Inter Press Service Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:34:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Evidence on Hammarskjöld Crash Could Lead to Further Inquiry, Says U.N. Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:33:06 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin By Roger Hamilton-Martin

Experts investigating the 1961 plane crash that killed former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld have submitted a report to the United Nations stating they have found significant new information which could indicate aerial attack or interference as a possible cause of the crash.

The panel of experts was tasked in March by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to examine evidence pertaining to the crash on Sept. 18, 1961, in which Hammarskjöld was one of 16 to die. The 56-year-old Swedish diplomat was en route to negotiate a cease-fire for the mining-rich Katanga province when his Douglas DC-6 airliner crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

The Panel described the new information as “having moderate probative value, sufficient to further pursue aerial attack or other interference as a hypothesis of the possible cause of the crash”. It will likely provoke another investigation.

The information included eyewitness accounts of more than one jet aircraft in the air at the time of the crash, and that Hammarskjöld’s plane was on fire before it hit the ground. There was also a possibility that communications sent from the CX-52 cryptographic machine used by Mr. Hammarskjöld were intercepted, the report stated.

The experts also found new information which upholds the original 1961 post-mortem examination of the 16 passengers on board SE-BDY.

The Panel, consisting of Mr. Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, Ms. Kerryn Macaulay of Australia and Mr. Henrik Larsen of Denmark, also examined and assessed the value of new information relating to the various other hypotheses of the cause of the crash.

Theories relating to a possible hijacking or sabotage were found by the panel to have “nil or weak probative value”, yet new information was found relating to a hypothesis involving “crew fatigue”.

Investigations are likely to continue, with Ban Ki-moon remarking that “a further inquiry or investigation would be necessary to finally establish the facts.”

The Secretary-General is now reaching out to U.N. Member States to declassify and make available specific information, which may have been kept under wraps since the 1960s, relating to the event.

Several Member States, including the United Kingdom and the U.S., have withheld documents from the experts which could prove key in determining the cause of the crash. In a statement introducing the report, the Secretary-General noted that “there is a possibility that unreleased classified material relating to the crash of SE-BDY may still be available.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Day One of Oslo Summit Urges Increased Funding for Global Education Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:22:46 +0000 Aruna Dutt Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt

At the first day of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a personal story of his experience during the Korean War, when his family “had to run for the mountains”. He spoke of how he was able to receive textbooks because of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“They taught us more than math and reading,” he said, “They taught us the meaning of global solidarity.”

Coming to the end of the 15-year effort to achieve the United Nations’ eight aspirational poverty-reduction goals named the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has been some progress in achieving the second goal of universal primary education since 2000, with more girls attending school and the net enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa increasing to 80 percent.

However, this progress is slow and not sufficient enough. Increasing financial aid for education in poor countries is critical to meeting this MDG, as new evidence published by UNESCO today shows there is a rising number of out-of-school children (124 million), an issue serious enough to bring hundreds of world leaders to Oslo July 6 and 7.

The leaders are hoping to mobilise more resources for reaching the MDGs and the new sustainable development goals for inclusive and quality education in countries affected by conflict, crisis and poverty.

Today’s sessions in Oslo brought together representatives of governments, organisations, businesses, academia, media, children and teachers to discuss best options, and bring a sense of urgency to the summit.

The main belief of those attending is that education is a human right and a public good, said Ms. Rasheda K. Choudhury, Vice President of the Global Campaign for Education.

Education is not a commodity, Choudhury continues, but a responsibility, and this summit is not taking place as a reminder, rather to help “rethink the strategies” being used.

The discussions highlighted the disparity in education between genders as well as minorities and marginalised groups. Education needs to be considered a life-saving investment in order for more humanitarian efforts and investments, said Hanna Persson, policy officer for gender, education and children at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), an organisation which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

According to the final MDG report, children with mothers who have a secondary education are three times more likely to survive than those without.

Urgency was placed on financing education, and the private sector was discussed as the key resource for partnerships and innovation to reach the education goals.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, urged countries to increase aid.

“While overseas development assistance increased by nine per cent between 2010 and 2013, aid to basic education fell by 22 per cent from 4.5billion dollars to 3.5billion dollars,” he noted in a statement.

Spending on education is 24 dollars per child in the Democratic Republic of Congo and averages 80 dollars per child across the poorest countries, while in developed countries such as Norway, U.K., and the U.S., more than 8,000 dollars per child is spent annually.

The rise in conflicts and natural disasters that have prevented children from attending school was also a main discussion topic at the summit Monday. There have not been this many displaced children since the 1940s, said the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, yet in 2014 less than 1.7 per cent of humanitarian spending was on education.

The United Nations Secretary-General concluded the summit, “When we put every child in school, provide them with quality learning, and foster global citizenship, we will transform our future.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Putting the “Integrity of the Earth’s Ecosystems” at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Agenda Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:22:31 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

By 2050, we will be a world of nine billion people. Not only does this mean there’ll be two million more mouths to feed than there are at present, it also means these mouths will be consuming more – in the next 20 years, for instance, an estimated three billion people will enter the middle class, in addition to the 1.8 billion estimated to be within that income bracket today.

These changes are going to put unprecedented pressure on the world’s natural resources, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s International Resource Panel (IRP).

Entitled ‘Policy Coherence of the Sustainable Development Goals: A Natural Resource Perspective’, the report warns that maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems will be critical for the successful realisation of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Unless the new development blueprint is centered on protecting and respecting the earth’s limited bounty, the goals of poverty eradication and ensuring decent lives for current and future generations will fall by the wayside, experts predict.

For instance, IRP studies have shown that annual global extraction increased “by a factor of eight in the 20th century” from seven billion tonnes of material in 1900 to 68 billion tonnes of resources by 2009.

Based on current trends, resource use and extraction could hit 140 billion tonnes by 2050 – three times what was extracted in the year 2000, according to UNEP data.

“Due to declining ore grades, depending on the material concerned, about three times as much material needs to be moved today for the same ore extraction as a century ago, with concomitant increases in land disruption, groundwater implications and energy use,” UNEP said in a press release on Jul. 6.

Meanwhile, pressures on biotic resources are also on the rise, with 20 percent of cultivated land, 30 percent of the world’s forests and 10 percent of its grasslands being degraded at a rate that far outstrips the ability of such earth systems to replenish themselves.

Deterioration of ecosystems also threatens to worsen the impacts of climate change, contribute to water scarcity and exacerbate world hunger, with environmental experts fearing that 25 percent of total global food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of converging land and resource issues.

“The core challenge of achieving the SDGs will be to lift a further one billion people out of absolute poverty and address inequalities, while meeting the resource needs – in terms of energy, land, water, food and material supply – of an estimated eight billion people in 2030,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said Monday.

“The fulfillment of the SDGs in word and spirit will require fundamental shifts in the manner with which humanity views the natural environment in relation to human development,” he added.

Representing over 30 renowned experts and scientists, and as many national governments, the IRP today called for the “prudent management and use of natural resources, given that several Goals are inherently dependent on the achievement of higher resource productivity, ecosystem restoration and resource conservation”.

The report also urged policy makers to introduce practices based on a ‘circular economy’ approach, whereby reusing, recycling and remanufacturing products and other materials reduces waste by “decoupling” natural resource use from economic progress.

While the SDGs represent a bold and wide-reaching framework for ending some of the world’s most pressing problems – among them hunger and extreme poverty – avoiding counter-productive results will depend on a “commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Earth’s systems while addressing the resource demands driven by individual goals,” UNEP experts cautioned.

As the world’s population increases, and more people climb into the ranks of the middle class (defined by increased income and a corresponding rise in consumption), it will become crucial for individuals to adopt consumption patterns – and governments and corporations to adopt production systems – that contribute to human well-being “without putting unsustainable pressures on the environment and natural resources”, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Scepticism, U.N. Hails Its Anti-Poverty Programme Mon, 06 Jul 2015 21:42:53 +0000 Thalif Deen Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which launched one of its most ambitious anti-poverty development programmes back in 2000, has hailed it as a riveting success story – despite shortcomings.

