Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:04:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Non-Violence and the Lost Message of Jesushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:12 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138311

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

I recently visited Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits whose lives have inspired us and millions of people around the world.

St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of love, compassion, care  for humans, animals and  the environment comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Today, in the 2lst century, as we the human family face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit that we are on the wrong path, and that we need to find new ways of thinking and doing things from a global perspective.

Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease and poverty.  I believe that Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people.

Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion – or none – that they choose to follow, will bring about real change and set in motion proper relationships.  With such relationships built on equality and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.“For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill”

Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and has declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge, we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.

Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build fraternity amongst the nations. This is important because building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our interdependent, inter-connected world.

Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and non-violence, is up to each one of us.  However, if we do not teach non-violence in our education systems and in our religious institutions, how can we make that choice?

I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of non-violence as a way of living, also as a political science and means for bringing about social and political change wherever we live.

A grave responsibility lies with the different religious traditions to give spiritual guidance and a clear message, particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance‘, arms, militarism and war.

As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and the Irish Republican Army, I was forced to confront myself with the questions, ‘do you ever kill?’ and ‘is there such a thing as a just war?’.

During my spiritual journey I reached the absolute conviction that killing is wrong and that the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, “a phony piece of morality”.

I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. When we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. 

I also believe that Jesus was a pacifist and I agree with McKenzie when he writes: “if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes.”

For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.

During the last 1700 years, Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of non-violence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence while paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than that which we condemn in others.

There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders.

We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ non-violence.

Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and that they can use violence – that is, ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ – or can be adopted by governments to justify ongoing war.

It is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need, from our spiritual or religious leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Anti-Gay Legislation Could Defeat Goal to End AIDS in Zimbabwe by 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:04:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138316 Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite a mandate to eradicate HIV/AIDS under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Zimbabwe has done little or nothing to reduce the rate of infection among vulnerable gays and lesbians, say activists here.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Gays and lesbians activists here say more needs to be done because population groups such as men who have sex with men and transgender people remain at the periphery of the country’s intervention strategies.

“In as far as combatting HIV/AIDS is concerned, there are no national programmes targeted for minority groups or interventions that can easily be accessible by the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community on prevention and care within the public healthcare system,”Samuel Matsikure, Programme Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), told IPS.“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease” – civil society activist Trust Mhindo

“There are knowledge gaps of healthcare workers on the needs and best methods on prevention, treatment and care for the HIV-positive LGBTI individuals,” adds Matsikure.

GALZ is a voluntary association founded in 1990 to serve the needs and interests of LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe, pushing for social tolerance of sexual minorities.

But 24 years after GALZ was founded, Zimbabwe’s Sexual Offences Act still criminalises homosexuality. According to Section 4.78 of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, persons of the same sex are prohibited from consensual sex or marrying each other.

Civil society activists say the Zimbabwean government has to accept the reality that gays and lesbians exist.

“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease,” Trust Mhindo, a civil society activist, told IPS.

HIV/AIDS activists here rather want the legislation on gays and lesbians changed. “We need to fight for a change of laws so that gays and lesbians are given recognition, without which fighting HIV/AIDS among LGBTI will remain futile,” Benjamin Mazhindu, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNPP+), told IPS.

Globally halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 is part of the U.N. MDGs, but with members of the LGBTI sidelined in fighting the disease in Zimbabwe, the battle may be far from over.

“Most healthcare facilities in Zimbabwe are not friendly to LGBTI persons, hindering disclosures of ailments like anal STIs [sexually transmitted infections]while sexual and reproductive health information for the LGBTI community is non-existent, creating a vacuum with healthcare facilities for minorities,” GALZ director Chester Samba told IPS.

“If you today walk into any government healthcare centre, be sure not to find any information or literature on gays and lesbians in as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned,” he added.

And for many Zimbabwean gays like 23-year-old Hillary Tembo, living with HIV/AIDS amounts to a death sentence because he fears accessing medical help from government healthcare centres.

“I’m HIV-positive and ridden with STI-related sores in my anus and truly I’m afraid to show this to health workers, fearing victimisation owing to my sexuality,” Tembo told IPS.

But Zimbabwean Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told IPS: “When a person visits a healthcare centre, nothing is asked about one’s sexual orientation.”

According to Samba, although there are no reported cases of HIV-positive LGBTI people being denied antiretroviral treatment on account of their sexual orientation, “there is need for a national HIV/AIDS response to address the barriers preventing members of the LGBTI community from accessing services that address their HIV/AIDS health care needs, including access to information that is relevant to them.”

However, faced with a constitution forbidding gay relations, government here finds it an uphill task to consider a group of people that it constitutionally does not recognise in combatting HIV/AIDS.

“We can’t arm-twist our supreme law which does not condone homosexuality to fit in to the needs of a small group of people who are disobeying the law,” a top government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

And for gays and lesbians in this Southern African nation, whether the U.N. MDGs matter or not, to them suffering may continue as long as they remain a forgotten lot in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“As homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, it is difficult for prevention programmes to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) and all MSMs living with HIV/AIDS are often unable to access HIV treatment, care and support,” Samba told IPS.

Asked how many HIV-positive LGBTI persons there were in Zimbabwe, the GALZ director said that he could not give figures because “there are no mechanisms at national level to capture data based on one’s sexual orientation.”

However, in its yet-to-be published 2014 research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on LGBTI persons, GALZ says that of the 393 MSMs tested for HIV/AIDS this year, 23.5 percent were found positive while of the 179 women having sex with women (WSWs) tested for HIV/AIDS, 32.6 percent were found positive in Zimbabwe.

According to the National Aids Council in Zimbabwe (NAC),1.24 million people in the country are living with HIV/AIDS, which is approximately 15 percent of the country’s over 13 million people. LGBTI persons are part of this percentage.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency this year show that LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe contribute about four percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

With a membership of 6,000 gays and lesbians, GALZ says 15 percent of these are living with HIV/AIDS, with five of its members having succumbed to HIV/AIDS since January. The organisation claims that it normally loses 5 to 10 people each year. “Statistics we have so far are of GALZ-affiliated members, not representative of the national statistics,” said the GALZ director.

For many HIV-positive Zimbabwean gays like Tembo, as the world rushes towards the deadline for attainment of the U.N. MDGs, without clearly defined strategies to fight HIV/AIDS within the LGBTI community, the war against the scourge may be far from over.

