Inter Press Service Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 13 Oct 2015 21:02:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Nobel Prize for Economics Reflects Issues on U.N. Development Agenda Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:55:38 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics to Professor Angus Deaton of Princeton University, the accolade had a significant relevance to the United Nations.

Angus Deaton. Credit:

Angus Deaton. Credit:

The Academy bestowed the honour on the British-born Deaton, 69, primarily for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare.

Deaton’s research reflects some of the socio-economic issues on the U.N. agenda, including poverty alleviation, economic inequalities, consumption patterns, household incomes, gender empowerment and social security.

Asked for his comments, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the Secretary-General “appreciates the work that Mr. Deaton has done on poverty”.

“Our Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has drawn attention to some of his work, including his lecture on poverty that you might find interesting,” he said.

According to the Academy, Deaton has enhanced the understanding of some of these issues more than anyone else.

Deaton’s focus on household surveys “has helped transform development economics from a theoretical field based on aggregate data to an empirical field based on detailed individual data”.

According to the London Guardian, Deaton’s work complements studies by Thomas Piketty and Sir Tony Atkinson, focusing primarily on wealth and income inequality, and examining patterns of consumer spending to illustrate growing inequality in health and wellbeing.

He is perhaps best known for the Deaton Paradox – “sharp shocks to income do not appear to cause equally large shocks to consumption.”

The Guardian said that in his most recent book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, Deaton argues that analysis of economic data shows that while most people in the world have gained in terms of health and wellbeing from higher national incomes, there are many groups that have missed out.

The newspaper also said Deaton, in his latest research, “focuses on the determinants of health in rich and poor countries as well as on the measurement of poverty in India and around the world”.

Jean Dreze, an economist who has worked with Deaton, was quoted as saying: “Angus Deaton is not only a brilliant economist but also a formidable scholar and a great writer. He has shown how intelligent use of survey data can illuminate momentous issues of human welfare and contribute to public reasoning.”

In awarding the prize to Deaton, the Academy analysed some of his theories, as follows:

“How do consumers distribute their spending among different goods?

Answering this question is not only necessary for explaining and forecasting actual consumption patterns, but also crucial in evaluating how policy reforms, like changes in consumption taxes, affect the welfare of different groups.

In his early work around 1980, Deaton developed the Almost Ideal Demand System – a flexible, yet simple, way of estimating how the demand for each good depends on the prices of all goods and on individual incomes. His approach and its later modifications are now standard tools, both in academia and in practical policy evaluation.

How much of society’s income is spent and how much is saved?

To explain capital formation and the magnitudes of business cycles, it is necessary to understand the interplay between income and consumption over time.

In a few papers around 1990, Deaton showed that the prevailing consumption theory could not explain the actual relationships if the starting point was aggregate income and consumption. Instead, one should sum up how individuals adapt their own consumption to their individual income, which fluctuates in a very different way to aggregate income.

This research clearly demonstrated why the analysis of individual data is key to untangling the patterns seen in aggregate data, an approach that has since become widely adopted in modern macroeconomics.

How do we best measure and analyze welfare and poverty?

In his more recent research, Deaton highlights how reliable measures of individual household consumption levels can be used to discern mechanisms behind economic development. His research has uncovered important pitfalls when comparing the extent of poverty across time and place.

It has also exemplified how the clever use of household data may shed light on such issues as the relationships between income and calorie intake, and the extent of gender discrimination within the family.”

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U.N. Staffers Protest Proposed Pay Cuts For Some, Increases for Others Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:23:49 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which is battling a negative fallout from a corruption scandal tainting the office of a former President of the General Assembly, is facing criticisms on another front: a proposed compensation package that calls for a reduction in the salaries of staffers, mostly at bottom and mid-levels and not senior hierarchy.

Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)

Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing some 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS: “It’s sad that while attempts are being made to drastically cut the pay of staff risking their lives on the frontline, the former President of the General Assembly is alleged to have received one million dollars in bribes to spend on Rolexes, massages and a private basketball court.”

The 15-member International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), an independent expert body, which regulates and coordinates the conditions of service of staff in the U.N. system, has apparently finalized the new salary structures, which will go before the U.N.’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (also known as the Fifth Committee) in November.

Richards said: “We’ve calculated that the ICSC proposals represent real cuts in pay and allowances of up to 10 percent for thousands of staff who put their lives at risk to carry out vital humanitarian work on the world’s frontlines. It will also make pay discrimination against single parents, mainly women, worse than it is already.”

He added: “We’re picking up real discontent from colleagues on this. It totally flies in the face of what the U.N. is about and sends a signal that the hard work staff carry out is no longer valued.”

In a message to staffers last week, the President of the U.N. Staff Union in New York Barbara Tavora-Jainchill says the proposed compensation package, currently under review, will in the end take money away from single parents and raise the income of senior U.N. officials specifically Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs).

“This is immoral. No, we cannot and will not agree with this unfortunate proposal and will fight it to the best of our ability,” she said.

Addressing the Fifth Committee on Oct. 12, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would continue to challenge his senior managers to find new and better ways of delivering mandates more effectively and efficiently.

“I urged them to rethink our business practices and embrace innovative synergies,“ he added.

He said he presented a budget outline level of 5.74 billion dollars to the General Assembly, for the biennium 2016-2017. And the Assembly requested him to prepare the proposed programme budget on the basis of a preliminary estimate of 5.56 billion.

“For the biennium 2016-2017, I am now proposing a budget level of 5.57 billion dollars, before re-costing.”

This, he said, is 1.6 per cent or 90.8 million dollars below the appropriation for the current biennium, and is 10.2 million dollars or 0.2 per cent above the budget outline figure set by the General Assembly.

Overall, the 2016-2017 proposal reflects a net decrease of 56 posts compared to the current budget, primarily related to the freezing of posts, he added.

Richards told IPS: “One of my colleagues in South Sudan told me that when the cuts were announced at a staff meeting, everyone in the room looked they’d been punched in the stomach.”

Bear in mind that since the start of 2011 in South Sudan, he pointed out, 19 U.N. staff and contractors have been killed, 31 have been wounded and five have been abducted in kidnappings.

“But the most stressful thing about frontline work isn’t the actual physical danger – it is the feeling of not being supported, either by country officials, or by the U.N. itself, and this is what is happening here,” declared Richards.

“We understand that these are difficult times, but all we are asking for is fairness for frontline workers. We’re disappointed that the ICSC hasn’t listened to us on this,” he added.

Tavora-Jainchill told IPS the final decision on compensation package is expected to be taken in mid to end December.

As far as the negative result of the New York local salary survey (-5.8 percent) is concerned, she said, it does appear in the ICSC report.

However, it is under the purview of the Secretary-General to decide on the implementation of the result, which he already did.

“It is very unfortunate that the Secretary-General did not take into account our very serious concerns related to the way the survey was carried out, particularly regarding the lack of a formal response by the ICSC Secretariat and the New York Local Salary Survey Committee to a formal correspondence by a Committee member questioning the validity of one comparator. We do not believe that the appropriate methodology was respected,” she added.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s decision for an audit of the corruption scandal, to be investigated by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), she told staff members: “Of course it is great news that an audit will take place; however, we beg to differ on what the object of the audit/investigation should be.”

She said once the funds enter the U.N., there are many checks and balances to ensure that they are “handled properly according to relevant U.N. rules and regulations”, so it is doubtful that the audit requested by the Administration will find anything wrong.

“The questions the Administration and we, staff members, should be asking ourselves are: how did the U.N. get into a situation where questionable funds are used to finance the travel of staff members, events at our premises with the presence of our highest authorities, even conferences where participants and panellists were staff members and Member States’ representatives?”

“And how is it possible that there are so many restrictions imposed upon non-governmental actors in terms of participation in U.N. official meetings but funds from those entities seem to flow freely throughout the organization, with no questions asked?”

Tavora-Jainchill also said that looking back at the last few years, one can see how this Administration has been trying to reinvent the U.N. to make it look like a private corporation, treating its employees as replaceable goods, “sitting us collectively without any respect or consideration for the minimum of privacy needed to carry out our duties (while most private corporations now realize that a flexible working space is not effective) and accepting pledges/funds from very, very questionable sources”.

“It is our hope that the Secretary-General and his collaborators think well on how they brought us to this very sad point and, most importantly, how we get out of here,” she added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Social Programmes Here to Stay in Argentina Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:19:07 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet 0 Opinion: India’s Compact with Africa Tue, 13 Oct 2015 12:53:22 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 13 2015 (IPS)

The third India-Africa Forum Summit to be held in New Delhi later this month – in which 54 African countries will participaate – is expected to result in a deeper engagement between India and Africa. This summit takes place at a time when both need each other more than ever before. Both remain bright spots in a bleak and blighted growth landscape. Out of 189 countries, only 63 are expected to grow by 4 per cent and more this year, 36 of which are in Africa. But many countries there are adversely impacted by China’s diminishing appetite for commodities and shrinking trade. India is currently one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

India wants to create a new architecture for its closer ties with Africa. What could be its important elements? There is no doubt that economic relations in terms of bilateral trade and investment are expected to improve manifold. Foreign Office mandarins bristle at the suggestion that this summit represents an effort at catching up with the much bigger Africa summits that China organized since 2006. They probably also demur at the suggestion that India has, in a “too little, too late” fashion, discovered Africa and is making amends through the promise of capacity-building, more aid and duty free access to its market.