Launching the final report of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a meeting in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “following profound and consistent gains, we now know that extreme poverty can be eradicated within one more generation.”“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty." -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The MDGs, which are targeted to end this December, “have greatly contributed to this progress, and have taught us how governments, business, and civil society can work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs,” he said.

The United Nations claims it has cut poverty by half. “The world met that goal – and we should be very proud of that achievement,” he added.

But the target for the complete eradication of poverty from the developing world has been set for 2030 under a proposed post-2015 development agenda, including a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be launched at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives, according to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 released Monday.

“Only two short decades ago, nearly half of the developing world lived in extreme poverty. The number of people now living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015,” the study said.

But civil society organisations (CSOs) were sceptical about the claims.

Jens Martens, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (New York/Bonn), told IPS rather bluntly: ”The MDGs are not a success story.”

They reduced the development discourse to a small number of quantitative goals and targets and did not touch the structural framework conditions of development, he said.

Pointing out some of the shortcomings, he said the goal on income poverty has been weak and the threshold of 1.25 dollars per day completely inadequate. Someone with a per capita income of 1.26 dollars is still poor.

“And focusing only on income poverty is not at all sufficient. Governments have to deal with the problems of poverty and inequality in all their dimensions.”

Furthermore, said Martens, the MDGs did not take into account that the consumption and production patterns of the people in the global North, with their impact on climate change and biodiversity, have grave consequences for the survival and living conditions of the people in the global South.

Therefore, it is good news that the new SDGs reflect a much broader development approach, are universal and multidimensional, and contain not only goals for the poor but also goals for the rich, he noted.

Ben Phillips, International Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid, told IPS world leaders cannot fulfil their pledge to end poverty unless they tackle the crisis of the widening gap in wealth and power between the richest and the rest.

Ending poverty by 2030 cannot and should not be only an arithmetic exercise on the basis of very low dollar poverty lines which will not guarantee a life of dignity for all, he said.

“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty,” Phillips said.

Even to get beyond the very low poverty lines they have, however, growth will not be enough if it is not more evenly shared, he said.

“The world can overcome poverty and ensure dignity for all if political leaders find the courage to challenge inequality by boosting jobs, increasing minimum wages, providing universal public services, stopping tax dodging and tackling climate change.”

Governments need to stand up to corporate interests who are now so powerful that they are not only the sole beneficiaries of global rigged rules but the co-authors of them, he argued.

“It’s clear that governments will only take on the power of money if they are challenged by the power of the people.”

Still, the good news is that the movement to tackle inequality and confront plutocracy is growing, declared Phillips.

Martens told IPS lessons from the MDGs show that development goals are only useful if they are linked to clear commitments by governments to provide the necessary means of implementation.

That’s why the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development (FfD), scheduled to take place in Ethiopia next week, is of utmost importance.

To avoid the complete failure of this conference, he said, all governments have to accept that they have common but differentiated responsibilities to provide the necessary means to implement the SDGs; and they have to strengthen the U.N. substantially in international tax cooperation by establishing an intergovernmental tax body within the U.N.

Meanwhile the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 found that the 15-year effort to achieve the eight aspirational goals set out in the Millennium Declaration in 2000 was largely successful across the globe, while acknowledging shortfalls that remain.

The data and analysis presented in the report show that, with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest can make progress.

Highlighting some of the shortcomings, the report said that although significant gains have been made for many of the MDG targets worldwide, progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps.

Conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development, with fragile and conflict-affected countries typically experiencing the highest poverty rates.

Gender inequality persists in spite of more representation of women in parliament and more girls going to school.

Women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making, according to the report.

Despite enormous progress driven by the MDGs, about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger.

Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the wealthiest 20 per cent and are also four times as likely to be out of school. In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 per cent in 2012, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Religion and the SDGs – The ‘New Normal’ and Calls for Action Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:03:27 +0000 Azza Karam Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaks at a special event inside the General Assembly Hall, “Common Ground for the Common Good”, held to mark the last day of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Azza Karam

In 2007, an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune argued that you “gotta have faith in the U.N”.

A play on words, the article posited that the shifting sands of geopolitics and concerns surrounding available developmental resources were demanding a rethink of multilateral institutions and traditional forms of developmental partnerships. The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’.

As part of this re-imagining of global relations, the article argued, religion, and diverse faith-based actors in particular, had to be reckoned with more seriously by policy makers at the United Nations in particular – given the timeliness of the ‘mid-term’ MDG review processes.

The article noted that unless religion was systematically and consistently factored into developmental outreach, policy design, programme implementation, and monitoring efforts, something would continue to be missing in the equation of sustainability of human development processes.

In line with the gist of the article, a United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Engaging with Faith-Based Organizations for Sustainable Development was officially formed under the aegis of the U.N. Development Group (UNDG), in 2009, bringing together several U.N. entities (UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, UNAIDS, as well as U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, DESA, UNESCO, UNHabitat and UNEP) with the World Bank as an observer, and headquartered in New York.

The mandate of this body, dubbed the “UN Task Force on Religion and Development” for short, was to seek to share knowledge, and build U.N. staff and systems’ capacities on dealing with faith-based entities, and questions of religion, around the MDGs.

At first, the aspiration of some members of this Task Force was to develop common guidelines for dealing with religious actors, to which the varied U.N. developmental agencies/offices in particular, could sign on to. Very soon it became clear that common guidelines would not be possible.

Why? Because to agree to common guidelines would entail some form of common acceptance that religion mattered. Even more challenging, common guidelines would imply some sort of legitimacy around a complex and hard to define category of ‘religious actors’.

The Task Force members collaborated to serve as a hub for information and knowledge sharing between and among U.N. agencies and religious NGOs (or faith-based organisations/FBOs) accredited to ECOSOC or to DPI.

In February 2015, World Bank President Jim Kim convened a roundtable with CEOs of major international development and humanitarian FBOs, and religious leaders. In it, he stated that [the World Bank] cannot effectively seek to eradicate poverty without partnering with FBOs and religious leaders.

“We are open for business,” he said, indicating that these very actors can hold the World Bank accountable, henceforth, for more systematic engagement. The exact modalities of which, it should be noted, are yet to be worked out.

The meeting between WB President Jim Kim and the leaders of major FBOs signals a tipping point in international development, which will be underlined next week, on July 8 and 9, when the World Bank, together with bilateral co-sponsors, international FBOs and aid agencies, will convene a global conference on “Religion and Sustainable Development”.

The conference will focus on eradicating extreme poverty – one of the World Bank’s key objectives and the number one SDG. The objectives of the meeting will be to look at the evidence of faith-based engagement in poverty eradication, specifically in health, humanitarian relief and violence against women; to seek actionable recommendations for scaling up successful work modalities, and to secure more targeted and strategic investment in “faith assets”.

Building a ‘global faith-based movement for sustainable development’ has been mentioned by some of the organisers as one of the outcomes of this gathering. This conference may well mark a turning point in international development speak – from ‘whether/why to engage with faith actors’, to ‘how to engage better’.

The question is whether the conference could signal a moment in the trajectory of international development when ‘engaging with religious actors’ may well become the ‘new normal’?

Immediately following the World Bank meeting, on July 10 and 11, the U.N.’s Inter-Agency Task Force will convene a select number of donors, U.N. agencies and FBO partners, to host its second trilateral policy roundtable also on religion and the SDGs (the first took place in May of 2014).

The objective of this meeting is, put simply, to press the ‘pause’ button, so as to reflect, together, on where this potentially ‘new normal’ could lead us.

Focusing on the ‘governance’, ‘peace and security’ and ‘gender equality’ development goals, and with the relative ‘safe space’ afforded by respecting Chatham House rules, the gathered participants will speak candidly to what each organisation, and policy maker, in each of these ‘sectors’, is facing when religion comes into the mix.