“How can we triumph over HIV/AIDS when among the LGBTI community we are without strategies from government to combat the disease?” Tembo asked rhetorically.

(Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Economy Sees Growth at Top But No ‘Trickle-Down’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 23:03:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138313 David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit.

He says that inputs cost too much and if this trend continues he will sub-divide and sell his five hectares.

This is the story of many small-scale farmers in this East African nation, where agriculture accounts for about one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But small-scale farmers – accounting for about 75 percent of total agricultural produce – barely break even.

“A 150 kg bag of carrot is now going for about 27 dollars, up from 22 dollars, but as prices go up, so does the cost of inputs,” says Kamau.“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times” – Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi pro-poor social movement

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet agriculture fails to provide an adequate return to farmers because their sector is significantly underfunded, explains Jason Braganza, an economic analyst based in Nairobi.

The percentage of the budget for the agricultural sector is 2.4 percent, down 0.6 percent from the 3 percent in the 2012/2013 budget and well below the threshold of the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which mandated that at least 10 percent the national budget should be allocated to agriculture.

The result, says Kamau, is that “farmers are slowly moving out of the farms and trying other economic ventures, Central Kenya used to be a breadbasket but farmlands are being replaced by residential and commercial complexes.”

Farming is not the only sector feeling an economic downslide. Small businesses in Kenya are faced with a lack of essential business support services, especially financial services. Two-thirds of Kenyans do not have access to basic financial services such as banking accounts.

“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times,” according to Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi [People’s Parliament] pro-poor social movement.

She says that the group is planning to hold the government responsible regarding the use of the information in the ‘Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya’ which the government released last month. The report exposes significant disparities in poverty levels across the country.

“The Atlas is a powerful tool, but whether the government will use the information to change lives and improve living standards remains to be seen,” she says.

Felix Omondi, a resident of Kibera, a division of Nairobi considered the largest slum in Africa, and a member of the Unga Revolution, a local activist group, is one of those who believes that the Atlas is doing some good.

He told IPS that that a programme is under way to upgrade slums and said that this is “one of the ways that the government is using the Atlas to improve the lives of people in the slums.”

In the last three months, the government has been working with residents of the slums to establish income-generating projects and provide basic amenities such as toilets, lighting and drainage.

At least 3,000 youths in Kibera will benefit from these projects. Omondi, a beneficiary, says that he is running one of the posho (corn meal) mills set up by the government to generate income.

Kenya now officially a “middle-income country”

Meanwhile, in autumn the news came out that Kenya had seen its economy grow 25 percent after statistical revision and is now officially a “middle-income country”. A few months ago, a similar type of revision brought Nigeria’s economy to the top of African countries in terms of the size of the economy, surpassing South Africa for the first time.

A growing middle class population is an important driver of this growth, but what does that middle class look like? The recently revised Kenyan figures indicate that the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is 1,160 dollars against the World Bank’s “middle income” threshold of 1,036 dollars.

The latest income-distribution indicators for Kenya (which date back to 2005) show the following:

  • 45.9 percent of the population was at the national poverty line;
  • The income share held by the top 10 percent was 38 percent.

This out-of-date, official information excludes the informal economy, observes Africa Arino, professor of strategic management at the IESE Business School in Spain.

“A taxi driver makes KES 15,000 a month (about 178 dollars or 132 euro), and pays KES 3,500 (close to 25 percent of his income) to rent a room where he lives with his wife and two children,” Arino explains.

“They don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom: these are facilities shared with others in the same building lot. His income is pretty much the average salary of a driver, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2014. Is he middle class?”

According to Braganza, one of the main challenges facing Kenya is that while the country’s economic growth is real and sustainable, the structure of the economy has remained unchanged. Resources have not shifted into the most productive sectors of the economy which would increase overall productivity and an increase in remunerative employment.

Braganza says that for people to feel the trickledown effect of the economic growth, there must also be structural transformation. “There is a need for more investment in the more productive sectors, as well as investment in emerging sectors. This will contribute towards a reduction in unemployment and poverty.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cuba’s Reforms Fail to Reduce Growing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:21:58 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138300 Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality.

Inequality has been growing since the start of the crisis triggered by the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. The “special period” – the euphemistic term used to refer to the lengthy recession – “has even morally affected the concept of inequality,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS.

To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel Castro (1959-2008) opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality.: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.” -- Cuban schoolteacher

However, María Caridad González appreciates the sense of equality that still exists in Cuban society, which she says has made social inclusion possible for her 10-year-old son, who knows that “to do well in life he just has to study and become a professional.”

Since the 1959 revolution, free universal healthcare coverage and education have been important tools for achieving social equality in Cuba.

González, who comes from a family of small farmers, moved to Havana in the mid-1990s. “It was hard at first. There were shortages of everything, but I stayed anyway and got married here. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, and what is lacking is money to buy things,” said the 36-year-old, who works in the cleaning service at a company that is partly foreign owned.

Other people are worse off than González, who manages to add to her monthly income working as a domestic in the homes of families she knows, which brings her another 80 CUC – the Cuban peso convertible to dollars – or 1,920 pesos.

That is more than four times the average public sector salary of 470 pesos (19 dollars) a month. “Thanks to my income we survived the months when my husband, who is a cook in the tourism industry, was out of work,” said González.

She is in a much better position than her neighbor, a 55-year-old primary schoolteacher who earns 750 pesos a month and has no source of dollars or other foreign currency – a mainstay for many Cuban families, who receive remittances from relatives abroad or who work in tourism, where they earn tips.

The teacher, who is married and has two adult children aged 20 and 25, told IPS: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.”

The inequality gap has widened as the differences in incomes have grown.

Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba.

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

However, Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system, and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles, and were key to Cuba’s ranking in 44th place on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) this year.

The HDI is a composite index that measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.”

Morales agrees with the government’s aim of “equal rights and opportunities” rather than egalitarianism. In his view, the distribution of income based on work is still unequal. “It would be ethical if people received in accordance with what they contributed, and those who needed assistance would receive it through social spending, to balance out the inequalities,” he argued.

The academic defends the idea of subsidising specific people rather than products, which is still being done through the ration card system that distributes a certain quantity of foodstuffs at prices subsidised by the state, to all citizens, regardless of their income.