Energy security is an important area that has seen Beijing and New Delhi scramble for sources of oil supply in Africa to fuel their rapidly growing economies. But this is an area where India has lost out heavily to Chinese oil giants.Given this track record, there is a warrant for going beyond a “China catch-up” The perception that India’s interests in Africa are identical — notably, to only secure acccess to its vast raw materials and resources — needs to be dispelleed. India has one major advantage over China in this region, notably, the dynamism of its fast-globalising private sector, represented by the likes of Tata Motors, Godrej and Bharti Group.

This is the trump card that India must play to forge a new partnership with the continent. Its investments must propel African trade into cutting-edge global networks that alter the international division of labour, as argued by Harry Broadman in his book Africa’s Silk Road: China and India’s New Economic Frontier. Indo-African trade has grown exponentially to US$93 billion in 2013. India has signed bilateral trade agreements with more than 20 African countries. India’s private investments in the continent have also surged over a period of time in diverse sectors like telecommunications, information technology, energy and automobiles.

Another major advantage is the Indian Diaspora, especially in south and east Africa. For instance, India’s linkages with South Africa go back in time – the 1.15 million strong people of India origin arrived between 1860 and 1911 as indentured labour to work as field hands and mill hands in sugar and other plantations and stayed on. In east Africa, the Diaspora’s contribution has been significant in India’s trade as they own distribution channels, manufacturing facilities and even mines. Unfortunately, this potential has not been adequately tapped. India’s growing partnership with Africa must harness the strengths of the Diaspora.

India Inc has committed US$10 billion to infrastructure and other projects since 2008. For instance, the Bharti Group has undertaken 11 green-field investments projects in Nigeria and Uganda in 2014, adding to its existing investments in 13 other African countries like Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, The Republic of Congo, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda. The Tatas have invested in Algeria. India’s green-field investments in Africa amounted to US$1.1 billion as against US$6 billion of China in 2014, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report for 2015.

The other important element is building on the longstanding history of friendship and cooperation in development. Indo-African relations quintessentially define the modern concept of development compact that is based on shared responsibility and helping one another meet their developmental goals. This compact is more South-South than North-South as it entails mutual gain, non-interference, collective growth opportunities and indeed an absence of loan conditionalities. All of this strengthens the partnership in capacity-building, education, agriculture, food security, climate change, energy security and so on in a concerted manner.

Since the second summit in 2011, India has given 25,000 scholarships to African countries. A number of capacity-building institutions are in various stages of implementation. Three vocational centres have been set up in Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda. “India never says that we are setting up this institute, in this African country; here is the money, here is the institute, run it. This is what distinguishes us from the others,” stated the Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs at a consultation organized by the think-tank RIS ahead of the summit, adding that African countries felt “a vested interest” in such institutions and a sense of ownership.

India offered US$7.4 billion in the form of lines of credit (LoC) or soft loans since the summits began in 2008 of which $7 billion has been approved. There are 140 projects currently happening over 41 countries with such concessional aid. Even earlier, India provided a major LoC for Ethiopia in 2006 which in a way changed the dynamics of cooperation. The (US$640 million LoC for the development of its sugar industry across the value chain was a landmark development. In the case of Mozambique, financing a solar panel production unit represented a departure from the way India previously supported projects in the realm of advanced technologies.

The architecture of India’s engagement thus reflects its desire to provide comprehensive support for Africa’s development. India Inc is the spearhead for closer ties in trade and investment with the fast-growing economies of the continent. It is also a source for reliable and quality medicines and vaccines at affordable rates for large parts of Africa, especially in the battle against AIDS. The cooperation in the field of healthcare has contributed significantly towards Africa’s efforts to achieve MDGs. Post-2015, this partnership will also extend to achieving SDGs.


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Opinion: Turn Words into Action Involving Women for Lasting Peace Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:15:33 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

We have recently celebrated the peace deal struck between the government in Colombia and the main guerrilla group. The deal reached on justice issues represents the clearest sign yet of a possible end to five decades of conflict.

Less is said about the multiple constructive ways in which Colombian women have participated in, and influenced, these negotiations or mobilized for peace, including the many meetings held by women survivors with the women in both negotiating teams.

Similarly, few people know that last year also saw the end of another decade-long conflict in the Philippines between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the result of peace talks where more than a third of negotiators were women. This was far from the norm of official peace talks, which are typically either all-male affairs or include very few women.

Their participation was built on a long history of women’s leadership at the local and national levels in the Philippines over the years, including under the leadership of two women presidents who both invested political capital in resuming negotiations with the rebel group.

As tensions threaten Burundi’s fragile peace, Burundian women quickly organized themselves in a nationwide network of women mediators to quell or mitigate the myriad local disputes and prevent escalation. In 129 municipalities across the country, they addressed, by their count, approximately 3,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015, including mediating between security forces and protesters, advocating for the release of demonstrators and political prisoners, promoting non-violence and dialogue among divided communities, and countering rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information to prevent widespread panic. UN Women has been proud to support these efforts.

These are not isolated stories.

A comprehensive study prepared for the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, a landmark resolution that recognized the role of gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security, makes the strongest case to date that gender equality improves our humanitarian assistance, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks and the sustainability of peace agreements, and accelerates economic recovery after conflict.

It compiles growing evidence accumulated by academic researchers that demonstrates how peace negotiations influenced by women are much more likely to end in agreement and to endure. In fact, the chances of the agreement lasting 15 years goes up by as much as 35 per cent.

Where conflict-affected communities target women’s empowerment they experience the most rapid economic recovery and poverty reduction and greatly improved broad humanitarian outcomes, not just for women and girls but for whole populations.

In a world where extremists place the subordination of women at the centre of their ideology and war tactics, the international community and the UN should place gender equality at the heart of its peace and security interventions. Beyond policies, declarations and aspirations, gender equality must drive our decisions about who we hire and on what we spend our money and time.

It is clear that we must strive for tangible changes for women affected by war and engage the grossly underused capacity of women to prevent those conflicts. Countries must do more to bring women to the peace table in all peace negotiations. Civil society and women’s movements have made extraordinary contributions to effective peace processes.

We know that when civil society representatives are involved in peace agreements, the agreements are 64 per cent more likely to be successful and long-lasting. It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace. It is time to stop the under-investment in gender equality.

The percentage of aid to fragile states targeting gender equality as a main goal in peace and security interventions is only 2 per cent. Change requires bold steps, and it cannot happen without investment.

Now that time has come. On 25 September, the countries of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which expresses determination to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality” and to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence”.

Two days later, 72 Heads of State and Government attended our Global Leader’s Meeting to underline top-level support for gender equality and commit to specific action. And on 13 October, the Security Council will celebrate the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325 and inject new energy, ideas and resources into women’s leadership for peace.

In a world so afflicted by conflict, extremism and displacement, we cannot rely only on the ripples of hope sparked by the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. We need the full strength of our collective action and the political courage of the leaders of the international community. Anniversaries, after all, must count for more than the passing of years. They must be the moment for us to turn words into action.


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Opinion: 1325 a Groundbreaking Initiative for Women, Peace & Security Tue, 13 Oct 2015 05:57:14 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul K.Chowdhury was the initiator of UNSCR 1325 when he was Security Council President.

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 13 2015 (IPS)

2015 is a year of UN anniversaries as the calendar tells us. Of course the big one is the United Nations’ own seventieth birthday. I find two other anniversaries very significant in their relevance to humanity’s quest for peace and development in general and for goals and objectives of the UN’s work in particular.

I am referring to the 20th anniversary of the world’s biggest-ever conference on women held in Beijing in 1995 advancing women’s equality and empowerment. Five years later it was by followed by a groundbreaking initiative resulting in the adoption by the UN Security its landmark Resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security” on 31 October 2000.

The Security Council will hold an open debate to undertake its High Level Review of the 15 years of the implementation of 1325. Curiously, the Global Study that has been undertaken for this had its formal launch Monday.

UNSCR 1325 is very close to my intellectual existence and my very small contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, 15 years ago, on the International Women’s Day in 2000, as the President of the Security Council, following extensive stonewalling, I was able to issue an agreed statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued contribution women have always been making towards the prevention of wars and building peace.

The Council recognized in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels. That is when the seed for Resolution 1325 was sown.

The formal resolution followed this conceptual and political breakthrough on 31 October of the same year giving this issue the long overdue attention and recognition that it deserved. This inexplicable silence of the Security Council on women’s contribution for 55 long years was broken on the 8th of March 2000.

Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.

We recall that in choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

The Nobel Committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” 1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in the citation of the Nobel Prize.

Thanks to 1325, the Security Council is gradually accepting that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives and participation in peace processes. The Council has also met with women’s groups and representatives of NGOs during its field missions on a fairly regular basis.

Much, nevertheless, remains to be done. We continue to find reports that women are still very often ignored or excluded from formal processes of negotiations and elections and in the drafting of the new constitution or legislature frameworks.

The driving force behind 1325 is “participation”. I believe the Security Council has been neglecting this core focus of the resolution. There is no full and equal participation of women at any level. There is no consideration of women’s needs in the deliberations.

The main question is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and as peacekeepers to ensure real and faithful implementation of 1325.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations related Security Council resolutions, reports and missions. A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

As a matter of fact, I would recommend that all prospective peace-keepers must pass the “1325 test” before they leave their countries and there should be no relaxation with regard to this qualifier. Troop contributing countries should be aware that repeated violations by their contingents would put them on a global blacklist.

Analysts are of the view that the passage of 1325 is an impressive step forward for women’s equality agendas in contemporary security politics. However, they also believe, that the historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation, particularly for lack of national level commitments.

According to them, the poor record of the implementation of 1325 has fuelled rather well-founded suspicions about the complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements.