Needless to say, these three developmental goals are where the challenge of religious dogma, harmful practices, and incitement to extremes of violence – to name but a few – are very much at play.

Those of us who have had to do battle inside our own organisations to bring attention to bear on the importance of learned appreciation of the roles of religion know full well how the difficulties posed by some religious ideologies, certain religious organisations, and specific ‘religious’ leaders are not just ‘out there’ in the communities we ostensibly serve, but also form part of the intergovernmental debates which define the organisational mandates we serve.

Part of the claim to success of some FBOs is their age-old capacity to provide social services directed to inequalities among the most hard to reach, and to develop innovative means of resourcing their work – including a capacity to rely on volunteer labour.

At the same time, however, some of the experience of certain U.N. entities –especially around human rights (and women’s rights in particular)- bespeaks serious challenges with certain religious leaders and faith entities.

It is not insignificant that this moment of honest reflection is being sought as the Financing for Development (FfD) conference, with all its attendant disputes among different Member State groupings, is also being enacted.

One of the many critical questions to be debated is whether FfD should have its own follow-up and review process or be merged with the post-2015 process. Also debated are issues of accountability and shared responsibility between and among governments, as well as dynamics relevant to public-private partnerships around human rights.

But where does follow-up, accountability and partnership modalities with faith-based actors fit into these debates?

The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’. So as we undertake to normalise faith-based engagement with multilateralism, we have some serious questions to confront and find answers to together with our faith-based partners.

These include: should we be cautious of seeking to normalize partnerships with faith-based development organizations, and with religious leaders, at a time when some faith-based entities, and certain ‘religious leaders’, are also significantly undermining the very basis of multilateralism based on universal human rights, human development, and peace and security?

How realistic is it to maintain that we are working with the ‘good [faith-based] guys’ only? Or is it (finally) time to be very clear about the means of implementation and accountability of such partnerships, at a U.N.-system wide level?

Given the intergovernmental haggling over means of implementation and the U.N.’s fit for SDG purposes, what are the criteria which will be used to assess whether the U.N., in its current guise, is indeed, fit for the purposes of religious partnerships?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Love & Mercy, the Croatian Way Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:43:10 +0000 Emina Cerimovic

Emina Ćerimović is a Koenig fellow at Human Rights Watch and carried out research in 2014 on institutionalization of people with disabilities in Croatia.

By Emina Ćerimović
NEW YORK, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Last week, I went to see the new flick “Love & Mercy,” about the life of Brian Wilson, a singer, songwriter, and the genius behind The Beach Boys. I hadn’t heard much about the film. In fact, I was expecting a summer movie about surfing and fun; The Beach Boys playing Kokomo, Good Vibrations, and Surfin’ U.S.A. on sunny California  beaches.

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

I was wrong. Instead, lives of hundreds of people I’ve met unfolded on the screen.

Love & Mercy depicts Wilson in two narratives: in the first, he is portrayed at the height of his fame as the leader of The Beach Boys in the 1960s. The second features a middle-aged Wilson misdiagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by Eugene Landy, Wilson’s therapist and legal guardian.

In the movie, Landy keeps Wilson heavily medicated as he controls every aspect of his life, including his finances, residence, family relationships and social interactions, and other basic life decisions. In one scene, Wilson talks about not speaking to his mother and daughters for years because Landy “doesn’t think it is a good idea.”

In another, Landy tells Wilson when and how much he should eat and whom he should date. Landy himself explains his influence:  “I’m the control. He is a little boy in a man’s body… It is my job, my duty to approve everyone Brian is spending time with.”Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants.

Wilson did not argue against Landy taking charge for fear that Landy would have him committed to an institution. As Wilson explains in the movie: “I can’t do that [disobey Landy]. He is my legal guardian. He can do things to me… He can send me away… There’s no way out.”

As the movie unfolded, it wasn’t solely Wilson’s story that I saw on the screen. I was reminded of Tatjana and Ivan, whom I met in Croatia. They are among the 18,000 people with disabilities placed under guardianship there and denied their right to make decisions about their lives.

More than 90 percent live under full guardianship, under which the guardians – often nominated by the government – make all life decisions for them.

Tatjana was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 30s, deprived of her legal capacity and placed under guardianship. She is now 47 but can’t visit her daughter or her mother without the permission of her guardian – in her case, a social worker.

It is the same if she wants to move to another house, get married, sign an employment contract, make health care decisions, or even officially publish her poems. Tatjana lived for nine years in an institution against her will because her legal guardian placed her there.  

Ivan is 30 and was diagnosed with mild mental health problems. He was just 16 when he was placed indefinitely in Lopaca, a psychiatric hospital where 168 people, including 20 children, are confined. He still lives there.

Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants. Both of them were stripped of their right to make decisions about their lives and appointed legal guardians.

Neither Tatjana nor Ivan was present during the court proceedings determining their legal capacity so they could  provide their input for this major decision about their life.  While guardians are supposed to only oversee decisions with legal consequences, such as signing contracts, in Croatia – just like what was depicted in Love & Mercy –guardians can monitor and control every move a person makes.

I saw firsthand that people with disabilities trapped in institutions in Croatia can experience a range of abuses including verbal abuse, forced treatment, involuntary confinement in hospitals, and limited freedom of movement.

At a pivotal point in the movie, Landy forbids Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter, his current wife, from seeing each other. That triggers Ledbetter, the true heroine of the movie, to intensify her efforts to free Wilson from Landy’s control. She learns that Wilson’s will would have awarded the vast majority of his wealth to Landy. The good news: Wilson’s family files a lawsuit successfully challenging the guardianship.

Sadly, there are no heroines to free Tatjana or Ivan of their guardians. There is a chance of a happy ending though. Croatia, unlike the U.S., has ratified the U.N. Disability Rights Treaty, which requires governments to move away from guardianship and instead provide a system of assistance and support for decision-making that respects the autonomy, will, and preferences of the person with the disability. Croatian laws, however, don’t reflect this.

Key policymakers in the Croatian government should see “Love & Mercy.” Maybe then they will abolish Croatia’s guardianship regime and provide a wide range of support measures. Who knew that The Beach Boys’ influence could go so far beyond their music?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Financial Inclusion Key to Climate Risk Reduction for Zambia’s Smallholders Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:29:26 +0000 Friday Phiri Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage.  Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MOYO, Pemba District, Zambia, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

In the advent of unpredictable weather, smallholder rain-dependent agriculture is increasingly becoming a risky business and the situation could worsen if, as seems likely, the world experiences levels of global warming that could lead to an increase in droughts, floods and diseases, both in frequency and intensity.

Neva Hamalengo, a 40-year-old farmer from Moyo in Pemba district, Southern Zambia, knows what it means to lose everything in a blink of an eye – not only did a storm wipe out an entire hectare of market-ready tomatoes worth about 15,000 kwacha (2,000 dollars), but he also suffered maize crop failure due to a month-long drought.

“I expect very poor yields this season,” he told IPS. “We suffered crop damage through a storm and when crops needed the rains to recover, we had a severe drought.”

To make matters worse, his smallholder business had no insurance cover and, admitting that he “knew nothing about insurance,” Hamalengo said that would love to see insurance education incorporated into agricultural extension services.“When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions” – Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia

Hamalengo’s situation represents the predicament faced by most smallholder farmers – who are generally excluded from financial services – and confirms arguments by some experts that the risk of running an uninsured business is far greater if climate is involved.

While financial inclusion is considered a key enabler for reducing poverty, the statistics in Zambia are far from encouraging. According to a 2009 FinScope survey, 63 percent of the Zambian adult population (6.4 million people) is excluded from formal financial services. Slightly over half of the adult population is engaged in farming.

Putting these statistics into context, the “unbanked” majority are poor people, with many of them smallholder farmers. Now, in an attempt to help them become more resilient to climate variability and shocks, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, aimed at tackling risk in a holistic manner.

The initiative is “an integrated approach to managing risk, focusing on index‐based agricultural insurance (risk transfer), improved natural resource management (disaster risk reduction), credit (prudent risk taking), savings (risk reserves) and productive safety nets,” Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia’s Head of Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping Unit (VAM), told IPS.

