Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:04:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Right to Development at 30 Years Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:04:40 +0000 Martin Khor Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva]]>

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

It’s had a very useful if sometimes controversial past and it will have great relevance for many more years ahead. That’s the sense one has about the Declaration on the Right to Development as it is commemorated 30 years after its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986.

Three decades ago, the Declaration “broke new ground in the struggle for greater freedom, equality and justice,” remarked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at a session of the Human Rights Council on 15 June, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Declaration.

The right to development has had great resonance among people all over the world, especially in developing countries. Even the term itself “the right to development” carries a great sense and weight of meaning and of hope.

In the past three decades it has been invoked numerous times in international negotiations. The right to development is a major component of the Rio Principles endorsed by the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change of 2015.

It is fitting to recall some of the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people centered. It is an inalienable human right , where every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy development in which all rights and freedoms can be fully realized . The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of development.

It gives responsibility to each state to get its act together to take measures to get its people’s right to development fulfilled. But it also places great importance to the international arena, giving a responsibility to all countries to cooperate internationally and especially to assist the developing countries.

The right to development is also practical. The Declaration makes it a duty for governments to work towards the realisation of the right to development. It recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of this right and calls on all parties to eliminate these obstacles.

It is thus useful to identify some of the present key global issues that have relevance to the right to development, or that constitute obstacles to its realisation, and to take steps to address them.

Firstly is the crisis in the global economy. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies, with lower commodity prices and falling export earnings affecting their economic and social development.. Many economies face the havoc of volatility in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital, and fluctuations in their currency levels due to the lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Several countries are facing or are on the brink of another external debt crisis. There is for them an absence of an international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, and countries that undertake their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

All these problems make it difficult for developing countries to maintain their development momentum, and constitute obstacles to realising the right to development.

Second is the challenge of formulating and implementing appropriate development strategies. This includes getting policies right in boosting agricultural production, farmers’ incomes and food security; and climbing the ladder from labour intensive to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap. There is also the imperative to provide social services such as healthcare, education, water supply, lighting and transport, and developing financial and commercial services.

For many countries, development policy-making has been made more difficult due to premature liberalisation resulting from loan conditionality and trade and investment agreements which severely constrain their policy space. Policies used by other countries when they were developing may no longer be available due to conditionality or international agreements.

Recently, there has been a crisis of legitimacy over investment agreements that contain the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, which enable foreign investors to take cases against host governments, taking advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system. The cases taken up not only cost countries a lot in monetary compensation payments but also put a chill on the formulation of policies and regulations. A review of these conditionalities and trade and investmemt agreements, taking account of their effects on the right to development, would be useful.

Thirdly, climate change has become an existential problem for the human race. It is an outstanding example of environmental constraints to development and the right to development.

In 2014 the Assestment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that the world has to limit its release of Greenhouse Gases to only release another 1,000 billion tonnes if there is to be a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of 2 degree Celsius, and anything above that level would cause a devastating disaster. Global emissions are running at 50 billion tonnes a year. Within two decades the atmospheric space would be filled up. Therefore there is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in multilateral deal making. But it is not environmentally ambitious enough, nor did it generate any confidence that the commitment for transfers of finance and technology to developing countries will be met. There is a danger of that the burdens of adjustment will be passed on to the developing and poor countries. How to equitably share the costs of urgent environmental action which should also be economically feasible is the major climate change challenge that will impact seriously on the right to development.

Fourthly is another existential problem — the crisis of anti-microbial resistance and the dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials. Some strains of bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics and a few have become pan resistant – resistant to all antibiotics. The WHO Director General has warned that every anitibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless. She added that: “A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

Actions are needed to reduce the over-use and wrong use of antibiotics including control over unethical marketing of drugs, control of the use of antibiotics in livestock, to educate the public and discover new antibiotics. The World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation. Developing countries require funds to enforce the measures as well as technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices; and people worldwide need to be protected from anti-microbial resistance if life expectancy is to be maintained.

Finally there are major challenges in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs include very ambitious and idealistic goals and targets, but there are obstacles to fulfilling them.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But this will remain an unfulfilled noble aim unless governments address the controversial issue of how to finance public health measures..

The problem is compounded when medicines are priced beyond the reach of the poor and the middle class. The treatment for HIV AIDS became more widespread and affordable only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, for example $60 a patient a year today, compared to the prices of original drugs of $10,000, and millions of lives have been saved.

Some of the new medicines, for example for Hepatitis C and cancers, are unaffordable even in rich countries and thus not provided through their national health service. They will certainly be out of the reach of patients in developing countries unless generic versions are made available through the use of flexibilities in the global patent regime, such as the non-granting of patents and compulsory licenses.

The interconnecting issues of patents, over pricing of original drugs, and the need to make generic drugs more available, are relevant to the implementation of SDGs, universal health coverage, and the realisation of the right to health and the right to development.

The examples above of pressing global problems show there is a long way to go before we make progress on social and economic development, while protecting the environment. The principles and instruments associated with the Right to Development can shine a bright light on the way forward. The Declaration adopted 30 years ago continues to have great relevance, if only we make full use of it.

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Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authorities Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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The Lost Kids at Rome’s Termini Station: Child Migrants Exploited Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:42:21 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney2 Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

Rome ….. Termini station, 2:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Five young boys are standing next to the escalators, constantly shifting, dispersing, meeting up again. They are laughing, typing on their phones, chatting, smoking. They seem like average teenagers with fancy hairstyles and smart clothes. But every once in a while, they nervously glance over to the security personnel circling Termini station. Or carefully examine older men walking by.

Some of these kids are Egyptian, and landed in Italy by boat. “They let in minors”, Ahmed says. He came when he was 14 years old, on his own. His family remained in Egypt. Today he is 18 years old, and he is the oldest in the group.

A man with grey hair and a baseball cap appears, talks to Ahmed, and moves away. Ahmed whispers to another boy in the group, 17-year old Hasani whose dark hair and sparkling blue eyes make him the most attractive in the group. Later, when we approach him by asking for a cigarette, he assures us that he would not only offer us a cigarette, but buy us a whole pack of them, if only he had the money.

We watch Hasani going down the escalators, the man in the baseball cap follows at a 20 meter distance. They make their way through crowds of tourists, pass by coffee bars and shops, always maintaining the 20 meter distance, never looking back. They merge with the stream of people rushing down towards the metro station, then take a quick turn, and Hasani disappears into what at first glance resembles a maintenance room. The man in the baseball cap follows. It turns out to be a public toilet, hidden away in one of Termini’s many underground corridors, out of sight from the people waiting for their trains, and from the eyes of the security guards. “Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and
those who employ them”

Five minutes later, both of them reappear, open the door and hastily take off in different directions. Hasani goes back to join Ahmed next to the escalators. And they continue to chat, laugh, smoke, type on their phones, as if nothing had happened.

Migrant minors who enter Italy are supposed to be taken in by “Case Famiglie”, foster homes sponsored by the Italian government. There, they would receive meals and a place to sleep, education and integration programmes made available to them. The foster homes receive money from the state to provide the migrant minors with these basic services, and most importantly, to keep them safe.

Yet, many of them end up in conditions of forced labour. They work in warehouses, as porters in markets, at petrol stations – or they prostitute themselves at Termini station.

“Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and those who employ them”, Mariella Chiaramonte, chief of the police station in Tivoli, near Rome, said in an interview with The Guardian.

Upon their arrival in Italy, the children often find themselves indebted to the people who trafficked them here. Because they are being threatened that harm will be inflicted on their families back home if they do not repay the money for their trip, often they become vulnerable targets for sex work recruiters and drug dealers. For the migrant children, however, this type of clandestine work becomes a quick way to make larger amounts of money in order to repay their debt.

Ahmed and Hasani spend the entire day at the train station. As soon as he turned 18, Ahmed explains, he left the foster home. Now, he shares a small apartment with other migrants from Egypt. How can he afford to pay the rent? “I work at a car wash”, he says. But not convinced by his own words, he breaks into a bout of nervous laughter. He cannot look at us. They are only here to meet friends, he explains, to “hang out”.