I believe strongly that we would not have to be worrying about countering extremism if women have equality in decision-making enabling them to take measures which would prevent such extremism.

I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words saying “Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.”

It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.

Here I would add emphatically that, to be true to its own pronouncements, I believe it is absolutely high time that in its seven decades of existence, the United Nations should appoint the first woman as the next Secretary-General.

After 15 years of the adoption the UNSCR 1325, our sole focus should be on its true and effective implementation. In real terms, National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of Resolution 1325.

It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 50 out of 193 UN Member-States have prepared their plans after 15 years. This is a dismal record!

There are no better ways to get country level commitment and involvement to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There has to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs – for example, setting a target of 100 NAPs by 2017. UN Women needs to work more proactively with the Member States so that their 1325 NAPs are commenced and completed without any further delay.

Another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. The role and contribution of civil society is critical. At the global level, the UN secretariat should not only make it a point to consult it, but at the same time, such consultations should be open and transparent. Very limited opportunity provided to civil society at tomorrow’s High Level Review is not what we expect.

Let me end by asserting that anniversaries are meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. Coming months will tell whether 1325’s 15th anniversary has been worthwhile and able to create that energy.

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A New Framework in an Age of Migration Mon, 12 Oct 2015 19:36:48 +0000 Alejo Carpentier By Alejo Carpentier
ROME, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

With the worldwide numbers of displaced people at all-time highs, migration has become the watchword for humanitarian crises.

Given the cost in economic, political and moral terms of coping with mass migration – and particular the experience of what has been unfolding this year in Europe – the need for a universal set of rules and principles is increasingly evident. So is the desire to keep people safely in their homes.

Several European politicians have insisted that greater aid and investment in the originating countries can stem the tidal movements of people. Even Matteo Salvini, an opposition leader in Italy who is hostile to refuge being offered by his own country, is a stated believer in the idea of that development will keep people from coming.

But few understand how practically difficult it has proven to fund such development. First, increasing amounts of official aid flows are tagged to humanitarian crises, reducing the funds available for sustainable development plans. Second, much of the promised aid never materializes, for a host of reasons.

Take Nepal. Less than half the reconstruction aid pledged in the wake of that country’s earthquake in April has been delivered, according to UN officials. Controversies over the Himalayan nation’s new draft constitution are hardly encouraging to donors. The result is that the disaster may translate into a longer-lasting catastrophe than it had to be, ultimately crimping economic opportunity and food security.

Or take Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a large donation for humanitarian operations there, even though it is engaged in the military conflict that has exacerbated displacement and poverty.

Meanwhile, amid the horror stories of refugee mistreatment in Europe, Tunisia is now building a moat along its border with Libya, demonstrating fears of its own.

It’s pretty evident that the combined sums spent on deterring migration and humanitarian aid to refugees makes talk of encouraging growth in the source countries an exercise in pure optimism.

That may now change. The global community today gathered at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and voted to approve the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises. The agreement, brokered by the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), aims to stitch together the increasingly dysfunctional separation of humanitarian and development aid budgets.

As the signatories represent state and non-state donors and actors, the agreement should make it much easier to ensure resources can push past political and bureaucratic barriers to get where they are direly needed.

Take Syria, where more than half the population is displaced, conflict is rampant and the European Union took months to agree to accept less than 5 per cent of the refugees than are now camped in Lebanon and Turkey. Many refugees, terrified that dismal conditions in neighboring countries will become permanent and discouraged from seeking protection further west, are in fact returning to Syria despite the dangers.

That may be an international diplomatic failure – and many of the returnees say they blame the United Nations for their plight.

But it is a practical issue, and that is where the new Framework may help.

FAO, for its part, has already begun acting as if the agreement were in place. This summer it partnered with the International Organization for Migration to help smallholder agricultural production in Syria by around 500 families who returned. The aid consists of seeds, farm tools and ready-made poultry farms, all aimed at providing for the families themselves but also helping pre-empt the agricultural desertion of a conflict-racked country.

The budget resources here are going to what has long been a no man’s land. It’s a small step towards keeping development alive amid an overriding humanitarian emergency.

“Supporting agricultural based livelihoods can contribute to both helping people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so and to create the conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

To be sure, the Framework was devised to deal with protracted crises – places where food insecurity has been reported on a nearly perpetual basis for at least a decade. There are 21 such places today. But most such crises take place in fragile states, where conflict is rife either as a cause or an effect.

As things stand, a third of the world’s hungry outside of India and China live amid protracted crises. And while agriculture accounts for a third of GDP in those countries, it receives less than 4 per cent of external assistance funding, according to Luca Alinov, a FAO officer based in Kenya. Thus the Framework paves the way for resources to flow to the agricultural sector – where returns in terms of food security are highest – precisely where it is most neglected.

It is widely felt to be high time to break down the increasingly archaic distinction between humanitarian and development assistance – and with it the distinct official channels through which resources are doled out.

“Rural development and food security are central to the global response to the refugee crisis,” Graziano da Silva said.

To be sure, how to carry this out in practice may vary, but the Framework’s genesis as the fruit of multi-stakeholder dialogue is likely to broaden the toolkit. Again, FAO has already been doing spadework, such as partnering with MasterCard to provide people in refugee camps in Kenya with prepaid cards allowing them to purchase local goods, a scheme that lends itself to adaptation to varying circumstances.

While state-backed social protection programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program, which helped Ethiopia become the only protracted-crisis country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of populating suffering from hunger, are ideal, the institutional and political stability required for that is often lacking.

That is perhaps where the new Framework may prove most innovative, according to Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University. In line with the universal bent of the Sustainable Development Goals, it suggests going beyond reliance on state building as the sanctioned channel of intervention and points to consensus that strengthening livelihoods should be the priority.

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Opinion: International Day of the Girl Must Start with Good Laws Mon, 12 Oct 2015 09:57:11 +0000 Shelby Quast

Shelby Quast is Director, Americas Office for Equality Now.

By Shelby Quast
NEW YORK, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

Everyday should be about girls, but yesterday, October 11, was dedicated especially to them. International Day of the Girl is yet another opportunity to put girls at center stage.

For many girls, their childhood and adolescent years are shaped by harmful experiences such as sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex trafficking.

Understanding that a lack of support systems can leave girls without the means to speak out against abuses and seek help, Equality Now’s #JusticeForGirls program uses strategic litigation and related advocacy to ensure a level playing field for girls – particularly during their critical adolescent years.

This year, Equality Now announced an exciting new additional component to this initiative. The GENEROSITY of GIRLS Fund supports programmes that directly impact the lives of girls. Initial recipients are partner organizations that work on the front lines with adolescent girls: Safe Hands for Girls in the U.S., The Girl Child Network in Uganda and the Rural Education & Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP) in Kenya.

Founded by FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh, Safe Hands for Girls supports and empowers girls at risk of FGM by providing culturally appropriate support groups, economically empowering girls and supporting their goals for higher education. The Girl Child Network in Kampala, Uganda, empowers girls to develop their own curricula for more than 20 after-school clubs.

With support from the GENEROSITY of GIRS Fund, The Girl Child Network has the opportunity to empower 500 girls. The REEP initiative empowers girls in Busia County, Kenya, where Equality Now recently supported a sexual violence case and brought 70 similar cases to the attention of local law enforcement. With support from the fund, REEP will reach 1,000 girls.

Ensuring that strong laws and access to justice is the first step towards making gender equality a reality. Yet many countries, such as Liberia and Mali, have yet to put in place laws which ban FGM, a severe form of violence that is likely to affect up to 30 million girls over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be born a girl in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, you still have no legislative protection against child marriage. Other countries have laws against such abuses but fail to implement them.

In Saudi Arabia, we worked with Fatima, a 12-year-old married to a 50-year-old man with a wife and 10 children. Her father received the equivalent of US$10,000 for her, which he spent on a car. Fatima’s husband gave her a PlayStation for her wedding gift. We worked with a Saudi lawyer to help Fatima and the resulting publicity helped put pressure on her husband, who finally consented to a divorce.

Sexual violence continues to be an epidemic in every country in the world. Awareness has increased over the past 15 years but enforcing the rule of law continues to be a problem for most governments. The law provides a framework that determines a person’s worth.

In Morocco, Amina Filali was raped when she was sixteen. But a loophole in the law exempted rapists from punishment if they marry their victims. Instead of punishing rapists, judges forced girls to marry them.

Amina could not bear a lifetime of being raped, so she took her own life swallowing rat poison. Other girls have done the same. We campaigned very actively with Moroccan groups to change the law. While the change came too late for Amina, it can hopefully protect other girls.

And this is not just an issue for the economically developing world. Half a million women and girls in the US have undergone, or are at risk of undergoing, FGM. In fact, no country has reached gender equality.

But things have at least started to change. Twenty years ago, FGM was seen as a cultural practice, but it is now widely recognized as violence and as a violation of human rights. There are now laws banning it in the majority of those countries where it is most prevalent. Two decades ago, the media did not really cover violence against girls as an issue, but that is changing by the day.

The sexual violence epidemic against girls around the world is no longer a hidden issue and almost two million people signed a petition to ensure #JusticeForLiz, a 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped and left for dead in Kenya, which led to the arrest and conviction of the rapists.

At a global level, the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals include women and girls throughout the agenda. We now need to ensure that progress toward achieving these goals, such as ending FGM and child marriage, are implemented and measured wherever women and girls are affected – not just in select countries.

