Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 24 Oct 2014 17:49:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev Signals U-Turn on Alternative Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:08:38 +0000 Paolo Sorbello http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137363 A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Paolo Sorbello
ASTANA, Oct 24 2014 (EurasiaNet)

From small villages to big cities, wherever you go in Kazakhstan these days, billboards offer reminders that Astana is gearing up to host Expo 2017, the next World’s Fair. Kazakhstan helped secure the right to host the event with a pledge to emphasise green energy alternatives. But now it appears that Kazakhstan is red-lighting its own green transition.

Green energy has been the rage in Kazakhstan in recent years, but the country’s strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, seemed to shift gears out of the blue in late September.

“I personally do not believe in alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar,” the Interfax news agency quoted Nazarbayev as saying on Sep. 30 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Caspian city of Atyrau. And echoing a familiar Kremlin refrain, Nazarbayev added that “the shale euphoria does not make any sense.”Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.” -- Luca Anceschi

For a country where the decisions of one man set the political agenda, it was a stunning change of course. Only last year, Nazarbayev’s office pledged to spend one percent of GDP, or an estimated three to four billion dollars annually, to “transition to a green economy.”

“Kazakhstan is facing a situation where its natural resources and environment are seriously deteriorating across all crucial environmental standards,” stated a widely touted “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” concept paper. A “green economy is instrumental to [a] nation’s sustainable development.”

Moreover, a switch to renewables would free oil and gas for more lucrative exports, rather than subsidised domestic use.

While Kazakhstan generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal, state media has trumpeted the potential of green energy, showing Nazarbayev touring a solar-panel factory under construction or an official promising Kazakhstan will build the world’s first “energy-positive” city.

Officials often talk of weaning Kazakhstan’s economy off its hydrocarbon dependence. Ultimately, if Nazarbayev wants to fulfill a pledge to make Kazakhstan a middle-income nation by 2030, officials have acknowledged that Kazakhstan must diversify its energy sources.

So Nazarbayev’s comments have left analysts scratching their heads: Is Kazakhstan’s focus shifting, or was Nazarbayev just reminding trade partners – especially Russia – that oil and gas will remain a priority for Astana? Nazarbayev concluded by saying that “oil and gas is our main horse, and we should not be afraid that these are fossil fuels.”

Context is key, according to Marat Koshumbayev, deputy head of the Chokin Kazakh Research Institute of Energy in Almaty. “While sitting next to [Putin], it is normal that Nazarbayev would emphasise fossil fuels. It’s worth noting that during similar events in the West, the focus is still on renewable energy, efficiency, and reduction of carbon emissions,” Koshumbayev told EurasiaNet.org.

The energy networks of Kazakhstan and Russia are strongly interconnected. Most Kazakh oil exports to Europe go through the Russian hubs of Samara and Novorossiysk, while Russian oil flows through Kazakhstan’s pipeline network to China. In addition, Kazakhstan is a key cog in Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Economic Union.

Although the context of the meeting may have played a role in Nazarbayev’s declaration, the president has sown doubt about how serious Kazakhstan is about green energy, said Luca Anceschi, an expert on the country at the University of Glasgow. Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.”

Nazarbayev, Anceschi added, was warning Astana policymakers to keep the focus on the current economic course. “It’s a clear message that diversification efforts will slow down, with the hope that [the long-delayed, super-giant oil field] Kashagan will come in to solve all problems,” he said.

Koshumbayev agrees Nazarbayev is backtracking. “Unfortunately,” he said, “for the development of renewable energy, more is needed than just Strategy 2050 and the officials who promote it, and Nazarbayev knows this.”

In policy circles in Astana and Almaty, “alternative” energy refers broadly to non-hydrocarbon resources, including, for example, nuclear. Nazarbayev does appear to believe in the power of the atom. During the meeting with Putin in Atyrau, he inked terms for Russia and Kazakhstan to construct a nuclear power plant.

According to the plan, construction will start in 2018, although it is still unclear if the plant will be built near the old Soviet nuclear hub of Semipalatinsk, in the northeast, or in the industrial west, near the Caspian shore.

Even if Kazakhstan shifts away from green energy, some progress is likely to continue. Two wind farms, one in the north and one in the south, received a financial green light in the past months. In the Zhambyl Region, the local government, with some private Lithuanian financing, has agreed to build a 250MW wind farm for 550 million dollars. And in the Akmola Region, near the capital, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to fund a 50MW, 120-million-dollar wind farm.

But for one opposition leader, Nazarbayev’s comments prove these projects are mainly for show.

“Our regime has a feudal mentality. Showing off wealth is a fundamental indication of one’s status,” said Pyotr Svoik, a former deputy natural resources minister turned opposition activist. “That’s how we get an Expo branded ‘energy of the future’ while producing only marginal amounts of renewable energy.”

Editor’s note:  Paolo Sorbello is a freelance reporter who specializes in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Asia: So Close and Yet So Far From Polio Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 06:41:05 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137358 A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By IPS Correspondents
KATHMANDU/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The goal is an ambitious one – to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that “every last child” is immunised against the crippling disease.

Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.

United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of polio cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide." -- Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan
According to GPEI, immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.

But further north, dark clouds in the shapes of Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

Celebrating success from Nepal to the Philippines

For countries like Nepal, home to 27 million people, the prevalence of polio in other nations in the Asian region threatens its hard-won gains in stamping out the disease.

“There’s always fear that polio may see a resurgence as the disease hasn’t been eradicated everywhere,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division (CDH).

Anxious to hold on to the coveted polio-free status, Nepal recently introduced the inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunisation programme, the first country in South Asia to do so.

“While the oral polio vaccine has been the primary tool in polio eradication efforts, new evidence shows that adding one dose of IPV – given to children of 14 weeks by intramuscular injection – to the OPV [schedule], will maximise immunity to poliovirus,” Upreti explained.

He credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population.

Between 1984 and 2011, Nepal’s immunisation coverage more than doubled from 44 to 90 percent. Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

“We understood that [we] needed a multi-sector approach, so service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easier,” KC told IPS. “Immunisation went beyond health, it became a part of [our] development plans.”

Such a mindset is also apparent in the Philippines, where the government recently decided to include the IPV into its national health plan, making it the largest developing country to do so.

According to a press release by Sanofi Pasteur, the multinational pharmaceutical company working closely with the Philippine government on its eradication initiatives, many Filipinos feel deeply about polio, having had a prime minister who was a survivor of the disease and lived with lifelong disabilities as a result.

“What’s striking about the Philippines is how strong a partnership there is around vaccinations,” said Mike Watson, vice president of vaccinations and advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, referring to the unprecedented support shown by government officials and civil society at an event in Manila earlier this month that ended with several children receiving the IPV, the first of some two million children who will now be vaccinated every year.

“Getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that,” Watson told IPS.

He added that strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

Over 5,700 km away from the Philippines, however, lives the lingering threat of polio, with thousands of children still at risk, and hundreds suffering from the debilitating results of the disease.

Pakistan’s polio troubles

This past June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a travel ban on all those leaving Pakistan without proof of immunisation, in a bid to prevent the spread of polio outside the country’s troubled borders.

But absent swift political action, travel bans alone will not staunch the epidemic.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban on the OPV has effectively prevented over 800,000 children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.

In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide,” Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan, told IPS.

The situation is most severe in the northern tribal areas, where the Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that OPV is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population.

“The militancy-racked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) accounts for 138 cases, while the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has 43 cases,” Pervez Kamal, director of health in FATA, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency has registered 69 cases, while the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan Agency are struggling with 49 and 17 cases respectively.

In a tragic development, an 18-month-old baby girl named Shakira Bibi has become the latest in a long line of polio victims. Her father, Shoiab Shah, told IPS that “Taliban militants” were responsible for depriving his daughter of the OPV.

In an unexpected twist, a military offensive aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold over northern Pakistan has given health officials rare access to hundreds of thousands of residents in the tribal areas.

With close to a million people from North Waziristan Agency fleeing airstrikes and taking refuge in the neighbouring KP province, community health workers have been delivering the vaccine to residents of displacement camps in cities like Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Still, this is only a tiny step towards overcoming the crisis.

Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to [defy] the Taliban’s ban.”

The government has now elicited support from religious leaders to convince parents to submit to the OPV programme.

“Islamic scholars from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt [and] Afghanistan have issued a fatwa [edict], reminding parents that it is their Islamic duty to protect their children against disease,” Maulana Israr ul Haq, one of the signatories, told IPS.

According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts.

 

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Global South Brings United Front to Green Climate Fundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:29:03 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137357 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations’ key mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is now ready to receive funds, following a series of agreements between rich and poor economies.

The agreements covered administrative but potentially far-reaching policies that will govern the mechanism, known as the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This forward momentum comes just weeks ahead of a major “pledging session” in Berlin that is meant to finally get the GCF off the ground.“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles.” -- Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth

“The fund now has the capacity to absorb and programme resources that will be made available to it to achieve a significant climate response on the ground,” Hela Cheikhrouhou, the GCF’s executive director, said Saturday following a series of board meetings in Barbados.

The GCF constitutes the international community’s central attempt to help developing countries prepare for and mitigate climate change. The undertaking thus includes an implicit acknowledgment by rich countries that the developing world, although the least responsible for climate change, will be the most significantly impacted.

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilisation, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.

The GCF opened a secretariat last year, in South Korea, but pledges have since come in slowly. Currently, the aim is to get together 15 billion dollars as starter capital, much of which will have to be achieved at the November pledging session.