There is a sudden downpour outside. Bangladeshi street hawkers appear at the station’s entrance, trying to sell umbrellas. As one of them approaches us, he tells us that we should not get involved with the Egyptian boys. “They steal from people waiting for their train and they sell drugs”, he says, and when asked if he knows what other business the boys have here, his expression turns cold. “We never mix with them. They are dangerous.”

The man in the baseball cap reappears, keeping his distance but staring at us while we talk with the boys. He does not seem to be a customer anymore. He appears to be supervising the boys, keeping them in line. He is nervous about them having established contact with people from the “outside”. We realize we have overstayed our welcome and it is time to leave.

Following the “Drug Dealing and Prostitution of Minors” report produced by Mediaset in March 2016, the authors who write on migrant issues spent time in Rome’s Termini station observing the lives of migrant children.

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Population Growth Extremes: Doublers and Decliners Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:06:28 +0000 Joseph Chamie City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

While the world’s population of 7.4 billion is growing at 1.1 percent per year – about half the peak level of the late 1960s – enormous differences in demographic growth among countries are increasingly evident and of mounting concern to countries and the international community.

Few of the decliners are prepared to accept large-scale immigration, particularly from doubler countries, to address labor force shortages and population aging concerns.
At one extreme are the doublers: 29 countries whose populations are expected to at least double by the middle of the 21st century. At the other extreme in striking contrast are the decliners: 38 countries whose populations are expected to be smaller by the middle of the 21st century.

The doublers are all located in sub-Saharan Africa except for Iraq and the State of Palestine. The largest countries among the doublers are Nigeria (187 million), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (80 million) and Tanzania (55 million).

Today the doublers together account for 10 percent of the world’s population. By 2050, however, due to the doublers’ rapid rates of demographic growth that proportion is expected to increase to 18 percent of the world’s projected population of nearly 10 billion people.

Among the doublers the country with the most rapid increase is Niger, whose population of 21 million is expected to double by the year 2034 and to experience a 250 percent increase by mid-century, more than tripling its population to 72 million. Other countries with substantial increases of 150 percent or more are Zambia, Angola, Uganda and Mali (Figure 1).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

The largest doubler population, Nigeria, is expected to increase by 112 percent, reaching just under 400 million by 2050 and thereby displacing the United States as the world’s third largest country after India and China. Another sizeable population increase is the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose population of 80 million is projected to increase by 145 percent, or an additional 116 million people, bringing its total midcentury population to nearly 200 million.

While not a single country’s population at the close of the 20th century was smaller than in 1950, this demographic trend is not expected to continue over the next several decades. The decliners, a group of 38 countries both developed and developing, are expected to experience population decline by the middle of the 21st century. Together the decliner’s proportion of the world’s population is projected to fall from close to 30 percent today to nearly 20 percent by the year 2050.

The top ten countries with the projected population declines of no less than 15 percent are all located in Eastern Europe (Figure 2). The country with the most rapid decline among the decliners is Bulgaria (27 percent), followed by Romania (22 percent), Ukraine (21 percent) and Moldova (20 percent).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

The largest decliner population, China, is expected to decrease by more than 2 percent by 2050, with the Chinese population peaking in less than a decade. Other large populations projected to experience demographic declines by midcentury are Japan (15 percent), Russia (10 percent), Germany (8 percent) and Italy (5 percent). Moreover, some of the decliners have already experienced population decline for a number of years in the recent past, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

The population projections for the decliners assume some immigration in the future. For some decliner countries, such as Italy, Japan, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Russia, immigration lessens the expected declines in their future populations. For example, while Italy’s population with assumed immigration is projected to decline by 5 percent by mid-century, without immigration Italy’s projected population would fall to 13 percent.

Noteworthy differences exist in both mortality and migration levels between doublers and decliners. Doubler countries have markedly higher mortality rates than decliners. In addition, doublers are generally migrant-sending countries, while many of the decliners are migrant-receiving countries.

The sizeable differences in rates of future population growth, however, are primarily due to the level of fertility. The median fertility rate among the 29 doubler countries is 5.3 births per woman, ranging from a low of 4.4 in Kenya to a high of 7.6 in Niger. In contrast, fertility levels among the 38 decliner countries all fall below the replacement level of about two children, with the median fertility rate being 1.5 births per woman. Countries that are approximately a half child below the replacement level include China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia and Spain.

The comparatively high and low population growth rates pose formidable, but differing challenges for doubler and decliner countries. Doublers face serious development challenges in meeting the basic needs of their rapidly growing and very young populations. The median ages of the doubler countries are all below 20 years, with the youngest being Niger (15 years), Uganda (16), Chad (16), Angola (16), Mali (16) and Somali (16).

Many doubler countries, such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger and Uganda, are now facing food shortages. Providing sufficient foods for their rapidly growing populations is expected to be considerably more difficult in the years ahead.

Other key areas that pose serious challenges are housing, education, health care, employment, personal security and governance, especially as nearly half of the doubler countries are among high alert failing or fragile states. Given the onerous living conditions for most of the populations in doubler countries, growing numbers of young adults are turning to both legal and illegal migration to wealthier developed countries, many of which are also decliner countries.

Among their attempts to address their high rates of population growth, doubler governments have established programs for reproductive health services to assist families to have the number of children they desire, which is generally fewer than current levels. With widespread education, especially for girls, and improved employment opportunities, the doubler governments are aiming to reduce their high fertility levels and accelerate their demographic transitions to low death and birth rates.

While decliners have by and large met the basic needs of their populations, they are confronting increasingly the pervasive consequences of population decline and aging. Contractions in the size of their labor forces coupled with increases in the proportion elderly are exerting stresses and strains on the economies and budgets of decliner countries.

Many of the decliners have already passed through the historic reversal, or the demographic point where the number of elderly aged 65 and older exceeds the number of children below age 15 years. The median ages for half of the decliners are above 40 years, with the oldest being Japan, Germany and Italy at 46 years.

With the proportion of elderly increasing and more of them living longer, often many years beyond retirement, governments of the decliner countries are particularly concerned about escalating costs for social security, pensions, health and care giving. Options to address those fiscal issues include raising official retirement ages, increasing taxes, redirecting government revenues and reducing benefits.

Few of the decliners are prepared to accept large-scale immigration, particularly from doubler countries, to address labor force shortages and population aging concerns. As is being increasingly reported, some decliners are erecting barriers, fences and walls to deter unauthorized immigration, while others remain resolutely averse to a sizeable foreign population taking hold within their borders.

Many decliner countries, including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain, are attempting to alter their projected demographic futures by raising their low fertility levels in hopes of mitigating population decline and perhaps even achieving near population stabilization. Moving to replacement level fertility by encouraging women to have additional children, however, has proved to be difficult and generally not successful.

It is often said that opposites attract. Perhaps in romance, friendships and the movies, people are attracted to those who are viewed different from them. That appears not to be the case for doubler and decliner countries, at least for the present. However, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout world demographic history, rapidly growing populations are not easily confined to within borders, eventually traversing deserts, mountains, rivers and seas and spreading out across continents.

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Rural Growth in Colombia: Yara Steps In to Increase Productivity Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:50:18 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr The rural community in Colombia is struggling to keep up with food production. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

The rural community in Colombia is struggling to keep up with food production. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Following the recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC in Cartagena which concludes a 52-year armed conflict, the country is now geared toward improving productivity in its agricultural sector. Yara International, a leader in crop nutrition and farmer support, has taken the timely step of supporting the government’s efforts on this issue.

Colombia, which relies on agriculture as the most important segment of its economy, still battles with an endemic problem of poor productivity. Due to the rugged Andean terrain covering Colombia, as well as the lack of irrigation, only roughly five per cent of the country’s land area is cultivated. The government is taking an increasing part in controlling, organizing and encouraging agriculture by giving financial support and social assistance for better housing to farmers, as well as providing them with technical help. However, foreign aid is always welcome.