The initiative is based on a strategic global partnership between WFP and Oxfam America which, Mulando said, is aimed at “improving the capacity of food-insecure households to manage the risks of severe weather shocks.”

Working with partners such as the national Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), government ministries, the Meteorological Department, national insurance companies, as well as credit and savings institutions, the project strives to integrate activities with already running government programmes on resilience, such as the Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up (CASU), programme.

CASU, which is being run by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and with financial support from the European Union (EU), aims to contribute to reduced hunger, and improved food security, nutrition and income, while promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.

“R4’s overall objective is to create an environment for private sector participation through market development to ensure sustainability … through insurance cover, credit provision, asset creation programmes and safety nets, as well as household saving … all of which have been identified as alternative ways of reducing vulnerability,” explained Mulando.

Stressing the importance of the project, Southern Province Principal Agriculture Officer Paul Nyambe told IPS that “the Ministry [of Agriculture and Livestock] has been encouraging climate-resilient technologies under CASU and crop diversification amid climate-induced hazards, of which financial inclusion is a key ingredient.”

Meanwhile, for the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, such initiatives are always welcome because they fall within the government’s major objective of building the capacity of local communities to adapt to climate change.

“Stakeholders with initiatives that help people to adapt are welcome,” Richard Lungu, Chief Environment Management Officer at the ministry, said. “Right now, government is in the process of mobilising resources to support communities affected by a severe drought which led to crop failure.”

According to Lungu, who is Zambia’s focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) , “climate change is now a cross-cutting developmental issue especially for Zambia whose economy is natural resource dependent”, with over 80 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Whereas climate shocks can trap farmers in poverty, the risk of shocks also limits their willingness to invest in measures that might increase their productivity and improve their economic situation – and this is where financial education becomes critical.

“Taking into consideration that agricultural weather-based index insurance is relatively new among our small farmers, there is a need for strong financial education,” Mulando told IPS. “When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions.”

Financial expert George Siameja agreed but noted that the problem lies at two levels – lack of financial education and an inhibiting credit finance environment.

“However, financial literacy should be the starting point because banks consider it too risky to lend money to individuals with inadequate financial capacity,” Siameja told IPS. “While farming is a function of climate, financial education is key.”

Sussane Giese, a German development and change consultant, also pointed to the so-called “dependency syndrome” which inhibits farmers from being more active. “In my interactions with some field officers,” she said, “there is something called dependency syndrome affecting farmers where they see themselves as beneficiaries and not individuals running agriculture as an enterprise.”

Meanwhile, one farmer who is singing the praises of financial literacy is 34-year-old Rodney Mudenda of Nabuzoka village in Pemba district, who has seen a dramatic change of fortunes.

“Since I was trained in financial management last year, I have changed my approach to farming. I am ready to take calculated risks like I did this season to reduce on maize and plant more sunflowers, a drought-tolerant crop. And the gamble has paid off. I expect to earn 12,000 kwacha (1,500 dollars) from an investment of 5,000 kwacha (650 dollars)”, Mudenda told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Equality, a Hard Game to Win for Women Footballers in Argentina Mon, 06 Jul 2015 14:33:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

During a women’s football match in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, team manager Mónica Santino has to stop the game and ask a group of boys and young men not to invade the pitch where they’re playing. This frequent occurrence is just one symbol of a struggle being played out, centimeter by centimeter, on Argentina’s pitches.

“Come on, stop just for a while, we’re leaving soon. Don’t get in the middle of our game,” Santino said, trying to persuade in a friendly way the boys and teenagers who bully their way onto the pitch where the women’s match is going on, in Villa 31, a shantytown of 40,000 people on the northeast side of Buenos Aires, right in the middle of the upscale Retiro neighourhood.

“If it was a men’s match they would never do that, because they would have serious problems. But since it’s girls who are playing…” she commented to IPS one night the La Nuestra team was playing.

Although girls and women make up half of the population of this ‘villa miseria’, as shantytowns are called in Argentina, it hasn’t been easy for them to gain a place on the football pitch, traditionally men’s territory.“Playing football here, the girls have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with other young women. Many things that happen for us are political, they have a revolutionary component, because something is changing.” – Mónica Santino

“They think football and the pitch are for them,” one of the players, 15-year-old Agustina Olaña, told IPS.

When the project began in 2007, they had to mark off the area they were using with cones and stones. Now they practice twice a week.

“It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this achievement sends out an extremely important message about gender because football pitches are the most important public spaces in the barrios,” said Santino, a 49-year-old former football player who was the first woman coach in the Argentine Football Association.

“We live in a country where football is the national sport – it explains us as Argentines, it represents us in world championships, but in football women are still second-class citizens,” she lamented.

La Nuestra (Ours) is also an organisation that seeks greater access to football for women, using the sport to empower them, build self esteem and boost gender equality.

The project initially only targeted teenagers. But it was soon overwhelmed by the spontaneous demand from girls and adult women. Of today’s 70 participants, half are between the ages of six and 12, and the rest are over 13.

“For presents, I would get dolls or little balls, but I wanted footballs,” said one of the students, nine-year-old Florencia Carabajal.

“It seems to me that men haven’t learned that we can also play,” said 10-year-old Juanita Burgos, who hopes to become a professional footballer. “The boys used to call me a tomboy. But now they don’t say anything to me anymore. I tell them that if I want to play ball, who are they to say I can’t.”

But her dream is not an easy one for women to reach in Argentina, even though this country won the World Cup twice and has produced legendary players like Diego Maradona and Leonel Messi.

In women’s football, Argentina has never won a global championship. According to Santino, that’s because the big clubs believe “it isn’t a good show, and doesn’t generate money,” which is why Argentina doesn’t invest in women players as other countries do.

“No club has the structure for lower divisions or for girls to start training as players at an early age, which is when you grow as an athlete and get ready to compete,” she said.

“When Argentina has participated in international tournaments, it has been painful, because when we play against teams like those of Germany or the United States, they score 11, 13, 15 goals,” she said.

“Then the brutal criticism starts: that the Argentine jersey can’t be sullied, or that the country can’t be publicly embarrassed that way. But you can see here that we don’t have the infrastructure. Their arguments are really unfair,” said Santino.

“I was fortunate to be on the team, to have played in a world cup, but we really did it on our own, at great sacrifice,” said the La Nuestra coach, 33-year-old Vanina García, who had no choice but to keep working while playing football.

Santino is pushing for the project to be replicated in other barrios, and to that end she draws on her experience as a scout for street soccer for the homeless. She also hopes to create a women’s football club, where the women will not only play but will discuss issues such as sports and gender as well.

La Nuestra emerged from Santino’s work as coordinator of the Women’s Football Programme of the Women’s Centre in the Buenos Aires district of Vicente López. It receives funds from the Buenos Aires city government’s programme for adolescents, and the national government’s children’s affairs secretariat.

“We have managed to do it with the sweat of our brow,” she said.

According to Santino, an activist for women’s rights in sports and a member of the non-governmental Women in Equality Foundation, “this is a pending issue on the feminist agenda.”

“Women are not expected to run, sweat, make an effort,” she said. “They say that if you play football, your body will turn into a man’s body. There’s a widespread idea that all women who play football are lesbians.”

“I believe this involves the same thing as when we’re talking about the right to have an abortion and all the different kinds of prejudice that emerge. It’s a way of controlling women’s bodies, saying what they should look like,” she said.

For Santino, women’s football provides a good excuse to talk about other feminist demands, such as the right to rest and recreation.

“To come to a game, the big burden was the housework,” she said. “They would come after washing the dishes, or taking care of their younger siblings or their own children, starting at a really young age. Things that women are supposed to do. Boys, on the other hand, get home from school, dump their backpacks, and come to the football pitch directly.”

“Playing football here, the girls and women have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with others. For us, a lot of what is happening is political, it has a revolutionary component, because something is changing,” Santino said.