The fund’s capitalisation did get a fillip last month, when France and Germany pledged a billion dollars each and lesser amounts were promised by Norway, South Korea and Mexico. On Wednesday, Sweden pledged another half-billion dollars, aimed at setting “an example to … other donors.”

Still, that brings the total funding for the GCF to less than three billion dollars, under a fifth of the goal for this year alone.

“The good news is that this meeting finished laying a strong foundation for the fund,” Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance associate with the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “It’s now nearly ready to go – but it can’t get far without ambitious pledges in November.”

Significant attention is now shifting to the United States and European Union, which have yet to announce pledges. Anti-poverty campaigners have estimated that fair pledges would be around 4.8 billion dollars for the United States and six billion dollars for the European Union.

Country ownership

The GCF now has the institutional capacity to receive the funding around which its operations will revolve, but important decisions remain regarding how the fund will disburse that money.

“There’s now more clarity on how the fund will invest, but little guidance on exactly what it will invest in,” Doukas, who attended last week’s board meeting in Barbados, says. “The board has serious homework between now and its next meeting in February to ensure that it has rules in place to prioritise high-impact climate solutions that also deliver development benefits.”

Still, some important initial headway was made in Barbados around how these projects will be defined. Indeed, development advocates express cautious optimism the new agreements will put greater control over these decisions in the hands of national governments.

For instance, projects green-lighted by the GCF will now be required to have a “no objection” confirmation from the government of the country in which the project will be based.

“If you do not have the no-objection [requirement], the funding intermediaries will be able to impose their own conditionalities, even their own programmes, on a country,” Bernarditas Muller, the GCF representative from the Philippines, said during negotiations, according to a civil society summary.

Observers say this agreement came about because developing countries banded together and pushed against demands from rich governments. (The GCF board includes 24 members, half from poor and half from rich countries.)

“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy advisor with Friends of the Earth who attended the Barbados discussions, told IPS.

“The no-objection procedure in particular is something we’ve been fighting for, for a long time. If an active no-objection is not provided within 30 days, a project is suspended – that is quite important.”

Still, Orenstein, too, worries that significant decisions have against been pushed off to future meetings of the GCF board.

“The fund still leans too heavily towards multilateral development banks and the private sector,” she says.

“It’s not that the GCF shouldn’t be appealing to the private sector, but we want to sure that the priorities are being driven by developing countries. Even though we have these new agreements, there’s still not nearly enough emphasis on having priorities be set at the country level and below.”

New development discourse

At the same time, under this weekend’s agreements developing countries will now be able to access funding directly from the GCF, rather than having to go through an intermediary. In addition, monies pledges to the fund will not be able to be “earmarked” for particular uses by the donor government.

“Traditionally, a lot of funds for climate change have been delivered through multilateral organisations. They haven’t necessarily done a bad job, but in many cases there’s a trade-off between a country’s priorities versus that of the organisation’s,” Annaka Carvalho, a senior programme officer with Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Making sure that countries are in the driver’s seat in directing where these resources are going is really important. Ultimately, only national governments are accountable to their citizens for delivering on adaptation and investing in low-emissions development.”

Carvalho, who was also at the Barbados negotiations, says that the opportunity once the GCF gets off the ground isn’t only about reacting to climate change. She says the fund can also help to bring about a new development paradigm.

“We’ve been hoping the fund will act as a catalyst for shifting the development discourse away from the forces that have caused climate change and instead towards clean energy and resilient livelihoods,” she says.

“A core part of the fund is supposed to realise sustainable development, but there’s always this line between climate and development. In fact, disconnecting these two issues is impossible.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: The Group of 77 & IPS at 50http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:11:32 +0000 Mourad Ahmia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137354

Mourad Ahmia is the Executive Secretary of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations

By Mourad Ahmia
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

When the Group of 77 commemorated its 50th anniversary recently, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency was not far behind.

Established in 1964 as the largest news agency of the global South, IPS has been the voice of both developing nations and the Group of 77 for the past 50 years.

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Both are linked together by a single political commitment: to protect and represent the interests of the developing world.

The 50th anniversary celebration of the G-77 and IPS represents an opportunity to enhance and strengthen the joint partnership in projecting and promoting the concerns of the countries of the South.

For five decades the agency has, in its own way, provided technical help to delegations of the South in promoting the global development agenda of the South.

The integral role played by the Group of 77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the ongoing global development dialogue.

IPS’s priceless contribution in that endeavor translates into promoting a new platform for global governance through critical information and communication.

IPS supported the publication for many years of the first ever G-77 newsletter: “The Journal of the Group of 77,” as well as publishing special editions of Terra Viva on various occasions, particularly the celebration of anniversaries of the Group of 77 and the South Summits.

The initiative to establish a global network of news agencies of the South, launched in 2006 by the G-77 and IPS under the chairmanship of South Africa, is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the G-77 has its own 50-year history of accomplishments.

When it was established on Jun. 15, 1964, the signing nations of the well-known “Joint Declaration of Seventy-Seven Countries” formed the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations to articulate and promote their collective interests and common development agenda.

Since the First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the “Charter of Algiers”, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades.

Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues.The G-77 adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs... Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

The Group has a presence worldwide at U.N. centres in New York, Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Washington D.C., and is actively involved in ongoing negotiations on a wide range of global issues including climate change, poverty eradication, migration, trade, and the law of the sea.

Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N system. The growing membership is proof of its enduring strength.

From 77 founding member states in 1964 to 134 and counting in 2014, it is the largest intergovernmental organisation of the global South dealing with the Development Agenda.

The Group was created with the objective to collectively boost the role and influence of developing countries on the global stage when it became clear that political independence, to be meaningful, required changes in the economic relations between North and South.

Thus, political independence needed to be accompanied by economic diplomacy with the ultimate objective of the reform of the international economic order.

Today, the G-77 represents the greatest coalition of humanity and remains a vital negotiating instrument in economic multilateral diplomacy, and for ensuring international peace and justice through international cooperation for development within the framework of the United Nations.

This has been the thrust of the joint expression of South-South solidarity since the Group’s creation, and its collective voice has spread to every institution and international organisation representing the hopes and aspirations of the majority of humanity.

The integral role played by the G-77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the global development dialogue.

The Group has, through its compact Executive Secretariat limited resources, managed to work successfully with its development partners to analyse issues and propose alternative solutions to development challenges.

For 50 years the G-77 contributed to the formulation and adoption of numerous U.N. resolutions, programmes, and plans of action, most of which address the core issues of development. Its role in generating global consensus on the issues of development has been widely acknowledged by world leaders, diplomats, parliamentarians, academia, researchers, media and civil society.

It is a tribute to the historical validity of the conception, purposes, and endeavours of the Group, which have withstood the test of time.

The essential rationale for the Group was, and remains, to strive for a wider participation of developing countries in global economic decision-making and for inserting a development dimension in international institutions and policies within the framework of the United Nations system.

The Group presently consists of 134 countries, comprising over 80 per cent of the world’s population and approximately two-thirds of the United Nations membership.

The Group is the world’s second largest international organisation after the 193-member United Nations, and many countries, from emerging developing economies to least developed countries and small island developing states have chaired the Group, ranging in regions from Africa, Asia-Pacific to Latin America and the Caribbean.

2014 marks a milestone in the life of the Group with the celebration of the fiftieth year of its establishment, a period during which it has nearly doubled in membership and multiplied its south-south cooperation achievements while continuing to operate as a coalition of nations in promoting North-South dialogue for development.

It is remarkable that with such a diverse membership and without a formal constitution it has managed to endure the world’s political and economic turbulence for 50 years and remain true to its original mission in promoting the United Nations’ development agenda.

The G-77 has devoted five decades working to achieve development. It adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs.

Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

In its 50 years, the Group of 77 has solidified the global South as a coalition of nations, aspiring for a global partnership for peace and development.

Today, the Group of 77 is recognised for its work to promote international cooperation for development towards a prosperous and peaceful world.

The commitment and dedication of the Group in selflessly shaping world affairs has benefited billions of lives worldwide, and such recognition of its significant contribution during the Group’s fiftieth anniversary is most appropriate.

Happy 50th anniversary for both G-77 and IPS!

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kashmir Flood Carries Away Humble Dreamshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:51:43 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137349 Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

By Athar Parvaiz
Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

Rafiqa Kazim and her husband Kazim Ali had a simple dream – to live a modest life, educate their four children and repay the bank-loan that the couple took out to sustain their small business.

Until early last month, their plan was moving along steadily but now Kazim says they have “hit a roadblock”, which took the form of deadly floods that swept through the north Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sep. 7, killing 281 people and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

According to government estimates the overall damage now stands at some one trillion rupees (16 billion dollars), in what experts are calling the worst ever recorded flood in Kashmir’s history. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said this was the first time the force was called upon to respond to such a severe flood in an urban area.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal." -- Rafiqa Kazim, a flood victim residing just outside of Kashmir's capital, Srinagar
By the time the floodwaters had receded and the Jhelum River had returned to its usual steady flow, much of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar was underwater, with 140,000 houses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of others badly damaged.

It has been over a month, but families like the Kazims are only just starting to come to terms with the long-term impacts of the disaster as they move slowly out of makeshift camps, shelters and relatives’ homes to start picking up the pieces of their lives.

Making her way through the wreckage of her home in Ganderpora, 17 km northwest of Srinagar, Kazim points out the damage to their house and one acre of agricultural land. But in truth, her mind is elsewhere – on the 10X10-foot carpet that she and another weaver had been working on for over two months.