October 11 was for all of the world’s girls, but the benefits are much more extensive. If every girl is valued and given the same opportunities as boys; if she is free from all forms of violence and discrimination, amazing things can happen – not only for the girl whose life is changed forever but for her the community and the whole world which becomes safer, happier and more balanced.


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Pakistan Initiative Seeks to Improve Maternal-Child Care in Rural Areas Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:27:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai

A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

“We are extremely happy over the government’s initiative to give money to the pregnant women and enable them to seek proper treatment,” said Sharif Ahmed at a basic health unit (BHU), near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Ahmed said he had brought her his wife to undergo ultrasound and other pregnancy-related investigations at the BHU and preempt any complications.

“My wife has already experienced miscarriage of a pregnancy two years ago due to lack of lack of tests. I didn’t have money to pay for medical examinations of my wife which resulted in miscarriage,” he told IPS.

Ahmed, a wage worker, is beneficiary of the scheme launched by the provincial government to cut maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by offering the equivalent of US$ 10 to each of the pregnant women per visit to the hospital.

It is the family’s second visit to this BHU. “We have got $20 so far. The money we received has been paid on transportation charges to reach this hospital. Without this, our visit couldn’t have been possible,” he said.

The KP is one four Pakistani provinces to start such a program. The World Health Organization’s Dr Kashif Ahmed told IPS that the province has 29 per cent literacy rate, lower than rest of the country, and accordingly many people aren’t aware of pregnancy-related problems or are too shy to be seen by doctors.

Pakistan ranks third in the world with an estimated 275 out of 100,000 number of maternal deaths, behind only India and Nigeria, he said.

“At present only 50 per cent of women in the province receive any form of ante-natal care and only 25 per cent are receiving any form of post-natal care from a trained birth attendant,” he said.

The KP government hopes that the $10 payments to pregnant women for each visit to public hospitals will encourage women to undergo at least three check-ups before birth and two after birth, for which they get a total amount of $50, with the aim of reducing maternal deaths from delivery-related complications.

Another challenge is that women in this male-dominated society are also not readily coming to hospitals because they want to be seen by women doctors and there is an extreme shortage of them, as well as of nurses.

KP’s director-general for health, Dr Pervez Kamal, told IPS that the majority of the province’s 2.2 million people live in remote rural areas and thereby have difficulty in accessing primary healthcare facilities. It is hoped that providing cash payments will enable them to hire transport and reach the hospitals, he said.

“We have also put the place the services of 500 women doctors or Lady Health Workers (LHWs) in all the 1,680 rural health centres in the province to encourage the women to come there and get examined by females,” said Kamal. Thousands of LHWs have been deployed at the community level to provide vaccination besides free check-ups to the childbearing women, he said.

“As of January 2015, a total of 5,678 women have benefited from the scheme and we are hopeful that we can reduce pregnancy-related deaths in the province,” he said.

Dr Kamal said that the government has also been campaigning aggressively through radio and television advertisements to inform the people about the incentives to the pregnant mothers so more people could avail the opportunities and preempt complications.

Professor Shamim Akhtar, a gynecologist at the district headquarters hospital in Mardan, one of the KP’s 26 districts, says the government’s initiative has been been having a positive impact. “We have recorded a 50 per cent increase in visits of the pregnant women at the outpatients department of the hospital because of the money provided by the government,” she says.

The women who are getting the money and free treatment are also communicating to their relatives and neighbours about the facilities, which has resulted in people have started coming to hospitals in droves, she says.

One pregnant patient at the Mardan facility, 20-year-old Jehan Bibi, told IPS that she had been informed by a woman in her neighborhood about free treatment and money that she would get if she want to the hospital. “I have given birth to a son two years ago but I faced lot of problems because of home-based delivery. I have no money to visit the doctors then. But now the situation is different and I will get a total of $50 which is enough to visit the hospital and pay for transportation cost,” said Bibi as she underwent ultra sonography.

“During my earlier pregnancy, my family didn’t allow me to venture out of home and get examined by male doctor which caused complications. Now, my family is also happy that I am getting examination by female doctors and my in-laws have no objection,” she said.


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Opinion: Will African Leaders Fight for our Farmers? Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:04:19 +0000 Sipho Mthathi

Sipho Mthathi is the Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa.

By Sipho Mthathi
PRETORIA, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is changing the world we know and love. Our land, homes and food are at risk. With nearly a billion people already living in poverty, it is also the single biggest threat to the fight against hunger.

Sipho Mthathi

Sipho Mthathi

As world leaders gather in Paris this December to hammer out a climate deal at the Conference of the Parties (COP21), those representing Africa need to take a bold stance.

Pastoral and indigenous communities across Africa are highly vulnerable to changes in climate. In December, Africa needs to stand together and negotiate for more funding for adaptation that will be adequate, predictable and much greater than what has been forthcoming up until now.

Tough times

Across the continent of Africa, we are already seeing threats to our food supply due to less reliable rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and a greater number of extreme weather events. Millions of Africans are already living with extreme poverty and our future as a continent depends on their survival.

One such person is Mary Matupi, a farmer from the Rumphi district of northern Malawi. Matupi grows maize on a small piece of land, with a normal harvest yielding almost 80 bags weighing 50 kg each. However, in the last growing season she managed to produce only 15 bags due to a delay in the rains. Matupi told us that “if we don’t act to stop climate change, harder times are still to come and we will suffer.”

Women like Matupi are the majority of smallholder producers across Africa – they are the face of 60 to 80 per cent of food production labour across sub-Saharan Africa. Erratic rainfall substantially impairs their capacity to provide for their families and their communities. Like millions of others, Matupi is simply trying to feed her family, her community and, ultimately, her country.

Climate Change Impact

Many places in Africa could experience even greater warming than the global average – a 4C warmer world could potentially be 6C warmer in some African countries. According to the United Nations’ climate agency, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), changes in water availability and temperature will have a huge effect on African agriculture (where 97 per cent of production is rainfed and 60 per cent of the continental labour force works in this sector). With sea levels rising, many African low-lying countries are at risk of losing their farmland. The financial losses could be especially great in the coastal areas of Mozambique, Senegal and Morocco.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), if global warming exceeds 3C globally, maize, millet and sorghum cropping areas will be unviable across much of Africa. We can also expect more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, with huge social and economic costs. Extreme weather conditions will also affect our diets, and likely result in more undernutrition and disease – a fact which governments cannot ignore. Therefore financing for technology (i.e. new drought-resistant crops, new farming techniques, early warning systems, seed storage protection programs, etc.), which could help African farmers cope, needs to be top of the agenda in Paris.

One example of how technology and new methods have assisted farmers is the story of Kabugho Ruth from Uganda. Ruth says that adopting new methods of farming has already ‘done wonders for her’. By constructing terraces in her coffee/banana garden, Ruth was able to triple her production. Imagine what financing can do for other small-scale farmers across the continent.

Citizens are Taking Action

African farmers are demonstrating both their resilience and commitment to climate action and they deserve our support.

They are not alone. Across the continent the Africa People’s Petition is aiming to collect one million signatures ahead of COP21 to demonstrate African support to prioritize climate change. Across the continent, organizations are mobilizing on World Food Day this 16 October as part of the Women Food Climate campaign, which highlights the role of women small scale producers in meeting food needs in Africa and their struggle against the impacts of climate change.

Farmers like Matupi and Ruth need their governments to play their part by fighting for funds that can help mitigate the impact of climate change.

Conservative estimates predict that Africa will need approximately US$95 billion a year by 2050.

African leaders must avoid the same path of profit-led, destructive high-carbon development – formerly pursued by rich countries – which brought us to the current crisis.

To achieve this we need visionary leaders who will go to the Paris negotiations calling for a global shift to renewable energy use. And they should be unrelenting in claiming the climate financing and technology that we need.

Small-scale farming provides most of the food produced in Africa, as well as employment for 70 per cent of working people. On this World Food Day, we cannot allow our small scale farmers to be forgotten in Paris. A significant climate adaptation financing deal in Paris could change the lives of farmers like Mary Matupi and Kabugho Ruth forever and ensure the continent is able to feed itself.

We cannot ignore this opportunity.


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ASEAN Agreement on Haze? As Clear as Smoke Sat, 10 Oct 2015 20:25:37 +0000 Kanis Dursin Volunteers taking on fires at Garung village in Pulang Pisau district, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia

Volunteers taking on fires at Garung village in Pulang Pisau district, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

A regional agreement on managing transboundary haze caused by fires raging in Indonesia’s forests and peatlands appears all but buried in the embers of frustration of its neighbouring countries.

Nearby Singapore and Malaysia, apart from eastern Indonesia, have been hardest hit by the haze, which has been sending air pollution indices soaring to unhealthy levels for more than a month now. In recent days, the winds have blown the haze to southern Thailand as well.

In parts of Southeast Asia, a pall of grey hangs over the skies from morning until dusk, and scenes of residents walking around with masks have become common.

Over the past month or so, schools have been closed at some point, flights delayed or outdoor activities cancelled or limited, with warnings about the risks to children and the elderly, as countries asked Indonesia, with whom they are members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to address the burning of forests and land in eastern Indonesia.

After months of digging in its heels and saying it can manage on its own, the Indonesian government was quoted as saying this week it believes foreign help would be needed to put out the fires.

“This has proven quite a challenge for us, so we see it as a necessity to work together with countries that have the available resources to extinguish the fires,” foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said on Oct. 8. He said Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno LP Marsud, had talked to Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia “to discuss cooperation initiatives to overcome fire hotspots.”