The system covered the basic dietary needs of families until the 1980s. But that is no longer the case, and Cubans now have to complete their diet with products sold in the hard currency stores and the farmers’ markets, where one pound (450 grams) of pork can cost 40 pesos (1.60 dollars) – the same price fetched by a pound of onions at certain times of the year.

In its 2014-2020 pastoral plan, the Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.”

That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals.

After acknowledging that the expansion of opportunities for self-employment and for setting up cooperatives in non-agricultural sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for some, the church warns that the current economic reforms “have failed to reactivate the economy in such a way that it benefits the entire population.”

Not all segments of society are in equal conditions to take advantage of the changes that have been ushered in. Researchers like Morales or Mayra Espina say women, people who are not white, and young people are at a disadvantage, whether due to a lack of formal training and education, or of assets and resources for starting up their own businesses.

According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher, and they say decision-makers need to know the exact percentage in order to properly tailor social policies to the actual situation.

But Espina and other academics say the reforms approved in April 2011 do not put a high enough priority on social aspects, ignore the questions of poverty and inequality, and contain weak measures for guaranteeing equality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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‘Record’ Illicit Money Lost by Developing Countries Triples in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:46:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138297 There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations.  Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

Developing countries are losing money through illicit channels at twice the rate at which their economies are growing, according to new estimates released Tuesday. Further, the total volume of these lost funds appears to be rapidly expanding.

Findings from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a watchdog group based here, re-confirm previous estimates that developing countries are losing almost a trillion dollars a year through tax evasion, corruption and other financial crimes. Yet in a new report covering the decade through 2012, GFI’s researchers show that the rate at which these illicit outflows are taking place has risen significantly.“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes.” -- Eric LeCompte

In 2003, for instance, cumulative illicit capital leaving developing countries was pegged at around 297 billion dollars. That’s significant, of course, but relatively little compared to the more than 991 billion now estimated for 2012 – a record figure, thus far.

In less than a decade, then, these illicit outflows more than tripled in size, totalling at least 6.6 billion dollars. GFI reports that this works out to an adjusted average growth of some 9.4 percent per year, or twice the average global growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

One of the most common mechanisms for moving this money has been the falsification of trade invoices.

“After turning down following the financial crisis, global trade is going up again and so it’s increasingly easy to engage in misinvoicing – a lot more people are coming to understand how to do this and are willing to indulge,” Raymond Baker, GFI’s president, told IPS.

“These rates are not only growing faster than global GDP but also faster than the rate of growth of global trade.”

Further, these estimates are likely conservative, and don’t cover a broad spectrum of data that is not officially reported – cash-based criminal activities, for instance, or unofficial “hawala” transactions.

Baker emphasises that these capital losses are a problem affecting the entire developing world. Yet given that illicit outflows run in tandem with a country’s broader interaction with global trade, these rates are particularly strong in the world’s emerging economies, led by China, Russia, Mexico and India.

There are also significant differentials between regions, both is size and the rate at which they’re increasing. In the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, illicit financial flows are growing far higher than the global average, at more than 24 percent per year.

Even in sub-Saharan Africa, home to some of the world’s poorest communities, these rates are growing at more than 13 percent per year. Such figures eclipse both foreign assistance and foreign investment – indeed, the 2012 figure was more than 11 times the total development assistance offered on a global basis.

“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes,” Eric LeCompte, an expert to U.N. groups that focus on these issues, said Monday. “Countries need resources and if we curb these illicit practices, we can get the money where it’s needed most.”

Lucrative misinvoicing

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. And for the first time, certain of these key issues are receiving new and concerted international attention.

Multiple nascent multinational actions are now unfolding aimed at cracking down particularly on tax evasion by transnational companies. New transparency mechanisms are in the process of being rolled by several multilateral groups, including the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based grouping of rich countries.

Such initiatives are receiving keen attention from civil society groups, and would likely constrict these illicit flows. Yet in fact, GFI’s research suggests that the overwhelming method by which capital is illegally leaving developing countries is far more mundane and, potentially, complex to tackle.

This has to do with simple trade misinvoicing, in which companies purposefully use incorrect pricing of imports or exports to justify the transfer of funds out of or into a country, thus laundering ill-gotten finances or helping companies to hide profits. Over the past decade, the new GFI report estimates, more than three-quarters of illicit financial flows were facilitated by trade misinvoicing.

And this includes only misinvoicing for goods, not services. Likely the real figure is far higher.

Experts say that stopping misinvoicing completely will be impossible, but note that there are multiple ways to curtail the problem. First would be to ensure greater transparency in the global financial system, to eliminate tax havens and “shell corporations” and to require the automatic exchange of tax information across borders.

Efforts are currently underway to accomplish each of these, to varying degrees. Last month, leaders of the G20 countries agreed to begin automatically sharing tax information by the end of next year, and also committed to assist developing countries to engage in such sharing in the future.

GFI’s Baker says that developing countries need to bolster their customs systems, but notes that other tools are already readily available to push back against trade misinvoicing.

“There is a growing volume of online pricing data available that can be accessed in real time,” he says. “This gives developing countries the ability to look at transactions coming in and going out and to get an immediate idea as to whether the pricing accords with international norms. And if not, they can quickly question the transaction.”

Development goal

There is today broad recognition of the monumental impact that illicit financial flows have on poor countries’ ability to fund their own development. Given the centrality of trade misinvoicing in this problem, there are also increasing calls for multilateral action to take direct aim at the issue.

In particular, some development scholars and anti-poverty campaigners are urging that a related goal be included in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), currently under negotiation at the United Nations and planned to be unveiled in mid-2015.

Under this framework, GFI is calling for the international community to agree to halve trade-related illicit flows within a decade and a half. The OECD is hosting a two-day conference this week to discuss the issue.

“We’re not talking about an aspirational goal but rather a very measurable goal. That’s doable, but it will take political will,” Baker says.

“We think the SDGs should incorporate very specific, targetable goals that can have huge impact on development and helping developing countries keep their own money. In our view, that’s the most important objective.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Sad Future of Our Planethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-sad-future-of-our-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:22:22 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138284

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that – in the light of the agreement reached at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – the world’s governments have once again demonstrated their irresponsibility by failing to come up with a global remedy for climate change.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

It is now official: the current inter-governmental system is not able to act in the interest of humankind.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – which ended on Dec. 14, two days after it was scheduled to close – was the last step before the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, where a global agreement must be found.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In Lima, 196 countries with several thousand delegates negotiated for two weeks to find a common position on which to convene in Paris in one year’s time. Lima was preceded by an historical meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the world’s two main polluters agreed on a course of action to reduce pollution.