For Kazim, this carpet represents months of labour, and the promise of grand profits for a woman of her economic background: in a single year, she can earn up to 200,000 rupees (about 3,350 dollars) from carpet weaving and embroidery. In a country where the average annual income is about 520 dollars, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), this is a tidy sum.

“As the announcement came on the community address system that flood waters were entering the village, our first instinct was to save ourselves and get to a safer place. In the process, we forgot everything else including the loom, the carpet, as well as our floor mats and bedding,” she explained.

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

The loss of the loom could mean dark days ahead for the couple. Kazim only took up the practice of weaving and embroidering when Ali lost the use of his right arm due to a neurological disorder, preventing him from continuing with his job as a videographer.

Reluctant as he was to pass the onus of breadwinning onto his wife, Ali soon realized he had no choice. He sold his beloved camera, and pooled the money together with a 1,500-dollar loan to purchase the loom and various other tools Kazim would need to convert their home into a small handicrafts unit.

Their first order, for an eight-by-seven-foot carpet and assorted embroidered clothing items, brought the family nearly 1,250 dollars, which enabled them to pay their children’s school fees and set something aside for repayment of their loan.

Now, the floods have swept away their hopes of making ends meet, including the limited harvest from their small plot of farmland.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal,” a dejected Kazim concluded, looking around at her three daughters and son. She is convinced that unless government support is forthcoming, families like hers will be looking at a bleak future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked Wednesday’s Diwali holiday, a holy Hindu festival of light, with a visit to the affected areas, where hopes were running high that he would announce a generous aid package to flood victims.

In an already poor state – with 2.4 million out of a population of some 12 million people living below the poverty line – the impact of a natural disaster of this nature is gravely magnified, leaving the destitute far worse off than they were.

Things are particularly bad for farming families, who constitute 75 percent of the state’s population and lost some 512 million dollars worth of agricultural products in the floods. Some 300,500 hectares of crops were also destroyed, spelling trouble for landholding families who generally own just 0.67 hectares of farmland.

Women shoulder the burden

Until official assistance kicks in, women like Kazim will be forced to bear the brunt of the floods, since the responsibility of managing domestic affairs is seen throughout traditional Kashmiri society as a woman’s job.

In most of the flood-hit areas, it is the women who are fetching water for their families, cleaning homes of silt and mud, retrieving cooking utensils and generally making sure that life gradually returns to normal.

Finding clean drinking water is proving a particular challenge, with many sources such as wells and water supply tanks damaged and contaminated by debris washed up by the floodwaters, which reached heights of up to 25 feet in some areas according to the NDRF. For the average family, which consumes about 500 litres of water per day, this poses countless challenges on a daily basis.

In Haritara Rekhi-Haigam, a village located some 60 km north of Srinagar, IPS witnessed women struggling with all these challenges. Some residents told IPS that several women had been injured while attempting to fill their buckets from a water tanker, as scores of people jostled for a place in the line.

Many women in Haritara Rekhi-Haigam must now walk over four km each day for a single pitcher of water. IPS spoke with a group of young girls carrying heavy pots on their heads, who said they set out at daybreak for a return trip that lasts over five hours.

Women like 49-year-old Hajira Begam are coming up with unique solutions to their problems. She shows IPS the earthen insulation she has rigged up over an electric coil, which allows her to boil water to clean her cooking utensils.

She has also created a makeshift structure over a portion of the roadside that serves as her only shelter since the flood has washed her house away. She is one of some 100,000 people left homeless by the floods.

Women must also see to their children’s education, no simple task given that the floods damaged as many as 2,594 schools, with some 686 buildings left completely uninhabitable.

A school teacher named Nahida Begam told IPS that her family still has not found permanent housing, with some renters demanding as much as 423 dollars “for two rooms and a kitchen” she said. With a combined monthly income of about 900 dollars, and two children to educate, she and her husband cannot afford such a high rent.

With the water approaching, bringing with it the promise of weather that falls as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, “it is likely that people are going to die of cold in the coming months for want of shelter,” according to Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

And with the onset of winter, those with humble dreams like Rafiqa Kazim will be hunkering down to plan for a future that, for the time being, holds very little promise.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137344 By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Halting Progress: Ending Violence against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:09:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137345 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

As Juan Evo Morales Ayma, popularly known as ‘Evo’, celebrates his victory for a third term as Bolivia’s president on a platform of “anti-imperialism” and radical socio-economic policies, he can also claim credit for ushering in far-reaching social reforms such as the Bolivian “Law against Political Harassment and Violence against Women” enacted in 2012.

“In many countries women in the political arena, whether candidates to an election or elected to office, are confronted with acts of violence ranging from sexist portrayal in the media to threats and murder,” says the World Future Council (WFC), which monitors the gap between policy research and policy-making.

Speaking to IPS after the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls ceremony, organised by WFC, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women on Oct. 14, WFC founder Jacob von Uexkull told IPS that the Bolivian law “is a visionary law, particularly for protecting women against political harassment and violence.”“Achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women ... violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole” – Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General

“For the first time we introduced the category of what are called visionary laws which aim to curb violence against women in politics and other professions,” he said, adding that the passing of such a law in Bolivia is “very significant”, suggesting that other should emulate the Bolivian example.

The law against political harassment and violence against women was enacted in Bolivia by the Morales government following the assassination of Councillor Juana Quispe after she had complained about the abuse she suffered from other councillors and the mayor of her town. The law defines political harassment and political violence as criminal offences which carry imprisonment ranging from two to eight years depending on the magnitude of the offence.

The WFC, which promotes the world’s best laws and solutions for implementation by policy-makers in countries all over the world, chose to offer the “honourable mention” for the Bolivian law in the visionary category.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, the WFC was set up in 2007 to pioneer the campaign for the spread of best laws in different areas. Beginning in 2009, the WFC has been offering the Future Policy Award (FPA) for the strongest laws in the field of sustainable development.

The WFC identified the Belo Horizonte Food Security Programme in 2009 as the best law for the FPA to address the right to food. In 2010, the FPA went to Costa Rica for the best law to strengthen biodiversity. In 2011, it was awarded to Rwanda for its laws to protect forests, and in 2012 it was awarded to the Republic of Palau in the Pacific Ocean for the best laws to protect coasts.

Last year, the FPA went to the treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With 2014 having been designated by WFC as the year for ending violence against women and girls, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says that governments must adopt a “comprehensive legal framework” that addresses violence against women, by “recognising unequal power relations between men and women” and advocating a “gender-sensitive perspective in tackling it.”

According to Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of IPU, the key message is that “achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women.” Moreover, “violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole.”

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’  programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’ programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

This year’s WFC gold award went to the “Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence” programme of the City of Duluth in the U.S. state of Minnesota. Among others, said von Uexkull, the “Duluth model” has a shared philosophy about domestic violence and a system that shifts responsibility for victim safety from the victim to the system.

The “Duluth model” has helped countries formulate laws and policies based on the principles of coordinated community response and paved the way for the intervention of criminal justice in cases of intimate partner violence.

Each year, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

According to von Uexkull, such violence entails huge human, social, and economic costs which are estimated to be around 5.18 percent of world GDP.

HBO (Home Box Office), a U.S. pay television network, has recently produced a documentary entitled Private Violence, which looks at domestic violence against women. In an interview with The Guardian, Cynthia Hill, the documentary’s director, said: “The thing that I did not know that was so revealing to me was that anywhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [her abuser].”.

One of the biggest issues facing women and girls today in the world, says Nyaradzayi GumbonzvandaGeneral Secretary of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), is violence. “I see the violence against women as a manifestation of inequalities, disempowerment and exclusion,” Gumbonzvanda told IPS. “It is the accumulation of many realities that women find in their own lives, particularly that of social disempowerment.”

To highlight the importance of enforcing and implementing existing laws to eradicate violence against women, the WFC gave awards this year to Austria and Burkina Faso for their stringent implementation of laws to protect women against violence. “When the justice system and specialised service providers work hand in hand, real progress can be made,” said von Uexkull.

However, as countries are preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, there is not a single country in the world where we have succeeded in eliminating violence against women, warns Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Beijing conference, former President of the Pan-African Parliament and WFC Honorary Councillor from Tanzania.

“Many countries now have laws that protect women from violence,” Mongella told participants at the FPA ceremony. “However, women who report violence often face a range of challenges, including resistance or disbelief from law enforcement officers, judges and lawyers.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Añelo, from Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina’s Shale Fuel Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:01:56 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137341 The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a “sustainable city of the future” is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: “The future found its place.”

But for now the town’s roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

“Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don’t have a good showcase, to put us on display,” the director of the town’s health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

“We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population,” added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina’s state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country’s development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

“They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future…thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives,” YPF Neuquén’s communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town’s only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

“We are building a city from scratch,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was “a strategic waypoint.”

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but “when their work was done they would leave,” Díaz explained. “This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years.”

“The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission,” the province’s environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. “It’s spectacular.There’s a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing,” construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an “urban footprint” study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, “what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years,” Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that’s not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called “oil route”, to keep the trucks out of the town.

“The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming,” Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

“You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year,” said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

“There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new,” he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she’s earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was “practically a sand dune.”

Development has brought work, “but also bad things,” the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. “There have been armed robberies, which we didn’t see here before.”

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about “the invasion of men.”

“So many men!” she said, laughing. “I’m not interested anymore, but the girls…there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant….that’s bad for the town too.”

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

“We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel,” he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government’s lack of “planning” and “control” over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough,” he said.

