commodities for U.S. tourists to bring home for personal use.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Governments and Social Movements Disagree on Future of Cities Fri, 21 Oct 2016 22:12:36 +0000 Emilio Godoy Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development and the alternative forums held by social organisations ended in the Ecuadorean capital with opposing visions regarding the future of cities and the fulfillment of rights in urban areas.

On Thursday Oct. 20, the representatives of 195 countries taking part in the Habitat III conference adopted the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, after four days of deliberations.

The basis of the declaration, also known as the New Urban Agenda, is the promotion of sustainable urban development, inclusive prosperity, and spatial development planning.“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes.” -- Fernando Carrión

In the 23-page declaration, the states commit themselves to fighting poverty, inequality and discrimination; improving urban planning; and building cities with resilience to climate change.

At the same time, academics and social movements laid out their visions of social development of cities in two alternative social forums held parallel to the Oct. 17-20 summit, criticising Habitat III’s approach to urbanisation and questioning how effectively it can be applied.

“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes,” Fernando Carrión, the Ecuadorean activist who headed the Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 social forum, told IPS.

During this parallel forum, held at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), some 140 speakers from 32 nations and 40 organisations from around the region discussed urban rights; the dialogue with local governments and social movements; housing and spatial justice, a term similar to the right to the city.

Habitat III, the cities summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, drew around 35,000 delegates of governments, non-governmental organisations, international bodies, universities, and companies, and gave rise to the New Urban Agenda, which is to chart the course of political action aimed at sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

After the United States and Europe, Latin America is the most urbanised part of the planet, as 80 percent of the region’s total population of 641 million people live in urban areas.

At least 104 million Latin Americans live in slums; worldwide the number of slum dwellers amounts to 2.5 billion, according to U.N.-Habitat.

This phenomenon poses the challenges of land title regularisation and the provision of basic services, while aggravating problems facing cities like pollution, increasing traffic, urban sprawl and inequality.

“We need to rethink how to organise cities. We have to organise and mobilise ourselves. We’re going to assess compliance by national and local governments, which are key, because many things will depend on their compliance,” Alison Brown, a professor at the University of Cardiff in the UK, told IPS.

 Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

The Quito Declaration drew criticism on some points. One of the main concerns that arose in the debates was about the “post-Quito” implementation of the commitments assumed by the states and social organisations.

The Habitat III accords “cannot generate the urban reforms that we need, such as integral access to land with services. That can only be achieved through struggle. It is local political participation that makes it possible to press for urban reform,” Isabella Goncalves, an activist with the Brazilian NGO Brigadas Populares, told IPS.

She attended the Oct. 14-20 Resistance to Habitat III social forum, which brought together delegates from about 100 social organisations from 35 nations to address issues such as opposition to evictions, the promotion of social housing, and defending the right to the city.

In its final declaration, the social forum called for strengthening the movements defending the right to land and territory and respect for the universal right to housing, and questioned Habitat III for pushing for urbanisation to the detriment of rural areas and their inhabitants.

The Habitat International Coalition criticised the New Urban Agenda’s “narrow vision”, and lamented that Habitat III had forgotten about protecting people from forced eviction and about the need to fight the shortage of housing and to achieve the right to universal housing.

It also urged countries to “regulate global financial transactions; end or limit opaque speculative financial instruments; steeply tax real-estate speculation; regulate rents; enhance the social tenure, production and financing of housing and habitat; and prevent privatisation of the commons, which is subject to attack under the neoliberal development model.”

Academics and social movements want to avoid a repeat of what happened post-Habitat II, which was held in 1996 in Istanbul, and whose implementation lacked follow-up and evaluation.

For that reason, the organisers of Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 agreed on the creation of an observatory for monitoring the decisions reached, biannual meetings, wide publication of the results of research and follow-up on the progress made by cities.

The Quito Declaration mentions periodic reviews, and urges the U.N. secretary general to assess the progress made and challenges faced in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, in his quadrennial report in 2026.

The decade between the summit in Istanbul and the one held this week in Quito serves as a demonstration of what could happen with the New Urban Agenda.

The Global Urban Futures Project’s Habitat Commitment Index, presented during Habitat III, shows how little has been achieved since 1996.