The timely intervention of Yara International is contributing to enable Colombia in producing more and better food on existing agricultural land. Having invested in Colombia for years and providing funds of USD 425 million in 2014, Yara International has become the largest investor in the South American country, supporting rural development, growing productivity and prosperity in Colombia’s countryside.

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Community Conversations in Ethiopia Prevents Exploitative Migration Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:30:44 +0000 UN Women Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.]]>

Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.

By UN Women
Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Five years ago, when Meliya Gumi’s two daughters, Gifty* and Chaltu,* aged 16 and 18, migrated to Dubai and Qatar respectively, as domestic workers, everyone thought they were moving towards a better future. As a widowed mother of eight with little resources, living in the village of Haro Kunta in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Gumi had a difficult time making ends meet.

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Gumi’s daughters made it to their destination countries through illegal brokers, but found themselves trapped in poor working conditions with no benefits or protection. They send some money to Gumi every now and then, which supplements her meagre income.

“My wish is to see my daughters come back home safe and I would never want them to leave again, as long as they have some income to survive on,” says Gumi, who is now one of the 22 active participants of the “Community Conversations” initiative in her village, supported by UN Women and International Labour Organization (ILO). The Community Conversations aim to prevent “irregular migration”—exploitative or illegal migration, including smuggling and trafficking of workers, mainly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries [1]—by providing information and making the community aware of the risks. The initiative also raises awareness about the ILO Convention 189, namely the Domestic Workers Convention, which went into force globally in 2013 and has 22 ratifications to date. Ethiopia has yet to ratify the Convention and raising awareness about protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers is a critical step forward.

Among the nine administrative regional states in Ethiopia, the Oromia region, where Gumi’s village is located, is most prone to migration and a popular source for illegal brokers. Some 161,490 domestic workers from this region have migrated overseas between 2009 and 2014, of which an estimated 155,860—96 per cent—were women [2].

“One of the key interventions of the Project is to also address safe migration for women,” says UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Funmi Balogun. “UN Women recognizes the rights of women to safe migration to seek better opportunities and to improve their livelihoods. To enable this, the project strengthens the capacities of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and its affiliates to provide gender-sensitive information as part of pre-departure training for potential migrant women domestic workers, so that they understand their rights, know how to access support and how to save and protect their earnings. This training and support were designed to assist potential female migrants understand their rights, whether in Ethiopia or in their receiving countries, know where support systems for them are located and strengthen their ability to effectively save and protect their earnings. The institutions were also supported to understand the rights of migrant workers as stated in ILO Convention 189, and to institutionalize processes and systems for reintegrating returnee women migrant workers into their communities.”

Coordinated by trained facilitators, the Community Conversations take place twice a month and engage men and women of different age groups, returnee migrant workers, families of migrant workers and prospective migrants, religious leaders and community influencers. The initiative is active in three regions of Ethiopia—Amhara, Oromia and Tigray—and in the Addis Ababa city administration since 2015, and have been successful in changing attitudes and practices of the communities regarding irregular migration. For example, in the Adaba district alone, within four months of implementation, the conversations led to significant reduction of irregular migration. The Government of Ethiopia is now institutionalizing the practice of Community Conversations at the village level throughout the country.

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha, Adaba district’s Head of the Labour and Social Affairs Office, notes that the initiative is not only helping the villagers in making informed decisions about migration, it is also empowering them to identify the root causes of migration and take their ideas for solutions to policy makers. “In past four months, we have prevented 19 individuals—13 women and 6 men— from taking up irregular migration, and enabled 31 school drop outs who were preparing to migrate illegally, to get back to school in this community,” he added.

As Gumi shares the experiences of her daughters as a cautionary tale for others, she stresses, “If enough resources, including land and employment, is provided to the younger ones, there will be no need for them to migrate.” As a result of the discussions and with the support from the government, some parents have started investing in their children’s education and income generating activities, rather than financing irregular migration.

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

The Community Conversations in Adaba District are part of a joint project, ‘Development of a Tripartite Framework for the Support and Protection of Ethiopian and Somali Women Domestic Migrant Workers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Lebanon and Sudan’ by ILO and UN Women and funded by the European Union. Over 140,000 women and 85,000 men have participated in the Community Conversation initiative as part of the project.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals

[1] The GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
[2] UN Women (2015). Unpublished study on the Nature, Trend and Magnitude of Migration of Female Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) from Ethiopia to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, Lebanon and Sudan. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Starting Line Draws Nearer for Global Climate Agreement Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:14:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The Paris Climate Agreement is on the verge of coming into force after 31 nations officially deposited their instruments of ratification here Wednesday, more than doubling the number of countries which have joined so far to reach 60.

However the treaty will not yet enter into force, since these 60 countries represent only 48 percent of global carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement requires at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in order for the deal to take effect.

Convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the High Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change brought world leaders together to act upon commitments made to reduce global greenhouse emissions last year.

“What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable. When this year ends, I hope we can all look back with pride knowing that we seized the opportunity to protect our common home,” said Ban to delegates.

Director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Alden Meyer pointed out the significance of the event to IPS, stating: “Political leaders see this as an important issue for their public.”

Similarly, Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy Policy Advisor Kaisa Kosonen said how “inspiring” it was to see so many countries ratifying the agreement so soon.

“It truly tells you that times have changed. If one compares the process we had at Copenhagen and you think about where we are today when the agreement is looking likely to enter into force…it is giving the agreement a very good start,” she told IPS.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced" -- Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC.

During the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 (COP15) in Denmark, global leaders failed to commit to concrete actions to reduce emissions. The Paris Agreement now obligates governments to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Many believe that the treaty will be ratified by the end of the year, less than a year since the agreement was signed, which would make it the speediest agreement to enter into force.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Nick Nuttall to IPS after noting the breakneck speed in which the treaty would come into force.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced…that’s a strong political signal that all governments are on board to actually make good on their pledges in Paris.”

Of the countries that have joined are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions including China and the United States, which together account for over one third of global emissions.

However many of the countries which joined the agreement early, were small island states many of which see climate change as an existential threat. Although these states face increased natural disasters and rising sea levels, their own carbon emissions barely make a dent on a global scale.

China, which represents just over 20 percent of global emissions, has ambitiously committed to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The East Asian nation also aims to expand energy consumption coming from non-fossil energy to 20 percent by then. The U.S. meanwhile plans to cut up to 28 percent of the country’s emissions below 2005 levels by 2025.

Meyer commented on the importance of the move by the U.S., stating: “The United States is very wealthy but is obviously not immune as we’ve seen from Superstorm Sandy, the recent flooding in Louisiana, the droughts and heat waves in the West…no country, no community is immune.”

More countries are expected to ratify the agreement by the end of this year including Australia, Canada and the 28 members of the European Union (EU).

If these promises are fulfilled, the agreement will pass the second threshold and go into effect within 30 days.

But this is just the beginning, Nuttall stated. “The Paris Agreement is a framework agreement to combat climate change but it needs some nuts and bolts put in.”

Meyer echoed similar sentiments, telling IPS: “Having the agreement in place is only meaningful if countries implement [the agreement]. It is really actions on the ground that make a difference and the jury is still out on that.”

Nuttall highlighted the need for a “rule book” for member states to put the climate treaty into action, which many hope will be achieved during the upcoming Climate Conference (COP22) in Morocco.

Meyer particularly pointed to the challenge of achieving the two degree Celsius goal, telling IPS that the pledges by themselves do not add up to meet the temperature target. But even if the international community achieves this goal, the impacts of climate change will drastically increase which will require further action.

“The other side of this discussion has to be how we increase resilience to climate impacts and how we help countries and communities that are facing impacts cope with those impacts,” Meyer told IPS.

“This is a moment which we should celebrate, hoist a glass of champagne but get back to work in the morning because there’s still a lot of work to do,” he continued.

Already obstacles are arising as trade policies continue to clash with climate action.