The province is preparing a “strategic development plan” for Añelo, along with nearby “oil micro-cities”, which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

“We’re not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city,” the mayor summed up.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Sustaining Africa’s Development by Leveraging on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:13:27 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137336 By leveraging knowledge on climate change, like adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march to sustainable development. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By leveraging knowledge on climate change, like adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march to sustainable development. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

By leveraging knowledge about climate change, through adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march towards sustainable development.

Policy and development practitioners say Africa is at a development cross roads and argue that the continent — increasingly an attractive destination for economic and agriculture investment — should use the window of opportunity presented by a low carbon economy to implement new knowledge and information to transform the challenges posed by climate change into opportunities for social development.

“Climate change is not just a challenge for Africa but also an opportunity to trigger innovation and the adoption of better technologies that save on water and energy,” Fatima Denton, director of the special initiatives division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS.

“At the core of the climate change debate is human security and we can achieve sustainability by using climate data and information services and feeding that knowledge into critical sectors and influence policy making.”

Africa, while enjoying a mining-driven economic boom, should look at revitalising the agriculture sector to drive economic development and growth under the framework of the new sustainable development goals, she said.

Denton said that for too long the climate change narrative in Africa has been about agriculture as a vulnerable sector. But this sector, she said, can be a game changer for the African continent through sustainable agriculture. In Africa, agriculture employs more than 70 percent of population and remains a major contributor to the GDP of many countries.

Climate-smart agriculture is being touted as one of the mechanisms for climate-proofing Africa’s agriculture. CGIAR — a global consortium of 15 agricultural research centres — has dedicated approximately half its one-billion-dollar annual budget towards researching how to support smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa through climate-smart agriculture.

When announcing the research funding in September, Frank Rijsberman, chief executive officer of CGIAR, said there can be no sustainable development or halting of the effects of climate change without paying attention to billions of farmers who feed the world and manage its natural resources.

Although Africa has vast land, energy, water and people, it was not able to feed itself despite having the capacity to.

The inability of Africa’s agriculture to match the needs of a growing population has left around 300 million people frequently hungry, forcing the continent to spend billions of dollars importing food annually.

Climate change is expected to disrupt current agricultural production systems, the environment, and the biodiversity in Africa unless there is a major cut in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report has warned that surpassing a 20C temperature rise could worsen the existing food deficit challenge of the continent and thereby hinder most African countries from attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) of reducing extreme poverty and ending hunger by 2015.

Economic and population growth in Africa have fuelled agricultural imports faster than exports of agriculture products from Africa, says the 2013 Africa Wide Annual Trends and Outlook Report (ATOR) published by the African Union Commission.

The report shows that the agriculture deficit in Africa rose from less than one billion dollars to nearly 40 billion  in the last five years, highlighting the need for major agriculture transformation to increase production.

Francis Johnson, a senior research fellow with the Swedish-based Stockholm Environment Institute, told IPS that renewable energy like wind, solar and hydro-power, are vital components in Africa’s sustainable development toolkit given its unmet energy demands and dependence on fossil fuels.

He added that developing countries should embrace clean energy as they cannot afford to follow the dirty emissions path of developed countries.

“In Africa competition is more about water than about land. And right decisions must be made. And when it comes to bio energy, it is the issue of choosing the right crops to cope with climate change,” Johnson said.

According to research by the Ethiopia-based Africa Climate Policy Centre, the cost of adaptation and putting Africa on a carbon-growth path is 31 billion dollars a year and could add 40 percent to the cost of meeting the MGDs.

Adaptation costs could in time be met from Africa’s own resources, argues Abdalla Hamdok, the deputy executive secretary of the ECA. He said that Africa could do this by saving money lost to illicit financial flows estimated to be more than 50 billion dollars a year.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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UNICEF Claims Success in Battle Against Poliohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/unicef-claims-success-in-battle-against-polio/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unicef-claims-success-in-battle-against-polio http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/unicef-claims-success-in-battle-against-polio/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:24:50 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137361 By an IPS Correspondent
NEW YORK, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said the annual number of polio cases has fallen from 350,000 in 1988, to 416 in 2013, and 243 so far this year – “an extraordinary drop of more than 99 percent.”

All but three countries where polio was firmly entrenched – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – have eliminated the virus within their borders. And multiple outbreaks have been contained over the past 26 years.

In a statement released Thursday, UNICEF said every day, a thousand or so children have been protected from disability during a 26-year global effort to eradicate polio.

The worldwide campaign has immunised millions of previously-unreached children across the globe, UNICEF said on the eve of World Polio Day.

Some 10 million people today would otherwise have been paralysed, while an additional 1.5 million lives have been saved through the routine administration of Vitamin A during polio vaccination drives.

“In 1988 polio was a leading cause of childhood disability,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In country after country since then, a generation of children has grown up without the spectre of polio.”

“The success of the eradication effort – reaching some of the most disadvantaged communities in some of the most dangerous circumstances – proves that it is possible to reach all children,” Lake added.

“Our most ambitious and audacious goals for children can be met. And if they can be, they must be.”

Nigeria has had only 6 cases this year, down from 49 in 2013. Afghanistan has reduced transmission to very low levels, with most cases linked to Pakistan. With 206 cases already reported this year, Pakistan is now the world’s largest remaining reservoir of polio.

While polio remains endemic in only three countries, it continues to pose a risk to children everywhere, especially in countries which have not made routine immunization a priority, like South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ukraine, according to the agency.

Outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia can be traced to Pakistan and Nigeria.

UNICEF procures 1.7 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to reach 500 million children every year. And UNICEF’s social mobilisation work helps persuade families to accept the vaccine when it reaches them. Intensive efforts over the past decade have seen acceptance of the polio vaccine at their highest levels ever in countries where polio remains endemic.

“The world has never been closer to this once-in-a-generation opportunity of eradicating polio for good,” Lake said. “Every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.”

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U.S. Contractors Convicted in 2007 Blackwater Baghdad Traffic Massacrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:50:16 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137333 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

A federal jury here Wednesday convicted one former Blackwater contractor of murder and three of his colleagues of voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shootings of 14 unarmed civilians killed in Baghdad’s Nisour Square seven years ago.

The judge in the case ordered the men detained pending sentencing."To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes." -- Baher Azmy

The massacre, which resulted in a wave of popular anger in Iraq against the United States, and especially the army of private security contractors which it employed there, contributed heavily to the Iraqi government’s later refusal to sign an agreement with Washington to extend the U.S. military presence there.

It also sealed the reputation of Blackwater, a “private military” firm headed by Erik Prince, a right-wing former Navy Seal, as a trigger-happy mercenary outfit whose recklessness and insensitivity to local populations jeopardised Washington’s interests in conflict situations.

After the incident, the Iraqi government banned the company, which had a one-billion-dollar contract at the time to protect U.S. diplomats. Iraq’s parliament subsequently enacted laws making foreign contractors working in the country subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for criminal acts they committed.

It was Baghdad’s insistence in 2011 that such a condition also apply to all U.S. military forces that scotched a proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have permitted Washington to maintain thousands U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31, 2011 deadline for their final withdrawal.

“The verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, after the Wednesday’s verdicts were announced.

“Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families,” he said in a statement.

While praising the verdicts, some observers said that Blackwater itself should have been on trial. “(H)olding individuals responsible is not enough,” noted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented Iraqi victims of the killings in a human-rights case against Blackwater that settled in 2010.

“Private military contractors …have engaged in a variety of war crimes and atrocities during the [2003 Iraq] invasion and occupation while reaping billions of dollars in profits from the war. To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdicts, which confirmed initial findings by an FBI investigation carried out within two months of the massacre, are likely to be appealed to a higher court by the defendants’ attorneys who contend that the convoy they were leading had come under attack and that their clients were acting in self-defence at the time.

They are also likely to challenge the verdicts on the grounds that key evidence presented to the jury consisted of initial statements of what took place that were effectively “coerced” by interrogators who allegedly assured them that what they said would not be used in court. That issue has been bounced between courts since the Justice Department filed the case in 2010.

Altogether, 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys aged nine and 11, were killed and 20 more injured when, on Sep. 16, 2007, a State Department convoy entered Baghdad’s busy Nisour Square with the armoured Blackwater vehicle in the lead.

While defendants and Blackwater itself insisted that the convoy came under attack, the FBI and prosecution contended there was no evidence to sustain such a conclusion.

According to the latter, the unit’s sniper, Nicholas Slatten, opened fire on a car which, according to the defence, had approached the Blackwater vehicle in a suspicious manner. Slatten’s shots, which killed the car’s driver, a medical student, triggered chaos throughout the circle.

In addition to Slatten, who was convicted of first-degree murder, a total of six members of the Blackwater team fired their weapons as they moved through the circle, according to the prosecution.

One team member, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 and served as a prosecution witness in the case. Charges against another defendant were dropped shortly afterwards. Several other team members also testified against the defendants.

Aside from Slatten’s conviction, three other guards Wednesday were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as various weapons offences.

The Justice Department had charged that they “unlawfully and intentionally, upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion,” did commit voluntary manslaughter.”

If sustained, Slatten’s murder conviction requires a sentence of life imprisonment. Each count of voluntary manslaughter – and each of the other three defendants were convicted of multiple counts – can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The trial itself began earlier this summer and lasted two months. In addition to the Blackwater guards who testified for the prosecution, the Justice Department brought 30 Iraqi witnesses, including surviving family members who witnessed or were injured in the incident, to testify. Despite their dramatic and often wrenching accounts, the trial received relatively little media attention.