For Karen Marín, 19, who sells chicken and came to this country from Bolivia with her parents when she was eight years old, La Nuestra has offered a way to make friends and become part of Argentine society.

“I suffered from discrimination because I’m Bolivian, and I would draw into myself and just stay in my room,” she said. “One day they invited me here. I’ve never missed a day since. Football helped me with everything, and it especially helped me to be more easy-going and open.”

Despite the difficulties, coach García believes women’s football, which is now practiced in schools and in most neighbourhood tournaments, is more widely accepted.

“I suppose that’s because women have taken on another role,” she said. “In a lot of areas, but in football as well. Women stand up for themselves, and if they want to play football, they play.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Fights to Protect High-Value, Declining Species Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:15:36 +0000 Zadie Neufville The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Threats from climate change, declining reefs, overfishing and possible loss of several commercial species are driving the rollout of new policy measures to keep Caribbean fisheries sustainable.

Regional groups and the U.S.-based NGO Wild Earth Guardians have petitioned for the listing of some of the Caribbean’s most economically valuable marine species as vulnerable, endangered or threatened with extinction.

In addition, regional scientists believe that climate change could alter the ranges of some of the larger species and perhaps wipe out existing ones. “TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years." -- Biologist Kathleen Woods

Fisheries ministers of the Caribbean say they are concerned that “extra-national activities and decisions” could impact the social and economic well being of their countries and their access to international markets. They have agreed to work together to protect both the sustainability and trade of several high value marine species.

At a meeting in November 2014, the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) expressed alarm at the U.S. government’s decision to list the Nassau Grouper, a commercially traded species, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even after successfully thwarting the listing of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), they fret that other species would go the way of the Nassau Grouper.

The conch and Nassau grouper are two of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. The list includes one coral, one ray, five sharks, two sawfish, four groupers and the Queen Conch.

Regional fisheries officials know that such listings will shut down international trade of the affected species. Alternatively, it could lead to rigorous permits and quota systems that prevent trade by vulnerable populations in countries that are without working management structures.

The Guardians say they are driven by the critical state of many Caribbean species and the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for them. The 14 marine species named are already listed as protected or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), endangered species associate Taylor Jones told IPS.

“Specifically in terms of the conch, we note that the U.S. appetite for conch meat is having an impact on stocks in the Caribbean,” she said.

Jones noted that when the Guardians take action the aim is to limit the impact of U.S. consumption patterns – which has already caused the collapse of its own conch fishery – on the rest of the world. The United States is the largest importer of conch meat, consuming 78 per cent of production, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds annually.

While the Guardians failed in their bid to have the conch included in the ESA, concern for the struggling populations of Conch continue. Even though the U.S. closed Florida’s Conch fisheries in 1986, the population has still not recovered and the fisheries in its Caribbean territories are also in poor shape.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), one of the region’s largest exporter of the mollusk, biologist Kathleen Woods reports that conch stocks are on the brink of collapse.

“TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase,” she said. “Preliminary results of the conch visual survey indicate that TCI does not have sufficient densities of adult conch to sustain breeding and spawning. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years.”

The CRFM Secretariat says it is already looking at management plans for the species most eaten or exploited by its member states. The secretariat says there is evidence that Nassau Grouper populations and spawning aggregations are in decline and is supporting the listing.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Secretariat has drafted a strategy to implement minimum standards for the management, conservation and protection for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) across all 17 member states. The Secretariat cites concern for falling catches, declining habitats and the absence of adequate management systems in some countries.

In Jamaica, where the lobster and conch fisheries are regulated by the CITES endangered species treaty, authorities are extending protection to other local species that are already stressed from overfishing and climate change, Director of Fisheries Andre Kong told IPS.

“We are looking at bio-degradable traps and will where possible improve the existing management system to include the spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus) known locally as the chicken lobster,” he said, pointing out that the local species is not governed by the CITES regulations.

Caribbean favorites like the Parrotfish and sea eggs (sea urchins) are in serious decline. Regional groups are seeking to ban those and other species to protect remaining populations and the reef.  Some countries have already restricted the capture of the Parrotfish and the IUCN has recommended its listing as a specially protected species under the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

CRFM has already implemented a management plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flying fish, which supports a small but lucrative trade in the countries that fish for the species. A coral reef action plan is also in place, a review of the legislation of several member states has been completed, alongside the rollout of public awareness programmes for regional fishers. One drawback: the rules are non-binding and left up to individual governments to implement.

Woods, who until mid-2014 headed the TCI government’s Environment and Marine Department, noted that despite the existence of regulations that exceed those introduced by the CRFM, conch and lobster habitats in that country “continue to be degraded and lost because of poor development practices like dredging, the use of caustic materials like bleach for fishing and other activities.”

Veteran TCI fisherman Oscar Talbot echoes Woods belief that a combination of factors, including a lack of political will, poor enforcement and corruption in the regulatory agencies, are the reasons the Conch stocks are close to collapsing.

“Poacher boats, illegal divers and some politicians with their own (processing) plants have played a role in the improper exploitation of the fish, lobster and conch. We also have a lot of fisherman and poachers taking juvenile conch in and out of season,” he said.

TCI is one of the few countries that continue to allow the capture and consumption of sea turtles and sharks, but Woods believes exploitation of these species by locals is sustainable. Talbot wants fishers to stick to the rules and exploit the resources during the open seasons only.

A fisherman for over 40 years, Talbot said the unregulated catches are impacting all the islands’ local fisheries. He is concerned that undersized conchs of up to 18 to the pound have been taken, a sore point for the grandfather who sits on the fisheries advisory council of the TCI.

But while regional leaders express “outrage” at the actions of the NGOs, regional fishers support Talbot’s view that only external pressure will force governments to act.

For most countries, the lack of personnel, funding and illegal fishing have hampered progress. This is not lost on the Guardians.

“In general it appears that the region is struggling with limited resources for conservation, including lack of funding and lack of personnel for enforcement of existing regulations,” Jones said.

And while Talbot and Woods lobby TCI Governor Peter Beckingham to champion immediate changes to the fisheries legislation approved and agreed by local fishers more than a year ago, Jones echoes their aspirations:

“It is our hope that ESA listing would make more U.S. funding and personnel available for use by local conservation programmes,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Swears by Hefty 100 Billion Dollar Target to Fight Climate Change Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 Thalif Deen Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The most devastating impact of climate change – including rising sea levels, floods, cyclones and both droughts and heavy monsoons – will be felt mostly by the world’s poorest nations.

To meet these impending threats – which will destroy countless human lives and ravage agricultural crops – the United Nations is seeking a hefty 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 as part of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) aimed at supporting developing countries strengthen their resilience and help adapt themselves to meet the foreboding challenges.“The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively?" -- Lisa Elges of Transparency International

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on climate change last week: “I will pro-actively engage with leaders from both the global north and south to make sure this goal is met and is considered credible by all.”

The Green Climate Fund, headquartered in Incheon, South Korea, must be “up and running”, he said, with funds that can be disbursed before a key meeting on climate change in Paris in December.

Asked if the ambitious 100-billion-dollar target was realistic, Lisa Elges, Head of Climate Policy at Transparency International, told IPS: “The more practical question is: how can he achieve the target?”

Public purses are stretched, yet public finance is still necessary. And if you want to involve the private sector, you need public finance to give subsidies and attract and leverage private investments, she added.

Elges said one ‘untapped’ source of finance could be the crackdown on illicit financial flows.

For example, if countries tackle money laundering, they can make more taxable money available to address the world’s environmental and development needs.

To put the 100 billion dollars in perspective, Elges said, 1,000 billion dollars are lost annually in illicit financial flows losses, including corruption, bribery and tax evasion.

“When the corrupt lose, the people and planet will gain,” she said.

Michael Westphal, a Senior Associate in the Sustainable Finance team at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told IPS a politically feasible path to reach 100 billion dollars (per year) in international climate funding by 2020 is to include a larger set of climate finance sources and scaling up all public finance.