“It’s clear that all policies that still favor fossil fuels or prevent countries from prioritizing renewable clean energy are harmful and should not be supported,” Kosonen said, referring to a new controversial global trade deal Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa).

According to leaked documents, the trade deal under negotiation between the EU and 22 countries may threaten the expansion of clean, renewable energy which could undermine the achievement of the Paris Agreement.

Meyer told IPS it was important for heads of State to engage and ensure that trade deals are “climate compatible.”

However, the world is waiting for the final ratification of the Paris Agreement as it is still uncertain where, how far and how fast it will go.

“The direction is clear, the commitment is clear but…can a family of nations working with the private sector and being supported by cities and regions rev up the action sufficiently quickly that we have a good chance of peaking these emissions very soon? That we will have to wait and see,” Nuttall stated.

Kosonen noted there is no room for complacency.

“Time is not on our side on this. This is the moment when we come together and decide this is what we want to do,” she concluded.

In December 2015, the international community descended on the French Capital of Paris to sign an agreement to reduce global warming. Over 180 countries have signed the agreement.

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UN Refugee Summits Fall Short for Children Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:46:49 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite 0 Yazidi Survivor of ISIL Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:31:35 +0000 Lindah Mogeni Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lindah Mogeni

Yazidi Nadia Murad – who survived being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by ISIL – was honoured by the UN on Friday September 16 for her work to help human trafficking survivors.

At a ceremony held ahead of the International Day of Peace Murad was appointed as the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She is the first survivor of human trafficking to hold the position.

In early August 2014 Murad’s home town of Kocho in Northern Iraq was attacked by ISIL – also known as ISIS or Daesh.

Murad, who belongs to the Yazidi minority religion, described ISIL’s impact as “a nightmare that has struck our society.”

ISIL executed men and older women from the village in the attack, including Murad’s mother and six of her brothers.

Murad and other women and children were captured as “war-booty” and trade merchandise.

ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis have been described as attempted genocide, since ISIL aims to kill all Yazidis which it describes as infidels.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” -- Nadia Murad.

Murad later escaped in November 2014 when her captor left the door unlocked and a neighboring family smuggled her to a refugee camp, Duhot, in northern Iraq before she sought and was granted asylum in Germany.

Murad’s advocacy against ISIL’s trafficking of Yazidis later led her to testify before the UN Security Council in December 2015.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” Murad said, describing the Islamic State’s action as an orchestrated “collective genocide against Yazidi identity” and religion.

She called for the case of genocide against the Yazidis to be brought before the International Criminal Court and for an international budget to compensate Yazidi victims to be established.

Murad also expressed her wish to witness the liberation of occupied Yazidi territory and urged states to open their societies to Yazidi refugees.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on ISIL’s June report, some 3200 women and children are currently enslaved by ISIL.

Murad would “bring much needed attention to international efforts to end human trafficking and help keep it on the Security Council’s agenda,” US Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council Sarah Mendelson said.

The international response should be “commensurate with the scale of human trafficking” said Mendelson, noting that human trafficking generates an estimated 150 billion dollars in revenue annually with over 20 million victims.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Murad as a “fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere.”

Ban also described the crimes against Yazidis by ISIL as possible genocide.

“The crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq against the Yazidi may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”

He called for the immediate release of thousands of Yazidis being held in captivity.

Human rights barrister, Amal Clooney, who represents Murad, described ISIL’s violence towards the Yazidis as a “bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale.”

ISIL have released a pamphlet entitled ‘Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves’ which describes acts such as beating female slaves, raping female slaves who have not reached puberty, buying or selling or gifting female slaves.

Clooney also expressed her disappointment in the UN’s failure to stop the ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis.

“I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find their own interests get in the way.”

“I am ashamed as a lawyer that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it.”

“I am ashamed as a woman that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields.”

“I am ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help,” said Clooney.

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War Drums Louder than Ever Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:09:57 +0000 Eresh Omar Jamal Infograph: Rahin Sadman Islam

Infograph: Rahin Sadman Islam

By Eresh Omar Jamal
Sep 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Today, the world is celebrating the International Day of Peace. It is inaugurated by ringing the United Nations Peace Bell at the UN Headquarters. An inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace”. Unfortunately, however, 34 years since its inception, we now live in a world absolutely opposed to that vision — a world that is anything but peaceful.

According to the Global Peace Index, there are now only 10 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict and we are now further away from world peace than at any other time in the past 10 years (Global Peace Index 2016: There are now only 10 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict, The Independent, June 8). And why would we not be? When, instead of making progress towards peace, the only progress we are making is in inventing more and more sophisticated ways of causing more and more violence to fatten the pockets of vested interests — namely arms manufacturers.

This has led to the number of people displaced by conflict being at the highest level ever recorded, says the UN refugee agency (Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN, BBC News, June 20). It estimates that 65.3 million people were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015, which, shockingly, represents one in every 113 people on the planet. On the flipside, if we look at battlefield deaths, they are up at 112,000 a year — a 20-year high. Such has been the scale of violence we have perpetrated.

Neither have we spared, to our shame, children, from the horrors of war. Nearly 50 million children worldwide, according to another UN report, have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced by conflicts (Conflict and Poverty Have Uprooted Nearly 50 Million Children, U.N. Says, The New York Times, September 6). We see illegal foreign interventions — without the necessary UN Security Council authorisation — raging from Yemen to Iraq, civil wars being fought from South Sudan to Ukraine, extremist attacks being perpetrated by Boko Haram and ISIS, without much of a peep from the world media except, of course, when convenient.

The Saudi-led war grinding on in Yemen since March 2015 is a case in point. The latest death toll estimate in Yemen, according to the UN, now stands at 10,000 with Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator, admitting that “[the UN] know the numbers are much higher but we can’t tell you by how much” (UN: At least 10,000 killed in Yemen conflict, Al-Jazeera, August 31). Yet, how often do we see the media reporting on it? Moreover, the conflict has already displaced three million Yemenis, forcing 200,000 people to seek refuge abroad. Meanwhile, 14 million of Yemen’s 26 million people need food aid and seven million are suffering from food insecurity.

Even the world’s newest country South Sudan, which came into being in 2011 after a long period of crisis, again exploded into civil war in 2013, and has had more than 2.4 million people displaced and tens of thousands killed (10 Conflicts to Watch in 2016, Foreign Policy Journal, January 3). In Ukraine, at least 9,160 are estimated to have died since the conflict started in April 2014, by the UN (Death Toll in Ukraine Conflict Hits 9,160, U.N. Says, The New York Times, March 3). Then there is of course all the deaths being caused by radicals of every shape and size across the world, reaching a point where keeping a body count is near impossible. Concurrently, the dissensions in Iraq and Libya continue unabated, leading to unending sufferings for its peoples.

Another country that has been mired in crises is Afghanistan. With more than 80,000 people displaced in the first three months of this year already, the Afghan conflict continues to affect lives in record numbers (Civilian Casualties in Afghan War Are Unabated in 2016, The New York Times, April 17). Furthermore, according to the United Nations human rights director in Afghanistan, “almost one-third of civilian casualties [in the first quarter of 2016] were children” — an all too familiar trend worldwide.

Yet, amidst all these crises and more, none that we know of perhaps comes anywhere close to the magnitude of violence and sufferings Syrians are experiencing. In what has been dubbed as the deadliest conflict of the 21st century, more than a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed and almost 11 million — about half the country’s population — displaced in or outside the country. The death toll has been so high that the UN, after estimating 250,000 fatalities, stopped counting Syria’s dead early in 2014. According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, however, fatalities caused by the war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, with 11.5 percent of Syria’s population being wounded or killed since 2011 (Report on Syria conflict finds 11.5 percent of population killed or injured, The Guardian, February 11).

In Syria’s case what is also concerning, is that with arms pouring into the country from every nook and corner, and with the entry of regional as well as global, nuclear powers, into the mix, the Syrian crisis can turn into a much bigger global crisis in a matter of minutes. Tensions are already running high. And amidst all these wars, although one would expect to hear calls for peace, what we see the most militarily powerful nations in the world do, is prepare for more war.