The verdicts were hailed by Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented six of the families – including the nine-year-old victim, Ali Kinani, whose father was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in the current case — whose members were killed or injured in the massacre in a separate civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater in North Carolina in 2009. That case settled with an undisclosed compensation agreement in 2012.

“I am confident that my clients are pleased with today’s verdict, knowing that the men they alleged killed their family members have been brought to justice and held criminally accountable for their actions,” he told IPS in an email. “While a criminal conviction can never fully satisfy a family that lost a loved one, it does provide some closure for my clients.”

The verdict, he said, was “significant because it shows that government contractors who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted in US courts for their criminal actions.”

Pratap Chatterjee, an investigative reporter who has focused on the operations of U.S. military contractors, including Blackwater, in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed with that assessment, but, echoing CCR’s Asmy, stressed that it was “only one step of many that need to be taken in bringing justice to Iraq.”

“Many similar incidents have neither been investigated nor anyone prosecuted,” Chatterjee, who currently heads California-based Corpwatch, told IPS. “To this day, the private companies and their executives who turned Baghdad into a free-fire zone have yet to be charged.”

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that the State Department had initiated an investigation of Blackwater’s operations in Iraq just before the Nisour incident but had abandoned it after Blackwater’s top manager there issued an apparent death threat. According to a State Department memo of the conversation, the Blackwater official said “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Destroys Its Own Weapons in Enemy Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:13:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137330 The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured a treasure trove of U.S. weapons from fleeing Iraqi soldiers last month, one of the rebel leaders with a morbid sense of humour was quoted as saying rather sarcastically: “We hope the Americans would honour their agreements and service our helicopters.”

As fighter planes continue attacking ISIL targets, some of the U.S. airstrikes are, paradoxically, aimed at U.S.-made helicopters, Humvees, armoured personnel carriers and anti-aircraft artillery guns originally supplied to the Iraqi armed forces and currently deployed by the rebel group.

Not surprisingly, they are all under U.S. warranties for maintenance, repair and servicing.

The whole military exercise has degenerated into a political farce compounded by last week’s airdrops of weapons to Kurdish forces battling ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in Kobani, inside Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that arms and ammunition parachuted from over 10,000 feet high above the skies – and known as Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPAD) – has not always reached the Kurds.

At least one of the malfunctioning parachutes, loaded with weapons, drifted into an area controlled by ISIL.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS recent reports suggest that weapons the U.S. military had dropped for the Kurds have been seized by ISIS forces.

“This left the U.S. military with the uncomfortable choice between allowing the ISIS forces to keep the weapons or trying to destroy the very weapons it had just dropped. They reportedly chose to destroy the weapons,” she said.

She said the U.S. military’s explanation of the operation was not reassuring.

Asked about U.S. weapons in the hands of ISIL, Rear Admiral John Kirby, spokesman for Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, told reporters Tuesday: “I do want to add, though, that we are very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands. In fact, we’re only aware of one bundle that did not. Again, we’ll – if we can confirm that this one is or isn’t, we’ll certainly do that and let you know.”

“Surely, the world’s foremost military can and should hold itself to a far higher standard,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Where does at least an important part of this story begin: the story of U.S. arms ultimately winding up with U.S. enemies?”

He said ISIS using American-supplied arms is not a new story, but one would have thought the U.S. might learn a lesson.

“Stop giving or selling arms to the world, but particularly to militaries or groups that ultimately will turn against the United States or who are too weak to hold on to the weaponry,” said Ratner, who is president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

He pointed out former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor armed the mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan as a means of pushing back the then Soviet Union.

“Ideology trumping common sense and with dire results, including ultimately 9/11 and the continuing wars we face today,” he said.

Asked whether the ultimate victors were defence contractors, Ratner told IPS, “Yes, surely the arms industry plays a role in wanting to sell more and more arms, but so does ideology and a country, the United States, that still remains, as Martin Luther King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

According to the Washington-based Defence News, U.S arms sales to Iraq last year included 681 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 40 truck-mounted launchers, Sentinel radars, three Hawk anti-aircraft batteries with 216 Hawk missiles, 50 Stryker infantry carriers, 12 helicopters, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of maintenance and logistical support for thousands of U.S.-made military vehicles.

Additionally, Washington has also struck arms deals for the sale of Hellfire missiles, M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and ammunition – all worth billions of dollars.

How much of this will wind up with ISIL forces is anybody’s guess.

Goldring told IPS the U.S. government, once again, appears to have been slow to learn important lessons about the unintended consequences of its actions in the Middle East.

Having made a significant mistake by invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government recently compounded its error by presuming that the Iraqi military would be able to defend the country, she noted. As the Iraqi military collapses, the weaponry the U.S. military left behind is now finding its way to Islamic State militants.

Too often, she said, the U.S. government sells or gives weapons away in an attempt to attain short-term political or military gains.

“A policy reassessment that gives much more weight to the long-term risks that accompany open-ended transfers of weapons around the world is long overdue,” said Goldring.

“In addition, as by far the world’s largest arms exporter, the United States has a special responsibility to refrain from transferring weapons when they are likely to be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She said excessive weapons flows vastly increase the risk of blowback, in which U.S. weapons may be used against its own military personnel. In theory, military contractors could profit from the market for replacing the captured weapons.

“But in reality, even though the contractors might benefit financially, it could be a public relations disaster for manufacturers if their weapons were used against U.S. military personnel,” Goldring said.

It is likely, she said, that a press account would mention the supplier early on in any account of U.S. weapons being used against our own personnel.

Ratner pointed out the United States did likewise in Libya supporting and arming some of the very forces that attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. The invasion of Iraq was also a war crime, killing untold numbers in that country and unleashing violence throughout the region.

“Selling arms to Iraq for American companies was as easy as selling candy to little kids – and billions in weapons were sold to a country that had become, because of U.S. actions, unstable at its core,” he said.

Ratner said the United States allowed itself to believe it was really training an army when it was in fact training a kleptocracy. “No country with any sense would have loaded up the Iraq army with such weaponry. And the expected happened.”

As the U.S. backed an “awful sectarian president” in Iraq, he said, violence increased and weapons were everywhere – almost free for the taking. “So, ISIS and presumably other factions and groups are now well armed with U.S. weapons,” Ratner said.

As for arming the Kurds, that will be interesting, he said. “Will those weapons be turned on Turkey and what will the outcome of that war be?” he asked.

“Until and unless the U.S. understands that the answer to the world’s problems is not war and that arming the world will lead the U.S. to continuous wars and kill millions of innocent, we will not see an end to an increasingly unstable world.”

As was said by the prophet Hosea: They that sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Climate Negotiators “Sleepwalking” in Bonnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:44:14 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137327 Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The 410,000 people who took to the streets for climate action in New York City during the U.N. Climate Summit would have been outraged by the 90-minute delay and same-old political posturing at the first day of a crucial round of climate treaty negotiations in Bonn at the World Congress Center.

Countries blatantly ignored organisers’pleas to keep their opening statements short in order to get to work during the last week of talks before COP 20 in Lima, Peru Dec. 1-12. “Only a global social movement will force nations to act.” -- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

COP 20 is where a draft climate treaty intended to prevent catastrophic overheating of the planet will take form. One year later, the leaders of nearly 200 countries are to sign a new climate treaty in Paris. If the treaty is not strong enough to ensure that countries rapidly abandon fossil fuels, then hundreds of millions will suffer and nations will collapse.

The current draft treaty is nowhere near strong enough, and country negotiators are “sleepwalking”in Bonn while “the climate science only gets more dire,”Hilary Chiew from Third World Network, a civil society organisation, told negotiators here.

Delegates are used to one or two official “interventions”by the public which are strictly time-limited and often no more than 90 seconds. Despite the passion and eloquence of many of these, few officials are moved and most can do little but follow instructions given them weeks ago by their governments.

“Sticking to positions is not negotiating,”meeting co-chair Kishan Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago reminded negotiators.

There are very few members of the public and civil society in Bonn to witness how many countries’stuck to their short-term, self-interested positions than in facing humanity’s greatest ever challenge. After 20 years, these negotiations have become ‘business as usual’ themselves and seem set to continue another 20 years.

“Only a global social movement will force nations to act,”said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber,  director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Schellnhuber, a leading climate expert and former science advisor to the German government, is not in Bonn but participated in September’s U.N. Climate Summit in New York along with leaders from 120 nations. The Summit was all rhetoric and no commitments to action, yet again, he told IPS.

Without the People’s Climate March, the U.N. Summit was a failure, while the march – with 410,000 people on the streets of Manhattan – was “awesome”and “inspiring”, he said.

The two-degree C target is the only thing all nations have agreed on. Although a two-degree C rise in global temperatures is “unprecedented in human history”, it is far better than three C or worse, he said.

Achieving the two C target is still possible, according to a report by leading climate and energy experts. The Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change report outlines various steps, including increased energy efficiency in all sectors — building retrofits, for example, can achieve 70-90 percent reductions.

An effective price on carbon is also needed, one that reflects the enormous health and environmental costs of burning fossil fuels. Massive increases in wind and solar PV and closing down all ineffecient coal plants is also crucial.

Most important of all, governments need to make climate a priority. Germany and Denmark are well along this path to creating low-carbon economies and benefiting from less pollution and creation of a new economic sector, the report notes.

Making climate a top priority for all governments will take a global social movement involving tens of millions of people. Once the business sector realises the transition to a low-carbon world is underway, they will push governments to create policies needed for a low-carbon societies.