Reaching the 100-billion-dollar target is possible, he said, but warned it will take a concerted action by public actors to use public finance to leverage private sector investment.

In paper on climate funding, WRI discuss a number of recommendations.

Firstly, developed nations should commit to increasing all public funding flows to 2020.

This includes developed country climate finance as reported to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (mostly finance through bilateral channels), multilateral development bank climate finance, and climate-related official development assistance.

Secondly, developed countries should consider using new and innovative sources of finance toward the 2020 goal, including redirected fossil fuel subsidies, carbon market revenues, financial transaction taxes, export credits, and debt relief – many of which have been little used to mobilise climate finance.

And thirdly, parties should clarify the definition of climate finance and development of methodologies, including those for calculating and attributing leveraged private sector investment, to improve accounting and reporting.

At a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrial nations in Australia last November, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a contribution of 3.0 billion dollars to help the world’s poorest nations fight climate change.

Even before Obama’s pledge, the New York Times reported that at least 10 countries, including France, Germany, and South Korea, had pledged a total of around 3.0 billion dollars to the fund.

The U.S. contribution was followed by a pledge of 1.5 billion dollars by Japan.

Back in November 2014, Hela Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Fund, was quoted as saying: “The contribution by the U.S. will have a direct impact on mobilizing contributions from the other large economies.

Ban told delegates last week: “I strongly urge developed countries to provide a politically credible trajectory for mobilizing 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing countries in curbing emissions and strengthening their resilience.”

It is imperative, he pointed out, that developed countries provide greater clarity on the public finance component of the 100 billion before Paris, as well as on how they will engage private finance

An agreement must also acknowledge the need for long-term, very significant financing beyond 2020.

“I welcome the recent announcement by Germany to double its climate finance support by 2020, and encourage other developed countries to follow this example,” he implored.

Taken in sum, he said, this finance package should build trust and help unlock the additional trillions in financing needed to build low carbon, climate resilient economies.

According to the United Nations, a summit meeting of world leaders last September catalysed “much-needed momentum” on climate finance.

“Public and private sector leaders pledged to mobilise over 200 billion dollars by the end of 2015 to finance low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.”

A meeting in Lima, Peru last December pledged 10 billion dollars for the initialisation of the Green Climate Fund, according to a U.N. statement.

Providing a different perspective, Elges of Transparency International (TI) told IPS: “The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively? If that money goes astray, it could have disastrous consequences on the ground.”

She said there is also the corruption threat of lobby groups – for example, in the fossil fuel industries – in developed countries like the U.S. or the UK, who are able to influence long-term climate policy for short-term gain.

For example: 550 billion dollars per year go to fossil fuel in the form of subsidies, often resulting from corruption and undue influence.

In developing countries, the greater issue is weak governance: in practice, laws on transparency and accountability are not being respected.

One of our priorities at TI is to strengthen these areas of government and help citizens scrutinise hold their leaders to account.

Corruption is a global phenomenon: it affects all countries, albeit in different ways and it can affect every aspect of life, including our global response to climate change, she declared.

Asked if there is a U.N. role in battling corruption in climate change, Elges said climate change, human rights and transnational crime are all covered by U.N. treaties and compliance bodies.

The U.N. therefore has a huge role to play – politically and practically, to improve coordination against corruption across the board, and around the world, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisis Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Drastic CO2 Cuts Needed to Save Oceans Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:55:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

If global carbon dioxide emissions are not dramatically curbed, the world’s oceans – and the many services they provide humanity – will suffer “massive and mostly irreversible impacts,” researchers warned in Science magazine Friday.

The report said that impacts on key marine and coastal organisms and ecosystems are already detectable, and several will face high risk of impacts well before 2100, even under a low-emissions scenario of warming below two degrees C.

“These impacts will occur across all latitudes, making this a global concern beyond the north/south divide,” the report said.

Twenty-two leading marine scientists collaborated in the synthesis report . They stress that warming and acidification of surface ocean waters will increase proportionately as CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. Warm-water corals have already been affected, as have mid-latitude seagrass, high-latitude pteropods and krill, mid-latitude bivalves, and fin fishes.

Ocean acidification is especially dire for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fisheries or organisms for their survival.

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, including this latest in Science magazine, it has now been established that most if not all marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with serious consequences for human society.

The world’s oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the CO2 produced by industrialisation since 1750 and over 90 percent of the additional heat.

As a result, the report says the chemistry of the seas is changing faster than at any time since a cataclysmic natural event known as the Great Dying 250 million years ago.

And as atmospheric CO2 increases, protection, adaptation, and repair options for the ocean become fewer and less effective.

“The ocean has been minimally considered at previous climate negotiations. Our study provides compelling arguments for a radical change at the U.N. conference (in Paris) on climate change,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, lead author of the study.

Scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below two degrees C.

It is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, U.N. agencies, NGOs and civil society.

However, even under a scenario of less than two degrees of warming, many marine ecosystems would still suffer significantly, the report says, calling for immediate and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finished Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava 0 Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threat Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Financial Transaction Tax Could Boost New Development Goals Thu, 02 Jul 2015 20:34:25 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel

Ever since the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development in March 2002 called for new and innovative strategies to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA), various financial instruments have been discussed.

Bankers look down onto Robin Hood tax supporters gathered in New York City on Sept 17, 2013. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

Bankers look down onto Robin Hood tax supporters gathered in New York City on Sept 17, 2013. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

They include a solidarity levy on airplane tickets, debt swaps, measures to combat tax havens and capital flights – and the financial transaction tax (FTT).

With the finance ministers of 11 European countries, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, continuing negotiations on the modalities of a future FTT, proponents say it is an opportune moment to look at the controversial tax and its potential as innovative finance mechanism.

Most current discussions on FTTs, including plans on the European Union FTT, involve a small tax on the exchange of financial instruments, such as securities, bonds, shares and derivatives. It would apply to transactions on the wholesale market and not apply to the retail market.

The FTT has two main functions. It is designed to stabilise financial markets by curbing high-frequency trading and speculation, as well as serve as a tool to raise important amounts of revenue, which could be spent, at least in part, on development purposes.

However, there are ongoing debates on the efficiency of an FTT and its potentially damaging effects on the financial sector.

Opponents claim that an EU FTT would cause share-trading to emigrate as happened to Sweden, when it imposed a unilateral FTT about 30 years ago. Such fears have prevented countries with important financial sectors and asset-management industries like the United Kingdom and Luxembourg from consenting to an EU-wide FTT, resulting in the multilateral initiative of the 11 “willing” EU countries instead.“International targets to tackle poverty and climate were knocked badly off course by the reckless actions of the finance industry. It is only right the sector makes a fair contribution for the damage it caused." -- David Hillman

The London-based Institute of Economic Affairs argues in a 2011 report that the revenue an FTT raises is minimal due to falls in revenue from other taxes. Also, price volatility will increase as financial markets get smaller and decreasing income for companies will ultimately translate in higher prices and lower wages for workers in the whole country.

As reported by the Guardian, Matthew Fell, director for competitive markets at the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), said: “The UK government is right to reject a FTT as damaging for jobs and growth.”

“It is disappointing that eurozone economies are pursuing the FTT, whose costs ultimately fall on consumers and businesses, and will be a drag on the eurozone recovery.”

Proponents of the FTT, such as the Robin Hood Tax Campaign and Stamp Out Poverty, do not consider these arguments valid. They point to the fact that FTTs have already been successfully implemented in many countries and that an EU FTT would increase growth in Europe by 0.2 to 0.4 percent according to the European Commission’s most recent impact assessment.

Tackling climate change, ending poverty and malnutrition, enhancing social and economic development in a sustainable manner – the ambitious post-2015 development framework, which will be adopted this year in September at the U.N., requires considerable financial resources.

Those in favour of an FTT also acknowledge its potential as an innovative finance mechanism and confirm that chances to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will increase markedly if a sufficiently significant part of the money raised by means of the tax is spent on humanitarian purposes, climate change and development.