Earlier this year, we saw NATO and its partner countries hold the largest war games in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War in what was clearly a show of strength against Russia (Nato countries begin largest war game in eastern Europe since cold war, The Guardian, June 6). And in case it was not, the Russians clearly saw it that way. And in response, held one of its largest ever military drills in Crimea (Russia Holds Biggest Military Drill Yet in Annexed Crimea, NBC News, September 11). Asia too seems to be simmering. With tension between North and South Korea rising, Seoul holding its largest ever artillery drill and Washington’s pivot to Asia, China and Russia just held the largest military drills ever by the two countries’ navies together, in the hotly contested South China Sea (China, Russia naval drill in South China Sea to begin Monday, Reuters, September 11).

Hence, on the International Day of Peace, it is peace which remains most elusive. During this year’s Peacebell Ceremony to commemorate the day, the UN Secretary General remarked, “Peace is not a gift. Peace is something we must all work for, every day, in every country.” Over the years, it is perhaps this message which we have failed to heed the most.

For among the ringing peace-bells, while much of the world turns into outstretched graveyards, the majority, which claims to be against wars, and those who are celebrating International Day of Peace, as a display of their support for peace, remain as quiet as the grave to most of the injustices that are being brought to millions of people around the world, courtesy of wars being waged, in most cases, under false pretences. While the only sound that has any significant bearing on human lives, are the war drums, constantly being beaten, louder and louder, everyday. And the global media, especially the more powerful sections of it, continue to subscribe to people’s ignorance through their selective coverage of conflicts, contributing to the world moving further and further away from peace, than at any other time in the recent past.

The writer is a member of the Editorial team.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Pakistan Warming Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:01:20 +0000 Fahad Malik By Fahad Malik
Sep 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Amidst all the turmoil, climate change is rapidly surfacing as an issue that eclipses all others in terms of its severity and sheer scale of impact. As part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce global warming, Pakistan was among 175 nations that resolved to mitigate the effects of climate change by becoming signatory to the historic Paris Agreement in April this year.

malik_While the Earth Day signing represents a universal action plan to reduce global warming to below two degrees Celsius worldwide, countermeasures to achieve that goal need to be developed based on region-specific climatic challenges.

Pakistan’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is relatively minuscule as compared to India’s and the manufacturing behemoth, China. As science would have it, unfortunately, toxicity expelled into the atmosphere by a single large-scale industrial nation disrupts conventional weather patterns of countries located in the vicinity that may not be directly responsible for those emissions — therefore worsening their own war with weather.

As a result of Chinese industries spilling their toxic guts into the atmosphere, a Nature study, conducted in 2010, analysed the constituents of the smog that engulfed major metropolises of China and identified it as the same hazardous smog that wafted over to Pakistan via springtime winds, spreading as far as western US. This cross-border spillage, coupled with our own rapidly increasing dependency on fossil fuels, alarming rate of deforestation and unmonitored carbon emissions have impacted our regional climate to the point that an unprecedented ecological disaster is imminent if effective measures are not taken.

The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

In spite of environmentalists’ concerns since the early 1990s, it was only after the destruction of lives and infrastructure in the 2005 earthquake that the government began to recognise that climate change may not simply be a surface-level issue — experts say that shifting water levels may also lead to seismic shifts. The 2010 super floods followed, ravaging lands, killing hundreds and displacing millions. At its height, the sheer scale of the floods could be observed from space, with the Indus stretching as far as 30 kilometres apart at certain points. These events combined claimed over 100,000 lives and caused billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure damage to a country already struggling to keep its economy afloat. In only five years, climate change anomalies shook a nation — that braves terrorism almost daily — to its core.

In the aftermath of the calamities’ disastrous footprint, advocacy group Germanwatch ranked Pakistan eighth in 2015 in the Global Climate Risk Index of countries most susceptible to climate change. Our climate change problem is an intricate one; several anomalies tie into each other to create climate volatility in our region.

Pakistan’s known glacial count, for instance, is 7,253 — the highest in the world — with 543 in the picturesque valley of Chitral alone. Central to our nation’s otherworldly beauty, our glaciers are melting at an exponential rate due to yearly soaring temperatures — every summer since 2010 has been the hottest in the country’s recorded history — thus disrupting volumetric flow in several important rivers.

As a result, the UN has predicted low-latitude glaciers in the Himalayan range to completely vanish by 2035, a small time frame in the global warming landscape. The colossal melting of ice will cause our rivers (primary source of 75pc of our water supply) to flood — at first causing an overabundance of water, and then receding at an even greater pace with no source left to replenish them, leaving famine in their wake.

Similarly, the illustrious real estate and timber industries have jointly claimed an astonishing 151,000 acres of forests in the country since its inception; making great progress, but reducing our forest cover to a paltry 1.9pc in the process — not to mention wiping away the essential first line of defence against floodwaters and carbon emissions. The same paradox applies to the influx of foreign investments in the country that requires the development of new infrastructure. While vital for our country’s economy to thrive, it is essential for the political machinery to take all necessary measures to contain the resulting air pollution that claims the lives of 30,000 children each year.

These causes and effects transform global warming from a simple case of malfunctioning weather to an all-encompassing problem that, if left unchecked, can inadvertently influence Pakistan’s existing social framework. The chain reaction could aggravate social inequalities such as resource consumption and food security, possibly leading to deadly conflict and further instability in water-scarce provinces like Balochistan.

Unless the establishment makes exploration of renewable energy sources a part of its prime directive, weather-related catastrophes will continue to mount. Sporadic afforestation initiatives must evolve into a nation-wide movement that accounts for life, land and livelihood — else our country runs the risk of being at Mother Nature’s mercy.

The writer is a researcher. His Twitter handle is @fahadamalik
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Prices Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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Jobs Are Crucial for Peace, Stem Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kenya Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:22:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed (@AMB_A_Mohammed) is the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. ]]> Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

Today 21 September 2016 is the International Day of Peace.

Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa, putting a strain on the economy’s growth and also threatening peace and security when hopeless youth gravitate towards violent extremist groups.

Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed, with the ratio of youth unemployment to overall adult unemployment standing at 46 percent, according to the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census. At the same time, there are eight dependents for every ten working Kenyans, meaning that the average worker will very often have little left to save or invest for growth.

While this youth bulge may seem like a disaster in the making, investing in the sectors with highest potential can turn it into a gateway to rapid economic growth and development as we have seen among Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.

By all projections, agriculture presents this opportunity.

While the African Union has recognised agriculture as the driving force of social and economic transformation, the youth often feel that agriculture lacks the glamour, sophistication and allure of the professions they seek.

This is regrettable. Africa not only has the largest percentage of arable land in the globe, and untapped potential for irrigated agro-pastoralism on its vast arid and semi-arid lands, but it also has the highest ratio of young people with the necessary knowledge, innovative skills and physical strength.

Of particular interest are youth in hard to reach areas, such as the arid and semi-arid lands, who are increasingly disgruntled by dim prospects of good jobs and increasingly prone to the temptations of extremist groups. These groups sway them with blandishments and exploit their feelings of exclusion and hopelessness.

In northern Kenya, which has borne the brunt of extremism in the country, traditional livestock farming methods can be targeted for transformation into a quality-driven, export-targeting industry. This calls for investment in education, rural transport and electricity, and smart business and trade policies.

In these areas, formal education should provide young people with basic numeracy and literacy, managerial and business skills, and introduce them to agro-pastoralism. It has been shown that education is key to overcoming development challenges in rural areas, and that improved access to education also improves rural children’s food security.

The power of the internet also offers a great opportunity for attracting youth in far-flung areas to agriculture. Packaging and disseminating information on agri-business to the youth through social media platforms like blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook has proven effective in Kenya. Much more can be achieved with increased access to the internet especially in the remote parts of the country.

