Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 01 Sep 2014 22:10:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Africans’ Land Rights at Risk as New Agricultural Trend Sweeps Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 Janah Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136444 An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Janah Ncube
NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in Africa is in urgent need of investment. Nearly 550 million people there are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, while half of the total population on the continent live in rural areas.

The adoption of a framework called the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) by Africa’s leaders in 2003 confirmed that agriculture is crucial to the continent’s development prospects. African governments recently reiterated this commitment at the Malabo Summit in Guinea during June of this year.The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa.

After decades of underinvestment, African governments are now looking for new ways to mobilise funding for the sector and to deliver new technology and skills to farmers. Private sector actors are also looking for opportunities within emerging markets in Africa.

Large-scale public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an emerging trend across the continent. These so called ‘mega’ PPPs are agreements between national governments, aid donors, investors and multinational companies to develop large fertile tracts of land found near to strategic infrastructure such as roads and ports.

Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Burkina Faso all host this type of scheme. Several African countries have signed up to global initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, supported by the rich, industrialised economies of the G8; and GROW Africa, a PPP initiative supported by the World Economic Forum.

For governments, these arrangements offer the illusion of increased capital and technology, production and productivity gains, and foreign exchange earnings.

But as Oxfam reveals, mega-PPPs present a moral hazard with serious downsides, especially for those living in areas pegged for investment.

In particular, the land rights of local communities are at risk. Within just five countries hosting mega-PPPs, the combined amount of land in target area for investment is larger than France or Ukraine.

While not all of this land will go to investors, governments have earmarked over 1.25 million hectares for transfer. This is equal to the entire amount of land in agricultural production in Zambia or Senegal.

Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, this land transfer places local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation.

These arrangements also threaten to worsen inequality, which is already severe in African countries, according to international measurements. Mega-PPP investments are likely be delivered by – and focus on – richer, well connected companies or wealthier farmers, bypassing those who need support the most. More land will also be placed into the hands of larger players further reducing the amount available for small-scale producers.

The ability of small and medium sized enterprises to benefit from these arrangements is also in doubt. The size of just four multinational seed and agro-chemical companies partnering with a mega-PPP in Tanzania have an annual turnover of 100 billion dollars – that’s triple the size of Tanzania’s economy.

These asymmetries of power could lead to anti-competitive behaviour and squeeze out smaller local and national companies from emerging domestic markets. Larger companies may also gain influence over government policies that perpetuate their control.

These types of partnership also carry serious environmental risks. An example of this is the development of large irrigation schemes for new plantations. They can reduce water availability for other users, such as local communities, smaller farmers and important other rural groups like pastoralists.

The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa. The current mega-PPP model is unproven and risky, especially for smallholder farmers and the poor.

At the very heart of the agenda to enhance rural livelihoods and eradicate deep-seated poverty in rural areas should be a clear commitment towards approaches that are pro-smallholder, pro-women and can develop local and regional markets. The protection of land rights for local communities is also – and equally – paramount.

Oxfam’s experience of working with smallholder farmers shows that private sector investment in staple food crops, and the development of rural infrastructure such as storage facilities, combined with public sector investment in support services such as agricultural research and development, extension services and subsidies for seeds and credit, can kick-start the rural economy.

Robust regulation is also vital, to ensure that private sector investment can ‘do no harm’ and also ‘do more good’ by targeting the areas of the rural economy that can have the most impact on poverty reduction. African governments should put themselves at the forefront of this vision for agriculture.

These represent tried and tested policies towards rural development in other contexts. This approach, rather than one that subsidises the entrance of large players into African agriculture, would truly represent a new alliance to benefit all.

Janah Ncube is Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director based in Nairobi, Kenya. @JanahNcube

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:38:21 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136447 Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water." -- Laisene Nafatali, a resident of Lotofaga Village
“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.

Most people in Lotofaga are subsistence farmers and are unable save a sufficient cash income to purchase a water tank, which costs roughly 2,700 tala (some 1,158 dollars). What little money they do have rapidly disappears in paying for transport to procure a supply from elsewhere.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water,” she continued.

Capturing maximum rainfall is vital to long-term water security in Samoa, where 65 percent of the country’s supply is derived from surface water and 35 percent from groundwater.

The Samoa Water Authority, which services 85 percent of the population, provides water treatment plants for existing water sources in rural areas. About 18 percent of the rural population, or more than 32,000 people in 54 villages, participate in independent water schemes, which are owned and managed at the local level.

Sulutumu Sasa Milo, president of the Independent Water Schemes Association, pointed out that, while infrastructure is 40-50 years old and in need of upgrading, the scheme is vital to sustaining many rural communities.

The scheme’s gravity-fed infrastructure comprises pipes that carry water from a natural source, such as a river or spring, to villages with water tanks provided for storage. Individual households then arrange their own piped connections.

A spokesperson for the Water Resources Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in the capital, Apia, said the country receives an adequate amount of annual rainfall, approximately 8,400 mm3 per year.

The challenge, according to the official, is small and steep water catchments with limited storage capacity, pressures on water resources from increasing development and observed changes in the pattern of the wet season over the past five years.

The wet season has habitually started in October and lasted six months, but now, he said, it tends to commence earlier and lasts half the predicted period, about three months.

“The difference now is that our rainfall is concentrated within a shorter period of time and it is more difficult to capture. In 2011, we received 80 percent of our annual rainfall within three months and this was mostly lost through runoff,” the spokesman stated.

Upolu Island is home to 70 percent of Samoa’s population of 190,372, as well as the capital city, and there are enormous demands for water use as a result of expanding urban development, hydropower stations, agriculture and tourism.

An MNRE environmental report last year identified the issue of forests within watershed areas, which help protect the quantity and quality of fresh water, being largely felled for agriculture, and commercial and residential development on the island. The impact of natural disasters, such as the Samoan earthquake and tsunami in 2009, and Cyclone Evan in 2012, has further degraded catchments and water infrastructure.

When droughts occurred in Samoa in 2011 and 2012, many villages, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, were left with no water as streams and catchments dried up.

Water security varies across the Pacific Islands. Kiribati and Tuvalu in the central Pacific Ocean are without any significant fresh water resources, while Papua New Guinea in the southwest has renewable water resources of 801,000 mm3 per year, in contrast to Samoa with 1,328 mm3 per year.

Common water management challenges in the region include aquatic pollution and procuring the financial, technical and human resources needed for large infrastructure projects and expanding safe water provision to isolated, widely scattered island-based populations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that water resources on Upolu Island are facing ecological stress due to about 85 percent of vegetation being cleared, and waste contamination.

Samoa is on track to achieve three of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but increasing water storage capacity and managing environmental threats are crucial to improving the rate of access to safe drinking water in Samoa, which is currently an estimated 40 percent.

Six of 14 Pacific Island Forum states, namely Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu, are on track to improve access to safe water and sanitation, deemed essential to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development across the region.

*Water, sanitation and waste management are key issues being discussed at the United Nations’ Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hosted in Samoa from Sept. 1-4, 2014.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Arab Region Has World’s Fastest Growing HIV Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:21:29 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136439 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

At a time when HIV rates have stabilised or declined elsewhere, the epidemic is still advancing in the Arab world, exacerbated by factors such as political unrest, conflict, poverty and lack of awareness due to social taboos.

According to UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), an estimated 270,000 people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2012.

“It is true that the Arab region has a low prevalence of infection, however it has the fastest growing epidemic in the world,“ warns Dr Khadija Moalla, an independent consultant on human rights/gender/civil society/HIV-AIDS.With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the [HIV] epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users

The United Nations estimates that there were 31,000 new cases and 16,500 new deaths in 2012 alone. “Infections grew by 74 percent between 2001 and 2012 while AIDS-related deaths almost tripled,” says Dr Matta Matta, an infection specialist based at the Bellevue Hospital in Lebanon.

However, both Moalla and Matta explain that figures can be often misleading in the region, due to under-reporting and the absence of consistent and accurate surveys.

With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users.

In Libya, for example, 90 percent of those in the latter category also live with HIV, notes Matta. Furthermore, adds Moalla, most Arab countries do not have programmes allowing for exchange of syringes.

The legal framework criminalising such activities in most Arab countries means that it is difficult to reach out to specific groups.  With the exception of Tunisia, which recognises legalised sex work, female sex workers who work clandestinely in other countries are not safeguarded by law and thus cannot force their clients to use protection, which allows for the spread of disease.

Lack of awareness, the absence of voluntary testing and of sexual education, social taboos, as well as poverty, are among the factors driving HIV in the region. “Arab governments and societies deny the epidemic and the absence of voluntary testing means that for every infected person we have ten others that we do not know about,” stresses Moalla.