Between Habitat I, held in 1976 in Vancouver, and Habitat II, the global average score in terms of fulfillment of the commitments assumed was 68.68, according to the Project, a network of academics and activists based at the New School University in New York City, which created the Index based on infrastructure, poverty, employment, sustainability, institutional capacity, and gender indicators.

But since the 1996 conference, the global average only increased by 1.49 points. Latin America and Southeast Asia increased their scores, while North and sub-Saharan Africa showed extremes in both directions, with large increases and decreases in HCI scores.” India made no progress, and China saw a “significant decline” in its score.

With respect to the different dimensions taken into account by the Index, the greatest progress was seen in gender, modest progress was seen in poverty and sustainability, and minimal progress was seen in infrastructure.

“We didn’t manage to get a citizen monitoring mechanism or advisory committee included in the New Urban Agenda,” Luis Bonilla of El Salvador, who is the chief operating officer for TECHO International, told IPS.

“For that reason, we will create a follow-up mechanism. Concrete commitments are needed” within the agenda, he added.

Carrión, a professor at FLACSO and a coordinator of working groups in the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLASCO), said “the attention of many organisations was drawn, and now we will see what can be done from here on out.” For social movements, then, Quito marked the start of a long road ahead.

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Student Struggle in South Africa Gains Momentum Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:45 +0000 Desmond Latham Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

By Desmond Latham

When #FeesMustFall began to trend on social media platforms in South Africa in October 2015, government shrugged it off as an example of isolated hotheads, while political pundits predicted the student campaign wouldn’t last.

But a year later and the protest movement has gained traction across the country, with all major tertiary institutions partly shut down or barely functioning, and civil society warning that the effect on various sectors of the economy will carry over to 2017.Black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

In the latest action, hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday, Oct. 20, and called on government to take their complaints about the high cost of education seriously.

The University of the Witwatersrand student movement began in 2015 when students shut down the campus on the eve of exams after it was announced that fees would increase by 10.5 percent in 2016, citing the weak rand which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015 as one of the main reasons.

Since then protestors have taken aim at government as well as their local institutions and have called for action against the ruling African National Congress after its leaders told the country’s parliament this week that education could not be “a free for all”.

Posters emerged of students calling for the ruling party to “Fxxx Off” and the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be fired. Speaking to media on Oct. 14, Nzimande said government could not afford free education demands.

“In South Africa it is the taxpayers who give you money up-front and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others,” he said. “Somebody is paying… So we must understand these slogans properly.”

Students have rejected this view and mediation between the students and state by church and other NGO’s has failed so far. South Africa spends 5.4 percent of its 100-billion-dollar budget on education, and earlier in 2016 allocated an additional 1.1 billion for higher education over the next three years, with 400 million specifically aimed at keeping fees for tertiary institutions as low as possible. However, this has failed to address the students’ demands.

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

The call for education to be free comes as South Africa’s economy flounders and its currency, the rand, lost a third of its value against the U.S. dollar. The country’s high youth unemployment rate of over 45 percent has exacerbated the problem, while South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world in terms of the rich/poor divide.

The Wits Student Representative Council warned that its members can no longer afford the tuition fees and early memoranda included the demand for free education, the scrapping of registration fees and for all security forces to vacate the university campus.

But arson has been reported at the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, Cape Town University and a host of other small campus around South Africa. End of year exams have been affected and the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences has suspended its academic year.

An impasse has now developed, with government saying it can’t allow unruly elements to destroy property and stepping up the number of police patrolling these venues.

Students have long led the struggle for change in the country. The most famous example is the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid linked to Afrikaans being used in education. Twenty-two years after democracy, students once again are making themselves heard and are focusing on higher education.

While making up around 80 percent of the population, black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

But the protest movement has gained impetus in recent months and government has been largely unable to cope with the increased violence associated with the uprising. South African police officers have also claimed that criminals have infiltrated the protest movement, with a few to cashing in on the chaos.

‘‘It is evident that criminality has taken advantage of young people in the universities under the disguise of the #FeesMustFall initiative,” said police chief Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Oct. 6, although he provided no substantive proof to back up this view.