David Hillman, spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Robin Hood Tax campaign, told IPS: “One of the great benefits of the Financial Transaction Tax is that it’s a proven revenue raiser. Many FTTs already exist around the world today that collectively raise at least 30 billion dollars a year.”

“International targets to tackle poverty and climate were knocked badly off course by the reckless actions of the finance industry. It is only right the sector makes a fair contribution for the damage it caused. Because financial markets have grown so large, the FTT is capable of raising the levels of finance needed to tackle these issues.”

Dorothea Schäfer, research director in the field of financial markets at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), also considers the FTT an effective innovative finance tool.

Commenting on the EU FTT, she told IPS: “Key benefits of the FTT are the considerable revenue it can generate and its steering effect, i.e. the fact that it reduces the profitability of high-frequency-trading, stimulates long-term orientation and thus helps to build a sustainable financial system.”

“I consider the FTT a win-win instrument: if the steering effect does not occur because trade with financial instruments remains lucrative, at least a decent amount of income will be raised. However, if the steering effect occurs, and trade with financial instruments, especially derivatives decreases, this will contribute to the stability of the financial system.”

“Provided that the FTT encompasses all financial instruments, it can generate a considerable revenue, even if the tax rates end up being lower than those provided for in the EU Commission draft.”

The proposal by the EU Commission currently requires the 11 participating member states to set tax rates to levels not lower than 0.1 percent on conventional transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives in view of the notional value.

According to Bloomberg Business, the 11 EU member states continue quarreling over the details of a future EU FTT, especially over which trades to tax, the amount of revenue the tax should raise and modes of tax collection.

Another important point of debate is what the money raised should be spent on. In the past, both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have recognised the need to spend at least a part of the revenue on climate change and development objectives.

It remains to be seen if the potential of the FTT as Innovative Finance Mechanism will be taken advantage of to a greater extent in the future. Decisions regarding what share of the tax will be spent on development are made on the national level and depend on political will.

However, this year’s discussions on financing for development and the adoption of the SDGs at the U.N. might allow for a fruitful climate as a basis for further-reaching political decisions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisis Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: If You’re Against Coal Mining, Walk In and Stop It Thu, 02 Jul 2015 17:06:07 +0000 Dorothee Haussermann and Martin Weis Citizens plan to stop the giant coal excavators in the Rhineland coal mines, the world’s biggest land vehicles. Photo credit: ausgeCOhlt

Citizens plan to stop the giant coal excavators in the Rhineland coal mines, the world’s biggest land vehicles. Photo credit: ausgeCOhlt

By Dorothee Haussermann and Martin Weis
BERLIN, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

“If you’re against coal mining, why don’t you just walk into a coal mine and stop the excavators?”

It’s a late June evening in the German town of Mayence and about 40 people are gathered to discuss a coal phase-out and degrowth.

“It’s possible,” continues the speaker. “You just walk up to the excavator and it will stop – at least temporarily. So, if you take the threat of climate change seriously, what keeps you from stopping the destruction right on the spot?”“Large sections of the climate justice movement no longer believe that U.N. negotiations or lobby-ridden governments will come up with the urgent solutions needed to solve our socio-ecological crisis”

To keep coal in the ground and not burn it in order to avert catastrophic climate change, we now know that we cannot rely on the German government. Yesterday, Jul. 1, the partners of the ruling coalition scrapped a proposed climate levy, an instrument that had been proposed by energy minister Sigmar Gabriel to still reach the national climate goals for 2020, an overall emissions reduction of 40 percent.

As it stands, the energy sector is behind on its targets, largely due to the continued use of lignite or brown coal. Four of Europe’s five largest emitters are German lignite power plants and coal accounts for one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate levy proposed a cap on CO2 emissions for individual power plants, which would have primarily affected the oldest and dirtiest lignite power stations. The measure was backed by climate scientists and economic experts. It also enjoyed huge public support, with the overwhelming majority of Germans in favour of a coal phase-out.

However, powerful interests mobilised against the measure. These included members of the governing parties, the big power suppliers RWE and Vattenfall which would have been most affected, and IGBCE, the mining industry trade union.

Playing the ‘jobs-will-be-lost’ card, they introduced an alternative proposal, which has been criticised for seeking smaller emission cuts at a higher cost to consumers and taxpayers. Yet, the government agreed yesterday to drop the climate levy in favour of the industry proposal.

Two points are particularly infuriating and in fact quite worrying. There seems to be an absolute disconnect between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier rhetoric of the ‘decarbonisation of the worldwide economy’ at the Jun. 7-8 G7 Summit in Elmau, and the actions of her government at home only a few days later. Secondly, the influence of the coal industry in the democratic process is staggering. Their hastily compiled alternative actually carried the day and the big polluters are let off the hook.

The German example is a case in point of why large sections of the climate justice movement no longer believe that U.N. negotiations or lobby-ridden governments will come up with the urgent solutions needed to solve our socio-ecological crisis.

This is why we are taking the creation of an equitable and ecological society into our own hands instead of relying on promises of green growth or paying lip service to the G7.

This summer, the German and European anti-coal movement will take the fight to a new level. A coalition of grassroots groups and NGOs have called for a mass act of civil disobedience that is intended to bring operations in the Rhineland coalfields – the biggest source of Europe’s CO2 emissions – to a halt.

From Aug. 14 to 16, hundreds of people from across Europe plan to enter an open-pit lignite mine with many more standing outside the mine in solidarity. Under the banner Ende Gelände, which translates into ‘this far and no further’, they will aim to block the mining infrastructure.

During the G7 summit, four people already showed that it can be done when they scaled one of the monstrously huge excavators and stopped work in the mine for two days.

The action this summer is part of a growing and diverse movement against lignite mining, ranging from local citizens’ initiatives against poisonous air pollution, to fights for divestment and the occupation of an old-growth forest that stands to be cleared for the extension of the mines.

Those participating in the discussion in Mayence were convinced that this upcoming action in August is a moral imperative.

“Of course, it’s illegal but civil disobedience is our emergency brake,” said one. “If people thirty years from now were to ask us what we did to prevent the mass extinction of species, heat waves, crop failures, the melting of glaciers and wildfires, can we say: I could have stopped coal mining, but I didn’t because there was a sign saying ‘No Trespassing’?”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Panama and Nicaragua – Two Canals, One Shared Dream Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:31:54 +0000 Iralis Fragiel 1 Union Islanders Wonder if Their Home Will Be the Next Atlantis Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:46:18 +0000 Kenton X. Chance Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, says he has seen the sea rise significantly over the past 22 years. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, says he has seen the sea rise significantly over the past 22 years. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Fifteen years ago, Stephanie Browne, a former Member of Parliament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, needed only to look at the beach outside her house to know why her community in Union Island was called “Big Sand”.

So expansive were the beach and dunes that people played cricket games there without getting wet.“The water is too deep to show you where our fence was because a part of our fence is now way out in the sea." -- Stephanie Browne

Today, just a few feet of sand remain, saved only by the large boulders that have been placed more than 20 feet into the sea, where the fence for Browne’s property once stood.

“There could have been other reasons but I think climate change is the main reason for losing that beach down there,” Browne, who retired from politics 15 years ago, tells IPS.

“The water is too deep to show you where our fence was because a part of our fence is now way out in the sea and we have lost land for a number of years,” she says.

“What we’ve had to do is to use the boulders to try to keep our land and that’s why we are able to still have a little beach there. If not, there would absolutely be no beach,” she explains.

Browne tells IPS that she estimates the amount of land lost is enough to build a two-bedroom house of the type common in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, complete with a yard and fencing.

“There was a lot of sand and a lot of beach. Now, we have a lot of rocks, trying to save what we can,” she says.

Union Island is one of the southern-most islands in the archipelagic nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a country of 32 islands, islets and cays.

Unlike St. Vincent, the “main island”, the Grenadines has the white sand beaches commonly associated with tourism, the main revenue earner on the island and the country.