People living with HIV or those at risk face discrimination and stigma.  “More than half of the people living with HIV in Egypt have been denied treatment in healthcare facilities,” explains Matta.

This bleak scenario is compounded by the security challenges prevailing in the region which not only make it difficult to deliver prevention and other programmes, but also restrict access to services by those on treatment and cause displacement and loss of follow-up according to the UNAIDS report.

The war in Iraq that began in 2003, for example, led to the destruction of most of the country’s programmes and facilities under the National AIDS Programme and, according to Moalla, the national aids centre in Libya was recently burnt down.

In addition, in some countries, conflict has significantly increased the vulnerability of women. By 2012, for example, only eight percent of the estimated number of pregnant women living with HIV in the MENA region received appropriate treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission according to the UNAIDS report.

Meanwhile, only a few governments have worked on effective programmes to fight the epidemic, although there are signs of the emergence of NGOs tackling the problem with people living with HIV and providing them with support.

“North African countries and Lebanon have generally done better than others, while Gulf countries are doing the least,” says Moalla, adding that less than one in five people living with HIV are receiving the medicines they need in the Arab region.

While some efforts have been made with the UNDP HIV Regional Programme pioneering legal reform in several countries, as well as drafting an Arab convention on protection of the rights of people living with HIV in partnership with the League of Arab States, these are not enough.

“The Arab world attitude taking the high moral ground on the issue of HIV is no barrier for the epidemic,” says Matta. “The region’s governments need to address a growing problem that is only worsened by the general upheaval.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Jordan’s LGBT Community Fears Greater Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:47:44 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136436 By Mona Alami
AMMAN, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the region is rocked by violence against a backdrop of the rise of radical groups, Jordan’s lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community fears that new instability in the Hashemite kingdom could lead to increased intolerance towards the community. 

The Jabal Amman historical district, crisscrossed by quaint streets, cafés and art galleries has become a hub for the Jordanian capital’s LGBT community.

“Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences,” says Madian, a local activist. “Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences” - Madian, a Jordanian activist

Despite the absence of any article in Jordanian law that explicitly outlaws homosexual acts, there have been several crackdowns on members of the gay community. “The targeting of the LGBT community is not something that is systematic, but it still happens from time to time,” says George Azzi, head of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality.

In October 2008, security forces in Amman “launched a campaign that targets ‘homosexuals’,” after security forces verified that they were gathering and meeting up at a park near a private hospital in Amman, according to a study on Law and Homosexuality: Survey and Analysis of Legislation Across the Arab World by Walid Ferchichit.

In the last few years, a few arrests have been made on the margin of private parties. Most of the arrests were made under the vaguely worded indecency law and the need to “respect the values of the Arab and Islamic nation”, although the arrests were rarely followed by formal charges.

The Hashemite Kingdom is an Islamic country, where homosexuality is considered as a sin. “Some members of the LGBT community have even been arrested for satanic worshipping,” notes Madian.

The basic form of social organisation in Jordan is heavily influenced by tribalism, which weighs on social norms and relations between people. “Members of the LGBT community fall prey to discrimination or violence not necessarily at the hand of the state but of society or their families,” says Azzi.

He recalls two members of the gay community who had to be smuggled out of Jordan to escape the wrath of their families who discovered their sexual preferences, and possible death.

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

“I know of four people at least who were killed in last few years for this reason,” says Madian.

He also says that while some victims have been the target of honour killings, others have been killed by gangs because they had to seek impoverished and dangerous areas for sexual favours to avoid the scrutiny of friends and families.

Nevertheless, despite such individual cases, the topic of homosexuality seems to be increasingly tolerated in Jordan. In 2012, a book called “Arous Amman” (Amman’s fiancée) by Fadi Zaghmout was published, featuring a homosexual character who was driven to marry a woman despite being gay.

Increasingly, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are advocating gay rights and the LGBT community in the country.

“The LGBT community has been able to carve a space for itself in society, while staying away from anything that could raise its profile,” says Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

But, with social and cultural mores considering homosexuality a sin and unnatural, advocating rights remains a taboo in the Hashemite Kingdom, and LGBT activism a somewhat difficult task. “We tried organising a few years back by creating an NGO but our application was rejected by the Ministry of Social Affairs on the basis of the indecency law,” says Madian.

Gay activism has also become more challenging today due to the security situation prevailing in the region, worrying both activists and human rights organizations.

With Jordan home to thousands of Salafi Jihadists, it is directly concerned by possible rising numbers of home-grown members of the Islamic State. Members of the gay community fear that renewed insecurity could jeopardise their space in society.

“Nonetheless, members of the LGBT community are not alone in being concerned about Jihadist threats which also target secular people as well as religious minorities,” adds Coogle.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Chief Applauds AoC For Building Bridges to Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-chief-applauds-aoc-for-building-bridges-to-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-applauds-aoc-for-building-bridges-to-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-chief-applauds-aoc-for-building-bridges-to-peace/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:35:53 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136451 By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

Speaking at the Sixth Global Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilization (AoC) in Bali, Indonesia last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauded the AoC for expanding its valuable work addressing the sources of conflict and planting new seeds of peace.

“I welcome its commitment to promoting inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue,” he added.

These are essential tools to preventing and resolving conflicts. “I count on your support for efforts by the Alliance and by the entire United Nations system,” Ban said.

Addressing delegates, the High Representative for AOC Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser said: “As we look around the world, it is clear that identity-based tensions are a persistent source of conflict”.

Whether it is religion, culture, ethnicity or another vector of identity, brother is being pitted against brother, he added.

“We see this clearly in the heartbreaking violence in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sri Lanka among other places. Beyond these immediate crises, there are longer-term trends that present difficulties,” he said.

The AOC is in its seventh year of operations and the Bali event is the first global forum to be held under the leadership of al-Nasser.

The High Representative pointed out that conflict, deprivation, climate change, and the absence of economic opportunity are forcing millions around the world to leave their homes.

When people cross borders, he said, often little infrastructure exists to accommodate them into their new host societies.

Moreover, as migrants, they often face discrimination. Even if only at a small scale, we must face these problems and come up with viable solutions.

With a humble budget, the Alliance directly collaborates with individuals on the ground to come up with scalable models to address these problems.

In its work, the Alliance has placed special emphasis on the need to mobilize individuals across diverse communities, across fault lines. The Alliance does so with limited resources and a small staff.

Appealing to the U.N.’s 193 member states, Al-Nasser said: “The truth is that Alliance can do a lot more with its knowhow and relationships at both the grassroots and governmental levels, but it can only do so with your help and support: member States, communities, civil society, and the general public.”

“This is my main message to you, our friends in the media and the international community,” he added.

The secretary-general said: “I see many disasters in today’s world. The natural calamities are heart-breaking. What is most saddening in many ways, these man-made tragedies are even worse”.

He said too many of the world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power. And “too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines.”

Wars begin in people’s minds, he said, and the way to peace is also through people’s hearts.”

He said the Alliance of Civilizations was created to reach the hearts and minds of people and build bridges to peace.

“I applaud High Representative Ambassador Al-Nasser for working with many grassroots groups around the world,” Ban declared.

Under his leadership, the Alliance is making a difference on the ground.

It is helping Pakistani university students take the lead in healing sectarian divisions. It is supporting theatre by Kenyan citizens to prevent young people from joining terrorist movements.

And it is encouraging Muslim-Christian volunteerism in Mindanao.

In Israel-Palestine, the Alliance works to join families from both sides who have lost loved ones in the conflict.

By having a dialogue with each other, they challenge their leaders to do the same, the secretary-general added.

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New Technology Boosts Fisherfolk Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 04:50:08 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136426 Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
NAGAPATTINAM, India, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations gears up to launch its newest set of poverty-reduction targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the words ‘sustainable development’ have been on the lips of policymakers the world over.

In southern India, home to over a million fisherfolk, efforts to strengthen disaster resilience and simultaneously improve livelihoods for impoverished fishing communities are proving to be successful examples of sustainable development.

Here in the Kollam district of the south-western Kerala state,multimedia outreach programmes, using nationwide ocean forecasts, are bringing much-needed change into the lives of fisherfolk, who in southern India are extremely vulnerable to disasters.

“Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen [...]." -- John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon
A fishing family earns on average some 21,000 rupees (about 346 dollars) per month but most of these earnings are eaten up by fuel expenses, repayment of boat loans and interest payments.

Savings are an impossible dream, and fisherfolk have neither alternate livelihood options nor any kind of resilience against disasters.

In Jul. 2008, 75 Tamil-speaking fisherfolk from the district of Kanyakumari in the southern state of Tamil Nadu perished during Cyclone Phyan, caught unawares out at sea. The costal radio broadcasts, warning of the coming storm, did not deter the fishers from heading out as usual, because they could not understand the local language of the marine forecasts.