But in these discussions about the fires there has hardly been any mention of the 1997 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, a legally binding agreement among the 10 member countries of the organisation. These are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In truth, activists say, they did not have much hope in the ASEAN haze agreement and ASEAN’s ability – or will – to hold its members to its own commitments.

“The agreement is said to be legally binding, but ASEAN has no court to try offenders,” said Nur Hidayati, head of the advocacy department of the Indonesian Forum for Environment, known by its Indonesian acronym WALHI. She added that the haze accord would likely meet the same fate as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which activists see as weak.

Yet this year would have been an opportunity to show the teeth of the haze agreement, which ASEAN has long held up as an example of successful regional cooperation. The haze agreement was the world’s first regional arrangement that binds a group of states to tackle transboundary pollution from land and forest fires.

After years of resistance, Indonesia – whose inability to control the fires for nearly two decades has been an irritant in its ties with its neighbours – finally ratified the haze agreement in September 2014 and became legally bound by it. That is 12 years after Indonesia signed it with other ASEAN countries in 2002, a fact that has raised doubts about ASEAN’s ability to enforce its own decisions.

ASEAN countries are also moving toward deeper economic integration and launching the ASEAN Community in December 2015, but addressing transboundary tensions continue to challenge the 48-year-old organisation.

“If the most powerful three members of ASEAN (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia) are not able to address a recurring and predictable problem (haze), what hope does the region have for economic integration with the ASEAN Economic Community that is going to be finalized end of this year?” asked a September commentary in the Jakarta Post newspaper by Joseph Cherian of the Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments, Jack Loo of Think Business and Ang Swee Hoon of the National University of Singapore Business School.

Singapore and Malaysia have repeatedly offered assistance to put out the raging fires, but Indonesia’s officials until recently said they could manage on their own.

“For the time being, we are only thinking of exhausting all of our internal resources before seeking external assistance,” J S George Lantu, director of ASEAN functional cooperation of the Indonesian foreign ministry said in an interview earlier in October. “We really appreciate their offers of help, but as a sovereign state we don’t want to seek to external help without trying hard enough to put out the fires. We can handle the fires ourselves,” the diplomat said.

But Indonesia is showing “complete disregard for our people, and their own,” Singapore Foreign Minister K Shanmugan told the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier in October.

The head of the environment division of the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat, which oversees the implementation of the ASEAN haze agreement, said Indonesia’s responses to the fires were in line with the accord. “Obviously, Indonesia can deal with the fires with its own resources,” division head Ampai Harakunarak said. “All member states are standing by, ready to receive requests from Indonesia.”

The accord aims to “prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution as a result of land and/or forest fires which should be mitigated, through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation.” It requires parties to “cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollutions as a result of land and/or forest fires” and “to control sources of fires.”

In truth, “Indonesia ratified the agreement under strong protest from Singapore and Malaysia over haze pollution. It (the ratification) was more as a political gesture than a statement of intent,” said WALHI’s Hidayati.

Significantly, Article 12.2 of the agreement says that external assistance “can only be employed at the request of and with the consent of the requesting party, or when offered by another party or parties, with the consent of the receiving party.”

President Joko Widodo had instructed government agencies to handle the fires in peatlands and forest being cleared by plantations for products like palm oil or paper. Foreign companies run many of them, prompting Singapore’s National Environmental Agency to name five companies with Indonesian concessions suspected to be contributing to the haze.

The Singapore Environment Council and Consumers Association of Singapore have urged consumers to use only products of companies that do not use burning practices in Indonesia.

Satellite images show that 70 per cent of hotspots in Sumatera and Borneo islands in Indonesia are in local plantations. Some 1.7 million hectares of land, more than a third of which are on peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been burned, Widodo said.

Clearly, Indonesia has a lot of cleaning up to do of the concessions it gives to plantation companies and enforcing of local laws, critics say.

Land and/or forest fires have plagued Indonesia annually over the past 18 years due to unprecedented expansion of pulp and paper companies and oil palm plantations and their conversion into easy-to-burn peatlands, according to WALHI.

“By nature, tropical rain forests are impossible to burn due to high humidity. However, when trees are felled and a monoculture system is introduced in oil palm and rubber plantations or forest estates, their humidity disappears and they become vulnerable to fires,” Hidayati said.

Government officials say they have frozen some oil palm and forest concessions, adding that they have fined some companies and that others are awaiting trial. “Previously, we only charged individuals or corporates violating the 2009 environmental law in criminal and civil courts. Since January 2015, however, we also impose administrative sanctions on them by either freezing or revoking their concessions,” said Muhammad Yunus, director of the criminal law enforcement division of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

But the government must review all forest and plantation concessions to determine whether companies can handle fires, Hidayati said. “A fire that breaks out in a plantation or forest estate should been seen as a concession holder’s inability to manage the land and thus serve as a ground to revoke the concession, regardless who sets it or whether or not it’s deliberate.”

Untung Suprapto, head of the land and forest fire control sub-directorate of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said his office is drafting a regulation that would require plantation and forest concession holders to have own firefighter teams, trucks and equipment.

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Minorities Speak Out in Latin American Population Conference Sat, 10 Oct 2015 14:49:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy “Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

“The countries of Latin America have not fully committed themselves to the international conventions and have not given indigenous peoples access. Nor have their contents been widely disseminated,” to help people demand compliance and enforcement, said Guatemalan activist Ángela Suc.

The indigenous community organiser’s criticism is an alert regarding the pledges made at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organised Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations population fund (UNFPA).

“We need land, territory, and access to culturally sensitive healthcare and education in line with our traditions and knowledge and in our languages,” Suc told IPS.

Suc, a representative of the Pocomchí people in the Guatemalan delegation to the conference, said the native population also experiences demographic phenomena such as migration and ageing, just like the non-indigenous population in the region.

The vicissitudes of native and black populations were part of the focus of the debates at the conference, which followed the one held in Montevideo in August 2013. A civil society gathering was also organised parallel to the official conference.

Participants discussed the problems still affecting these groups, such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and high maternal and infant mortality rates.

More than 45 million indigenous people live in this region of around 600 million. They belong to over 800 native groups, according to the ECLAC report “Indigenous peoples in Latin America: progress in the last decade and pending challenges for guaranteeing their rights.”

Brazil heads the list, with 305 different native groups, followed by Colombia (102), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The countries with the largest numbers of indigenous people are: Mexico (nearly 17 million), followed by Peru (7.2 million), Bolivia (6.2 million), and Guatemala (5.9 million).

ECLAC reports the fragile demographics of many native peoples, who are at risk of actually disappearing, physically or culturally, as observed in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The problems they face include forced displacement from their land, scarcity of food, pollution of their water sources, soil degradation, malnutrition and high mortality rates.

Birth rates are dropping in the region, with an average of 2.4 children per indigenous women in Uruguay, 4.0 in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and 5.0 in Guatemala and Panama.

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Infant mortality rates among indigenous people are still higher than among the rest of the population. The biggest inequalities are found in Panama, Peru and Bolivia, in that order. And malnutrition is a major problem in Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The ECLAC report stresses that indigenous children grow up in material poverty and that violence against native children and women remains a major challenge.

Of the region’s 12.8 million indigenous children, 2.7 million are in Mexico, 2.4 million in Guatemala, and 2.2 million in Bolivia.

“Our demands have been set forth in different international platforms and are still valid,” Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS.

“We are going to monitor, observe and follow up to ensure that countries assume these commitments and comply with them,” said the Nicaraguan activist, who also took part in the regional conference. She added that compliance with the measures in favour of minorities requires political will, as well as agreements between the authorities and civil society, and specific budgets.

More than 120 million afro-descendants also live in the region, including 97 million in Brazil, one million in Ecuador and 800,000 in Nicaragua, according to national census data that included specific questions about ethnic identity. In other countries there are no specific statistics, such as Colombia, which has a significant black population.

The report “Afro-descendant Youth in Latin America: Diverse Realities and (un)Fulfilled Rights”, produced by ECLAC in 2011, showed that teen motherhood among young blacks was more widespread than among the rest of the population, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

One of the problems discussed at the conference is the lack of demographic statistics on the region’s afro-descendant population.

In the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development, which contains the conclusions reached by the first edition of the conference, the region’s countries pledged to take into account the specific demographic dynamics of indigenous people in the design of public policies, and guarantee their right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights, and to their own traditional medicines and health practices.

They also agreed to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that indigenous women, children, adolescents and young people enjoy full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.

With respect to blacks, they agreed to tackle gender, race, ethnic and generational inequalities, guarantee the enforcement of their right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health, and promote human development in this population group, while ensuring policies and programmes for improving women’s living conditions.

The plenary of the second conference approved the “Operational guide for the implementation and follow-up of the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development”, which includes 14 provisions for indigenous and afro-descendant peoples.

Approval of the guide was hindered by the Caribbean delegations’ protest that they had not been given the document ahead of time – an obstacle that was not resolved until the early hours of the morning of the last day of the conference.

“To the extent that full participation by indigenous peoples exists, the guide will be complied with. This is a challenge for the State,” Suc said.

The process can be an engine driving progress in the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

“The guide can be improved. We can influence the follow-up. But it is a challenge,” Wilson said.

The Political Declaration of the Social Forum held parallel to the official conference, which brought together social organisations from throughout the region, stressed that every indicator in the guide should be broken down by age, sex, gender, race and ethnicity.

But it also complained that two years after the approval of the Montevideo Consensus, the “ambitious, innovative agenda has not yet translated into substantive progress, and in some cases there have even been setbacks” in areas such as gender violence, hate crimes, high maternal mortality rates, a rise in teenage pregnancies, and discrimination.