“Solutions to climate change are the biggest business opportunity in history,” Schellnhuber said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: The Politics of Biodiversity Losshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:43:50 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137321 Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

To mainstream biodiversity concerns into development planning, we must offer a compelling rationale and demonstrate biodiversity’s relevance to wealth generation, job creation and general human wellbeing. Only a persuasive “why” resonating throughout society will successfully get us to urgently needed negotiations of who, what, where, when and how to halt disastrous biodiversity loss.

Experts in a broad span of disciplines — taxonomists, agronomists, social scientists, climate scientists, economists and others — are working together to arm the public and their policymakers with relevant evidence on which to base decisions.A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights.

Scientists have authoritatively established links between biodiversity and climate change, food security, water security, energy security and human security.

In 2005, with input from more than 1,000 experts worldwide, we published the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, elevating the issues to policymakers and decision-makers as never before. It was hailed for its success as a platform to deliver clear, valuable, policy-relevant consensus on the state, trends and outlooks of biodiversity.

A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights. In response, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012.

IPBES’ initial deliverables included a policy-support tool based on the economic values of biodiversity, a fast-track assessment on pollination services and food production, insights into the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and a global assessment of the overall state of biodiversity and ecosystem services. IPBES also aims to integrate indigenous and local knowledge systems in its work.

The dollar values of biodiversity and ecosystem services are difficult but not impossible to quantify. In 1997, experts estimated the global value of ecosystem services at an average of 33 trillion dollars per year. An update this year of that study nearly quadrupled the estimated annual value of those services to 125 trillion dollars.

Within that number, for example, is the 2010 estimate by economists that the planet’s 63 million hectares of wetlands provide some 3.4 billion dollars in storm protection, food and other services to humans each year. And, a large portion of the 640-billion-dollar pharmaceutical market relies on genetic resources found in nature, with anti-cancer agents from marine organisms alone valued at up to one billion dollars annually.

The loss of biodiversity through deforestation, meanwhile, is estimated to cost the global economy up to 4.5 trillion dollars every year.

The fast-track assessment on pollination services will address profoundly worrisome changes in the health of bees and other pollinator populations, the services of which underpin extremely valuable — some might say invaluable — food production.

The assessment of the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity will address the ecological, economic, social and cultural importance of mainly harvested and traded biodiversity-related products and wild species.

The IPBES global assessment of biodiversity and its many benefits will build on Global Biodiversity Outlook reports, the latest of which this month urged the world to step up efforts to meet agreed-upon biodiversity targets for 2020.

We have generated much knowledge and continue to add to it. Achieving our sustainable development goals, however, depends on the successful application and sharing of that knowledge.

A workshop last November concluded most nations, unanimously committed to protecting biodiversity, nevertheless lack capacity to measure and assess their genetic and biological resources, or to value key ecosystem services. Helping remedy that capacity shortfall is a core function of IPBES.

Communicating our findings will also be critical in mainstreaming this agenda, using both conventional and new social media platforms, framing the issue as one of development rather than of strictly conservation.

All stakeholders — the business community, in particular — must be engaged, and we must incorporate biodiversity studies at every educational level.

Speaking of his admiration of Malaysia’s towering Cengal tree, his nation’s equivalent to the magnificent California Redwood, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently noted: “Such giants may take centuries to reach their awe-inspiring height and girth, but can be felled in less than a few hours by an unscrupulous timber contractor with a chainsaw.”

Such outstanding monuments of nature are, indeed, so much more valuable than their wood fibre — they engender a sense of pride in our natural heritage.

This appreciation will, I believe and hope, ultimately draw the interest of our most brilliant minds and drive the innovative, nature-based solutions to global challenges on which future generations will depend.

The promising U.N. discussions of post-2015 global development goals should help put biodiversity where it belongs at the heart of the agenda — recognised as a prerequisite for poverty alleviation, good health, food and water security, and more. As we design an age of sustainable development, let us recognise that maintaining a biodiverse world is not a hindrance to development, it is fundamental to development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Media, Rightwing Ebola Hype, U.S. Public Resists Total Panichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-media-rightwing-ebola-hype-u-s-public-resists-total-panic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-media-rightwing-ebola-hype-u-s-public-resists-total-panic http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-media-rightwing-ebola-hype-u-s-public-resists-total-panic/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:18:08 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137318 Credit: Twitter/@AntDeRosa

Credit: Twitter/@AntDeRosa

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

Despite media hype, missteps by federal health agencies, and apparent efforts by right-wing and some neo-conservatives to foment fear about the possible spread of the Ebola virus in the U.S., most of the public remain at least “fairly” confident in the authorities’ ability to deal with the virus.

Concern about the potential threat posed by the virus has clearly grown over the past two weeks, especially after two nurses at a Dallas hospital who helped treat a fatally infected Liberian man contracted the virus. But a major poll released Tuesday found that a clear majority of respondents expressed little or no concern that they or someone in their family will be exposed.“On the one hand, it is a genuine crisis in the countries where’s it’s happening, and therefore it deserves all the attention it can get. On the other hand, the nature of that attention is inappropriate, misleading, and scare-mongering." -- Andrew Tyndall

The survey, which was conducted Oct. 15-20 by the Pew Research Center, found that about six in 10 respondents (61 percent) said they have “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence in U.S. hospitals “to diagnose and isolate possible cases of Ebola,” compared to 38 percent who said they have little or no confidence.

And 54 percent – only three percent lower than in another Pew poll taken in the days that followed Thomas Eric Duncan’s much-publicised hospitalisation — said they have a “great deal” or “fair” amount of confidence that the federal government will prevent a major outbreak of the deadly disease here.

The survey, however, found major differences in perception of the threat depending on the respondents’ political affiliations. In early October, for example, a third of self-identified Republicans said they were at least somewhat worried that they or their family members would be exposed to the virus. That percentage has since increased to 49 percent.

The loss in confidence in the government’s ability to prevent a wider outbreak has grown – albeit by not as large a percentage – among Republicans who tend generally to be ideologically more distrustful of government than Democrats or independents on most issues.

With the approach of mid-term Congressional elections in just two weeks, however, some Republican politicians and right-wing and neo-conservative publications and commentators appear to be deliberately fanning fears of Ebola’s spread and the government’s purported inability to deal with it, even conflating the virus’s prominence with the threat of terrorism and, specifically, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Indeed, the neo-conservative Weekly Standard’s lead editorial this week was entitled “Six Reasons to Panic”, while the Washington Post featured an op-ed by Marc Thiessen, a right-wing Republican commentator and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), depicting a “nightmare scenario” in which “suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place – say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta – spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids.”

Commentators on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News have conjured similar scenarios.

As noted by The New Republic this week, “a growing body of literature in psychology suggests that feelings of fear make people’s political outlook more conservative.”

The Ebola pandemic, which, according to official figures – unofficially, the estimates run much higher – has caused the deaths of well over 4,500 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea since its outbreak last spring, was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media here until the end of July when two U.S. missionaries were infected and flown to the U.S. for treatment.

But it shot to the top of the news agenda with confirmation that Duncan, a Liberian who had flown to the U.S. for his son’s high school graduation, was admitted to a Dallas hospital Sep. 30 and tested positive for the virus. He died Oct. 8. Within a week, two nurses who had treated him also tested positive and are currently being treated in specially equipped and trained hospitals.

Since Duncan’s hospitalisation, Ebola has received more attention on three network nightly television news programmes – the single biggest source of information about international and national events for the U.S. public — than any other story, accounting for almost one third of total broadcast time over the past three weeks, according to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the authoritative Tyndall Report which has tracked network news for 25 years.

He told IPS he had “very mixed feelings” about the networks’ coverage. “On the one hand, it is a genuine crisis in the countries where’s it’s happening, and therefore it deserves all the attention it can get,” he said.

“On the other hand, the nature of that attention is inappropriate, misleading, and scare-mongering in that it is so disproportionately focuses on the very low level domestic threat (Ebola poses), as opposed as to the actual crisis in the three West African nations.”

What applied to the three networks – CBS, ABC, and NBC – applied much more to the main cable news stations – Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC – whose coverage was, if anything, more sensational despite efforts by its resident health experts or guest epidemiologists to rein in the rampant speculation.

One CNN anchor, for example, offered up a similar scenario as the one described by AEI’s Thiessen, noting that “All ISIS would need to do is send a few of its suicide killers into an Ebola affected zone and then get them onto mass transit.”

Such panic-provoking commentary has naturally bolstered Republican efforts to generate a sense that the world was spinning increasingly out of control due to the “weakness” and incompetence of President Barack Obama and his administration, a theme that was made somewhat more credible by over-confident statements before the two nurses’ infection by administration officials, notably the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about their ability to “stop [Ebola] in its tracks in the U.S.”

Backed by right-wing media, Republican lawmakers and candidates have demanded that the administration impose a ban on civilian air travel to the U.S. from the three West African countries – a position favoured by nearly three out of four respondents, according to recent polls, despite strong opposition by epidemiologists and other public-health experts who have warned that such a step would make it more difficult to track Ebola’s victims and those with whom they come in contact.

Obama sought initially to appease those demands by ordering temperature checks at five of the most important U.S. international airports for incoming passengers whose travel originated in the three West African countries. Faced with the growing political pressure, he expanded that order Tuesday by requiring passengers flying from those nations to enter the U.S. through one of those five airports.

Republican lawmakers, however, insisted that that was insufficient and are reportedly preparing legislation that would suspend U.S. visas for citizens of the Ebola-affected countries.