Earlier this year, on Jul. 22, 600 fisherfolk sailing on about 40 trawlers went missing off the coast of Kolkata during a cyclone and were stranded on an island near the coast of Bangladesh. Only 16 fishers were rescued.

The incident revived awareness on the need for better communication technologies for the most vulnerable communities.

The Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is leading the charge, by uploading satellite telemetry inputs to its server, which are then interpreted and disseminated as advisories by NGOs like the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Radio Monsoon.

Best known for its state-of-the-art tsunami early warning forecasts, INCOIS offers its surplus bandwidth for allied ocean advisory services like marine weather forecasts, windspeeds, eddies, and ocean state forecasts (including potential fishing zones) aimed at fisherfolk welfare and mariners’ safety.

“Oceanographers in INCOIS interpret the data on ocean winds, temperature, salinity, ocean currents, sea levels [and] wave patterns, to advise how these factors affect vulnerable populations,” INCOIS Director Dr. Satheesh Shenoi told IPS.

“These could be marine weather forecasts, advisories on potential fishing grounds, or early warnings of tsunamis. INCOIS generates and provides such information to fishers, [the] maritime industry, coastal population [and] disaster management agencies regularly,” he added.

This new system works hand in hand with community-based information dissemination initiaitves that shares forecasts with the intended audience.

John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon, told IPS, “Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen either on radio, TV or print media.”

Radio Monsoon and the MSSRF multimedia outreach initiatives are the first such interventions aimed at fisherfolk safety and welfare in India.

Radio Monsoon, an initiative of an Indian climate researcher at the University of Sussex, Maxmillan Martin, ‘narrowcasts’ the state of the ocean forecasts on loudspeakers in fisherfolk villages, asking for fishers’ feedback, uploading narrowcasts online and using SMS technology for dissemination.

“As our tagline says: it is all about fishers talking weather, wind and waves with forecasters and scientists. It contributes to better reach of forecasts, real-time feedback and in turn reliable forecasts,” Martin told IPS. Information is passed on to fishers via three-minutes bulletins in Malayalam, the local language.

Ultimately all this contributes to enhanced safety and security for fisherfolk.

According to S. Velvizhi, the officer in charge of the information education and communications division at the MSSRF, “The advisories from INCOIS are disseminated through text and voice messages through cell phones with an exclusive ‘app’ [a cellphone application] called ‘Fisher Friend Mobile Application’.

“We also broadcast on FM radio in a few locations, we have a dedicated 24-hour helpline support system for fishers and a GSM-based Public Address system,” she added.

“More than 25,000 fishers in 592 fishing villages in 29 coastal districts in five states (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Odisha, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh), are receiving the forecast services daily,” Velvizhi claims.

On the tsunami battered coasts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, fisherfolk have become traumatised by anxiety, a depleting fish catch, changes in coastal geography and bathymetry, increase in loan interests, threats to their food and livelihood security and loss of fishing gear and craft.

In this context, MSSRF’s community radio initiative using affordable communication technologies for livelihood security has become a game changer.

The information dissemination services undertaken by MSSRF include – apart from ocean state forecasts –“counsel to fisher women, crop and craft-related content, micro finance, health tips, awareness against alcoholism [and] the need for formal education for fishers’ children all disseminated through text and voice messages” according to S. Velvezhi.

Summing up the cumulative effect of the initiatives, 55-year-old Pichakanna in MGR Thittu, who survived the tsunami in Tamil Nadu’s Pichavaram mangroves on Dec. 26, 2004, told IPS, “Thanks to MSSRF interventions on community radio we have learnt new livelihood skills like fishing whereas before the tsunami we were hunter-gatherers or daily-wage agricultural labourers.

“Our children are now getting formal education, we have awareness about better health and hygiene and alcoholism has decreased noticeably; this has helped [eliminate] unwarranted expenditure on alcohol and improved our health, livelihood and food security for all,” he added.

“We also understand the significance of micro-finance, water, sanitation, health and hygiene, and most importantly, alcoholism is declining.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe’s Two-Time Turnabout on Syria/Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:33:30 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136434 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?

On August 15, the foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels and decided that each would henceforth be free to supply arms to Kurdish rebels fighting Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in the north of Iraq. Even Germany which in the past had been unwilling to furnish military supplies to warring parties  in ‘conflict zones’, is now ready to provide armoured vehicles and other hardware to the Kurds opposing the Islamic State’s advance.

The decision of Europe’s foreign ministers may surprise some because, barely a year and four months ago, in April 2013, the European Union had lifted a previously instituted ban on all imports of Syrian oil.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Moreover, the lifting of this boycott was quite explicitly intended to facilitate the flow of oil from areas in the north-east of Syria, where Sunni extremist rebel organisations had established a strong foothold, if not overall predominance over the region’s oil fields.

The Islamic State was not the only Sunni extremist organisation disputing control over Syrian oil fields. Yet there is little doubt that the fateful decision that the European Union took last year helped the Islamic State consolidate its hold over Syrian oil resources and prepare for a sweeping advance into areas with oil wells in the north of Iraq.

The outcome of the recent Brussels’ meeting thus appears to overturn a disastrous previous decision. To underline the point it is useful to briefly describe the extent to which Sunni extremist rebels have meanwhile established control over oil extraction and production in both Syria and Iraq.“Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?”

The Syrian oil fields are basically concentrated in Deir-ez-Zor, a province bordering on Iraq. Whereas oil extraction in Syria has always been very limited in size if measured as a percentage of world supplies, control over the Syrian oil wells plus its refinery has become crucial for the financing of the Islamic State’s war efforts.

In neighbouring Iraq, oil reserves are not concentrated in one single geographic region as they are in Syria. The bulk of the oil wells are to be found in the country’s south, at great distance from the Islamic State’s war theatre in the north. Only one-seventh of Iraq’s oil resources are said to be located in areas controlled by the Islamic State on the one hand, and Kurdish fighters on the other. Nevertheless, recent reports indicate that the Islamic State controls at least seven major oil wells in Iraq alone.

Using expertise gathered after it established control over wells in Syria, the Sunni extremist organisation is able to draw huge profits from the smuggling and sale of oil. It is the Islamic State’s oil-backed armed strength amassed in two adjacent civil wars that has now sent shivers throughout the Western world.

If the European Union’s April 2013 decision appears to have helped trigger the Islamic State’s current success, the situation created is historically novel. To my knowledge, never before has a rebel force fighting a civil war in the global South been able to base its war aspirations on control over oil.

True, in most of the civil wars that have rocked Africa over the last thirty years, access to raw materials has been fundamental. Witness the cases of Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (DRC) and Sudan. It is also true that oil exports have been a specific mode of war financing, for instance in Angola and the Sudan.

Yet, in those cases, the state remained in command of the oil wealth. In Angola, the right-wing rebel movement UNITA relied heavily on smuggling rough diamonds towards financing its war, while the country’s oil fields were located at great distance UNITA’s war theatre.

In Sudan, oil fields are concentrated in the country’s south, that is, close to and in the region which was disputed by the rebel movement. But the regime of Omar Al-Bashir pursued an inhuman policy of depopulation through aerial bombardments, massacring hapless villagers and forcing survivors to flee. In the self-same process the rebels were deprived of access to people and oil.

Hence, strictly speaking there is no precedent for the oil-fuelled civil wars waged by Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq.

Now – in turning from de facto supporters to opponents of the Islamic State – Europe’s foreign ministers have followed the U.S. lead, because the United States had just started bombardments of Islamic State positions in Iraq’s north.

Though loudly defended on the grounds of the Islamic State’s relentless persecution of minorities, the renewed U.S. military intervention is not devoid of self-interest. Uppermost in the minds of Pentagon officials is the nexus between oil and arms.

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in October 2011, the United States clinched a huge deal for the sale of F-16 fighter planes and other armaments to Iraq’s military, valued at 12 billion dollars. At least four in five of the top U.S. military corporations are beneficiaries of Iraqi purchases.

Coincidentally, around the time when the U.S.-Iraq agreement on arms’ sales was sealed, the extraction of Iraqi crude was back to old levels, crossing the threshold of three million barrels per day in 2012. As the Iraqi government’s income from oil extraction and exports rose exponentially, U.S. and competing Russian arms’ manufacturers both lined up to bag the orders.

And there is robust confidence that the oil-and-arms nexus can be sustained – according to euphoric projections of the International Energy Agency (IAE), the body of Western oil consumer nations, Iraq holds the key to future increases in world production of crude!

