Inter Press ServiceInter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 22 Aug 2017 08:57:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Quantitative Easing for Wealth Redistributionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 08:51:10 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151760 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Quantitative Easing for Wealth Redistribution - A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 2017 (IPS)

Following the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and the Great Recession in its wake, the ‘new normal’ in monetary policy has been abnormal. At the heart of the unconventional monetary policies adopted have been ‘asset purchase’ or ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) programmes. Ostensibly needed for economic revival, QE has redistributed wealth – regressively, in favour of the rich.

As its failure to revive most economies becomes apparent, and opposition to growing inequality rises, QE may soon end, judging by recent announcements of some major central banks. Already, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have been phasing out purchases of financial assets, while the European Central Bank (ECB) is publicly considering how quickly to do so from December. Meanwhile, these monetary authorities are considering raising interest rates again.

Evaluated by its own declared objectives, QE has been a failure. Forbes magazine, the self-avowed ‘capitalist tool’, has acknowledged that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”. By ‘injecting’ money into the economy, QE was supposed to induce banks to lend more, thus boosting investment and growth. But in fact, overall bank lending fell after QE was introduced in the UK, with lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for most employment – falling sharply.

Bank failure to finance productive investments was not because corporations were short of cash as they have considerable reserves. Instead, the problem is due to under-consumption or overproduction, exacerbated by protracted stagnation and worsening inequality. After all, producing more when demand is soft or shrinking only leads to excess supply or gluts.

 

QE’s regressive wealth distribution

But QE has transferred wealth and income to the rich in the guise of reviving the world economy. New money created by QE was not invested in new productive activities, but instead mainly flowed into stock markets and real estate, pushing up share and property prices, without generating jobs or prosperity. QE has enriched asset owners, increasing the wealth of the rich, while not generating real wealth.

By effectively devaluing currency, QE has diminished money’s buying power, thus reducing real incomes. However, first-time or new asset purchasers lose, having to spend more to buy more expensive assets such as shares or real property. While increased asset prices have to be paid by purchasers, the additional cost to existing asset owners is partially compensated for by higher prices received for assets sold.

Thus, the claim that QE would encourage investment as well as boost growth and employment has disguised the massive redistribution or wealth transfer to the rich. QE, especially in the US and UK, has seen real wages fall as profits rose. While output may have recovered, real wages have been generally lower.

 

In the South too

QE has had similar effects in the global South, enriching asset owners at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’, while making their economies more vulnerable. QE also caused housing, stock market and commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up such assets. Until petrol prices fell in late 2014, oil-exporting countries enjoyed cash windfalls, at the expense of oil-importing countries, sometimes with devastating consequences, even if only temporary.

QE triggered huge capital flows into the developing world. Around 40 percent of the US Fed’s first QE credit expansion and a third from QE2 went abroad, mostly to ‘emerging markets’. Much of this went into buying existing assets, rather than into productive new investments. And if their currencies strengthened, their exports were undermined.

On the other hand, QE also exacerbated competitive currency devaluations. By reducing the value of their own currencies, ‘reserve currency’ monetary authorities effectively caused other currencies to appreciate, damaging their exports and trade balances.

 

Be prepared

Unlike productive long-term investments, ‘hot money’ inflows of speculative capital worsen currency volatility. Rising interest rates in the West are likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets, potentially triggering currency collapses in emerging markets again, as in mid-1997.

With various recent developments conspiring to reverse the last several years of unconventional monetary policies in the North, emerging markets and other developing economies are generally poorly prepared for the forthcoming change in circumstances.

While policy options in different scenarios are already being publicly considered in the Western reserve currency economies, an ostrich-like approach of not discussing and preparing for such changes is much more widespread in other economies, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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Buffalo Revive Local Economy in Remote Bay of Bengal Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/buffalo-revive-local-economy-remote-bay-bengal-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=buffalo-revive-local-economy-remote-bay-bengal-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/buffalo-revive-local-economy-remote-bay-bengal-islands/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 00:01:25 +0000 Shahiduzzaman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151704 Visitors might be confused after arriving in Char Chatkimarai, a tiny island of eight square miles situated in the extreme south of Bangladesh close to the Bay of Bengal. Many might think they have just landed in an amazing part of a big national park of buffalo. It is an eye-catching sight to say the […]

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About 7,000 farmers are benefitting from this IFAD-supported project and the buffalo population has risen to more than 9,100 in the district. Credit: GJUS

By Shahiduzzaman
BHOLA, Bangladesh, Aug 22 2017 (IPS)

Visitors might be confused after arriving in Char Chatkimarai, a tiny island of eight square miles situated in the extreme south of Bangladesh close to the Bay of Bengal. Many might think they have just landed in an amazing part of a big national park of buffalo.