Despite the public’s concern about exposure to Ebola, large majorities of respondents, including 85 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans, said they supported the administration’s efforts to fight the virus in West Africa.

Those efforts include sending an estimated 3,000 U.S. servicemen and women to build treatment units and training facilities for health workers, and provide logistical support and transport for needed equipment and personnel, as well as more than 100 health specialists from the CDC and other agencies.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Europe is Positioning Itself Outside the International Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:23:35 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137313

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the crisis of internal governance, fomented by a latter-day Protestant ethic of fiscal sacrifice, is pushing Europe to the side lines of world affairs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The new European Commission looks more like an experiment in balancing opposite forces than an institution that is run by some kind of governance. It will probably end up being paralysed by internal conflicts, which is the last thing it needs.

During the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso (2004-2014), Europe has become more and more marginal in the international arena, bogged down by the internal division between the North and the South of Europe.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.

The Germans, for example, have transformed debt into a financial “sin”.  The large majority of Germans support the stern position of their government that fiscal sacrifice is the only way to salvation, and the looming economic slowdown will only strengthen that feeling. As a result, the handling of Europe’s internal governance crisis has largely pushed Europe to the side lines of the world.

It is a mystery why it is in the interests of Europe to push Russia into a structural alliance with China and, in such a fragile moment, inflict on itself losses of trade and investment with Russia which could reach 40 billion euro next year.“We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.”

The latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine – the bible of the U.S. elite – carries a long and detailed article on “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by Chicago academic John J. Mearsheimer, who documents how the offer to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the last of a number of hostile steps that pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop a clear process of encroachment.

Mearsheimer wonders how all this was in the long term interests of the United States, beyond some small circles, and why Europe followed. But politics now has only a short-term horizon, and priorities are becoming conditioned by that approach.

A good example is how European states (with the exception of the Nordic states), have been slashing their international cooperation budgets. Not only have Spain, Italy and Portugal – and of course Greece – practically eliminated their official development assistance (ODA) budgets, but France, Belgium and Austria have also been following suit. Meanwhile China has been investing heavily in Africa, Latin America and, of course, Asia where the term ‘cooperation’ would not be the most appropriate.

But the best example of Europe’s inability to be in sync with reality is the last cut in the Erasmus programme, which sends tens of thousands of students every year to another European country. Has it been overlooked that one million babies have been born to couples who met during their Erasmus scholarships, and that this programme is being cut at a moment when anti-Europe parties are sprouting everywhere?

In fact, education – and especially culture (and medical assistance) – are under a continuous reduction in spending. As Giulio Tremonti, Finance Minister under Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famously said, “you don’t eat with culture”.

The per capita budget for culture in southern Europe is now one-seventh that of northern Europe. Italy, which according to UNESCO holds 50 percent of Europe’s cultural heritage, has just decided in its latest budget to open up 100 jobs in the archaeological field with a gross monthly salary of 430 euro. In today’s market, this is half what a maid receives for 20 hours of work a week.

Italian politicians do not say so explicitly, but they believe that there is already such rich heritage that there is no need for further investment and, anyhow, the tourists continue to arrive. The budget for all Italian museums is close to the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum … in the real world, this is like somebody who wants to live by showing the mummified body of his great grandmother for the price of a ticket!

It can be said that, in a moment of crisis, the budget for culture can be frozen because there are more urgent needs. But no need is more urgent than to keep Europe running in the international competition in order to ensure a future for its citizens. And yet, the budget for research and development, which is essential for staying in the race, is also being cut year by year.

Let us look at the situation since 2009. Spain has reduced investment in R&D by 40 percent, which has led to a 40 percent cut in financing for projects and a 30 percent cut in human resources. Italian universities have witnessed a total cut of 20 percent in spending which has meant a reduction of 80 percent in hiring and 100% in projects, while 40 percent of PhD courses have disappeared.

France has cut hiring in centres of research by 25 percent and in universities by 20 percent. Less than 10 percent of demand for projects receives financing because funds are no longer available.

Greece has cut budget for centres of research and universities by 50 percent since 2011, and has frozen the hiring of any new researchers.

In the same period in Portugal, universities and research centres have suffered a cut of 50 percent, the number of scholarships for PhDs has been cut by 40 percent and post-doctoral courses by 65 percent.

It is important to recall that the Lisbon Strategy, the action programme for jobs and growth adopted in 2000,  aimed to  make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Not only were most of its objectives not achieved in 2010, but Europe continues to slide backwards. The Lisbon Strategy had set 3 percent of GNP for R&D, but southern Europe is now below 1.5 percent.

A notable exception is the United Kingdom. The current government, which works in strong synchronicity with the City and its industrial constituency, has funded a 6 billion euro “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” plan to the applause of the private sector.

China is steadily increasing steadily its R&D budget, which is now 3 percent (what the Lisbon Strategy had set for Europe), but it aims to reach 6 percent of GNP by 2020 and, in just seven years, China has become the largest producer of solar energy, bankrupting several U.S. and European companies.

Is cutting Europe’s future in international competition really in the interests of Germany? Or it is that politics are losing the view of the forest while they discuss how many trees to cut, to reach a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants?

We are now making of economics a moral science, which makes of Europe an unusual world. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Revisiting “Broken” Workplace Chemicals Regulation Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:05:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137309 Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500. Credit: Bigstock

Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. government will soon begin receiving public suggestions on how federal regulators should update their oversight of toxic chemicals in the workplace.

The new information-gathering process, which began last week and will continue for the next six months, could result in the first major overhaul of related regulations in more than four decades. Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500."Many workers are currently being exposed to levels of chemicals that are legal but not safe … The process through which OSHA issues new exposure limits or updates old ones is broken.” -- OSHA chief David Michaels

“New chemicals are being introduced into worksites every year, and we are struggling to keep pace with the potential hazards,” David Michaels, the top official at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an office within the Labour Department, told journalists while unveiling the new request for information.

“As a result, 40 years after the creation of OSHA, thousands of American workers are still becoming ill and dying from exposure to hazardous chemicals.”

The agency is now in the early stages of what could be a landmark attempt to expand this oversight. While the current move applies solely to workers, if successful it could mark a new phase for U.S. chemicals regulation in general – long criticised for having essentially ceded control to the chemicals industry.

The key laws on chemical safety in the United States date back to the 1970s, and are almost universally seen as so weak as to be nearly worthless. Yet while momentum among lawmakers to update these laws has picked up recently, the replacement proposals have been fiercely derided by public health and environmental groups.

Now, the chemicals industry suggests that it supports OSHA’s plan to revisit its regulatory regime, though sector has ardently fought stricter regulation in the past. Indeed, one its main lobby groups intimates that current efforts are already successful.

“We share OSHA’s commitment to protect the safety of workers and to keep regulatory programs up-to-date,” a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, told IPS. “Our companies have reduced their recordable injury and illness incidence rates by 80 percent since 1990.”

Yet the spokesperson also warned against government overreach.

“As the administration moves forward,” he noted, “we urge them to continue to engage stakeholders and to pursue a clear, workable approach that will focus on workplace exposures that represent a significant risk of harm and that will yield the greatest safety benefits.”

Dangerously outdated

In regulating hazardous chemicals that workers come in contact with while on the job, the crux of OSHA’s oversight mechanism is a list of what are known as permissible exposure limits (PELs). These set caps on the amount of specific airborne chemicals – for instance, formaldehyde, asbestos or lead – beyond which would be considered unhealthy.

Understandably, these figures are haggled over by public health experts, labour representatives and business owners. However, far more concerning than the specifics of the PELs is how difficult – indeed, near impossible – it has been to add new compounds to this list.

As OSHA’s Michaels noted, of the tens of thousands of chemicals in regular use in the United States today, the agency’s PELs number only around 500 compounds. Further, this list has seen almost no change since it was created in 1971, with updates or additions for only some 30 chemicals.

“Many of these PELs are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers,” Michaels stated.

“As a result, many workers are currently being exposed to levels of chemicals that are legal but not safe … The process through which OSHA issues new exposure limits or updates old ones is broken.”

Any major rewrite of OSHA’s chemicals oversight could have an inordinate impact on marginalised communities across the United States. Immigrants, racial minorities and the poor are all overrepresented in a spectrum of sectors that tend to see the highest use of hazardous chemicals.

Further, while U.S. labour regulations for the most part do not extend overseas, including at U.S.-owned ventures in other counties, significant regulatory changes in Washington could have important knock-on effects throughout certain sectors.

“This process does have the potential to improve working conditions abroad,” Matt Shudtz, the acting executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Many multinational companies have safety departments. So if they have a plant in the United States where they’re addressing these hazards, they could choose to apply that same principle across the board.”

A spokesperson for OSHA likewise told IPS: “Hopefully the updated PELs will encourage employers all over the world to protect their workers from chemical hazards.”

Selective enforcement

Shudtz’s office is strongly supporting the new moves from OSHA as well as an eventual expansion of the agency’s PELs. But he also notes that a new rulemaking process is not the only way to deal with the current problem.

The legislation that governs OSHA gives it the power to write regulations for specific hazards. But this process is significantly constrained by a requirement, from the early 1990s, that the agency engage in a cost-benefit analysis for any regulatory action.

Such an approach has been a top priority for U.S. businesses and industry, and is reflected in the warning from the American Chemistry Council quoted at the beginning of this article.

But Shudtz and others point to a “catchall” provision, called the General Duty Clause, that allows OSHA to cite a company for hazardous behaviour if there exists both general industry agreement that the behaviour is dangerous and an obvious alternative.