Western policy-makers are feverishly espousing the cause of Muslim Shias, Christians and Yezidis, who are persecuted in areas of Iraq controlled by the Islamic State and, yes, there is no doubt that the Sunni extremist force is guided by a Salafi ideology that severely discriminates against religious minorities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

But at what point in the past have Western states consistently defended religious minority rights in the Middle East? The idea seems to have emerged as an afterthought of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And are Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel, Muslim Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to name just some of the groups mistreated by the West’s close allies – likely to be charmed by the West’s resolve to save the Yezidis of Iraq?

In any case, it is high time that the policy reversals in Brussels be questioned.

To recap: a turnabout in relation to the twin civil wars in Syria/Iraq was staged twiceFirst, in September 2011, a general prohibition on investments in and exports of oil from Syria was imposed, affecting both Assad’s government and Syria’s opposition. Then, in 2013, the European Union shifted de facto towards a position favourable to Syria’s Sunni extremist rebels.

Although the European Union’s foreign ministers now appear to have realised their sin, the damage can no longer be repaired without a complete overhaul of E.U. policy-making towards the Middle East.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

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Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136429 July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is 350.org Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

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Ban on Nuke Tests OK, But Where’s the Ban on Nuke Weapons?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:50:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136423 A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations commemorated the International Day Against Nuclear Tests this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented the fact that in a world threatened by some 17,000 nuclear weapons, not a single one has been destroyed so far.

Instead, he said, countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-range plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals."While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them." -- Alyn Ware

Ban noted that more than half of the world’s total population – over 3.5 billion out of more than seven billion people – still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances.

“As of 2014, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway,” he said.

There are still eight countries – China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States – yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), whose ratification is required for the treaty’s entry into force.

Alyn Ware, founder and international coordinator of the network, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), told IPS, “Although I support the Aug. 29 commemoration of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, I would place greater priority on the issue of nuclear abolition than on full ratification of the CTBT.”

He said there is now a customary norm against nuclear tests (the nuclear detonation type) and only one country (North Korea) that occasionally violates that norm.

“The other holdouts are unlikely to resume nuclear tests, unless the political situation deteriorates markedly, elevating the role of nuclear weapons considerably more than at the moment,” Ware said.

The CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation) is working very effectively on implementation, verification and other aspects even though the CTBT has not entered into force, he added.

Ware also pointed out the issue of nuclear abolition is more closely related to current tensions and conflicts.

“While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them, and we face the risk of nuclear conflict by accident, miscalculation or even design,” warned Ware, a New Zealand-based anti-nuclear activist who co-founded the international network, Abolition 2000.

Kazakhstan was one of the few countries to close down its nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk, back in 1991, and voluntarily give up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, permanent representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, told IPS his country’s decision to withdraw from membership of the “nuclear club” was more a question of political will because “Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.”

In 1949, Ban pointed out, the then Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, followed by another 455 nuclear tests over succeeding decades, with a terrible effect on the local population and environment.

“These tests and the hundreds more that followed in other countries became hallmarks of a nuclear arms race, in which human survival depended on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, known by its fitting acronym, MAD,” he noted.

“As secretary-general, I have had many opportunities to meet with some of the courageous survivors of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Semipalatinsk.”

Their resolve and dedication “should continue to guide our work for a world without nuclear weapons,” he added.

He stressed that achieving global nuclear disarmament has been one of the oldest goals of the United Nations and was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution as far back as 1946.

“The doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies,” Ban said.

This is so despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war, he added.

Currently, there are five nuclear weapon states, namely the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China, whose status is recognised by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

All five are veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (P5), the only body empowered to declare war or peace.

The three other nuclear weapon states are India, Pakistan (which have formally declared that they possess nuclear weapons) and Israel, the undeclared nuclear weapon state.

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests but the possession of weapons is still in lingering doubt.

Ware told IPS the health and environmental consequences of nuclear tests gives an indication of the even greater catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

This is what has spurred countries like Kazakhstan to establish the International Day Against Nuclear Tests as a platform to promote a nuclear-weapon-free world, he said.

“And it has spurred Marshall Islands to take this incredibly David-versus-Goliath case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ),” he added.

This has also given rise to the humanitarian consequences dimension, which has gained some traction and will be discussed at the third conference coming up in December.

But without increased confidence in the capacity to resolve conflicts without the threat or use of massive force, countries will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, even if they do not intend to use the weapons, Ware said.

Thus, UNFOLD ZERO, which is promoting the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is also advancing cooperative security approaches through the United Nations to resolve conflicts and security threats, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Growing Calls for Reforms of El Salvador’s Privatised Pension Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136420 Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Two of the promises made 16 years ago when El Salvador’s pension system was privatised have failed to materialise: There was no expansion of social security coverage and no improvement in pensions. Now pressure is growing for a reform of the system.

Although 20-year-old Kevin Alexis Cuéllar is one of the 2.7 million people enrolled in the private Pensions Savings System (SAP), he has no coverage.

Cuéllar, who is self-employed and does not have steady work, told IPS that he does not pay into the private account which will supposedly provide his pension when he retires. Men in El Salvador retire at the age of 60 and women at 55.

The system established in 1998 has run up against the reality of employment conditions in this Central American nation of 6.2 million people.

A 2013 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that 65.7 percent of the economically active population works in the informal economy. Based on statistics from 2011, that is equivalent to 1,269,000 people.

Cuéllar operates a sound system at business events promoting brand awareness. Forced to drop out of school to work before finishing the eight years of basic education, it will not be easy for him to find formal employment in this country, which has no specific plans to reduce the size of the informal sector.

The situation worries him. “The time will come when I won’t be able to work, because of old age or sickness, and we’ll be left without a pension,” he told IPS.

That fear is shared by the tens of thousands of families who have no social security coverage.“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups.” -. Trade unionist Francisco García

Expanding coverage “is one of the pending challenges” of the private system, María Elena Rivera, a researcher at the Guillermo Manuel Ungo Foundation (FundaUngo), told IPS.

Although 2.7 million people are enrolled in the private pension scheme, only 653,257 are active contributors, according to figures from July. The rest are not formally employed.

That means only one out of four people of working age are active contributors to the private pension savings scheme, Rivera said.

The government of rightwing president Armando Calderón dismantled the public social security system in 1998 and created the private pensions scheme, in the midst of a wave of privatisations sweeping Latin America.

Under the new scheme, contributions from workers and employers generate a payment of 13 percent of the monthly salary that goes into the employees’ individual accounts.

These individual savings will produce, after 25 years of contributions, the money that will pay the pensions of workers once they reach retirement age.

Other Latin American countries like Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru also privatised their pension systems.

Participation in the SAP was mandatory for workers under the age of 36. Their individual accounts are run by pension fund administrators (AFP).

Men over 55 and women over 50 had to stay in the public system, which is to disappear as that generation gradually retires and passes away.

In the public pay-as-you-go system, all workers pay into the same fund, which is financed on the basis of solidarity between generations.

Those who were between the ages of 36 and 50 in 1998 could choose between the public or private systems.

“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups,” the secretary of the Workers’ Union of the National Institute for Public Employees’ Pensions (SITINPEP), Francisco García, told IPS.

The union wants to return to a mixed system, with the state controlling the pension system, and the AFPs as optional.

The government of leftwing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June, said the private system has failed. But it has not given any indication of what reforms it will push through in the next few months – although it has ruled out a return to a public social security system.

In July, SAP had just under 7.5 billion dollars in accumulated contributions. Those funds were initially to be invested in El Salvador’s stock market, and the yield would go into the employee’s account.

Investing the funds in the stock market was also supposed to help drive the country’s productive development, by giving a boost to key sectors of the economy, generating more formal sector jobs and making it possible to expand coverage. In addition, the pensions would be improved.

The minimum retirement and disability pension is 207 dollars a month.

But the local stock market is too small to help productive enterprises get off the ground, analysts say, and formal employment did not receive the expected boost, nor did pensions grow.

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, who is not enrolled in either the public or private pension systems, only hopes that once he is too old to work, or if he falls ill, his three children will help support him.
“If I didn’t have that hope, maybe I would have to do what so many people are doing today: beg on the streets,” Campos told IPS while waiting for customers on a street in San Salvador.

In another part of the capital, 40-year-old Sandra Escobar is preparing lunch that she will sell at noon in the business where she works as a cook: a small tin shack on the side of the road.

“My idea is to save up, little by little, to have something for my old age. But it’s hard,” said Escobar, while cooking beef in a frying pan.

When most of the younger workers opted for the private system in 1998, the government assumed the burden of the underfinanced public system, which according to the latest data, from 2012, was around 420 million dollars a year.