Well, Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen, including the energy corporations.

This is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of an agreement, not one solution has been found. The “big idea” is to leave to every country the task of deciding its own cuts in pollution according to its own criteria.“Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen”

And everybody is aware that this is most certainly a disaster for the planet. “It is a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the Dutch diplomat who is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). ”But the great hopes for the process are also gone.”

To make things clear, all delegates knew that without some binding treaty to reduce emissions, there is no way that this will happen. But they accepted what it is possible, even if it does not solve the problem. It is like a hospital where the key surgeon announces that the good news is that the patient will remain paralysed.

The agreement is based on the idea that every country will publicly commit itself to adopting its own plan for reducing emissions, based on criteria established by national governments on the basis of their domestic politics – not on what scientists have been indicating as absolutely necessary.

This, of course, is the kind of treat that no country in the world objects to. The real value of the treaty is not the issue. The issue is that the inter-governmental system is able to declare unity and common engagement. The interests of humankind are not part of the equation. Humankind is supposed to be parcelled among 196 countries, and so is the planet.

This act of irresponsibility is clear when you look at all the countries producing energy, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, Iran or Ecuador, Nigeria or Qatar, whose governments are interested in using oil exports to keep themselves in the saddle. And take a look at what the world’s third largest polluter, India, is doing in the spirit of the Lima treaty.

Under the motto: “We like clean India, but give us jobs”, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving with remarkable speed to eliminate any regulatory burden for industry, mining, power projects, the armed forces, and so on.

According to the high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental law system, the country’s regulatory system ”served only the purpose of a venal administration”. So, what did it suggest? It presented a new paradigm: ”the concept of utmost good faith”, under which business owners themselves will monitor the pollution generated by their projects, and they will monitor their own compliance!

The newly-appointed Indian National Board for Wildlife which is responsible for protected area cleared 140 pending projects in just two days; small coal mines have a one-time permission to expand without any hearing; and there is no longer any need for the approval of tribal villages for forest projects.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar boasted: ”We have decided to decentralise decision making. Ninety percent of the files won’t come to me anymore”. And he said that he was not phasing out important environmental protections, just “those which, in the name of caring for nature, were stopping progress.” He also plans to devolve power to state regulators, which environmental expert say is akin to relinquishing any national integrated policy.

It is, of course, totally coincidental that Lima conference took place in the middle of the greatest decrease in oil prices in five years. The price of a barrel of oil is now hovering around the 60 dollar mark, down from over 100 two years ago. This price level has basically been decided by Saudi Arabia, which did not agree to cut production to increase the cost of a barrel.

The most espoused explanation was that the low cost would undercut schist gas exploitation which is making the United States energy self-sufficient again, and soon an exporter. But this will equally undercut renewable energies, like wind or solar power, which have higher costs and will be abandoned when cheap oil is available.

Again coincidentally, this is creating very serious problems for countries like Russia and Venezuela (U.S. irritants) and Iran (a direct enemy), which are now entering into serious deficit and serious political problems. And, again coincidentally, this is making use of fossil energy more tempting at a moment in which the world was finally accepting that there is a problem of climate change.

In March, countries will have to present their national plans and it will then become clear that governments are lacking on the very simple task of arresting climate change, and this will lead us to irreversible damage by our climate’s final deadline, which was identified as 2020.

Thus the exercise of irresponsibility in Lima will also become an exercise in futility.

Is there any doubt that if the people, and not governments, were responsible for saving the planet, their answer would have been swifter and more efficient?

Young people, all over the world, have very different priorities from corporations and industry … but they also have much less political clout.

 

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

 

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ICC Drops Darfur Seeks Surrender of Simone Gbagbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/icc-drops-darfur-seeks-surrender-of-simone-gbagbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=icc-drops-darfur-seeks-surrender-of-simone-gbagbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/icc-drops-darfur-seeks-surrender-of-simone-gbagbo/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 06:21:50 +0000 Global Information Network http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138309 By Global Information Network
NEW YORK, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

(GIN) – The list of war crimes being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is growing smaller.

Earlier this month, the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya was dismissed after witnesses became unavailable to testify and the government rejected the court’s jurisdiction over the charges.

This week, Fatou Bensouda, International Criminal Court prosecutor, suspended investigations into alleged war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur. She criticized the UN Security Council for inaction over the conflict-hit region.

Her comments came amid a Ugandan-led campaign for African countries to pull out of The Hague-based ICC, following the collapse of the case against President Kenyatta.

“I am left with no choice but to hibernate investigative activities in Darfur as I shift resources to other urgent cases,” Bensouda told the Security Council last Friday.

The UN body failed to push for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes committed in Darfur, she said.

Without action from the top UN body, the cases against Bashir and three other indicted suspects would remain deadlocked and there would be “little or nothing to report to you for the foreseeable future.”

Claiming victory over the ICC, the Sudanese president responded: “They wanted us to kneel before the International Criminal Court but the ICC raised its hands and admitted that it had failed.”

“The Sudanese people have defeated the ICC and have refused to hand over any Sudanese to the colonialist courts.”

With two cases dropped in the last month, the ICC has turned its attention to the wife of the former president of the Ivory Coast. Simone Gbagbo “allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, persecution and “other criminal acts” during post-election violence between Dec. 2010 and Apr. 2011.

The ICC warrant issued last year alleges that as a member of the president’s inner circle, his wife was an “indirect co-perpetrator.” She attended meetings where plans were discussed and carried out to persecute (Alassane) Ouattara supporters, according to the warrant.

Mrs. Gbagbo is currently in the Ivory Coast which refuses to surrender her to the international court, saying it can handle the case in-country. Her husband, former president Laurent Gbagbo, is in ICC custody awaiting trial over similar charges.

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LOWER GAS PRICES HIT AFRICA HARDhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lower-gas-prices-hit-africa-hard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lower-gas-prices-hit-africa-hard http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lower-gas-prices-hit-africa-hard/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 06:15:18 +0000 Global Information Network http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138292 By Global Information Network
NEW YORK, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

(GIN) – Falling oil prices are happy news for American car owners but disastrous news for Africa which was recently celebrating an “oil boom” around the continent.