Edited by Estrella Gutierrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: It’s gettin’ hot in here…so take back all your carbon Sat, 10 Oct 2015 12:14:47 +0000 Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert is Deputy Director of Agriculture for Impact, a London-based advocacy group that convenes the Montpellier Panel.

By Emily Alpert
LONDON, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

Africa is getting hot fast. Already battling against the impacts of climate change, temperatures in Africa will rise faster than any other continent. In fact, they are expected to exceed 2 C and may reach as high as 6 C greater than 20th century levels. These rapidly rising temperatures foreshadow increased drought, famine and disease. The most vulnerable populations – of which millions are smallholder farmers – need solutions, and they need them now.

These rising temperatures brought on by climate change affect not only yields, but also food quality, safety and the reliability of its delivery to consumers. By 2050, child malnutrition could increase by as much as 20 per cent and food shortages could lead to losses of up to 7 per cent of GDP followed by corresponding food price hikes.

Maize, rice and wheat prices in 2050 could rise by 4 per cent, 7 per cent and 15 percent respectively, nullifying progress made in the last two decades to combat hunger and poverty in Africa.

Smallholders: from victims to solution providers

The Montpellier Panel, a group of African and European agriculture and food security experts, argue in The Farms of Change: African Smallholders Responding to an Uncertain Future, that farmers can be part of the solution to climate change. But only if they are supported to adopt adaptation actions that simultaneously reduce emissions.

Agriculture generates carbon emissions primarily from livestock, but also poor land use and improper soil management. Agriculture and land use accounts for nearly one-third of Africa’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is as high as 80 per cent.

Ensuring global temperatures do not rise above 2 C will be very difficult without leveraging the potential of the agriculture sector, and helping smallholders to reduce and offset GHG emissions. However, this requires significant levels of funding. Most importantly, this finance needs to be designed in ways that benefit smallholders and incentivize them to invest in their land and labour even though it may not immediately produce visible returns.

The potential of taking back all our carbon

As part of the global climate talks set to take place in Paris this December, countries have committed to take action to reduce emissions by proposing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

However, the projected total of these pledges leaves the world far-off from a stable climate future, in part because agriculture is excluded. Instead, investments, adaptation plans and mitigation strategies should be directed towards better land management that sequesters carbon in the soil.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil indefinitely. The sequestration process takes time (between five and 50 years) to reach its optimum rate, and then continues until the soil has reached its full storage capacity. The process minimises emissions by adding organic matter to soil faster than the rate at which it decays.

This can be achieved in many ways: no-till farming (primarily minimum disturbance of the soil), planting cover crops, manure and sludge application, improved grazing techniques, water conservation and agroforestry. Agroforestry systems can in fact capture carbon in the range of two to four tonnes per hectare per year – which is much higher than conservation farming alone.

The potential to sequester carbon worldwide through better land management has been estimated at around three Gt of carbon per year. Collectively this has the potential to offset between 5 and 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and increase annual grain production in developing countries by 24 to 32 million tonnes, leading to improved food security for many farmers and their families.

Incentivising farmers to take action on climate change

Farmers can and will undertake climate-adaptation actions that simultaneously reduce emissions, but they need to be provided with the right incentives. This includes paying them to protect the environment and giving them secure land rights to inspire better protection and care of their own fields.

In Niger, government policies that strengthened local farmer rights for planting trees, coupled with training from aid agencies to improve land management through soil and water conservation and agroforestry resulted in the revitalization of more than 5 million hectares. Today, smallholders in Niger benefit from enriched soils, increased crop yields and lower emissions.

Advances in carbon offset programmes that involve smallholders are also underway. The Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP) involves 60,000 farmers on 45,000 hectares to increase the organic matter in their soils by sustainable land management. In January 2014, the project issued its first carbon credits to participating smallholders who captured 25,000 tonnes of carbon, equivalent to more than the annual emissions of 5,000 vehicles.

When leaders arrive in Paris, they might be trying to warm-up from the bitter cold, but smallholders are counting on them to keep temperatures bearable in Africa. Agricultural production and smallholder livelihoods are under threat from climate change, but farmers are not helpless. With the right support, they can bring Africa closer to a continent that is defined by prosperity, not poverty.

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Opinion: “Sanitation, Water & Hygiene For All” Cannot Wait for 2030 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 22:54:13 +0000 Geeta Rao Gupta

Dr Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), joined UNICEF in June, 2011, and brings over 20 years of experience in international development programming, advocacy and research to the UN children’s agency.

By Geeta Rao Gupta

The new Sustainable Development Goals, agreed upon recently by the member states of the United Nations, are all interconnected, as has been reiterated time and again. However, it is in the new Goal 6 – “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”—for which this interconnectedness is most apparent.

Geeta Rao Gupta

Geeta Rao Gupta

Water flows throughout the 2030 Development Agenda. And sanitation and hygiene underpin any possible gains from access to water.

If we do not reach Goal 6, the other goals and targets will not be reached. Progress in the areas of education, health, inequality and extreme poverty all depends on how well we do on water and sanitation.

The United Nations some years ago declared that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. However today, 663 million people are without access to adequate drinking water and 2.4 billion lack adequate toilets.

We at UNICEF are particularly concerned about the children, who are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to these basic needs.

It affects their health. Water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under five. Without access to sanitation hundreds of them fall ill and die every single day from preventable causes, particularly diarrhoea and other fecal-oral diseases.

It affects their education. In many communities, girls stay out of school because they need to fetch water; because they do not have a safe space to use when they menstruate; because they must help their mothers care for those who are sick – often from water-borne diseases.

It affects their nutritional status and their development. There is emerging evidence of direct linkages between lack of access to water and sanitation, and chronic malnutrition. Around 159 million children worldwide are stunted (short height for age), a condition which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. The repercussions of stunting can be felt beyond the individual child. It can significantly diminish the learning and future earning potential of entire generations, and thus negatively affect the local and national economy.

It affects equality and equity. One important aim in the new SDGs is the goal to reduce inequalities. New evidence from the World Bank shows that investing in water and sanitation for the poorest 20 per cent of a population yields greater economic returns than investing in the other quintiles and thus has the potential to reduce societal inequalities.

Our data from 45 developing countries show that in 7 out of 10 households, the burden of collecting water falls to women and girls, so access would also aid gender equity.

A side event in the margins of the UN General Assembly, hosted by the governments of the Netherlands, South Africa, Hungary and Bangladesh, concluded that targeting the poorest and the most marginalized will require an immense mind-shift for governments. But it must be done.

It cannot be done without strengthening institutions and improving the accountability of governments and service providers. And it will not be done without involving those who have the most at stake – the poor, women, and adolescents – in planning and in monitoring of services. Their influence has already been brought to bear in the drafting of Goal 6, the fastest agreed-upon goal.

It is no coincidence that impressive results are achieved by working closely with those directly affected. Partnership with them is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but a must-have.

In short, access to water and sanitation is not only a matter of dignity and human rights, but fundamental to our ability to attain any of the goals the governments of the world have just adopted.

We must start right away on working on Goal 6, and it can’t be business as usual: we need to start with the most disadvantaged, or we risk losing the gains we have so painstakingly made in the last 15 years, and we endanger the future. There is no time to waste.


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U.N. Upholds Human Rights, World Bank Dismisses Them Fri, 09 Oct 2015 21:00:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has always remained one of the most vociferous and passionate advocates of human rights – exemplified in the creation in 2006 of a 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva to uphold its mandate.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.  Credit: OECD

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Credit: OECD

But, in its own political yard, a member of its extended family, namely the World Bank, is apparently working at cross-purposes.

Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, has lambasted the World Bank for either marginalizing or ignoring human rights in its policies.

For most purposes, he said, “the World Bank is currently a human rights-free zone.”

In its operational policies, in particular, “it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations,” says Alston in a new report published online.

The report, which will be officially presented to the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 23, points out that the biggest single obstacle to better integrate human rights into the work of the World Bank is “the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation of the ‘political prohibition’ contained in the Bank’s Articles of Agreement.”

“They invoke the Articles of Agreement, which were adopted in 1945, and argue that this clause, not to interfere in States’ political affairs, effectively prohibits the Bank from engaging with issues of human rights,” Ashton says.

However, he stresses, “these Articles were written more than 70 years ago, when there was no international catalogue of human rights, no specific treaty obligations upon States, and not a single international institution addressing these issues.”

Meanwhile, in a submission to the World Bank, which began its annual meeting in Peru Oct. 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Bank’s draft social and environmental safeguard policies fail to enforce the Bank’s responsibility to protect the human rights of vulnerable communities affected by projects it finances.

“Two words – ‘human rights’ – are missing from the safeguards’ requirements and should be a priority during this week’s meetings,” said Jessica Evans, senior advocate and researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch.

“It is astounding and disappointing that the Bank can put forward policies that purport to ‘safeguard’ poor and vulnerable communities without committing to respect their human rights,” she added.

Asked about the contradictory roles of the United Nations and the World Bank, Sarah Saadoun of Human Rights Watch told IPS the Bank has made a habit recently of responding to calls to ensure its projects respect human rights by saying that it is not a human rights tribunal.

But as an international organisation and a specialised U.N. agency, it has a responsibility, derived not least from the U.N. Charter, to respect human rights, in addition to the human rights obligations flowing from its member states, she said.

In any event, Saadoun said, the World Bank, as part of the U.N. family, should be working to strengthen and promote the international human rights system. Instead, it scrupulously avoids reference to human rights standards in its existing and draft safeguard policies.