That is the amount needed to pay the pensions of the employees who stayed in the public system: 100,247 as of October 2012, according to a document from the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the two AFPs.

In 2006, the legislature approved the Fideicomiso de Obligaciones Previsionales (pension trust fund), through which the AFPs are legally obligated to invest part of the funds in bonds issued by the state, and thus obtain the resources for paying pensions.

But these bonds have low returns, 1.4 percent a year, not enough to significantly increase the pensions of workers. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where they would obtain higher returns.

IPS was unable to obtain an interview with the president of ASAFONDOS, René Novellino. But a report he published in 2013 proposed approving a gradual opening up of the system, with clear limits and strong oversight, to investment in international stock markets, among other measures.

FundaUngo is calling for a national dialogue, so all of the sectors can set forth proposals for reforming the system.

In the meantime, soundman Kevin Cuéllar, cook Sandra Escobar and taxi driver Manuel Campos continue to face the reality of informal employment, with no prospects for receiving a pension when they reach retirement age.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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SDGs Make Room for Education for Global Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:39:02 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136416 Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Civil society leaders and U.N. development experts gathered on Wednesday to discuss the role of education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda.

The workshop, sponsored by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), was part of the U.N.’s 65th Annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference.“We are part of a bigger humanity.” -- Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Education “is linked to all areas of sustainable development and is vital in achieving all Sustainable Development Goals and targets,” Hiro Sakurai, SGI’s U.N. liaison office director, told IPS.

“Education for global citizenship deserves particular attention and emphasis in this regard as it helps link issues and disciplines, brings together all stakeholders, and fosters shared vision and objectives,” he said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., gave the event’s keynote address. He expressed his excitement at the increased prominence of global citizenship in development circles.

According to Ambassador Chowdhury, global citizenship requires “self-transformation” and can be a “pathway to a culture of peace.”

Progress requires a “determination to treat each one of us as a global citizen,” he said. “We are part of a bigger humanity.”

Saphira Ramesfar of the Baha’i International Community also spoke to the transformative nature of global citizenship.

“It is not enough for education to provide individuals who can read, write and count,” she said. “Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life, cultivating an active care for the world itself and for those with whom we share it. Education needs to fully assume its role in building just, unified and inclusive societies.”

In the past, attempts to build global citizenship have focused on the young, but Ambassador Chowdhury argued for a more expansive understanding of the concept.

“I believe that education for global citizenship is for all of us, irrespective of our age, irrespective of whether we are going through a formal education process or not,” Chowdhury said.

Anjali Rangaswami of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs explained how NGOs have actively participated in the crafting of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past years have set “a very high standard for civil society engagement,” according to Rangaswami.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, included a target of universal primary education. The SDGs, if adopted in their current draft form, would aim for universal secondary education as well.

Under target four, the SDGs specifically mention education for global citizenship, an issue left unaddressed by the MDGs.

The U.N’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), which lists “fostering global citizenship” as one of its three main priorities, was influential in this new development.

According to Min Jeong Kim, head of GEFI’s secretariat team, the initiative was launched by the secretary-general in 2012 because “at that point education had sort of stagnated after rapid growth following adoption of [the] MDGs.”

After the panel speakers concluded, participants in the workshop broke into small groups to share their own perspectives on education for global citizenship.

The event was also co-sponsored by the Baha’i International Community, Global Movement for a Culture of Peace, Human Rights Education Associates, Sustainable Development Education Caucus and Values Caucus, bringing a wide variety of expertise to the table.

The SDGs are an opportunity for a whole new outlook on education.

Education should be focused on developing meaningful lives, rather than focused on making a living, Ambassador Chowdhury told IPS.

So far the paradigm has been “if you get a good job, then your education is worth it, and if you do not get a good job, then your education is worthless,” he said. “That has to change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Africa-U.S. Summit – Catching Up With China?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:07:35 +0000 Demba Moussa Dembele http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136304

In this column, Demba Moussa Dembele, director of the African Forum on Alternatives in Dakar, analyses the geopolitical reasons behind the recent summit in Washington between African leaders and the U.S. President and concludes that Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism.

By Demba Moussa Dembele
DAKAR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

A few years ago, nobody could have imagined that some 50 Heads of States and Prime Ministers from Africa would meet the President of the United States for a summit. Yet, the first Africa/United States Summit took place in Washington from August 4 to 6, making headlines around the world.

It is obvious that geopolitical considerations were behind this summit, with the shadow of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) hanging over the meeting.

Demba Moussa Dembele, chairperson of LDC Watch, speaks to IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Demba Moussa Dembele

The United States would have never organised such a summit if the global balance of power had not been gradually shifting towards emerging powers, notably towards China and the BRICS.

Western economic domination is being eroded, as illustrated by the deepening crisis of the Eurozone and the worsening deficits of the United States. Meanwhile, the BRICS are increasing their economic and financial weight in the world economy, and represent about 20 percent of the world’s GDP and 17 percent of world trade, with China now the second economy behind the United States.

For most observers, the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza and Brasilia (Brazil) in mid-July heralds a new world monetary and financial order in the next decades or so. Observers from the South and the West are predicting the gradual shift to a new balance of monetary and financial order, with the BRICS at the centre.“Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional” neo-colonial relationships with Africa”

Indeed, the decision to set up the BRICS bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) is seen as a serious challenge to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have been the tools of Western countries for more than half a century. They will gradually become more and more irrelevant to developing countries, as these increasingly turn to BRICS’ financial institutions.

On the other hand, China and the other members of the BRICS group are challenging the hegemony of the U.S. dollar through several swap arrangements, aimed at boosting their trade by using their own currencies. One of the most significant arrangements is the swap between China and Russia, when one takes into account the 400 billion dollars gas deal signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).

The French online newspaper, Mediapart (July 5, 2014), reported that in the oil and gas sector, the top three investors in 2013 were all from the BRICS – PetroChina (50.2 billion dollars), Gazprom (44.5 billion dollars) and Petrobras (41.5 billion dollars). The first Western company was Total, which ranked seventh with 30.8 billion dollars.

It is obvious that these developments are of great concern to the United States, especially in light of the BRICS’ drive to strengthen their economic and financial relations with Africa and South America.

In a 2013 report, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicated that Africa’s trade with the BRICS had doubled since 2007 to 340 billion dollars in 2012. It projected that the trade would reach 500 billion dollars by 2015.

Trade between China and Africa is estimated at about 200 billion dollars in 2013. It has become Africa’s main trading partner. And most African countries are now turning to China for loans while Chinese companies are involved in building roads, bridges, and other infrastructures across Africa.

Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional”, neo-colonial relationships with Africa.

While the European Union has tried to lock African countries into Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – as part of a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries – since 2007, the United States seems to be “wakening up” only now to the reality of the fast-changing economic landscape in Africa.

A Paris-based magazine, Jeune Afrique, wrote that with this Summit, Barack Obama was organising a “catch-up meeting”. The reason, said the magazine, was that the United States has lost too much ground to China and to a lesser degree to Europe. It is estimated that trade between Africa and the United States doubled between 2000 and 2010, while trade between Africa and China increased twenty-fold over the same period!

Most observers believe that without China building strong and growing economic and financial ties with Africa, the United States would not have thought about organising such a Summit. Clearly, China’s role in Africa has given a greater “respectability” to the continent and elevated its standing with Western countries, which are now looking at Africa through a new light.

Catching up for will not be an easy exercise for the United States. For one thing, its imports from Africa are essentially composed of crude oil, which accounts for 91 percent of total trade. Second, in its relations with Africa, security concerns have always topped the U.S. agenda.

This is why during the George W. Bush Administration, the United States set up “Africa Command” (AFRICOM) with the view to “helping” African countries fight “terrorism”. And the aim is to move AFRICOM headquarters – now in Germany – to Africa, preferably in the Gulf of Guinea, which is home to the bulk of African oil reserves. U.S. companies, like Chevron and ExxonMobil, have already invested billions of dollars in the area in order to control huge chunks of those reserves.

At the end of the Africa-U.S. Summit, Obama announced that 33 billion dollars will be invested in Africa between 2014 and 2017. But only seven billion dollars will come from public funds in order to boost trade between the United States and Africa, 14 billion dollars will come from the private banking and construction sectors, while 12 billion dollars are part of the “Power Africa” project aimed at bringing electricity to households and the industrial sector. This programme is financed by the World Bank and U.S. private companies such as General Electric.

So, the 33 billion dollars announcement is not really a “gift” made by president Barack Obama to African leaders, as some newspapers erroneously presented it. It will essentially serve the interests of U.S. private companies in their drive to compete against BRICS and European companies in Africa.