There is a great potential pay-off for the continent: according to the World Bank, African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. Clearly, this is the low hanging fruit that Kenya should aim to invest in to solve the myriad problems associated with youth unemployment.

Agro-pastoralism has great potential to improve livelihoods for youth and women and reduce food insecurity, create incomes and generally help youth to feel engaged and involved with the national development agenda. Those promoting entrepreneurship must therefore include agribusiness as a priority area of focus, particularly at the county level.

Acting on this, President Uhuru Kenyatta during this year’s African Green Revolution Forum held in Nairobi, announced that the government would invest US$200 million to enable 150,000 young agricultural entrepreneurs to gain access to markets, finance and insurance.

With their dynamism, enthusiasm and innovativeness, the youth are our greatest asset and a force for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors in Kenya.

To reap the dividends, Kenya’s priority focus needs to be on growth in sectors that can absorb them, particularly agriculture.

Policies must also ensure that women and girls, who do most of the actual work in farms across Africa, can achieve their potential. Lack of collateral and financial literacy often make them ineligible for financial assistance while cultural norms deny them land inheritance rights and, at times, restrict their movement and access to markets for their produce.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to turn the country into an industrialized, middle-income country and provide a high quality life in a safe and secure environment to all its citizens by 2030.

It is only when the current large group of youth has been given education and skills demanded by the sectors of greatest potential that we will turn the youth bulge into a force for good and transform Kenya into a peaceful and prosperous nation.

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Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Market Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

“Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.

“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.

The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education - business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector.” – Myriam Feldfeber

Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.

Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.

“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.

“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.

The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).

The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.

We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.

Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”

“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.

This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.

“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.

According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”

As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 14 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.

“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.

“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.

“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.

The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.

Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”

According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”

“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.

Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”

“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.

“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.

“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”

ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”

The intention, ATE said, is to replace locally-produced open-source software, such as Huayra, with these commercial operational programmes in the laptops distributed free to students.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.

The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.

With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.

Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.

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Towards Safe Migration and Decent Work for Women in Nepal Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:27:38 +0000 UN Women Dawa Dolma Tamang migrated from rural Nepal to Abu Dhabi because she wanted to improve her livelihood and support her family. She ended up paying seven times more than what was required to the recruiting agency and was wrongfully denied work on medical grounds. With the help of Pourakhi, an organization working to protect migrant women’s rights, she was able to seek legal assistance and recover some of her money. Today, Tamang is working as a mason and will soon start taking the vocational and entrepreneurship skills training provided by a UN Women programme that’s advancing women’s economic empowerment in Nepal.]]> Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities.  Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

In August it’s blazing hot in Kathmandu. Dawa Dolma Tamang, 32, sits on a chair at Pourakhi’s office—an organization that works with migrant women workers—staring out of the window. “I want to send my children to a better school and support my husband to make a decent living. I want to make my family whole again,” she says.

Tamang’s story started in April 2016 when she left her remote Maheshwari village in Eastern Nepal to work in Abu Dhabi, only to find herself declared medically unfit for work upon arrival and returned to Nepal, penniless.

“I migrated because I wanted to earn an income and change my life,” she shares. Tamang’s husband was alcoholic, she had two children to support, and she saw migration as the only way out of the clutches of poverty. According to the latest report [1] on foreign migration launched by the Department of Foreign Employment in Nepal, an estimated 21,421 Nepali women are legally working overseas as of 2014-2015, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recruiting agent offered Tamang a job as a cleaner in Abu Dhabi and promised her a salary that she couldn’t imagine earning in Nepal. She left her children in the care of her sister-in-law and went to Kathmandu to get her visa. “I was completely unaware that the recruiting company in Abu Dhabi was paying for my visa and tickets…the agent in Nepal charged me seven times more than what was required. I had to give him NRS 70,000 ($700)!”

Soon after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Tamang was taken to a one-room apartment shared by eight other women. As part of the recruitment process, a doctor visited her on the third day for a medical examination, which included a tuberculosis test. Although she tested positive for latent tuberculosis (TB), she was not given any information about her medical condition. After 45 days, she was taken to a hospital, where she tested positive again. The doctors at the hospital finally told Tamang that she was suffering from latent TB and treated her. When Tamang was discharged from the hospital after 25 days and declared medically fit to work, the recruitment company refused to employ her. She was given a ticket and forced to leave Abu Dhabi the next day.

“I came home with no money and a strange illness for which I had to still take medicines,” she recalls. For the next one month, Tamang stayed at her sister’s house in Kathmandu trying to claim compensation from the recruiting agency, to no avail, as she didn’t have all the receipts and couldn’t prove that the agency had over-charged her.

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Tamang’s story is dismally common among Nepali women migrants, explains Manju Gurung of Pourakhi (which means self-reliant in Nepali language), a non-governmental organization which is supported by UN Women and works to protect the rights of female migrant workers. “Nepali migrant workers lack protection, are victims of non-payment of wages, retrenchment without notice or compensation, as well as unsatisfactory occupational health and safety conditions,” says Gurung. The problem has been exacerbated by recruiters, who do not share the risks involved and by employers who take advantage of the women’s vulnerability as they cannot access the legal system in the host country.

“What we urgently need, is to effectively implement the Foreign Employment Act and its regulations, as this would not only end discrimination based on gender, but also adopt special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs overseas, by holding employers and recruiters accountable,” says Mio Yokota, UN Women Programme Specialist in Nepal.

According to the law, a returnee migrant is eligible to claim full compensation for the money she paid to the recruiting agency if she was declared medically fit to work and still returned on medical grounds by the recruiter. With legal assistance with Pourakhi, Tamang was able to recover 60 per cent of the money that she had paid to the agency. “If I had all the receipts for the amount I paid, I would have been compensated 100 per cent. This has been a hard lesson for me.”

Today, as she gets her strength back, Dolma Tamang is planning for a better future. She is working as a mason and saving to pay back the loans she took to migrate. She will be enrolling in the upcoming vocational and entrepreneurship skills training as part of UN Women’s Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment programme in Nepal, funded by the Government of Finland. The programme aims to support 2,000 women, including returnee migrant workers, provide business start-up and employment placement assistance and linkages to financial and private sector institutions.

[1] Department of Foreign Employment, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2016) Labour Migration for Employment – Status Report 2014/15, Pg. 7.

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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UN Refugee Summit: “No Cause for Comfort” Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:50:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 No One Is Indispensable in a Democracy Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:15:54 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSÉ, Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

I have put a great deal of thought into whether or not to return to politics. Groups from different political parties, and without party affiliation, have expressed their concern over the current situation in the country and have offered me their support. And the opinion polls indicate that I would have a chance at a third presidential term.

The support of so many people fills me with gratitude. There is no greater reward for me than feeling the confidence and trust of the Costa Rican people, because it is based on deeds and actions, on knowing me for over 45 years, and knowing that, with all my defects, I always say what I think and do what I say.

The approval of my first two administrations is a reflection of what we managed to do together. In the 1980s, we brought peace to a region crushed by war, and we thus put Costa Rica on the world map.

Ten years ago, we inserted our small country in the international economy, and we put it on the map again when the United Nations approved the Arms Trade Treaty, Costa Rica’s biggest contribution to humanity in its entire history.

For many months I have weighed the contribution that I can still make, serving Costa Rica once again, against the need to give a boost to the emergence of a new generation of Costa Rican leaders. And I’m not thinking about the next four years. I’m thinking about the next 40. I have enough strength and enough ideas to serve them again. But I also know I’m not indispensable. No one is indispensable in a democracy.

This is something I have said many times: one of the main obligations of a political leader is to foster new leadership. The future of a country depends on the continuous emergence of new cadres willing to take up the baton. Only tyrants cling to power.

Democrats, of whom I am one, understand the importance of stepping aside. I believe the next generations must be given space, and this is the main reason for not running again for president.