The state has also hardened its attitude toward the students, and succeeded in having former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamimi denied bail during a court hearing on Oct. 19 in Johannesburg. He’s charged with malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after footage emerged of Dlamini allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He’s also accused of ignoring a previous court order obtained by Wits University to restrain students from disrupting normal activity.

The protest has turned more violent with a security guard battling for his life after being beaten by youths in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg the head of the local Fees Must Fall organisation, Shaeera Kalla, was rushed to hospital on Oct. 20 after being shot numerous times with rubber bullets.

Soon after, Kalla thanked supporters on her Facebook page and vowed: “Even as we sit in hospital beds and others languish in prisons, I take strength from students across the country who are continuing the fight. Onwards and Upwards. Towards the immediate realisation of free, quality and decolonized education now.”

In a statement earlier in the week, the Wits SRC warned that “as the days go on, the brutality against students and repression at our universities continues to increase. Since Friday night, the levels of violence at Wits University have increased. Students, regardless of their involvement in the protest action, are being violated in ways we thought were unimaginable in a post-apartheid South Africa.”

The students have called on members of the public to denounce “the apartheid tactics that are being used, to speak out against the violations and brutality” while reiterating that their call for “free, quality, equal and decolonized education” was a legitimate one.

Civil society leaders, including the Council of Churches, have been mediating between the two sides and continue to try to solve what is now being called an impasse.

An inter-ministerial committee on university fees was set up by government but it initially only included the Higher Education Minister and leaders of the security cluster managed by President Jacob Zuma.

Finally, on Thursday, following the upsurge in violence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was added to the list, which is regarded as a crucial step in order for the state to approach international donors of the bond market in order to find cash to cover student demands.

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UN Extends Condolences on Passing of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:35:53 +0000 an IPS Correspondent Secretary-General Kofi Annan with King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2006. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan with King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2006. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By an IPS Correspondent

On the morning of 13 October 2016 members of the UN General Assembly observed a minute of silence in honour of Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand, who died earlier that day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his deep condolences to the Royal family, Government and people of Thailand.

“H.M. King Bhumibol was revered by the people of Thailand as a unifying national leader. He was also highly respected internationally,” said Ban.

“At this time of sorrow and loss, I hope that Thailand will continue to honour King Bhumibol’s legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights,” he said.

The President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson expressed his profound sadness at the passing away of King Adulyadej.

“King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest reigning Monarch at the time of his passing, was a venerated leader with an unwavering commitment to his country and the social and economic improvement of its inhabitants,” said Thomson.

“A highly respected statesman dedicated to peace and regional security and prosperity, King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s legacy will continue to live in our hearts and minds,” he said.

King Adulyadej received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Nations Development Programme in 2006.

The UN General Assembly observies a moment of silence for the King of Thailand. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

The UN General Assembly observed a moment of silence for the King of Thailand. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

“Your Majesty has made an extraordinary contribution to human development,” then Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on presenting the award.

“As the world’s ‘Development King,’ Your Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand – regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion – listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives in their own hands,” said Annan.

Annan also acknowledged Adulyadej’s “invaluable role in shaping the global development dialogue,” through his Sufficiency Economy Philosophy which emphasises: “moderation, responsible consumption, and resilience to external shocks.”

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Innovate to Save Lives Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:28:20 +0000 Syed Saad Andaleeb By Syed Saad Andaleeb
Oct 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

I recently went to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a city hospital. One of my students at BRACUniversity suffered a serious brain injury while travelling in a tempo that overturned. The boy eventually succumbed to his fatal injury. Deep within, I felt a sense of loss not only on account of the student and his family, but also for the university, as well as for the nation which lost a fine human asset. Three things occurred to me as I made my pensive way back home.

 Image: Peachinfomatics

Image: Peachinfomatics

First, when the accident occurred, some good Samaritans stepped forward and tried to save the student. But they were turned away from several hospitals, while his life was ebbing. For one thing, the Samaritans had no information regarding which hospital had ICU facilities and which one had an available bed to offer. As a result, when they reached a hospital, they either learnt that it did not have an ICU or were told that the ICUs were full. In one case, the hospital was reluctant to admit the student based on the seriousness of his condition. A staff member apparently remarked in cavalier fashion, “Take him away; you will only spend lakhs, but not take him back alive.” From what I learnt, there was no effort to admit the patient for a comprehensive evaluation and make any attempt to save the life. The frantic rush from one hospital to another may have been ultimately responsible for the loss of a precious life.