But, beyond “catching up” with China and the European Union, the Africa-U.S. Summit should be viewed in the context of the discourse on “Africa Rising”. Indeed, for neoliberal ideologues, Africa seems to hold the solution to the crisis of global capitalism.

In January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured Africa. In a speech at the headquarters of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, he was quoting as saying that “with its immense resources, Africa is holding the hopes of the world.” This was an echo to a report by the French Senate, released in December 2013, with the incredible title ‘Africa is our Future’.

This may explain French military adventures in Africa over the last several years, from Cote d’Ivoire to Libya, from Mali to the Central African Republic, among others.

Several forums are being organised to advise Western corporations to invest in Africa and tap into its resources. Apparently, Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism, at the expense of its own people. As the renowned Egyptian economist Samir Amin used to say: “the West cares about Africa’s resources, not about its people.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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OPINION: Why Kazakhstan Dismantled its Nuclear Arsenalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:20:39 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136406 By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Today is the fifth observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

One of the first decrees of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, upon the country gaining independence in 1991, was the historic decision to close, on Aug. 29 the same year, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear test site, the second largest in the world.

Kazakhstan also voluntarily gave up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads with the capacity to reach any point on this earth.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Many believed at that time that we took this decision because we did not possess the ability or competence to support such an massive atomic arsenal. Not true. We had then, and have even today, the best experts.

For us, it was more a question of political will to withdraw from the membership of the Nuclear Club because Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.

The closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was followed by other major test sites, such as in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur and Moruroa.

Therefore, at the initiative of Kazakhstan, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/35, on Dec. 2, 2009, declaring Aug. 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Ground Zero of Semipalatinsk in April 2010 and described the action of the president as a bold and unprecedented act and urged present world leaders to follow suit.

In the words of President Nazarbayev, this historical step made by our people, 23 years ago, has great significance for civilisation, and its significance will only grow in the coming years and decades.

It is acknowledged today that the end of testing would also result in the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons and hence the importance of the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Kazakhstan was one of the first to sign the treaty, and has been a model of transforming the benefits of renouncing nuclear weapons into human development especially in the post-2015 phase with its emphasis on sustainable development.

It has been internationally recognised that nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the states of the region concerned enhance global and regional peace and security, strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime and contributes towards realizing the objectives of nuclear disarmament.

Yes, there are political upheavals, and there will be roadblocks, but we have to keep pursuing durable peace and security. For these are the founding objectives of the United Nations.

Each year in the U.N.’s First Committee and the General Assembly, a number of resolutions are adopted, supported by a vast majority of member states calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments.

There are resolute and continuing efforts by member states, various stakeholders and civil society who advocate for an international convention against nuclear weapons.

We also see the dynamic action taken, especially by civil society, which brings attention to the devastating humanitarian dimensions of the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting hosted by Norway in Oslo, and earlier this year in Nayarit by Mexico, have given new impetus to this new direction of thinking. We hope to carry further this zeal at the deliberations in Vienna, scheduled later this year.

The international community will continue its efforts on all fronts and levels to achieve the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

There was also a reaffirmation by the nuclear-weapon states of their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states parties are committed under article VI of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The international community, I am sure, with the impassioned engagement of civil society will continue to redouble its efforts to reach Global Zero.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Large Dams “Highly Correlated” with Poor Water Qualityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:34:45 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136401 Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Large-scale dams are likely having a detrimental impact on water quality and biodiversity around the world, according to a new study that tracks and correlates data from thousands of projects.

Focusing on the 50 most substantial river basins, researchers with International Rivers, a watchdog group, compiled and compared available data from some 6,000 of the world’s estimated 50,000 large dams. Eighty percent of the time, they found, the presence of large dams, typically those over 15 metres high, came along with findings of poor water quality, including high levels of mercury and trapped sedimentation.“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins." -- Jason Rainey

While the investigators are careful to note that the correlations do not necessarily indicate causal relationships, the say the data suggest a clear, global pattern. They are now calling for an intergovernmental panel of experts tasked with coming up with a systemic method by which to assess and monitor the health of the world’s river basins.

“[R]iver fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” International Rivers said Tuesday in unveiling the State of the World’s Rivers, an online database detailing the findings. “Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline.”

The group points to the Tigris-Euphrates basin, today home to 39 dams and one of the systems that has been most “fragmented” as a result. The effect appears to have been a vast decrease in the region’s traditional marshes, including the salt-tolerant flora that helped sustain the coastal areas, as well as a drop in soil fertility.

The State of the World project tracks the spread of dam-building alongside data on biodiversity and water-quality metrics in the river basins affected. While the project is using only previously published data, organisers say the effort is the first time that these disparate data sets have been overlaid in order to find broader trends.

“By and large most governments, particularly in the developing world, do not have the capacity to track this type of data, so in that sense they’re flying blind in setting policy around dam construction,” Zachary Hurwitz, the project’s coordinator, told IPS.

“We can do a much better job at observing [dam-affected] resettled populations, but most governments don’t have the capacity to do continuous biodiversity monitoring. Yet from our perspective, those data are what you really need in order to have a conversation around energy planning.”

Dam-building boom

Today, four of the five most fragmented river systems are in South and East Asia, according to the new data. But four others in the top 10 are in Europe and North America, home to some of the most extensive dam systems, especially the United States.

For all the debate in development circles in recent years about dam-building in developing countries, the new data suggests that two of the world’s poorest continents, Africa and South America, remain relatively less affected by large-scale damming than other parts of the world.

Of course, both Africa and South America have enormous hydropower potential and increasingly problematic power crunches, and many of the countries in these continents are moving quickly to capitalise on their river energy.

According to estimates from International Rivers, Brazil alone is currently planning to build more than 650 dams of all sizes. The country is also home to some of the highest numbers of species that would be threatened by such moves.

Not only are Brazil, China and India busy building dams at home, but companies from these countries are also increasingly selling such services to other developing countries.

“Precisely those basins that are least fragmented are currently being targeted for a great expansion of dam-building,” Hurwitz says. “But if we look at the experience and data from areas of high historical dam-building – the Mississippi basin the United States, the Danube basin in Europe – those worrying trends are likely to be repeated in the least-fragmented basins if this proliferation of dam-building continues.”

Advocates are expressing particularly concern over the confluence of the new strengthened focus on dam-building and the potential impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity. International Rivers is calling for an intergovernmental panel to assess the state of the world’s river basins, aimed at developing metrics for systemic assessment and best practices for river preservation.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” Jason Rainey, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Economic burden

Particularly for increasingly energy-starved developing countries, concerns around large-scale dam-building go beyond environmental or even social considerations.

Energy access remains a central consideration in any set of development metrics, and lack of energy is an inherent drag on issues as disparate as education and industry. Further, concerns around climate change have re-energised what had been flagging interest in large dam projects, epitomised by last year’s decision by the World Bank to refocus on such projects.

Yet there remains fervent debate around whether this is the best way to go, particularly for developing countries. Large dams typically cost several billion dollars and require extensive planning to complete, and in the past these plans have been blamed for overwhelming fragile economies.

A new touchstone in this debate came out earlier this year, in a widely cited study from researchers at Oxford University. Looking at nearly 250 large dams dating back as far as the 1920s, they found pervasive cost and time overruns.

“We find overwhelming evidence that budgets are systematically biased below actual costs of large hydropower dams,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

“The outside view suggests that in most countries large hydropower dams will be too costly … and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return unless suitable risk management measures … can be affordably provided.”

Instead, the researchers encouraged policymakers in developing countries to focus on “agile energy alternatives” that can be built more quickly.

On the other side of this debate, the findings were attacked by the International Commission on Large Dams, a Paris-based NGO, for focusing on an unrepresentative set of extremely large dams. The group’s president, Adama Nombre, also questioned the climate impact of the researchers’ preferred alternative options.

“What would be those alternatives?” Nombre asked. “Fossil fuel plants consuming coal or gas. Without explicitly saying it, the authors use a purely financial reasoning to bring us toward a carbon-emitting electric system.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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IPS at 50, Leads That Don’t Bleedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:32:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136394 This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).]]>

This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Tarzie Vittachi, a renowned Sri Lankan newspaper editor and one-time deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, once recounted the oft-quoted story of an African diplomat who sought his help to get coverage in the U.S. media for his prime minister’s address to the General Assembly.

The diplomat, a friend of Vittachi’s, said the visiting African leader was planning to tell the world body his success stories in battling poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS."Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women." -- Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri

“How can I get this story into the front pages of U.S. newspapers?” he asked rather naively.

Vittachi, then a columnist and contributing editor to Newsweek magazine, jokingly retorted: “Shoot him – and you will get the front page of every newspaper in the U.S.”