The second reason arises from the political ungovernability in Costa Rica. The opposition doesn’t bother me; on the contrary, I have always believed that in a democracy if there is no opposition, it has to be created. I believe a good government requires someone on the other side of the sidewalk, reminding it of its commitments and holding it accountable.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the opposition in our country which, instead of demanding that the government in office make good on its promises, uses any tool to keep it from doing so. Rather than allowing it to implement the government plan that voters supported at the polls, they spend four years carrying out a continuous election campaign, standing in the way of progress in the direction that the people said they wanted.

On May 8, 2006, when my second government took office, I made the following appeal to Costa Ricans, which continues to apply today:

“I hope that we learn that no party or social segment has a monopoly on honesty, patriotism, good intentions and love for Costa Rica. I hope that we can understand that the responsible use of political power is much more than pointing things out, complaining, and hindering, and consists above all of engaging in dialogue, working together and building.

“I hope we will be able to tell the difference between adversaries and enemies; understand that willingness to compromise is not a sign of weakness, just as intransigence is not a sign of strength. I hope we can do away with the pettiness of our political debate, raise up our heads, look forward and think big.”

The third and last reason that pushes me to make this decision is that I think there are many ways to work for the people of Costa Rica. They say that someone who is only good at being president is not even good at that. That is, if you can only exert influence from the presidential seat, it will not be a strong influence.

I don’t plan to retire. I will continue to express my opinions about the way things are going in the country, and I will continue to support the causes I believe in: I always defended what I consider is best for our people, and above all, for the less fortunate.

I will continue to tirelessly advocate the need for Costa Rica to approve educational reforms that make it possible to boost the quality of education in our primary and secondary schools and our universities, such as dual education, evaluation of teachers and ensuring that our young people receive the skills needed to compete in today’s world.

I will continue to insist on the need for Costa Rica to modernise its economy, invest in infrastructure, insert itself even more in the global markets, significantly bolster its competitiveness and rev up its engines of productivity, the best instrument to reduce inequalities. And I will continue defending democracy, peace and disarmament, because the small size of our country should never be the measure of its moral authority.

I have decided not to run for a third presidential term because I believe that the main problem we are facing is medium- to long-term. If we don’t manage to elevate the quality of politics and increase interest in public service, if we fail to get the most capable, educated and honest people to participate in political life, the sustainability itself of our democratic system is at stake.

To preserve this way of life that we have enjoyed for years, we have to encourage young people to lay their hands on the helm of history.

This is a country of young people. It’s the new generations that have to fight for, and exercise, power. If they don’t like the direction the country is moving in, they should change it. You can do a lot of good outside of politics, but a country where everyone is outside politics is a country adrift.

Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, said “The greatest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they are governed by people who are.”

Young people must occupy their rightful place in decision-making. They should take the helm of this ship we call fatherland; it will go in the direction of their commitment, or their indifference. I hope the Costa Rica of the future will not be the fruit of their omission, but of the most determined transformative action!

My profound gratitude to everyone who has supported me. Thank you so much for your affection and your trust. Thanks so much for the people of Costa Rica, who continue to move me, to inspire me, and to give me reasons to believe that politics is an instrument for doing good, for achieving peace, for doing justice; that politics is the workshop of dreams where perhaps they can become more realistic, more precise, more concrete, but also the place where dreams can come true.

The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Muslims in Europe: Can There Be Social Harmony ? Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:46:15 +0000 Rose Delaney2 The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Although 20 million Muslims reside in Western Europe, establishing social harmony between the Muslim community and their European counterparts has proved exceedingly challenging.Much to the dismay of international humanitarian agencies and anti-racism activists,the language of exclusion and prejudice persists.

Since the turn of the century, Muslims, the world over, have been subjected to harsh discrimination and harassment. This was triggered by the 2001 terror attacks which rapidly spread anti-Islamic sentiments across the US.The fear surrounding Muslims and the “brute terror” they are widely thought to inflict, has now resulted in the widespread diffusion of religious racism across Europe.

According to Dr.Zidane Meriboute, author of the book “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”, prior to the extremist-led terror attacks, there was a relative lack of concern for minority groups in Europe. Now, the growth in animosity directed at the Muslim community is increasing at a robust rate.

The modern phenomenon of Islamophobia can be related to leading literary critic, Edward Said’s, theory of “orientalism” wherein Arabs and other Muslims were traditionally labeled as the “other.” In other words, what Dr.Zidane describes as being “the scapegoat for Western society’s ills”. This also draws back to the 19th-century theorist, Arthur de Gobineau’s, description of an age-old “reciprocal repulsion” between Muslims and Europeans.Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination.

Nowadays, we can see these “archaic” racist doctrines emerge and re-establish themselves in a modern context ,through sustained racism against Arabs and Muslims which may be characterized as Dr.Zidane explains, none other than “Contemporary European Phobic Discourse”.

In France, the 20th-century writings of political theorist Charles Maurras are still prevalent today. Maurras was instrumental in setting up the movement “Action Française”, whose primary objective was the restoration of the French nation through the presence of a strong monarchy powered by Catholicism.

Maurras xenophobic rhetoric targeted Jews and Mediterranean foreigners amongst a host of other minorities. His writings have acted as a major “intellectual” influence of contemporary Far-right movements including the French “National Front.”

The rise of Far-right movements in France is particularly perilous to the Muslim community, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Muslims become the targets of these political movements, subjected to discrimination, assumed to be affiliated with extremist groups due to media manipulation and fear-mongering.

The anti-Islamic prejudice, accentuated by a series of terror attacks, was brought to light this August when the French State Council attempted to ban the wearing of the “burkini”. Although the ban has been suspended, Dr.Zidane believes that the mindset that created an environment conducive to such an extreme measure indicates a deep societal divide between Muslims and Westerners.

According to Dr.Zidane’s study on “Muslims in Europe”, in Italy, the Muslim population now surpasses 1.5 million. In spite of this vast number and a wider acceptance of secularism , both the Italian state and society remain committed to Catholicism and thus far, a move towards the recognition of Islam has not been made. In addition, there is a range of far-right political parties which are deeply opposed to Islam.

In both France and Italy, racism is commonplace. Discriminatory acts against Muslims are encouraged by the phobic discourse of Far-right parties. In France, for example, 756 anti-Muslim aggressions were enumerated in 2014. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by police in both countries.

Even in Germany, which Dr.Zidane describes as a “model of tolerance”, there are now stirrings of extreme right-wing movements which run counter to the mainstream. The UK, home to some 3 million Muslims, remains the European country where Muslims are best protected by the law and the activities of the police. In spite of this, there has been a rise in Islamophobia triggered by right-wing movements such as the British National Party.

Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination. Today, 19 of September, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights and Global Dialogue Advancement and Global Dialogue hosted the conference “Muslims in Europe: the road to social harmony” which aims to establish the illegality of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance against Muslims. The Geneva Centre advocates for a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred and violence and the recognition that Islamophobia should specifically be the object of sanctions under international law.

In the opening of today’s “Muslims in Europe” conference , Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, remarked that the meeting was called as an expression of solidarity with all victims of blind terrorism which targets Muslims and Westerners alike.

Dr. Al Qassim emphasised that all world religions encourage peace and harmony, but distorting their message in order to use them as instruments of conflict is a sham. Muslim communities are today being caught between a hammer of the imminent danger of terrorist groups and the anvil of growing Islamophobia and the emergence of xenophobic populism in some European countries.

He concluded by stating that the meeting should act as an opportunity to discuss the path towards social harmony in Europe for Muslims, whilst keeping with the Geneva Centre’s key objective of fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

According to the former head of a United Nations agency, Algerian diplomat and Secretary General of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, “social harmony begins at school.”Jazairy emphasised that teaching our children about the benefits of social harmony lies at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said that while you may not necessarily agree with what someone has to say, you must “fight to the death” for them to have the right to say it. Jazairy encourages us to apply Voltaire’s philosophy in the context of rising Islamophobia.

In this way, future generations will practice the belief that, in spite of religious or ethnic differences, everyone has the right to live in a globalised world free from the setbacks of racism and prejudice.

Source: Dr.Zidane Meriboute, “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”. The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue & Z.Meriboute, 2015.