Some energy consultants see falling prices as a political maneuver by the West designed to bring rebellious countries to their knees. Saudi Arabia also had a bone to pick with Iran.

Soon there was a glut of cheap oil, pushing down prices in Iran, Russia and Venezuela. But the “collateral damage” of these price manipulations have been the people of Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and Uganda whose economies are heavily oil-dependent.

Examples of the pain abound. In Angola, government is budgeting major spending cuts on HIV/AIDS programs. According to Bloomberg news wire, Angola will set aside $11 million to fight HIV next year, compared to $16 million in 2014 and $22 million in 2013.

Angola’s government relies on oil for more than three quarters of revenue.

In another case, the newly-blessed oil state of Ghana borrowed heavily – about $500 million from the IMF – on the back of anticipated profits to fund fuel subsides and salaries. This hasn’t helped Ghana’s currency, the cedi, which depreciated by about 40 percent to the dollar in the first three quarters of this year.

“We are woefully short,” Sydney Casely-Hayford, a financial consultant and former adviser to Ghana’s treasury, told Dow Jones.

Ugandan officials say they fear lower oil prices could deter companies from following through on plans to invest up to $15 billion to develop the country’s oil fields.

It’s the same for Mozambique which saw a $5 billion investment to develop natural-gas fields look a lot less attractive now.

Dow Jones Business wire wrote: “The continent’s biggest economies have staked their futures on robust prices for oil and gas… The London-based Capital Economics research firm says falling commodity prices will cut growth across sub-Saharan Africa by one percentage point next year, to around 4%, the slowest rate since the late 1990s.

“It’s bad for all of Africa,” said Jack Allen, an economist at the firm.

Africa’s largest economy Nigeria is another case in point. The oil crude producer has grown 7% a year for the past decade. As retail and telecommunications companies have taken off, the oil industry has shrunk to a more balanced 14% of economic activity.

But Nigeria’s government revenue hasn’t evolved with its economy. Oil still fuels more than 70% of the budget, leaving public institutions dependent on the ebb and flow of global energy prices.

As Brent crude prices fell below $70 a barrel this month, Nigeria’s naira currency plummeted to record lows.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says the drop in oil prices could drag economic growth down by a percentage point to 5.3% in 2015.

Falling prices for oil and other commodities are hurting African economies in other ways, too, notes Don Jones business writers.

The country’s currency, the rand, has dropped to a six-year low as investors retreat from the slowing economy.

Persistent weakness in the rand undermines any lift from cheap oil, said Nico Bezuidenhout of South African Airways.

“You’ve got the break on the fuel price,” he said. “But the currency has gone to the dogs.”

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CORRECTION/Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138277 Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*The story that moved on Dec. 15 misstated the matter of statutory rape in the Philippines. Child rights advocates are recommending that the age be raised from 12. The government has responded positively to it and legislation on the matter is ongoing. Likewise, the advocates would also like to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised higher than the current 15.

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Lima Agrees Deal – but Leaves Major Issues for Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/#comments Sun, 14 Dec 2014 19:00:14 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138275 As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 14 2014 (IPS)

After a 25-hour extension, delegates from 195 countries reached agreement on a “bare minimum” of measures to combat climate change, and postponed big decisions on a new treaty until the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), to be held in a year’s time in Paris.

After 13 days of debates, COP 20, the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), failed to resolve key issues such as the monitoring of each country’s commitment to emissions reductions, recognition of loss and damage caused by climate alterations and immediate actions, representatives of observer organisations told IPS.

The agreed document was the third draft to be debated. The Lima Call for Climate Action, as it is known, stipulates that countries must propose national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by October 2015.

It also “urges” developed countries to “provide and mobilise financial support for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions” to countries affected by climate change, and “invites” them to pledge financial contributions alongside their emissions reduction targets. This exhortation was a weak response to the demands of countries that are most vulnerable to global warming, and it avoided complete disaster.

But observers complained that the Lima Call pays little attention to the most vulnerable populations, like farmers, coastal communities, indigenous people, women and the poorest sectors of societies.

“There were a number of trade-offs between developed and developing countries, and the rest of the text has become significantly weaker in terms of the rules for next year and how to bring climate change action and ambitions next year,” Sven Harmeling, the climate change advocacy coordinator for Care International, told IPS. “That has been most unfortunate,” he said.

The 2015 negotiations will be affected, as “they are building up more pressure on Paris. The bigger issues have been pushed forward and haven’t been addressed here,” he said.

Harmeling recognised that an agreement has been reached, although it is insufficient. “We have something, but the legal status of the text is still unclear,” he said. If there is really a “spirit of Lima” and not just a consensus due to exhaustion, it will begin to emerge in February in Geneva, at the next climate meeting, he predicted.

The countries of the South voted in favour of the text at around 01:30 on Sunday Dec. 14, but organisations like Oxfam, the Climate Action Network and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) were very critical of the result. The Lima negotiations “have done nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change,” according to FoEI. “What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path.” -- Tasneem Essop

More than 3,000 delegates met Dec. 1-13 for the complex UNFCCC process, with the ultimate goal of averting global warming to levels that would endanger life on Earth.
Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the COP 20, extended the meeting in order to build bridges between industrialised countries, the largest carbon emitters, who wanted less financial pressure, and developing countries who sought less control over their own reductions.

“Although we seem to be on opposite sides, we are in fact on the same side, because there is only one planet,” said Pulgar-Vidal at the close of the COP.

The specific mandate in Lima was to prepare a draft for a new, binding climate treaty, to be consolidated during 2015 and signed in Paris. Methodological discussions and fierce debates about financing, deadlines and loss and damage prevented a more ambitious consensus.

“What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path,” Tasneem Essop, climate coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told IPS.

“We need to protect the rights of climate impacted communities,” she said. The defencelessness of the most vulnerable people on the planet is what makes action a matter of urgency.

However, the Lima agreement contains few references to mechanisms for countries to use to reduce their emissions between 2015 and 2020, when the new treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol is due to come into force.

These actions need to start immediately, said Essop, as later measures may be ineffective. “What governments seem to be thinking is that they can do everything in the future, post 2020, when the science is clear that we have to peak before that,” she told IPS.