She also said the Bank has been trying to overcome its history of sometimes supporting projects with devastating impacts on poor and vulnerable communities, such as by adopting and now reforming its safeguard policies.

“But it still refuses to commit to respect human rights.”

Twenty years ago, then-president of the World Bank James Wolfensohn took on what was known as the “c-word” – corruption – previously a taboo topic at the Bank due to misguided claims that addressing corruption would conflict with the its non-political mandate, Saadoun said.

“It’s high time President Jim Kim do the same for the ‘r-word’: human rights,” she declared.

In his report, Alston says that – despite their legal arguments – the World Bank’s real reason to avoid dealing with human rights is clearly political.

“Western countries, cheered on by Western civil society, have often pushed the Bank to sanction developing countries with a poor human rights record by delaying or withholding development loans to those countries.”

Countries that borrow money from the Bank, or member states that are critical of human rights, don’t want the World Bank to turn into a ‘human rights cop’ that meddles in their internal affairs,” says Ashton.

All these approaches are misguided, he says. “World Bank member States from all parts of the world are to blame.”

He adds: “The use of the human rights framework makes an enormous difference, which is exactly why the Bank is so resistant to using it. Even more importantly, the language of rights recognizes the dignity and agency of all individuals.”

“It is striking how little thought has been given to what a World Bank human rights policy might look like in practice. It is now time for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to take the initiative,” Alston says in his report.

“But World Bank member states also have a responsibility: they should begin to grapple seriously with what a World Bank human rights policy should look like, and they should start doing that today.”

In a statement released Oct. 8, HRW said the Bank’s rejection of the human rights framework and the suggestion that human rights are merely aspirational, undermines decades of progress in setting international standards that the governments of nearly all World Bank member countries have agreed to respect.

It also runs counter to its poverty-alleviation mandate. Development scholars and practitioners, including World Bank researchers, have long made the case that respect for human rights is critical to achieving inclusive sustained development, HRW said.

The World Bank has claimed that the draft “goes as far or further than any other multilateral development bank in protecting the vulnerable and the marginalized.”

This is not true, Human Rights Watch said.

Other multilateral development banks and international agencies, recognizing that respect for human rights improves development outcomes, have incorporated human rights commitments and standards into their safeguard policies.

The writer can be contacted at

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Africa Week Focuses on Challenges Facing the Continent Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:07:58 +0000 an IPS Correspondent By an IPS Correspondent

The United Nations will be commemorating Africa Week (October 12-16), beginning Monday when strategic international partners will gather in New York to support an ambitious plan aimed at a brighter future for the African continent.

The plan, adopted by the African Union (AU) in June 2015, is expected to provide answers to many of the challenges facing African countries, including the eradication of poverty, silencing guns and sustaining peace, fighting terrorism, addressing irregular migration, abiding by human rights, and improving the economy and its infrastructure.

Called “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want”, the AU’s plan is designed to create “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens…”. Agenda 2063 will be implemented under five 10-year plans.

The plan will be the focus at the fifth commemoration of Africa Week, an annual event held on the margins of the General Assembly debate on Africa’s development.

According to a press release, the AU and its partners aim to achieve by 2063 a prosperous, integrated Africa bolstered by good governance, peace, the continent’s strong cultural identity, women and youth empowerment. A successful implementation of the plan would mean that Africa will play its role on the international stage as an influential partner.

Under-Secretary-General Maged Abdelaziz, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Africa, said “investing in Africa is investing in the world’s future,” pointing out that “Africa needs massive investment to substantially improve infrastructure such as roads and power plants in order to transform the lives of its people and sustain its future as envisioned in Agenda 2063.”

He added that “Africa is not looking for handouts; it is already mobilizing funds at home. Rather, Africa, which will have the world’s largest work force by 2035, is offering an opportunity to everyone to invest in the world’s future.”

Africa Week is organized by the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) in close collaboration with its strategic partners that include Member States, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Department of Public Information, the AU, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Secretariat and the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs).


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Analysis: India’s Challenge on the SDGs Thu, 08 Oct 2015 21:13:35 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

India’s stance on sustainable development goals is evolving as there are differing voices on what should be done. Over the next 15 years, the global development agenda will be preoccupied with the ambitious challenge of achieving 17 SDGs and 169 targets. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals which were conceptualized as a set of eight goals on diverse development dimensions including poverty alleviation, gender equality, health and environmental sustainability. The buzz in the development community is that as the relative success of MDGs is a result of China’s super-rapid growth, the relative success of the SDGs will be because of India.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, for its part, appears confident in meeting these development goals. Prime Minister Modi told the UN General Assembly that many of the SDGs – which form the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – are already being implemented through flagship programmes of the government such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (for better sanitation), Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Smart Cities and Jan Dhan Yojana (banking the unbanked). He even mentioned his focus on the Blue Revolution, which includes the prosperity and sustainable use of marine wealth and blue skies. India’s development agenda thus is mirrored in the SDGs.

However, Mrs Sindhushree Khullar, CEO of NITI Aayog, a successor to the Planning Commission that has been tasked with the implementation of SDGs, candidly indicated some challenges facing the country in this regard. She argued that while they are indeed formidable in achieving 169 targets, in the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) there were only 25 indicators, many of which could not be updated due to data problems. At a consultation with stakeholders on SDGs, organised by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi, she wondered whether the country could do all 169.

Between now and 2030, at the mid-point of 2022, India would be celebrating 75 years of independence when the objective of providing health, nutrition, housing, education and drinking water for all, along with road and digital connectivity, would hopefully be fulfilled. The sceptical voice of NITI Aayog’s CEO ought to be heeded as it is well recognized that the country has had a mixed track-record in implementing MDGs or even hitting the modest domestic socio-economic targets set in the 12th five-year plan. Mrs Khullar knows what she talking about as NITI Aayog has already undertaken the mid-term appraisal of this plan.

In sharp contrast, a growth-can-fix-SDGs stand was outlined by the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Dr Arvind Panagariya. Speaking at an event organised by RIS and Permanent Mission of India in New York ahead of the special session of UN General Assembly, he argued that “We simply cannot overstate the importance of robust economic growth, which in turn depends on well-functioning infrastructure and policies that enhance productivity. Without it, none of our objectives, be it eradication of poverty, empowerment of women, provision of basic services or even protection of environment and reversing climate change, would be possible by 2030.”

India’s success in sustaining high growth and therefore poverty alleviation will contribute in substantial measure to the success of the SDGs, added Dr Panagariya. Improving the lives of 1.4 billion Indians would make a major dent in the goal of improving the lives of all humanity. Besides the example of fast-growing China in reducing poverty and achieving MDGs, other erstwhile developing countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore also relied on faster growth to eliminate poverty within a single generation. Social programs and social spending in these countries came later in terms of sequencing of development strategy.

If achieving SDGs through growth is India’s policy stance, it appears to be on fragile foundations. The latest IMF data show the country overtaking China with 7.5 per cent growth in 2016-17. The big assumption is of a Modi-dividend on growth. In other words, the formation of a majority government in India in May 2014 is expected to result in crucial policy reforms that can revive investor sentiment and boost growth. But this reforms-driven spurt in growth hasn’t materialised until now and there is little or no basis to infer that India will continue to grow by 7.5 per cent indefinitely. Extrapolating from the past to the future is only the stuff of statistical dreams.

India experienced 8 per cent growth over a full decade but that did not help in achieving MDGs. The country is on track for meeting the target of poverty reduction, reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing gender disparity in primary education, but lags behind on reduction in hunger, universal primary education, reduction in under-5 mortality rates, reduction in maternal mortality rates, reduction in the spread of malaria and other diseases and basic provision of safe water and sanitation, according to India Country Report 2015 on MDGs brought out by the Ministry of Statistics and Policy Implementation.

Robust economic growth will not help in hitting the SDGs either. For all the talk of flagship programmes doing the needful, the NDA government has savagely cut back on social sector spending in its latest union budget for 2015-16. Public spending on health is only 1 per cent of GDP. The provision of accessible, affordable and effective health services to all is difficult to deliver under these circumstances. The swingeing spending cuts affect universal primary education, especially schooling the girl child in various states of the country. Despite slower economic growth, Bangladesh has done a lot more in this regard.

A conscious policy focus on women will help India realise the first seven SDGs that complete the unfinished agenda on MDGs. More than growth per se a focus on redistribution will ensure meeting other goals such as 8, 9 and 10 that cover aspects such as inclusiveness and jobs, infrastructure and industrialization and distribution. The final seven goals lay down the framework for sustainability spanning urbanization, consumption and production, climate change, resources and environment, peace and justice and means of implementation and global partnership for it. Growth is not the magic bullet for achieving these goals either.


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U.N. Launches Probe Amidst Charges of Bribery and Corruption Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:48:10 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

After initial hesitation, the United Nations has decided to probe allegations of bribery and corruption extending to the office of a past President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the highest policy-making body in the 70-year old Organisation.

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014 Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, who has been accused of receiving over 1.3 million dollars in “bribes” from a Chinese company, was the President of UNGA during 2013-2014.

The investigations will also focus on a donation of about 1.5 million dollars to the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation (OSSC) from the Sun Kian Ip Group of China and one of its affiliates, Global Sustainability Foundation.

The head of the Group, a Chinese businessman Ng Lap Seng, and several of his colleagues are under arrest on charges of bribery and tax evasion.

The U.S. federal authorities have charged Ashe with tax fraud – primarily for not declaring his income in his annual tax returns – which carry penalties that include heavy fines and/or jail sentences.