Given that the student was from the Computer Science and Engineering department, it dawned on me that an app could be developed (perhaps by his friends in remembrance) that would immediately show which hospitals have ICUs and available beds. This idea can later be expanded to other hospital services. To save precious time, one must be able to reserve a bed immediately via the app and regardless of the condition of the patient, the ICU must give a professional opinion after admitting the patient. This should be a law! Admittedly, the details of the app need to be worked out; for example, against false bookings, pranks, etc. Perhaps a substantive fee may be charged upon booking the space, although this may make the good Samaritans balk from making the reservation. Surely, these matters are not insoluble and will have to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

The second issue is that of costs. Who is to pay for the exorbitant cost of intensive care? As things stand, the family of the student will now be responsible for bearing the huge costs – a bolt from the blue – for the fault of someone else, namely the tempo driver. As reported, the haste, belligerence and carelessness of the tempo driver should make it his responsibility to pay. Perhaps the owner of the vehicle also bears some responsibility for hiring a reckless and unduly aggressive driver. But this idea is likely to go nowhere: too many ifs and buts, including the financial status of the tempo driver and the raw power of the owner’s groups that likely includes members from powerful coteries.

This particular student had a very high CGPA and was a promising star – in fact, a national asset. Students who come so far to study at the university level are decidedly national assets. They will be contributing to the nation’s growth and need to be supported to the extent possible. Suppose the student had survived, the burden of medical expenses could have cost him his education.

A suggestion, therefore, is to contemplate a nation-wide insurance plan for students in higher education (or even at lower tiers or all students). For their protection, as well as the protection of their families, a three-way insurance scheme may be envisaged where the student and his family pays a part, the university pays another, while the nation pays a third part. This proposal could be the starting point of a conversation on how to protect the most vital of our country’s assets: human assets. Insurance companies also ought to look at how best to craft policies that protect these assets. While these companies are entitled to make profits, their policies often keep out a significant proportion of the population, especially those in need, even from basic coverage. There are universal health coverage schemes in other nations that could be studied for adaptation and adoption.

Finally, the tempo (and other public vehicle) drivers really need to be reined in. They are far too aggressive, far too callous, and often hostile when let loose on our streets. In their rush to get to places, they are pushy, change lanes on a whim, and are utterly callous of where they pick up or drop off passengers, oblivious to the risks to which the passengers are exposed. Can a national programme be developed to train and certify the drivers of public (and even private) transportation vehicles? In addition, can a database be developed to track those drivers who have a record of bad driving to be able to keep them off the streets? An app could be developed for this as well. For example, each vehicle would have a highly visible code to which the driver of the vehicle is connected. Suffering passengers could report the driver using the code on a set of violations using the app that would automatically go into a database, resulting in accumulation of negative points. Using the database as a tracking mechanism about the driver and the owner, disciplinary penalties could be imposed on both driver and owner to bring about much needed behavioural changes in those who run riot on our streets.

Catastrophic events deliver many families into the clutches of poverty from which there may be no coming back. As the nation continues to make steady economic progress, its social innovations must keep pace. Social protection via innovative apps and a national insurance policy, crafted properly, can protect many families faced with a life-changing event. Anticipating the challenges driven by development and designing innovative provisions are the need of the day. Academia, especially, can and must join hands with other stakeholders to lead the way.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of BRAC University.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Social Unravelling Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:19:32 +0000 Faisal Bari By Faisal Bari
Oct 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Recently I asked a colleague, who has been living in Pakistan for a couple of decades but had spent the early part of his life in the West initially studying and then working there, if he missed being abroad and regretted his decision to move back to Pakistan.

Faisal Bari

Faisal Bari

“No, no regrets, but I miss having access to good bookshops, coffee shops, pubs, parks and cinemas. But if I think more deeply about it, it is not just the goods and services that these places provide that I miss, it is the social and public space these places offer that I miss.” The answer was intriguing and so I pressed him to say more.