“In the chemicals industry there are consensus-based standards that a lot of employers follow because they protect workers fairly well. And in general, those standards are more up to date than OSHA’s,” Shudtz says.

“The General Duty Clause says that OSHA can use those consensus standards as the basis for its enforcement. Unfortunately, they rarely take that opportunity.”

This is likely due to limited resources, as companies can challenge negative citations and thus drag out the process significantly and expensively. Yet Shudtz says that strong but selective enforcement under the General Duty Claus could achieve an important goal.

“If OSHA were to choose a chemical where there’s widespread exposure and a clear standard that could be applied, and engage in a few enforcement cases and really stick to their guns,” he says, “that would send an important message to other employers that they ought to be abiding by stricter standards.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Ebola Outbreak Threatens Food Crisis in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:30:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137306 German aircraft arrives in Ghana to help deliver U.N. supplies for emergency Ebola response. Credit: UN Photo/UNMEER

German aircraft arrives in Ghana to help deliver U.N. supplies for emergency Ebola response. Credit: UN Photo/UNMEER

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The widespread outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which has resulted in over 4,500 deaths so far, is also threatening to trigger a food crisis in the three countries already plagued by poverty and hunger.

Dr. Shenggen Fen, director-general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told IPS the crisis is expected to be confined mostly to the countries directly affected by the spreading disease: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Asked whether the food shortages will also reach countries outside West Africa, he said Ebola is triggering a food crisis through a series of interrelated factors, including farmer deaths, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, and rising food prices.

“Within these countries, where undernourishment has long been a problem, the food crisis may persist for decades,” he warned.

And because Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are all net food-importing countries, the Ebola-triggered food crisis is unlikely to spread to other countries in the region or beyond, Dr. Fan added.

Global food prices tend to have transmission effects on regional or national food prices, but for small markets (on a global scale) such as these three countries, the transmission effect of food prices is unlikely to pass beyond their own boundaries - so long as the disease itself is not transmitted, he said.

According to the latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are over 9,000 cases of Ebola, including 4,262 cases in Liberia, 3,410 in Sierra Leone and 1,519 in Guinea.

The death toll is highest in Liberia (2,484), followed by Sierra Leone (1,200) and Guinea (862).

U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday the WHO has officially declared Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmission, after 42 days without a single case.

WHO called it “a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained”.

“Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an imported Ebola case and are eager to improve their preparedness plans,” he said.

Dujarric said the announcement comes only a few days after Senegal was also declared Ebola-free.

He said the trust fund set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to battle the deadly disease now has about 8.8 million dollars in deposits and 5.0 million dollars in commitments.

In total, 43.5 million dollars have been pledged and the secretary-general continues to urge countries to turn these pledges into action as soon as possible.

He expressed regrets over the Ebola-related death of a UN-Women staff member in Sierra Leone. His spouse is currently receiving treatment.

“All measures to protect staff at the duty station in Sierra Leone are being taken as best as possible under the current circumstances,” Dujarric said.

This includes decontamination of the U.N. clinic, disposal of the isolation facility and contact tracing, he added.

In a statement released Tuesday, IFPRI painted a grim picture of the situation facing all three countries.

Schools in Sierra Leone have closed, shutting down critical feeding programmes for children. And restrictions on the consumption of bush meat, the suspected source of Ebola, have eliminated a traditional source of protein and nutrition from local diets.

“In addition, the costs of staple foods including rice and cassava are rising precipitously in the affected areas as crops are abandoned and as labor shortages grow,” the statement added.

Food that would be imported from these areas is not making its way to other regions, either.

“So, as we weigh the dangers of this dreaded disease, we must not forget the very real threats it poses to food security,” the group warned.

“The global community must come together to ensure that there are safety nets to protect not only those infected with the disease, but also those whose access to food is severely affected,” IFPRI added.

Asked to identify these safety nets, Dr. Fan told IPS social safety nets are needed to protect not only those infected with Ebola, but also those whose access to food is severely affected.

These safety nets, which could be in the form of cash or in-kind transfers (context-specificity is important here), should be accompanied with nutrition and health interventions.

For example, a conditional cash transfer programme linked to health can help improve access to nutritious foods, particularly when prices are high, while promoting health service use, he added. “This is important, because investing in the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations could lower the mortality rate of diseases like Ebola, as nutritional status and infection are intricately linked.”

In the post-Ebola era, Dr. Fan said, combined social protection and agricultural support interventions will be crucial to build resilience to future livelihood shocks.

Asked how many people will be affected by this impending food crisis, he said with Ebola claiming lives of thousands of people in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the mounting food crisis is impacting thousands more still.

Recent efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food assistance to around 1.3 million people in these three countries indicate an idea of the scope of the current crisis.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also providing food assistance to nearly 90,000 farming households to abate the food security crisis, he pointed out.

As the harvest season is beginning, labour shortages are putting the food security of tens of thousands of people at risk in particularly affected areas, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

By Emilio Godoy
PANAMA CITY, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For indigenous people in Panama, the rainforest where they live is not only their habitat but also their spiritual home, and their link to nature and their ancestors. The forest holds part of their essence and their identity.

“Forests are valuable to us because they bring us benefits, but not just oxygen,” Emberá chief Cándido Mezúa, the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP), told Tierramérica.

“It is organic matter, minerals in the forest floor, forms of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples,” added Mezúa, the seniormost chief of one of Panama’s seven native communities, who live in five collectively-owned indigenous territories or “comarcas”.

In this tropical Central American country, indigenous people manage the forests in their territories through community forestry companies (EFCs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in setting up the EFCs, which ends up hurting the forests and the welfare of their guardians, the country’s indigenous communities.

Of Panama’s 3.8 million people, 417,000 are indigenous, and they live on 16,634 sq km – 20 percent of the national territory.

According to a map published in April by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), drawn up with the support of United Nations agencies, 62 percent of the national territory – 46,800 sq km – is covered in forest.

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

And this Central American country has 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the national territory of 75,517 sq km.

But each year 200 sq km of forests are lost, warns ANAM.

The EFCs “are an effort that has not been well-developed. They merely extract wood; the value chain has not been developed, and the added value ends up outside the comarca,” said Mezúa, the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan comarca on the border with Colombia, where his ethnic group also lives, as well as in Ecuador.

The indigenous leader said the EFCs help keep the forests standing in the long term, with rotation systems based on the value of the different kinds of wood in the management areas. “But it is the big companies that reap the benefits. The comarcas do not receive credit and can’t put their land up as collateral; they depend on development aid,” he complained.

Only five EFCs are currently operating, whose main activity is processing wood.

In 2010, two indigenous comarcas signed a 10-year trade agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to supply it with raw materials. But they only extract 2,755 cubic metres a year of wood.

The average yield in the comarcas is 25 cubic metres of wood per sq km and a total of around 8,000 cubic metres of wood are extracted annually in the indigenous comarcas, bringing in some 275,000 dollars in revenue.

In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 sq km of managed forests, the indigenous leader explained.

The government’s Programme for Indigenous Business Development (PRODEI) has provided these projects with just over 900,000 dollars.

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

But only a small proportion of forests in indigenous territories is managed. Of the 9,944 forest permits issued by ANAM in 2013, only 732 went to the comarcas.

Looking to U.N. REDD

In Mezúa’s view, the hope for indigenous people is that the EFCs will be bolstered by the U.N. climate change mitigation action plan, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of forests,” the coordinator of REDD+ in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica. “It is of critical importance to find a balance between conservation and development. But REDD+ will not resolve the forest crisis by itself.”

REDD+ Panama is currently preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the platform for making the initiative public, the grievance and redress mechanism, the review of the governance structures, and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.

UN-REDD was launched in 2007 and has 56 developing country partners. Twenty-one of them are drawing up national plans, for which they received a combined total of 67.8 million dollars. The Latin American countries included in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay.

Because forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks and the soil, it is essential to curb deforestation in order to reduce the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

Panama’s indigenous people believe that because of the position that trees occupy in their worldview, they are in a unique position to participate in REDD+, which incorporates elements like conservation, improvement of carbon storage and the sustainable management of forests.

But in February 2013, their representatives withdrew from the pilot programme, arguing that it failed to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation, undermined their collective right to land, and violated the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They only returned in December, after the government promised to correct the problems they had protested about.

In REDD+ there should be a debate on “the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, regulations on carbon management, and legal guarantees in indigenous territories,” Mazúa said.

“We want an indigenous territory climate fund to be established, which would make it possible for indigenous people to decide how to put a value on it from our point of view and how it translates into economic value,” the chief said.

“The idea is for the money to go to the communities, but it is a question of volume and financing,” said Labbate, who is also in charge of the Poverty-Environment Initiative of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Programme.

Poverty and the environment are inextricably linked to Panama’s indigenous people. According to statistics published Sept. 28 by the government and the U.N., Panama’s overall poverty rate is 27.6 percent, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.

Indigenous representatives are asking to be included in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will receive for preserving the country’s forests.

They also argue that the compensation should not only be linked to the protection of forests and carbon capture in the indigenous comarcas, but that it should be part of an environmental policy that would make it possible for them to engage in economic activities and fight poverty.

Indigenous leaders believe that their forests are the tool for reducing the inequality gap between them and the rest of Panamanian society. “But they have to support us for that to happen, REDD is just part of the aid strategy, but the most important thing is the adoption of legislation to guarantee our territorial rights in practice,” Mazúa said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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