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China Takes Its Place on the International Stage Mon, 19 Sep 2016 14:48:39 +0000 Mahmood Hasan By Mahmood Hasan
Sep 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

China hosted the 11th G20 summit from September 4-5, 2016 at Hangzhou for the first time since the group formally started holding summits when the world economy slipped into deep recession in 2008. The theme for the summit was “Towards an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy”. China also invited leaders of eight developing countries and chiefs of international organisations to participate at the conference.

g20_china_The summit came at a time when the world is facing sluggish economic growth and geopolitical challenges. Ideological differences among member states coupled with individual monetary and fiscal policies, which are at variance with others, are the main reasons for poor economic performance. However, despite political antagonism, these summits offer convenient opportunities to leaders to exchange notes.

China’s relation with the US is currently under strain because of China’s assertive policy on South China Sea and rejection of the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which seems to have jeopardised President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy. The “candid” talks between President Obama and President Xi Jinping revealed that the two largest economies of the world have major discords over trade and security issues. Despite all the courtesies and politeness, Xi Jinping appeared in no mood to give any leeway to Obama, who has only a few weeks left in the White House. However, before the meeting, US and China — which together account for 40 percent of the world’s carbon emission – announced ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in December 2015.

President Obama also had a “blunt” 90-minute meeting with President Putin, discussing a ceasefire in Syria. The talks were described as “constructive but not conclusive”. Tension is also high between China and Japan – second and third largest economies of the world – related to the unmanned Senkakus Islands in East China Sea. While meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Chinese president suggested that Japan should “put aside disruptions” for normal development of relations.

Prime Minister Modi, during his talks with President Xi, raised thorny issues like terrorism, China’s economic corridor that runs through Pakistan and India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which Beijing opposed recently. While India is apprehensive about China’s militarisation of South China Sea, China is also concerned over the recently signed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed between US and India. Xi Jinping said, “China is willing to work with India to maintain their hard-won sound relations and further advance their cooperation”.

Britain’s decision to quit the European Union has put it in an economically uncertain position and Theresa May is looking for economic partners beyond Europe. At the bilateral meeting, Xi Jinping assured Theresa May that China would be willing to have closer economic and trading relations with Britain. Other leaders, however, told Theresa May that Brexit would be damaging for the global economy.

Brazil is in double trouble because of the impeachment of President Dilma Rouseff and negative economic growth (−3.8 percent in 2015). Turkey, host of the 10th G20 summit, is still reeling from the recent coup attempt on President Erdogan’s presidency. Germany’s Angela Merkel is facing political challenges at home because of her liberal immigration policy.

The two-day summit ended issuing a 48-paragraph Communiqué, which drew liberally from the decisions taken by the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting held in July 2016 at Chengdu, China. The Communiqué covers four major areas – strengthening G20 growth agenda; pursuing innovative growth concepts and policies; building an open world economy; and ensuring that economic growth benefits all countries and people.

On the world economic situation, the leaders were concerned that “Downside risks remain due to potential volatility in the financial markets, fluctuations of commodity prices, sluggish trade and investment, and slow productivity and employment growth in some countries”. The summit decided to “use all policy tools – monetary, fiscal and structural – individually and collectively to achieve our goal of strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth”. Actually, implementing a harmonised monetary and fiscal policy by all stakeholders is the key to quicker growth of the global economy.

As a protectionist tendency is raising its head around the world, G20 leaders were determined to ensure globalisation through “open and inclusive multilateral trading system”. The communiqué strongly condemned terrorism and were committed to strengthening the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.

China has been asserting its economic prowess through the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) and its $1.4 trillion “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) plan. Recognising China’s strong macroeconomic indicators, the World Bank has sold 500 million SDR Bonds on August 31, 2016. IMF has decided to add Chinese Renminbi (RMB) for the first time to the SDR basket from October 1, 2016, which will make it easily convertible and boost Chinese capital market. These developments will give China a bigger say in the global market.

For Xi Jinping, the biggest worry was that the summit may descend into a forum of acrimonious geopolitical debate, particularly over the South China Sea. The agenda for the summit was therefore kept focused on global growth, green financing, sustainable infrastructure, development of poorest countries, etc. Contentious geopolitical issues were left to the leaders meeting on the sidelines of the summit. The media focused more on these bilateral meetings and less on the substantive discussions that went inside the conference room.

However, President Xi Jinping has demonstrated his skilfulness in handling so many world leaders simultaneously. The summit concluded without any major faux pas, though some Western media termed it inconclusive. As the leader of G20, China has rightfully taken its place on the international stage.

The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Accurate Data Mon, 19 Sep 2016 14:29:50 +0000 Kundhavi Kadiresan By Kundhavi Kadiresan
Sep 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Like many, I remember the warnings of parents and teachers to never count your chickens before they’ve hatched, and to never keep all your eggs in one basket.

Kundhavi Kadiresan

Kundhavi Kadiresan

But moving beyond the clichés, have you ever stopped to wonder just how many chickens there are in Asia or the world? And how many eggs must hens lay each day to feed us all?

These lighthearted questions in fact carry a serious message. If we didn’t know how many chickens we could produce or how many eggs they could lay, our food value chains would begin to fall apart. The same important facts must be known for all food produced. Supply must meet demand.

We know counting is important for a myriad of reasons. We count the number of people on the planet and we mathematically project a rise in population — by 2050 the world’s population is expected to grow by another two billion, topping out at more than nine billion— and we are rightly worried about whether or not we will be able to produce enough food to feed everyone by then.

So ensuring that we can accurately count our chickens or our sheep, while correctly predicting our supplies of rice, fruit, vegetables and crops is critical. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the count right and some countries are better than others when it comes to collecting agricultural statistics. That’s why it is time to work together to improve the way we gather these statistics worldwide.

It is time to improve the way countries gather agricultural stats.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is working with our member countries and partners to improve these agricultural counts. Since 1950, FAO has been a leader in agricultural censuses by providing technical guidance to countries that conduct their national censuses every 10 years. More recently, our member countries have asked us to find ways to improve the methods of gathering statistics and to provide guidance on sustainable production, livestock, forestry, fisheries and how to analyse the impact of climate change.

To implement better practices on statistical gathering, and to share best practices on agricultural and rural statistics between countries, FAO and our partners are supporting two major initiatives. One is called the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics and the other is the World Programme for the Census of Agriculture 2020 (WCA 2020). The Global Strategy, provides the vision for national and international statistical systems to meet 21st-century challenges, which include poverty, food insecurity, global warming and the sustainable use of land and water resources.

The WCA 2020 is providing governments with a new approach to comprehensive data collection on the structure of agriculture and it facilitates international comparisons. A new global census round is getting under way this year and, for the first time, it will include aquaculture as well as capture fisheries.

In order for national policymakers to intervene in agricultural production, at the right time and in the right place, they need reliable statistics. The data provided by these national censuses will form the foundation for building better systems that collect more recent and periodic information. For the first time, this new round of censuses will look at the impacts that greenhouse gases and ammonia emissions are having on agricultural activities.

This month professional statisticians and census leaders, who are likely to play a role in the planning and execution of the next agricultural census in their respective countries, are meeting in Bangkok to discuss WCA 2020. A total of 21 countries from Asia are participating, including Pakistan.

But all this attention is about more than just numbers and ways to count. As mentioned, statistics are the foundation of world agriculture. They underpin all agricultural decisions and work, and provide valuable information to meet challenges such as food insecurity, poverty and climate change.

Let us not forget that agriculture provides the primary source of food for humans, feed for animals, fibres for clothes, and material for fuel and housing — all things that are needed by a growing world population.

As we work together and with others to meet the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the WCA 2020, implemented during 2016-25, has the potential to help provide valuable data to ensure many SDG targets will have been accurately met. We need to be sure that when shepherds bless and count their sheep they will have arrived at an accurate tally. To feed the world of our children and their children, we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch.

The writer is assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Published in Dawn September 18th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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