Unless action is taken, year by year extreme climate, drought and low agricultural yields will be harder on those communities, which bear the least responsibility for climate change. Essop believes that governments are waiting for the negotiations in Paris, when there were urgent decisions to be taken in Lima.

Among the loose ends that will need to be tied in the French capital between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11, 2015, are the balance to be struck between mitigation and adaptation in the new global climate treaty, and how it will be financed.

“If we hadn’t come to the decision we have taken (the Lima Call for Climate Action), thing would be more difficult in Paris, but as we know there are still many things to be decided bewteen here and December 2015, in orden to resolve pending issues,” Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said in the closing plenary session.

The goal of the agreement is for global temperature to increase no more than two degrees Celsius by 2100, in order to preserve planetary stability. Reduction of fossil fuel use is essential to achieve this.

Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are the pillars of the new treaty. The last two issues are vital for countries and populations disproportionately impacted by climate change, but faded from the agenda in Lima.

“It’s disastrous and it doesn’t meet our expectations at all. We wanted to see a template clearly emerging from Lima, leading to a much more ambitious deal,” said Harjeet Singh, manager for climate change and resilience for the international organisation ActionAid.

“What we are seeing here is a continuous pushback from developed countries on anything related to adaptation or loss and damage,” he told IPS.

These are thorny issues because they require financial commitments from rich countries. The Green Climate Fund, set up to counter climate change in developing countries, has only received 10.2 billion dollars by this month, only one-tenth of the amount promised by industrialised nations.

The Lima Call for Climate Action did determine the format for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), for each country to present its emissions reduction targets.

However, the final agreement eliminated mechanisms for analysing the appropriateness and adequacy of the targets that were contained in earlier drafts.

Negotiators feel that the sum of the national contributions will succeed in halting global warming, but observers are concerned that the lack of regulation will prevent adequate monitoring of whether emissions reductions on the planet are sufficient.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Dirty Energy Reliance Undercuts U.S., Canada Rhetoric at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 14:53:53 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138270 Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

By Leehi Yona
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

While U.S. and Canadian officials delivered speeches about how the world needs to step up to their responsibilities at the U.N. climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, activists from North America demanded clear answers back home on their governments’ relationships with fossil fuel corporations, as well as the future of several major oil projects across the continent.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Thursday about the role each country should play on tackling climate change and referred to the U.S.-China agreement announced in November. The agreement, which pledged unforeseen emissions reductions for both countries, has been lauded by many countries as a progressive step forward at the U.N. negotiations.“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations.” -- Canadian MP Elizabeth May

However, civil society delegates have expressed concern over the disconnect between the messaging the United States has been taking in Lima, and its domestic fossil fuel reliance.

This international discourse collides with Washington’s hesitance to repeal the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed project that would transport over 800,000 barrels of bitumen a day from the Alberta tar sands to Texas oil refineries.

“The best way the U.S. can support progress in the U.N. Climate Talks is to start at home by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now,” said Dyanna Jaye, a U.S. youth delegate attending the conference with SustainUS.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been stalled in political procedures since 2011. Once considered to be a done deal, the project has grown to be a bone of contention among environmental groups, who have mobilised to put pressure on President Barack Obama to reject it.

Having been presented as a bill to Congress numerous times, it most recently passed a House of Representatives vote but failed in the Senate by only one vote on Nov. 5.

Youth have taken a leading role on been pushing for Kerry to reject Keystone XL, shining a spotlight on the influence of the fossil fuel industry in hindering progress.

Following Kerry’s speech to the U.N. on Thursday, Jaye and other U.S. and Canadian youth activists organised an action in protest of proposed pipelines through the two countries.

Calling for the industry to be kicked out of the negotiations, youth have highlighted that a successful deal in Lima would necessitate a phasing out of fossil fuel use to zero production by 2050, as stated in a World Wildlife Fund report.

“Dirty fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL clearly fail the climate test,” Evan Weber, executive director of US Climate Plan, told IPS. “We’ll be drawing the line on any new fossil fuel infrastructure and calling for investment in renewable energy solutions.”

Protesters emphasised the need for domestic action at home in order for there to be any progress at the United Nations

The United States, however, isn’t the only country whose domestic issues directly contradict their statements here at COP20. The Canadian government has been criticised for their lack of domestic ambition and their close relationship with fossil fuel companies at this conference.

At the talks, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated on Dec. 9 that Canada is “confident [they] can achieve a climate agreement” at these talks, “however it will require courage and common sense.”

While the government has attempted to portray itself as a climate leader in these negotiations, members of civil society have pointed out discrepancies between the emissions goals they are promising and the emissions trajectory the country is actually on track to produce.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations,” said Elizabeth May, a Canadian Member of Parliament and leader of the Canadian Green Party attending COP 20.

“The zeal to exploit fossil fuels has led to the evisceration of ‎environmental laws. We have distorted our economy in the interests of exporting bitumen,” she told IPS.

Canada has once again entered into the non-governmental spotlight at U.N. climate negotiations. On Tuesday, uproar ensued when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that any regulation of the oil and gas industry would be “crazy” considering the industry’s current financial state.

On the conference’s last day, Canada was also awarded a Fossil of the Day, a daily non-prize awarded by civil society during the Climate Talks to the most regressive country, for its consistent meddling with and lack of participation in the U.N. process.

“As members of civil society, we’ve seen Canadian negotiators prioritise fossil fuel companies over public interest time and time again in Lima,” Catherine Gauthier of ENvironnement JEUnesse, a Québec youth environmental organisation, told IPS.

Both countries have come under scrutiny for their promotion of climate action on the international level while promoting tar sands expansion and shale gas fracking projects at home. Shale gas has particularly been promoted by both governments as a bridge fuel to help wean societies off fossil fuels with the goal of increasing renewable energy sources.

“The use of fracking as a bridge fuel is the biggest lie the American public has ever been fed,” Emily Williams of the California Student Sustainability Coalition told IPS. “It poisons our health and our communities, and destroys our environment. It cannot be part of the climate solution as it starves the renewable energy revolution of the investment it needs.”

Both Canada and the United States have been active in calling for swift action on the international level when it comes to climate change. The U.N. negotiations are currently running over time in Lima as countries work towards a compromise agreement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: How Shifting to the Cloud Can Unlock Innovation for Food and Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 12:57:25 +0000 Andy Jarvis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138266 Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

By Andy Jarvis
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The digital revolution that is continuing to develop at lightening speed is an exciting new ally in our fight for global food security in the face of climate change.