But rising seas, blamed on climate change, are beginning to imperil the beaches on the five-kilometre by three-kilometre island of 3,000 people.

Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, was born in St. Vincent but has been living in Union Island for 22 years.

“I know exactly what the island was like before it came to this point,” he tells IPS while standing on the sliver of sand that remains at Big Sand.

“What you are seeing here, this location, this is a structure that they used to have beach-o-rama and picnics and so on, and even out in the water where you are seeing the water is breaking now was where people would congregate, partying,” Providence says, pointing to an area 30 to 40 feet away.

The structure to which he referred is a concrete building with a zinc roof that has begun to collapse as the rising water undermines its foundation.

“But now, we have the sea is here. So, over the years, it has really degraded and brought it to this point,” Providence tells IPS.

“The water is rising and the sea is coming in, and that would definitely be as a result of climate change. Definitely. It was never like this,” Providence tells IPS.

Residents of Union Island are doing what they can to highlight the impact of climate change.

One way that this is being done is through Radio Grenadines, an Internet radio station that was officially launched on June 12, two years after it was founded in the bedrooms of two residents.

The launch of the not-for-profit radio station coincided with the graduation of 21 its contributors from a media training course endorsed by the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.

The training programme focused on using media to spread awareness about climate change and what can be done at the level of the citizen. It was funded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP).

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Haydn Billingy, national co-ordinator of the GEF, noted that the National Anthem of St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates the seas and “golden sands” of the Grenadines.

“These are the very things we use, that we call our natural resources, to attract our tourists and being that we are so depended on these natural resources, we have to show respect for them,” he said.

He noted that the Radio Grenadines project looks at using electronic media to raise awareness “about the important issue of climate change that is affecting us not only locally but globally”.

“In this harsh economic climate, there are still NGOs who are locally bred who care enough about the environment to dedicate tremendous voluntary work to ensure that it is protected for future generations,” Billingy said in reference to Radio Grenadines and other NGOs that focus on climate change.

“It shows that some people still appreciate and understand the indelible, fragile connection between the environment and human health and also livelihoods,” Billingy told the graduates.

In addition to the 21 persons trained in radio broadcasting, 62 members of NGOs that focus on the environment and climate change were trained in public relations and media use.

Billingy tells IPS that this is what is meant by “community empowerment”.

“These persons are now in a position to understand the environmental issues that are affecting St. Vincent and the Grenadines and they are possibly in a position to now be employed in the area of media and even the environment. This is what we mean when we talk about sustainable livelihoods.

“Indeed, I am seeing the Grenadines being the forerunner of environmental protection in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Billingy tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Poor Bear the Brunt of Corruption in India’s Food Distribution System Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:21:41 +0000 Neeta Lal With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Chottey Lal, 43, a daily wage labourer at a construction site in NOIDA, a township in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a beleaguered man. After a gruelling 12-hour daily shift at the dusty location, he and his wife Subha make barely enough to feed a family of seven.

Nor is the couple ever able to procure the subsidized rations they are legally entitled to, under a government law, from their local fair price shop.

"I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons." -- Savirti, a 50-year-old woman who is cut off from India's public food distribution system
“Whenever we go to the outlet, we’re shooed away by the grocer saying stocks have run out. We end up buying expensive food from the market, which isn’t enough to feed the entire family. Everybody knows the shopkeeper is profiteering from selling grain on the black market. But what can we, the poor, do? We’ve complained at the local police station also, but no action has been taken against the vendor,” Lal told IPS.

Savirti, 50, and Kamla, 39, have a worse tale to share.

Both women, who are widows and live with their married sons, are dependent on their families for food and a roof over their heads. However, they have been reduced to beggary as the family income is meagre and the grain rations they receive from the fair price shops are barely enough to feed half the family.

“I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons,” Savitri told IPS.

Kamla similarly feels she “eats better outside the home than inside” due to strangers’ kindness.

Engulfed in corruption, leakages and inefficiency, India’s public food distribution system (PDS) – a network of about 60,000 fair price shops around this country of 1.2 billion people – is depriving millions of poor people of the food grain they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene are supposed to be supplied to the public through this network at a fraction of the market rates.

The NFSA aims to sustain two-thirds of the country’s population by providing 35 kg of subsidised food grains per person per month at one to three rupees (0.01 to 0.04 dollars) per kilo.

However, only 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) have so far implemented the law, which was passed by Parliament in September 2013. The rest of the 25 states or UTs have not implemented it yet.

To make matters worse, national surveys have highlighted how millions of tonnes of grain are siphoned off from the distribution system by unscrupulous merchants.

They sell this loot in the open market at high profits, or export it in collusion with corrupt officials from the state-run Food Corporation of India. Much of the food from the PDS is also diverted to neighbouring countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Singapore.

A government study done in Uttar Pradesh found that numerous, competing agencies, poor coordination and low administrative accountability have combined to cripple the delivery mechanism.

The Justice D. P. Wadhwa Committee, which was tasked by the Supreme Court of India with monitoring its orders in a public interest litigation case on the right to food in 2006, recently came out with a damning indictment of the PDS.

Investigating irregularities in the chain’s distribution, the committee revealed that 80 percent of the corruption in distribution happens even before supplies reach the ration shops.

Worse, nearly 60 percent of the food that is channeled through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit. “What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption,” explains food expert Devinder Sharma who helms the New Delhi-based collective, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

This rampant and systemic abuse in the delivery chain augurs ill for a country like India, home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the recent annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The report states that the numbers translate as over 15 percent of the country’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and the proportion of malnourished people in the country.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World about India.

Close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa, with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth, states the WHO.

In a bid to tackle the problem of chronic hunger, the Shanta Kumar Committee, tasked with a review of the PDS in India, submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year, recommending a gradual phasing out of the PDS and a move to cash transfers.

The proposed cash transfer, according to the committee, will whittle down poor beneficiaries’ reliance on PDS ration shops. Some experts have buttressed this idea with the argument that dismantling the food procurement system, by providing coupons or food entitlements in the form of cash to the beneficiaries and allowing them to buy their own quota from the market, is a far more foolproof system.

The belief is that if the people are given the subsidy directly, both the government and the consumers will benefit.

Each year India’s granaries burst with bumper harvests of wheat and rice, but the grain is either pilfered by middlemen or allowed to rot in the rain while millions starve.

The government also incurs a huge expenditure on the food grains it supplies through the system. The leakage of food grains supplied to the PDS is as high as 48 percent, say surveys, and the buffer stocks it maintains are often far above the requirement, leading to huge costs on maintenance.

Ironically, the PDS is one of the largest programmes in India aimed at social welfare of the poor. Renowned economist Jean Drèze has argued that the impact on poverty reduction can be considerable if the PDS works efficiently.

Currently, close to 23 percent of India’s people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day – an arbitrary line that the Asian Development recently found to be an inadequate measure of poverty, suggesting that a line of 1.51 dollars would better reflect the sum required to keep a person at a minimum standard of existence.

Regardless of how extreme poverty is measured, it is clear that millions in this country are at, or very close, to, the point of starvation every single day.

Experts like Dr. Ravi Khetrapal, an agricultural scientist formerly with the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, believe the PDS to be an essential component of Indian society because the prevailing market prices for essential commodities are beyond the reach of the downtrodden.

“If the poor don’t access this network, they will starve to death,” he told IPS. “The network can play a more meaningful role if it is streamlined to ensure micro-level success and availability of food grains for all poor households.”

India has an impressive list of programmes to fight hunger, and the budget allocation for these is increased every year, and yet the poor go hungry. In fact, according to U.N. data, the number of impoverished people in the country is increasing with every passing year.

The answer does not lie in dismantling the PDS system, but reforming the world’s largest food delivery system to cleanse it of corruption, and make it more effective.

“This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling – from the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains – it has never been attempted in earnest. We need to build a system that ensures food for all at all times. This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is a great economic loss,” Sharma told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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