It is an eye-catching sight to say the least. Whichever direction one looks, there are buffalo everywhere, moving together in herds and sometimes playfully running after each other or resting with their bodies submerged in water.“Our income is slowly increasing and we can take care of our families better than before." --Hanif Hawlader

This buffalo island did not happen overnight. It is the poor people of this island who worked for decades to turn the place into buffalo land, building and rebuilding after floods, cyclones and tidal surges hit the island year after year.

The islands were inundated several times, including Char Chatkimarai, which was completely washed away and inhabitants of the island lost their loved ones and all their assets. But the people never gave up, rising every time to rebuild their lives and dreaming of a better future.

Each disaster that hit the people made them more determined to work harder. Their struggle for a better life attracted the attention of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations organisation that came up with a support programme for the island.

The government of Bangladesh welcomed IFAD’s initiative and agreed to work together to give the people of the island a fighting chance for a better life.

With IFAD support, Grameen Jano Unnayan Sangstha (GJUS), a local NGO, launched a four-year programme to provide modern technology for rearing buffalo in five sub-districts of Bhola, a southern district of the country. Ever since, the situation on the island started to improve.

About 7,000 farmers are benefitting from this IFAD-supported project and the buffalo population has risen to more than 9,100 in the district. The total buffalo population in the country is 1.464 million heads that are used for household subsistence farming as well as for extensive free range farming in the saline coastal region. Often buffalo are used as draft animals and partially for milk and meat production.

Zakir Hossain, Executive Director of GJUS, said, “Rearing buffalo is not profitable due to its high mortality rate, which is about 12 percent, and low productivity. But farmers keep buffalo in remote islands as they do not have any alternatives for survival.”

“Its products are healthier than other animals such as cow or goat,” Zakir added.

Mentioning the key activities undertaken with IFAD support on the island, Zakir said that training has been introduced for buffalo farmers to be able to adopt modern technology, keep up with continuous technical advice and health treatment services and introduce feed technology for high yielding bulls and artificial insemination technology.

The farmers are also helped to set up linkages between producers and milk purchasers and access markets and undertake promotion activities surrounding buffalo milk, milk-based products and meat, also ensuring regular vaccination.

As per the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic (BBS) (2015-1016), the contribution of livestock to GDP is 1.66 to country’s GDP. Experts state that there are more options and opportunity to expand the sector.

Char Chatkimarai lies between two giant rivers: Tetulia and Meghna. The population of about 3,000 is ultra-poor and the literacy rate is very low. Girls and women’s lives are quite restricted. Most of them are victims of child or forced marriages.

Recently a team led by Benoit Thierry, Country Program Manager, Asia and the Pacific Division of IFAD traveled for over one and a half hours by small speed boat to reach Char Chatkimarai from Barisal division. Thierry met about 50 buffalo farmers and the people who live on this little island.

Nazim Hawlader, a 50-year-old farmer who is also a group leader, said, “Rearing buffalos was never profitable. Traditionally we have been rearing buffalos but had no treatment facilities when some buffalos had diseases. Now we have such services and this gives us new hope for survival.”

Nazim commended GJUS  for introducing modern technologies for rearing the animals, saying, “They have trained us, advised to take care of our animals in a scientific way and have provided treatment facilities.”

As a result, he said, the buffalo mortality rate has been reduced and the number of buffalo is increasing and they are producing more milk than before.

Hanif Hawlader, 55, another buffalo farmer, said, “Our income is slowly increasing and we can take care of our families better than before. Children are going to school, getting nutritious and healthy food and we also have sanitary toilets.”

He said that there is still a need for good feed at accessible cost and free fields for grazing.

Mohammad Majnu Sarkar, Assistant Manager of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a government apex development organization, said, “We have given strong emphasis not only on Char Chatkimarai but also on the five sub-districts of Bhola and other adjacent districts where there is high potential for rearing buffalos.”

He added that the target is to reduce the buffalo mortality rate from 12 percent to 5 percent and continue transferring modern technology to improve herd health. Manju Sarker expressed confidence that most farmers will cross the poverty line and become self-sufficient within the next few years.

“At present buffalo milk, milk products and meat covers about 40 percent demand of Bhola district but it is gradually increasing after the project began. With such promising results, this project can be replicated in other parts of the country, particularly in the district adjacent to Bhola,” said veterinary doctor and Assistant Director of UJUS, Khalilur Rahman.