Researchers have spent decades collecting data on climate patterns, but only in recent years have cost-effective solutions for publicly hosting this information been developed. Cloud computing services make the ideal home for key climate data – given that they have a vast capacity for not only storing data, but analysing it as well.Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

This rationale is the basis for a brand new partnership between CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres, and Amazon web services. With 40 years of research under its belt, CGIAR holds a wealth of information on not just climate patterns, but on all aspects of agriculture.

By making this data publically available on the Amazon cloud, researchers and developers will be empowered to come up with innovations to solve critical issues inextricably linked to food and farming, such as reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

The first datasets to move to the cloud are Global Circulation Models (GCM), presently the most important tool for representing future climate conditions.

The potential of this new partnership was put to the test this week at the climate negotiations in Peru, when the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 24 hour “hackathon”, giving Latin American developers and computer programmers first access to the cloud-based data.

The challenge was to transform the available data into actionable knowledge that will help farmers better adapt to climate variability.

The results were inspiring. The winning innovation from Colombian team Geomelodicos helps farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

The prototype programme combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations. The vision is that one day, this information could bedisseminated via SMS messaging.

Runners up Viasoluciones decided to tackle water scarcity, a serious challenge for farmers around the world as natural resources become more scarce. Named after the Quechua goddess of water, Illapa, the innovation could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops.

The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. In times of drought, this application could prove invaluable.

Farmers are in dire need of practical solutions that will help protect our food supply in the face of a warming world. Eight hundred million people in the world are still hungry, and it is a race against time to ensure that we have a robust strategy for ensuring these vulnerable people are fed and nourished.

By moving agricultural data to the cloud, developing innovations for food and farming will no longer be dependent on having access to expensive software or powerful computers on internet connection speeds.

Making sense of this “big data” will become progressively easier, and one day, farmers themselves could even take matters into their own hands.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Europe Has Lost Its Compasshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:43:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138263

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that, with the fall of the Swedish government orchestrated by the far-right and centre-right opposition, a symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy in Europe has fallen, and the grip of an irrational fear of immigrants tightens as Europe’s politicians seek a scapegoat.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The Swedish Social Democrat government, which took office only two months ago, has just resigned. The far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats sided with the four-party centre-right opposition alliance, and new elections will be held in March next year.

In Europe, Sweden has been the symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy – the place where those escaping dictatorship and hunger could find refuge; the country without corruption, where social justice was a national value.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

However, in just a short period, the Sweden Democrat xenophobic party, which wants to close the country to foreigners and is now the third-largest party in parliament, was able to topple the government on Dec. 3.

Similar parties exist in the other Nordic countries – Finland, Norway and Denmark – where they have been similarly able to take a decisive role in national politics. The myth of northern Europe, the modern and progressive Nordic Europe, has vanished.

A few days later, in Dresden (the Florence of Germany) in Saxony, thousands of demonstrators marched to the cry ”Wir sind das Volk” [“We are the people”] – the same battle cry used in protests against the Communist regime in then East Germany 25 years ago, only this time the protest was against immigrants.

A previously unknown activist, 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann, has set up the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and in seven weeks has been able to rally thousands of people. The local paper, the Sachsische Zeitung, has reported that Bachman has several criminal convictions for burglary, dealing with cocaine and driving without a licence or while drunk.“The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants”

Such details were irrelevant to the demonstrators. They “miss their country”, demand “protection of the Homeland” and applaud Bachmann’s call for a “clean and pure Germany”.

In Saxony, foreign immigrants account for only two percent of the population, and only a small fraction of those are Muslim. But the announcement that facilities would be opened for some 2,000 refugees from Syria, was the trigger in this town of 530.000 inhabitants. In the last state legislative elections, a new populist party, the Alternative for Germany, took almost 10 percent of the vote.

A similar irrational fear is gripping many European countries.

Italy, for example, now has two major parties (the Northern League and the Five Star Movement), which together account for around 35 percent of the vote, with xenophobic tones, and another major party, Forza Italia (literally Forward Italy) led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is flirting with an anti-European policy. The three more or less openly advocate withdrawal from the Euro.

At the same time, in 2013, only 514.308 children were born (including those of immigrants), 20.000 less than the year before. Between 2001 and 2011, according to ISTAT, the national statistical institute, the number of families formed by one person increased by 41.3 percent, while those with children fell by five percent. Of those with children, 47.5 percent had one child, 41.9 percent two and only 10.6 percent three or more.

If, as is conventionally held, the demographic replacement rate is 2.1, this means that the Italian population, like everywhere in Europe, is on a steep decline.

Of course, having child today is not an easy choice. To put it simply: in 2009, Italy had a budget of 2.5 billion euro for social interventions and, four years later, only one-third of that; in 2009, Italy’s Family Policies Fund stood at 186.5 million euro and is now less than 21 million. No wonder then that 60 percent of the population lives in fear of becoming poor.

The number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose from 1.8 million in 2007 to 2.5 million in 2013. And while Italy’s young people are being humiliated, its senior citizens are being mistreated – 41.3 percent of pensions are less than 1,000 euro per month.

By the way, 83,000 Italians expatriated in 2013, and the number of young people with a university degree that went to the United Kingdom, for example, was just over 3,000 – but in the same year, 44,000 foreigners also left Italy and while Italy received nearly 355,000 immigrants in 2011, two years later the number was just 280,000. And yet the campaign of xenophobia in Italy has it that there is a dramatic increase in immigrants.

This social decline is happening at different speeds and in different proportions all over Europe. In Germany, the core country, 25 percent of the population fall into the so-called “Hartz IV” category – under the Hartz Committee reform of the German labour market introduced by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – and have to survive on the bare minimum of benefits.

This social decline is being accompanied by an unprecedented increase in social inequality. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, published a study In 2002 on inequality among world citizens, starting from the 19th century, using the Gini index of inequality (where absolute equality = 0). In 1820, the index stood at 50, had risen to 60 in 1910, 64 in 1950, 66 in 1992 and 70 ten years later.

Today the ratio between a minimum wage and a top salary is very simple – the small guy must work 80 years to earn what the big guy earns in a year!