“In light of the recent accusations announced by U.S. federal authorities, the Secretary-General is requesting that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launch an audit of the interaction between the United Nations and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group, and the use of any funds received from these entities,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Oct. 8.

The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) is concerned about the serious nature of the allegations, which go to the heart of the work of the United Nations and its Member States, he said.

Ban also reaffirmed there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations or in the name of the world body.

He is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant U.N. rules and regulations, Dujarric said.

Earlier, the U.N. took the position that it did not have the power or mandate “to investigate individuals or entities that weren’t considered staff or part of the official U.N. umbrella.”

The president of the General Assembly is elected annually by member states and is not considered a U.N. official, nor is he on the U.N. payroll.

The Chinese funds were also earmarked for a proposed U.N. conference center in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, currently under the administrative jurisdiction of China.

Ng, described as a real estate mogul, was based in Macau and hosted a conference there in August, in which several U.N. officials and diplomats participated.

Ashe was reportedly paid to also promote Ng’s business interests in the Caribbean, specifically in Antigua and Barbuda.

The 1.5 million dollars donated to the Office of South-South Cooperation were reportedly used to fund several U.N. conferences and panel discussions, plus for an upcoming conference of the 134-member Group of 77 developing countries.

Asked if the money will be returned if corruption and bribery charges are proved, Dujarric said it is up to the OSSC to make that decision.

Responding to a question, he also said the United Nations does not provide funds involving travels by Assembly Presidents – all of whom have been known to be globe-trotters and their visits hosted by foreign governments.

Protocol-wise, the President of the General Assembly, not the U.N. Secretary-General, ranks as head of state at all international conferences.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is leading the investigations, has also charged five others, including Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic.

Striking a note of sarcasm, Bharara told reporters: “We will be asking: Is bribery business-as-usual at the U.N.?”

But Dujarric was quick to refute those charges when he told reporters: “First of all, corruption is not business as usual at the U.N.”

“Second of all, we have…we had not been informed of the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Our Office for Legal Affairs and other senior officials were not aware of the case until it was read about in the press. Obviously, if we’re contacted by the relevant U.S. authorities, we will cooperate with them,” he added.

Asked to confirm or deny the existence of a U.N. document relating to a proposed conference centre in Macau, Dujarric initially said the U.N. had not been able to find that document.

But said subsequently the document had been found, which is a standard letter from a Permanent Representative to the Secretary-General asking him to circulate it as an official document of the General Assembly: document A/66/748.]

The current President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark told reporters corruption has no place at the United Nations or anywhere else.

“I am deeply shocked regarding the news today concerning the President of 68th session of the UN General Assembly. It means, like the Secretary-General said this morning, that this is a very hard attack on the integrity of the United Nations.”

Lykketoft said neither he, nor his Office has been contacted by U.S. authorities. “Of course, we stand ready to engage with all concerned as necessary,” he added.

“I think the United Nations and its representatives should be held to the highest standards of transparency and ethics,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Africa’s Progress in Key Areas Either Stalled or Reversed Thu, 08 Oct 2015 18:04:29 +0000 Global Information Network By Global Information Network
NEW YORK, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – The cheap gas boom has not been the best of news for African countries where oil and other raw materials have been the basis of their export economies since colonial times.

Gas and oil are not the only raw materials to suffer as economies in Asia and the west contract and investors take wait and see positions while they look for the next promising trend.

The region’s difficulties were highlighted in the latest Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), a comprehensive survey started by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim as an independent project to promote better governance and economic development in Africa.

“We can’t pat ourselves on the back and pretend everything is hunky-dory,” declared Ibrahim, who earned billions of dollars installing some of Africa’s first mobile phone networks. “It’s not.”

“While Africans overall are certainly healthier and live in more democratic societies than 15 years ago, the 2015 IIAG shows that recent progress in other key areas on the continent has either stalled or reversed, and that some key countries seem to be faltering.”

This year’s rating of 50.1 on a 100-point scale, while up from 46.5 when the index was first issued in 2000, is down from a peak of 50.4 in 2010. Under the Ibrahim Index, 100 represents a prosperous, democratic utopia.

When times were good, short-sighted governments in Angola and Zambia, among others, put insufficient money aside for improving education, health care and roads at a time when commodity prices were high and government coffers were flush, said Nathalie Delapalme, the Ibrahim Foundation’s executive director for research and policy.

Now, with commodity prices falling, even the most well-intentioned of the continent’s governments will have a harder time lifting their citizens out of poverty, she said. “They could have been better positioned to confront the crisis that is in front of them.”

Spending cuts, such as those threatened in Kenya and other nations, have made the poorly-paid and under-housed resentful and angry.

“Many countries that most need economic takeoff aren’t getting it because their politicians don’t support widespread growth,” said Johannesburg-based economist Thabi Leoka. “We don’t have exemplary leaders to tell other leaders they should be doing well.” “The whole Africa rising story is in question,” she added.

Published annually, the IIAG provides a comprehensive assessment of every African country using 93 indicators across the following four categories: safety & rule of law, participation & human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.

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Healthy Oceans Key to Fighting Hunger Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

Seafood offers a large amount of animal protein in diets around the world, and the livelihoods of 12 percent of the global population depend directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture.

However, the impacts of climate change, plastic waste pollution, illegal fishing, and acidification threaten the oceans and their biodiversity, said experts at the second international Our Ocean conference, held Oct. 5-6 in the Chilean port of Valparaíso, 120 km northwest of Santiago.

The more than 500 participants from 56 countries taking part in the gathering committed to some 80 marine conservation and protection initiatives for over 2.1 billion dollars, covering more than 1.9 billion km of ocean, said Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz.

Muñoz and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, hosted the conference, whose first edition took place in 2014 in Washington, D.C.

In one of the keynote speeches, the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said keeping the oceans healthy and productive was key to eradicating hunger and reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the international community during a Sept. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York.

“We cannot continue to use water resources as if they were infinite,” said Graziano da Silva, who pointed out that nearly one-third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

The U.N. official said oceans do not have an infinite capacity to withstand the threats they face: over-exploitation of marine resources, climate change, pollution and loss of habitat.

“The health of our own planet and our food security depends on how we treat the blue world,” he stated.

FAO emphasises that fish is a highly nutritious complement to diets lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.

According to FAO, about one billion people – largely in developing countries – rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. And in 2010, “fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20 percent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of such protein.”

And in some countries, especially small island states, fish accounts for over 25 percent of animal protein intake, the U.N. agency reports.

Besides offering a staple element in diets worldwide, fishing and aquaculture provide jobs and incomes to millions of people across the planet.

“Fishing is part of the oldest, most remote history of the American continent,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “In the interior of the continent as well as along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for dozens of native peoples, especially groups whose nomadic way of life depended on the sea.”

And that is still true: 12 percent of the global population – or 875,000,000 people – depend directly or indirectly on fishing and aquaculture.

“The sea is so important for us because it not only feeds us, but gives us life,” said Petero Edmunds, mayor of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, located 3,700 km off the coast of Chile in the Pacific ocean.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“For Polynesians, the sea is our source of life,” he said in an interview with IPS. “It is so important that in our mythology we have Tangaloa, the God of the Sea, and in Rapa Nui’s ancient traditions, when a baby is born, the first thing the father must do is dip it into the sea, to return it to its natural state.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over two million small-scale fisherpersons who generate some three billion dollars a year in revenues, according to the Latin American Organisation for Fisheries Development (OLDEPESCA).

Three of the world’s large marine ecosystems are found along South America’s coasts.

The main one is the Humboldt Current, in the Pacific ocean. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to FAO.

Other important ecosystems in the region, in the Atlantic ocean, are the Patagonian Shelf along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the South Brazil Shelf.

But these ecosystems are in serious danger: Around eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year, killing innumerable marine animals and sea birds.

In addition, nearly one-third of global fish stocks are overfished.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved at the late September global summit in New York, number 14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

But the interdependence of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the vital role played by oceans which, for example, absorb more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, mean the SDGs are impossible to achieve without healthy and resilient oceans.

“Today we know there is a much closer relationship between oceans and climate change,” EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella told IPS.

He added that the protection of oceans should be a central focus of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Foreign Minister Muñoz, meanwhile, said the government leaders taking part in the conference in Chile, who will also attend COP21, “have promised that protection of the oceans will be included in the documents and commitments that emerge from the summit.”

Muñoz stressed the importance of the announcements made by a number of countries at the Valparaíso conference.

He emphasised Chile’s pledge to protect more than one million sq km of sea, which will be one of the largest protected marine areas in the world.

As part of that initiative, the country announced the creation of 720,000 sq km of protected areas in Rapa Nui, as demanded by the island’s slightly over 5,000 inhabitants, who are seeking to protect the biodiversity of the surrounding waters, which are home to 142 endemic species, 27 of which are endangered or threatened.

The measure will also make it possible for them to continue their ancestral practice of subsistence fishing in the island’s 50 nautical mile zone.

“Artisanal fishing is still practiced according to our ancestral traditions in Rapa Nui,” Edmunds said. “Rocks are used as weights for the hooks, so we can catch tuna or other big fish.”

He said the creation of the marine protected area, announced by President Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the conference, would help combat illegal fishing in the waters surrounding the island.

“For decades we have seen ‘ghost’ ships that appear in the early hours of morning as lights on the horizon, which take our fish,” the mayor said.

“With the help of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), it has been shown that an average of 20 illegal vessels a day fish in our waters, which are taking our resources, and we don’t want them to be exhausted,” he added.

Bachelet also announced the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park covering 297,518 sq km, which will be the biggest such protected area in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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