“I can get the books I want from Amazon and other sources in Pakistan too, but the joy of browsing through a large bookshop that is well organised and looked after is what I miss. It gave me the freedom to explore my options; when I am ordering books I am restricted to purchasing the ones I know about. Coffee shops and pubs gave me freedom to discuss a lot of issues with a lot of different types of people in public spaces.

When we think of development and quality of life, we should also consider our social fabric.

“Here, I feel more restricted to family and a smaller circle of friends. Our social lives are more restricted to our homes, and the homes of friends and relatives. What those places provide is very different; they allow for a very different interaction with others and even facilitate interaction with relative strangers. Those sort of public spaces are still not as readily available in our cities.”

He added: “Most importantly, though, I miss the relative calm of everyday existence in the West. The everyday certainties of life, which remain in the background and are taken for granted over there — but not in Pakistan — is what I miss the most. The predictability of water and electricity supplies, the ease of public transport, the quality of services you can expect from both public- and private-sector providers — all of these reduce base-level anxiety in the West. Your life becomes easier due to that.”

He gave me an interesting example. One of his sons, born in Pakistan, was admitted to a public school when they moved abroad. While in Pakistan, the child had attended one of the country’s top private schools. Within a month of enrolment abroad, his son’s teacher had called my friend in for a discussion; she thought the child might have a learning disability. His son was referred to the appropriate experts who identified the learning impairment within weeks and the school, with the parents’ help, had devised appropriate coping mechanisms for him within a matter of months.

Even though the child had already been experiencing issues in Pakistan, the school did nothing nor alerted the parents to any issue, instead suggesting that he should get extra coaching as he appeared to be careless or unable to understand.

“The few years my son spent in that public school abroad saved him and us. All of us learnt how to manage his learning disability and these lessons have helped us even after we moved back to Pakistan. Can you imagine what would have happened to him if he had continued in Pakistan? Most likely, he would have eventually been thrown out of school, or he would have had to rely on rote learning to pass his examinations.”

My colleague said that he always felt more ‘on edge’ in Pakistan than he ever did abroad. “More things go wrong in our daily lives and everything takes longer to fix or address. And there is a base-level ‘breathlessness’ to living in Pakistan; a lot more happens in our lives and in society every day. In a way, it feels like entropy levels are higher in our society and so, if you want to improve in either your personal/family space or in national life, you have to work a lot harder to do that than in other places.”

I asked him if he felt that all of this might be true of any developing society, and that this might be the ‘cost’ we have to pay for living in societies that are still struggling to get their institutions right. He was not sure about that. He had not travelled enough within developing countries to be able to say with certainty whether this was just a consequence of a lack of institutional development. But he did mention that he had spent some time in Sri Lanka some time ago, and he felt that the base-level issues were not the same there. But his stay was not long enough for him to form a firmer judgement.

“I know you do not regret the decision to come back despite all that you’ve said, but would you advise young people who have a choice of moving or staying abroad to come back or stay in Pakistan?” I asked.

“It is a personal decision, but I do feel that people who are fortunate enough to have the choice should think a lot harder before making their decision. If you decide to stay in or come back to Pakistan, be prepared to deal with a higher level of entropy. It will impact your personality, your relationships as well as your ability to do things in life.”

I am not a psychologist; I do not know how deeply our personalities are impacted by our environments. But the conversation, I thought, did point out some important issues in our society and the impact they have on us that makes it worth reporting. Maybe when we think of development and quality of life, we should also be thinking about some of the factors mentioned here, and not just about the GDP, infrastructure and capital.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Funding Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities in Developing Countries Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:45:10 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazil Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Privatization the Problem, Rarely the Solution Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:02:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

Privatization has been one of the pillars of the counter-revolution against development economics and government activism from the 1980s. Many developing countries were forced to accept privatization as a condition for support from the World Bank while many other countries have embraced privatization, often on the pretext of fiscal and debt constraints.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Privatization generally refers to changing the status of a business, service or industry from state, government or public ownership to private control. It sometimes also refers to the use of private contractors to provide services previously delivered by the public sector.

Privatization can be strictly defined to include only cases of the sale of 100%, or at least a majority share of a public or state-owned enterprise (SOE), or its assets, to private shareholders. The definition of privatization in some contexts is so broad that it includes cases where private enterprises are awarded licences to participate in activities previously the exclusive preserve of the public sector.