According to a number of sociologists, ‘catching up’ (or the so-called ‘demonstration effect’), is one underlying reason for corruption. It is no accident that the south of Europe has much more corruption than the north (but the Protestant Ethic must also play a role).

In just a few months, the former prime minister of Portugal, José Socrates, has been jailed, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to politics in France to try to escape several accusations and Spaniards are riveted by the revelation of giant webs of corruption that the government is now trying to stymie by changing the judge in charge of the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Romans have awakened to find out that a criminal organisation has been controlling the town council and the administration, and this coming on the heels of a similar discovery in Milan, where individuals who had been already convicted of corruption got back into business and did more of the same in the public works for next year’s Expo.

It is no wonder that, as in every crisis, in a climate fear and uncertainty, there is a need for a scapegoat. The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants.

This all shows that Europe has lost its compass – and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that it can be recovered soon.

Who is going to provide an answer to Europe’s anguish when those in power escape from reality and look for scapegoats? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Renewable Energy: The Untold Story of an African Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:32:55 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138251 By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

Africa is experiencing a revolution towards cleaner energy through renewable energy but the story has hardly been told to the world, says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, who had been advocating for renewable energy at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, said Africa is on the right path toward a low carbon footprint by tapping into its plentiful renewable resources – hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“There is a revolution going on in the continent of Africa and the world is not noticing it. You can go to Egypt, Ethiopia Kenya, Namibia, and Mozambique. I think we will see renewable energy being the answer to Africa’s energy problems in the next fifteen years,” Steiner said in an interview with IPS.

Sharing the example of the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Steiner told IPS that the decision was taken that “if UNEP is going to be centred with its offices in the African continent on the Equator, there can be reason why we are not using renewable energy. So we installed photovoltaic panels on our roof which we share with UN Habitat, 1200 people, and we produce 750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, that is enough for the entire building to operate.”

He noted that although it will take UNEP between eight and 10 years to pay off the installation, UNEP will have over 13 years of electricity without paying monthly or annual power bills. “It is the best business proposition that a U.N. body has ever made in terms of paying for electricity for a building,” he said.

According to Steiner, the “revolution” is already happening in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia which are both targeting renewable energy, especially geothermal energy.

“Kenya plans to triple its electricity generation up to about 6000 megawatts in the next five years. More than 90 percent of the planned power is to come from geothermal, solar and wind power,” he said. “If you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country” – Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Kenya currently runs a geothermal power development corporation which invites tenders from private investors bid and is establishing a wind power firm likely to be the largest in Africa with a capacity of 350 megawatts of power under a public-private partnership.

In Ethiopia, expansion of the Aluto-Langano geothermal power plant will increase geothermal generation capacity from the current 7 MW to 70 MW. The expansion project is being financed by the Ethiopian government (10 million dollars), a 12 million dollar grant from the Government of Japan, and a 13 million dollar loan from the World Bank.

Renewable energy has costs but also benefits

Phillip Hauser, Vice President of GDF Suez Energy Latin America, told IPS that geothermal power is a good option for countries in Africa with that potential, but it comes with risks.

“It is very site-dependent. There can be geothermal projects that are relatively cost efficient and there are others that are relatively expensive. It is a bit like the oil and gas industry. You have to find the resource and you have to develop the resource. Sometimes you might drill and you don’t find anything – that is lost investment,” Hauser told IPS.

Steiner admitted that like any other investment, renewable energy has some limitations, including the need for upfront initial capital and the cost of technology, but he said that countries with good renewable energy policies would attract the necessary private investments.

“We are moving in a direction where Africa will not have to live in a global fuel market in which one day you have to pay 120 dollars for a barrel of crude oil, then the next day you get it at 80 dollars and before you know it, it is doubled,” he said.

“So if you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country,”Steiner added.

A recent assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of Africa’s renewable energy future found that solar and wind power potential existed in at least 21 countries, and biomass power potential in at least 14 countries.

The agency, which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, has yet to provide a list of countries with geothermal power potential but almost all the countries around the Great Rift Valley in south-eastern Africa – Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania among others – have already identified geothermal sites, with Kenya being the first to use a geothermal site to add power to its grid.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin told IPS that the agency’s studies shows that not only can renewable energy meet the world’s rising demand, but it can do so more cheaply, while contributing to limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius – the widely-cited tipping point in the climate change debate.

He said the good news in Africa is that apart from the resources that exist, there is a growing body of knowledge across African expert institutions that would help the continent to exploit its virgin renewable energy potential.

What is needed now, he explained, is for countries in Africa to develop the economic case for those resources supported by targeted government policies to help developers and financiers get projects off the ground.

The IRENA assessment found that in 2010, African countries imported 18 billion dollars’ worth of oil – more than the entire amount they received in foreign aid – while oil subsidies in Africa cost an estimated 50 billion dollars every year.

New financing models for renewable energy

According to Amin, renewable energy technologies are now the most economical solution for off-grid and mini-grid electrification in remote areas, as well as for grid extension in some cases of centralised grid supply.

He argued that rapid technological progress, combined with falling costs, a better understanding of financial risk and a growing appreciation of wider benefits mean that renewable energy would increasingly be the solution to Africa’s energy problem.

In this context, Africa could take on new financing models that “de-risk” investments in order to lower the cost of capital, which has historically been a major barrier to investment in renewable energy, and one such model would include encouragement for green bonds.

“Green bonds are the recent innovation for renewable energy investments,” said Amin. “Last year we reached about 14 billion dollars, this year there is an estimate of about 40 billion, and next year there is an estimate of about 100 billion dollars in green finance through green bonds. Why doesn’t Africa take advantage of those?” he asked.

During the conference in Lima, activist groups have been urging an end to dependence on fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered energy systems, calling for investment and policies geared toward building clean, sustainable, community-based energy solutions.

“We urgently need to decrease our energy consumption and push for a just transition to community-controlled renewable energy if we are to avoid devastating climate change,” said Susann Scherbarth, a climate justice and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told IPS that “we urgently need a transition to clean energy in developing countries and one of the best incentives is globally funded feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.”

He said policies that support feed-in tariffs and decentralized power sources should be embraced by both the most- and the least-developed nations.

Backed by a new discussion paper on a ‘global renewable energy support programme’ from the What Next Forum, activists called for decentralised energy systems – including small-scale wind, solar, biomass mini-grids communities that are not necessarily connected to a national electricity transmission grid.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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