As the old tabloid journalistic axiom goes: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But in its news coverage over the last 50 years, IPS has led mostly with “unsexy” and “un-bleeding” stories, long ignored by the mainstream media.

As IPS commemorates its 50th anniversary this year, its news coverage of the developing world and the United Nations has been singled out for praise because of its primary focus on social and politico-economic issues on the U.N. agenda, including poverty, hunger, population, children, gender empowerment, education, health, refugees, human rights, disarmament, the global environment and sustainable development.

Congratulating IPS on its 50th anniversary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quick to applaud IPS’ “relentless focus on issues of concern to the developing world – from high-level negotiations on economic development to on-the-ground projects that improve health and sanitation.

“I thank IPS for raising global public awareness about matters at the heart of the U.N.’s agenda, and I hope it will have an even greater impact in the future,” he added.

Thalif-Deen300

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen

In its advocacy role, IPS was in the forefront of a longstanding campaign, led by world leaders, activists and women’s groups, for the creation of a separate U.N. entity to reinforce equal rights for women and for gender empowerment.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women, last week praised IPS for its intensive coverage of sustainable development and gender empowerment.

She said IPS has been “a leader” in realising a more democratic and equitable new information, knowledge and communication order in the service of sustainable development in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.

“Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women: a new gender equality and women’s empowerment and rights architecture within the U.N. system.

“We have partnered with IPS to advance this most important project for humanity in the 21st century,” said Puri. “IPS joined our political mobilisation drive for a stand-alone gender equality and women’s empowerment goal through sustained engagement and compelling content.”

She said IPS has demonstrated “its unwavering commitment to development issues through supporting our efforts to mainstream gender perspectives in the G77, particularly via the Declaration of Santa Cruz ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ of June 2014, and the historic pre-summit international meeting on Women’s Proposals for a New World Order.”

She also said IPS has joined the public mobilisation campaign – “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It”- as a Media Compact partner, and is throwing its full support behind Beijing+20.

“I wish IPS 50 more years of dynamic evolution, courageous reporting of truth, built on the foundations of reportage from the front-lines of ground experiences, and of providing game changing third-eye wisdom and policy perspectives on all endeavours of humanity and of imagining a better world for women and girls,” Puri declared.

Over the years, IPS has also given pride of place for coverage of disarmament and development – and specifically nuclear disarmament.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said last week there is special significance in the fact that this anniversary is being celebrated together with the Group of 77 and UNCTAD, highlighting the umbilical link with the developing world of the global South.

Giving voice to these important trends, IPS emerged to challenge the monopoly of the news exchange system and its dominance by the developed world, he added.

Drawing on the vast reservoir of hitherto globally unrecognised journalistic talent in the global South, Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini co-founded an organisation that has braved challenges of resource mobilisation and unfair competition, said Dhanapala.

“Having spent many years in the area of peace and disarmament with the United Nations, I am personally grateful to IPS for espousing the cause of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and for identifying the priority of a nuclear weapon-free world where weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated and conventional weapons reduced from current levels in achieving general and complete disarmament,” he said.

“Only then can we have peace and security with development and human rights flourishing in collective and co-operative global security,” said Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs (1995 Nobel Peace Laureate) and a former ambassador of Sri Lanka.

When the United Nations launched a new series in 2004 drawing attention to the “10 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year”, IPS was far ahead of the curve having covered at least seven of the 10 stories in a single year: AIDS orphans in Africa; Women as Peacemakers; the Hidden World of the Stateless; Policing for Peace; the Girl Soldier; Indigenous Peoples and a Treaty for the Disabled.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a former U.N. under-secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who originated the series, recounted the role of IPS in covering under-reported stories.

Reiterating his comments, Tharoor said last week: “I have followed IPS’ reporting for three decades, and worked with them at close quarters during my media-related assignments at the United Nations.

“I found IPS an excellent source of news and insight about the developing world, covering stories the world’s dominant media outlets too often ignore,” said Tharoor, currently a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram in India’s Lok Sabha.

He said IPS reporters marry the highest professional standards of journalism to an institutional commitment to covering stories of particular concern to the global South.

“They are indispensable to any reader who wishes to stay abreast of what’s happening in developing countries around the world,” said Tharoor, a prolific writer and author of ‘The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone’.

In recent years, IPS has been a three-time winner of the annual awards presented by the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), having won a bronze in 1997 (shared with the Washington Post) and two golds in 2012 and 2013 (one of which it shared with the Associated Press) for “excellence in U.N. reporting”.

Additionally, IPS’ Gareth Porter was also honoured in 2012 with the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, whose past winners included the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times and Wikileaks.

The Washington-based Population Institute, which gave its annual media awards for development reporting, singled out IPS as “the most conscientious news service” for coverage relating to population and development.

IPS won the award nine times in the 1990s, beating out the major wire services year in and year out, conceding occasionally to Reuters and the Associated Press (AP).

Barbara Crossette, a former U.N. bureau chief for the New York Times (1994-2001) and currently U.N. correspondent for The Nation and contributing writer and editor for PassBlue, said, “I am among those many journalists who follow the IPS reports daily, not only for insight into events and people at the United Nations, but also — and maybe more so — for coverage of global news from the perspective of the developing world.”

She said she also looks forward to some of “the controversial commentary from IPS writers with different perspectives than those we hear most in the Western media, where reporting from the U.N. itself has generally sunk to a new low in American and numerous European publications and broadcasts.

“As for news from inside the U.N., IPS’s close attention to the issues of women in the organisation and in its work internationally has been consistently stellar,” said Crossette, who cited the Vittachi anecdote in the 2007 ‘Oxford Handbook on the United Nations’ published by the Oxford University Press.

“No other news service has covered so reliably the establishment, the people and the ongoing challenges of U.N. Women and what that all means to the level of commitment member states really have to making the new U.N. agency strong and effective at a time when it is clear how central a role women must play in development,” said Crossette, who was also the Times’ chief correspondent in Bangkok (for Southeast Asia from 1984 to 1988) and in Delhi (for South Asia, 1988-1991.

Described by some as a “socially responsible” media outlet, IPS has consistently advocated the cause of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said IPS has made a tremendous contribution to the movement for global justice over the past 50 years.

It is hard today to imagine the world as it was then, in 1964, a moment when colonialism was ending, when the democratic spirit was running strong, when there was a worldwide movement to seize the institutions and transform them, he added.

“IPS arose to confront the information monopolies and to bring a fresh approach to news that would reflect and nourish the spirit of those times,” Paul said.

He said IPS immediately won a place of honour and inspired those working for democracy, justice and peace: people who needed an alternative to the arid journalism of the powers-that-be.

“In the five decades that have followed, it has held true to that vision serious investigation of global developments, honest thinking, engagement for justice, the very best journalism day in and day out”.

He added: “I am always impressed by the commitment of IPS to reporting the underlying issues, to drawing on historical memory, to bringing to events a sense of humor, hope and possibility, even in the darkest of times. We can count on IPS to use proudly the optic of human rights, economic justice and peace.”

Though news is not so monopolised today, its purveyors in both South and North are still too often the mouthpieces and propagandists of power, he noted.

“Clearly, then, IPS is more important than ever. A luta continua! I salute the founder, Roberto Savio, and the hundreds of talented journalists who have worked with him over the years,” Paul said.

“In particular I salute the remarkable IPS U.N. correspondent, who has embodied the IPS spirit and kept us all so well informed about what is happening. We need a collection of his dispatches. Happy Birthday, IPS!”

Cora Weiss, International Peace Bureau, Hague Appeal for Peace, said: “Every day IPS’ (electronic newsletter) TerraViva, brings news I cannot find any place else. It’s news that matters.”

And it’s news that gives voice to people who are under recognised, news that covers issues critical to our well being and survival, she added.

“I appreciate your coverage of women, of threats to peace, of nuclear weapons and policies to abolish them, of climate change affecting islands and islanders, and so much more. Keep it coming!” Weiss said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:47:48 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136384 Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

“What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means “Work Hard” in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm.  The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

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The Gambia’s Democratic Space ‘Constricted, Restricted and Shrinking’ Ahead of 2016 Polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:25:41 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136381 Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

With the approach of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections, which will see President Yahya Jammeh seek re-election for a fifth, five-year tenure, more than a dozen opposition activists have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the past eight months.

The leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, told IPS, “the democratic space, instead of being expanded is constricted, restricted and shrinking.”

Just in the past eight months, 15 of Darboe’s party members have appeared before a court of law. Twelve members of the party’s youth wing were arrested in February for “an unlawful gathering” but where later acquitted by the court in March.

“The security forces have been scuttling our efforts by arresting my party supporters and I believe this is done with the full encouragement of the ruling party,” Darboe said.

Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the secretary general of youth wing of the UDP, was also acquitted in March on a charge of giving false information when obtaining a permit from the police to hold a social gathering for his party in Tujerang village, which lies some 40 km from Banjul. According to the state, Sandeng held a political rally instead of a social gathering.  Before his acquittal, Sanneh was originally sentenced in December 2013 to five years in jail after initially being found guilty of sedition.

Lasana Jobarteh, an audio visual expert attending the event, was not as lucky.  Jobarteh, 59, was charged with broadcasting without a license for providing live coverage of the UDP’s political gathering for online Gambian radio stations via skype. In July Jobarteh was found guilty and issued with a fine of 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars).

“I shocked by the judgment,” Darboe said of Jobarteh’s conviction.

“I don’t want to say more because we’ve filed an appeal. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked. You don’t have to have any legal mind to know it’s not right. This is common sense.”

The case of Bai Mass Kah, from the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party, is the most recent one.“My party will never boycott the elections. The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.” -- Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party

On Sept. 9 Kah will appear before a court in Banjul, the country’s capital, to face judgement on a charge of sedition. Sedition has a broad definition in the Gambia – it means saying anything that tarnishes the image of the country, the government or the president. Kah’s crime was telling a ruling party supporter not to paste a photo of Jammeh on his car.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to two years imprisonment or face a fine of between 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars) and 250,000 dalasis (about 6,300 dollars), or both.

“The election is not an event but a process and the stage we’re in is very crucial,” political analyst Bakary Touray told IPS.

“If this stage [the pre-election period] is ignored, an unfair election could be declared fair by even international election observers [who are only present to witness the elections themselves and not the run-up process] as we have seen it happen in many elections across Africa.”

However, Touray says the current oppressive political environment is not unfamiliar.

“What we have seen in recent months — the arrest and prosecution — is a tactic by the ruling regime to weaken the opposition. Technically, the election has begun.”

Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP), told IPS that the current “political landscape is bad.”

“People are being arrested and detained beyond the 72-hour limit and the president is making utterances that violate the constitution. This is not a good situation for the country.”

Besides facing arrest and prosecution, the opposition claimed that they are being denied permits by the police to hold political rallies, which they are required to apply for according to the Public Order Act.

“We wanted to tour the country, meet the people and discuss with them our political agenda. Unfortunately, the Inspector General of Police has for the second time in May refused us a permit,” Bah said.

Bah said the reasons for refusing the permit “were not genuine.”

“In a letter dated Mar. 11, he [the Inspector General of Police] said there were programmes scheduled ahead of our programme, but he did not specify. In our second attempt, he said in a letter dated May 22, they were preoccupied with a women’s advancement forum, which was taking in Banjul, not in Upper River Region where we requested to go to for our rally. Absolutely, they [the reasons for refusal] were baseless.”

Darboe said that after the 2011 presidential elections, which Jammeh won in a landslide, there had been an unequivocal promise from the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure electoral reforms. However, the opposition overwhelmingly boycotted the parliamentary and local government elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively, after their demands for electoral reforms were unmet.

According to Darboe, if the playing field for multi-party elections is not levelled, his party may not participate in the upcoming presidential elections.

“We might as well call it quits. There’ll be no use in contesting an election that will not be fair. You don’t just want to go through the motions of electioneering when in fact [it is a] farce and mock election.”

Bah, the leader of NRP, however, holds a different view. When the opposition boycotted the parliamentary election, he contested. Even though his party managed to win only one seat in the parliamentary elections, and none in the local government election, Bah is undeterred.

“My party will never boycott the elections,” he said. “The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.”

Despite their apparent division, the opposition believe that political reforms are needed in Gambia.

“We need a comprehensive electoral reform and the institution that has the moral courage to ensure that the electoral laws as reformed will be implemented,” Darboe said.

“You can reform electoral laws but if you have a rogue institution [implementing them], the usefulness of reform will be questionable. And we need men of integrity to be in charge.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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India: A Race to the Bottom with Antibiotic Overusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:35:27 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136322 With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, India, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned: “Combat Drug Resistance – No Action Today, No Cure Tomorrow.” The slogan was coined in honour of World Health Day, urging governments to ensure responsible use of antibiotics in order to prevent drug-resistant viruses and bacteria, or ‘super bugs’.

The warning is even more salient in 2014, particularly in India, a country of 1.2 billion people that recently earned the dubious distinction of being the worst country in terms of antibiotic overuse in the world.

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010, up from eight billion units in 2001.

"It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use." -- Ashok J. Tamhankar, national coordinator for the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR)
An analysis of national pharmaceutical sales data published in ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases’ last month found that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa accounted for 76 percent of the increase in antibiotic use around the world.

Western countries are now waking up to the alarming impact of over-consumption of antibiotics, which results in drug resistance. In Europe alone, drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for 25,000 deaths a year.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” due to deadly bacteria eventually developing resistance to drugs through mutation, and as a result of “market failure” to develop new classes of antibiotics over the last 25 years.

In developing countries like India, changing lifestyles are contributing to the casual and careless use of drugs.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University, told IPS the reason behind the proliferation of antibiotics in this country is “a combination of increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely, and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained by better sanitation and vaccination.”

People forget, he said, that “antibiotics do have side effects and […] they are less likely to work for you when you really need them.”

According to the Lancet’s report, the largest absolute increases in consumption between 2000 and 2010 were observed for cephalosporins, broad-spectrum penicillins and fluoroquinolones.

The authors cautioned, “Many broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs (cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and carbapenems) are sold over the counter without [the] presence of a documented clinical need.”

Moreover, added Kolkata-based physician Surajit Ghosh of the Indian Public Health Association, some patients choose to refill their own prescriptions without consulting a proper physician, in a bid to reduce the burden of doctor’s fees.

For a country like India with limited healthcare facilities and a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to every 1,700 people, as well as 29 percent of the population languishing below the poverty line, the emergence of super bugs could be disastrous, experts say.

“With our high background rate of infections, we rely on antibiotics more than developed countries do,” stated Laxminarayan.

“Therefore, the impact of super bugs is likely to be much greater for many in our country who cannot afford the newer, more powerful antibiotics. Think of it as the price of fuel or kerosene going up. The rich will manage wherever they are, but the poor will be hit hard.”

He predicts that the most common diseases to be affected by antibiotic overuse will likely be “hospital infections, particularly those causing sepsis, pneumonia and urinary tract infection.”

Wary of this possible development, many are shifting to alternative medicines, via the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H), which includes Ayurveda, siddha, unani, homoeopathy and therapies such as yoga and naturopathy.

Currently, there are over 680,000 registered ISM&H practitioners in the country, most of who work in the private sector.

Swati Biswas* tells IPS, “My husband was ailing for sometime and an operation was advised. But he contracted an infection in the nursing home and his operation was postponed.

“He never recovered after coming home and expired after two months. I spent thousands of rupees on medication for him to no avail. Now I go to a doctor of homeopathy for my problems. I’ve had enough of Western doctors and hospitals,” she added.

Meanwhile, a network known as the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR) has been formed to promote awareness on this issue.

Asked about the need for such an organisation, Ashok J. Tamhankar, IIMAR’s national coordinator, told IPS, “In a scientific meeting in Bangalore in 2008 many of the participants realised that antibiotic resistance is increasing in India. This is happening because there’s no awareness about it among the stakeholders.

“The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers. So a platform was created to spread awareness through a blog.”

The initial group had only a handful of people, but now, he claims, it has more than 1,000 active members and many more passive ones from different walks of life.

“Only passing laws is not a solution,” Tamhankar stated.

“It’s the people who have to solve their problems with the help of the law. This is particularly important in the case of antibiotics. It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use,” he added.

People also hint at an unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors that results in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments that could easily be treated without them.

Back in 2012, IIMAR reported that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had received 702 complaints of such over-prescription in 2011-12, of which 343 were referred to state medical councils.

“In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints, following which it cancelled the registration of 10 doctors and warned four others,” IIMAR reported.

“Chemist and [drug] associations are not interested in curbing their volume of business and the [pharmaceutical] industry is also silent for the sake of their profit,” says Ghosh.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, pharmaceutical sales in India stood at 22.6 billion dollars in 2012, with a predicted rise to 23.6 billion in 2013. Sales are expected to touch 27 billion by 2016.

Ghosh feels there should be “antibiotic protocols for all hospital, clinics and dispensaries and this should be displayed in each healthcare-providing agency [and] institution. There should be statutory warnings on each pack of antibiotics, highlighting the hazards of misuse.”

“Time has come to raise [our] voices against the irrational use of antibiotics,” he concluded.

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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