Why the turn to privatization?
The balance of payments problems arising from oil shocks in the 1970s and the US Fed’s increase of the interest rate to well over 20% precipitated sovereign debt crises in Latin America and elsewhere from the early 1980s, forcing many developing countries to seek credit support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The World Bank and IMF’s ‘neo-liberal’ policy prescriptions involved liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Collectively, they later came to be known as the Washington Consensus to refer to the common position of three Washington DC based institutions – the US Treasury, the IMF and the World Bank.

Main arguments for privatization
Privatization was advocated as an easy means to:
1) reduce the ‘financial and administrative burden of the government’, particularly in undertaking and maintaining services and infrastructure;
2) ‘promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity’ in the delivery of public services;
3) ‘stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment’, and thus accelerate economic growth;
4) help reduce ‘the presence and size of the public sector, with its monopolistic tendencies and bureaucratic support’.

Public or consumer welfare
Since a significant portion of state-run activities are public monopolies, privatization will hand over such monopoly powers to private interests likely to use them to maximize profits. The privatization of public services tends to burden the public, especially if charges are raised for privatized services which may not improve with privatization.

Private interests are only interested in profitable or potentially profitable activities and enterprises. Thus, the government will be saddled with unprofitable and less profitable activities, reinforcing the impression of SOE inefficiencies. Consequently, privatization may worsen overall enterprise performance. ‘Value for money’ may go down, despite improvements used to justify higher user charges.

Privatization in many developing and transition economies has primarily enriched a few with strong political connections who ‘captured’ lucrative opportunities associated with privatization, while the public interest has been increasingly sacrificed to such powerful private business interests. This has, in turn, exacerbated problems of corruption, patronage and other related problems.

Adverse consequences
Some other adverse consequences of privatization include:
– The social and political implications of two types of services, i.e. one for those who can afford more costly, private – including privatized – services, and the other for those who cannot, and hence have to continue to rely on subsidized public services, e.g. medical services and education.
– The effects of minimal long-term investments by private owners narrowly focused on maximizing short-term profits.
– Increased living costs as well as poorer services and utilities – especially in remote and rural areas – due to ‘economic costing’ of services, e.g. telecommunications, water supply and electricity.
– Reduced jobs, overtime work and real wages for employees of privatized concerns.

Flawed arguments
Arguments for privatization can be refuted on the following grounds:
• The public sector can be more efficiently run, as demonstrated in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
• Greater public accountability and a more transparent public sector can ensure greater efficiency in achieving the public and national interest while limiting public-sector waste and borrowing.
• Privatization may postpone a fiscal crisis by temporarily reducing fiscal deficits, but the public sector would lose income from profitable public sector activities, and be stuck with financing and subsidizing unprofitable ones. As experience shows, the fiscal crisis may even deepen if the new owners of profitable SOEs avoid paying taxes with creative accounting or due to the typically generous terms of privatization.
• Privatization gives priority to profit maximization, typically at the expense of social welfare, equity and the public interest. It tends to adversely affect the interests of public-sector employees and the public, especially poorer consumers.
• Public pressure to ensure the equitable distribution of share ownership (e.g., ‘voucher privatization’) may inadvertently undermine pressures to improve corporate performance since each shareholder would then only have small equity stakes, and would therefore be unlikely to incur the high costs of monitoring management and corporate performance.
• By diverting private capital from productive new investments to buying over public sector assets, economic growth would be retarded rather than enhanced.

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The New Urban Agenda: What Our Cities Can Be Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:27:22 +0000 Nick Beresford and Ashekur Rahman By Nick Beresford and Ashekur Rahman
Oct 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The future is urban and nowhere is that more true than in Bangladesh. If current rates of urbanisation continue, the country’s urban population will double by 2035. Around the Bay of Bengal, a mega city would join Dhaka to Chittagong, creating one of the world’s largest conglomerations. Whether that process produces a congested toxic unlivable mess of concrete and steel, or whether it becomes a thriving, connected, wonderful city to live in, is almost entirely down to the political and policy choices we make.

Photo: Star

Photo: Star

This week a critical meeting in Quito, Ecuador, will look at those critical political and policy choices. The Habitat III conference to adopt a “New Urban Agenda” builds on the Habitat Agenda of Istanbul in 1996 (Habitat II).

The new agenda is intended to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation. The conference is expected to result in a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document on making cities and human settlements equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just, equal and safe until 2030. By the middle of the century, a majority of the world’s citizens —four out of five people — could be living in towns or cities. Indeed, in the time since the Habitat Agenda was adopted, the world has become majority urban, lending extra urgency to the New Urban Agenda.

Habitat III is one of the first major global conferences to be held after the adoption of two key agreements, last year. Agenda 2030, a new development plan for the world; and a new Climate Change agreement adopted in Paris. It offers a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns and villages are planned and managed in a sustainable manner, to meet the new global agenda and climate change goals.

The New Urban Agenda, agreed upon at Habitat III in Quito, will guide the efforts around urbanisation of a wide range of actors — nation states, city and regional leaders, international development funders, UN programmes and civil society — for the next 20 years. Inevitably, this agenda will also lay the groundwork for policies and approaches that will have long lasting impact.


Forty years later, after both Habitat I and II, there is wide consensus that towns’ and cities’ structure, form, and functionality need to change as societies change. Especially, slums and related informal settlements that have become a spontaneous form of urbanisation, consisting of a series of survival strategies by the urban poor, most borne out of poverty and exclusion.

Habitat III represents an opportunity to make concrete the ideals of Habitat II in designing policies, planning urban spaces for all, and providing affordable urban services and utilities through adopting a ‘New Urban Agenda’ this October.

Towards the New Urban Agenda

The core issues of the Habitat II Agenda — adequate housing and sustainable human settlements — remain on the table, as the number of people worldwide living in urban slums continues to grow. There is also an increasing recognition that cities have morphed into mega-regions, urban corridors and city-regions whose economic, social and political geographies defy traditional conceptions of the “city”.

Impact of the agenda

The Agenda will seek to create a mutually reinforcing relationship between urbanisation and development. Several core ideas form the ideological underpinnings of the New Urban Agenda. Democratic development and respect for human rights feature prominently in the draft agreements, as does the relationship between the environment and urbanisation.

The new agenda also places importance on establishing a global monitoring mechanism to track progress on meeting commitments. As an “agenda”, it will provide guidance to nation states, city and regional authorities, civil society, foundations, NGOs, academic researchers and UN agencies. However, this guidance is not binding. This arrangement is different from, for example, the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, which resulted in a legally binding agreement.

Let’s take a practical example. The new urban agenda calls for mass transit systems and to cut back our dependence on vehicles. In recent years in Dhaka, our response to traffic congestion has been to build flyovers. This has been compared to an overweight person addressing the need to lose weight by loosening their belt. You feel better at first, but it doesn’t last. The underlying issues are not addressed. The government recently broke ground on metro rail link between Uttara and the airport. With policy choices like this, we can move Dhaka to the fore of the New Urban Agenda.

The New Urban Agenda and Bangladesh

A broad range of actors in Bangladesh were involved in contributing to developing the New Urban Agenda. The Government of Bangladesh, through the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, is engaged in both the Habitat III conference and related academic discussions through various national and international forums.

It is estimated that 60 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP is produced in urban areas. Having laid out an urban vision in the 7th Five-year Plan as “compact, networked, resilient, competitive, and inclusive and smart,” Bangladesh still has considerable work ahead to meet international goals set by the New Urban Agenda. Certainly, in Bangladesh the stakes are high, since it is the third most urbanised nation in South Asia.

The ‘new urban agenda’ will clearly influence policymakers as they consider cities, urbanisation and sustainable development, and set priorities at the national levels. With the global perspectives on managing urbanisation for making cities and human settlements equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just, equal and safe, Bangladesh can finalise the long awaited national urban sector policy. And it can begin drafting a ‘New Urban Agenda’ to tackle the country’s rapid urbanisation in order to maximise the benefits of urbanisation for the people of Bangladesh.

The writers are Acting Country Director of UNDP Bangladesh and Urban Programme Specialist of UNDP Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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