A study titled “Opportunities of Buffalo Farming in Bangladesh’ found that buffalo milk contains less water, more solids, fat and protein and slightly more lactose than cow’s milk. It seems thicker than cow’s milk because it generally contains more than 16 percent total solids compared with 12-14 percent in cow’s milk.

In addition, its fat content (6-8 percent) is usually 50-60 percent higher (or more) than cow’s milk. Buffalo milk has considerably higher energy value than cow’s milk because of its higher butter fat content. It is commercially more viable than cow milk for products such as butter, butter oil, soft and hard cheeses, condensed or evaporated milks, ice cream, yogurt and butter milk because of its lower water content and higher fat content.

Most significantly, the lower cholesterol value should make it more popular in a health conscious market. Also, buffalo meat is very tender and tasty and a healthy red meat substitute for beef. It is faster to cook, easier to digest, and has no allergenic effect.

The study, jointly conducted by a group of experts from Bangladesh Open University, SAARC Agriculture Centre, Sylhet Agricultural University, and the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Discipline of Khulna University also put forward a number of recommendations, including buffalo milk and meat market and infrastructure development and private investment to be explored and encouraged to invest in buffalo development in the country.

Deputy Commissioner of the District Mohammed Selim Uddin said the government is very supportive of the project. He said there are about 42 Char lands and each of these have excellent potential for rearing buffalos and cows.

Giving it high importance, the government is now planning to build several Mujib Kellah in the Char (island) region, where people and animals will stay safe during natural calamities like cyclone, floods or high tidal surges. Each Kellah will also have sweet water reserve instead of saline water for public use.

The project initiators are now planning to give a brand name for buffalo products, aiming to make them popular and market throughout the country.

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Who is Latin America and the Caribbean leaving behind?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/who-is-latin-america-leaving-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-is-latin-america-leaving-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/who-is-latin-america-leaving-behind/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:11:02 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151757 Jessica Faieta is UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean

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Achieving the SDGs - Who is Latin America leaving behind? - Being a young person or a woman, afro-descendant, indigenous, LGBTI or a person with disabilities affects the opportunities and possibilities of social and economic advancement and access to services in Latin America and the Caribbean, a recent UNDP study shows. Credit: Javier Sagredo / UNDPCredit: Javier Sagredo / UNDP

Being a young person, a woman, afro-descendant, indigenous, LGBTI or a person with disabilities affects the opportunities and possibilities of social and economic advancement and access to services in Latin America and the Caribbean, a recent UNDP study shows. Credit: Javier Sagredo / UNDPCredit: Javier Sagredo / UNDP

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2017 (IPS)

Last month at the High Level Political Forum in New York, more than 40 countries – 11 from Latin America and the Caribbean – shared their progress in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), within the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The meeting has made evident the region’s political will to adopt and accomplish this universal agenda. Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Uruguay presented their progress, along with Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela that shared their reports in 2016.

The SDGs recognize the virtue of inclusive, sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and strengthens institutional and regulatory frameworks. The agenda seeks to “leave no one behind,” and admits that the market alone does not solve all problems. This is fundamental for our region, the most unequal in the world.

The region remains the most violent in the world, with 27.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Young Latin-Americans, especially men, are the most affected by crime and violence and yet are the most common perpetrators
During the Forum, the Secretary-General presented his global report on the SDGs, which also shows progress and challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the past two decades, the region has accomplished extraordinary achievements: the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty (or on less than $ 1.90 per day) fell from 13.9 percent (1999) to 5.4 percent (2013). In addition, 61% of Latin Americans had some type of social protection in 2016.

But the report also reveals that we remain indebted to certain groups, especially young people and women. In addition to being a young person or woman, being afro-descendant, indigenous, LGBTI or a person with disabilities affects the opportunities and possibilities of social and economic advancement and access to services in our region, as a recent UNDP study shows.

There are challenges for young people, especially those with low incomes. Annual GDP per capita growth has declined over the last decade and the youth unemployment rate (17.2) was almost three times higher than for adults (6.1) in 2016.

If the world was previously focused on measuring the number of children in school, the new agenda looks more at the quality of education. This report shows that, although there are more students than ever before, in many countries in the region only half of them have achieved minimum levels of proficiency in reading or mathematics at the end of primary education.

Moreover, the region remains the most violent in the world, with 27.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Young Latin-Americans, especially men, are the most affected by crime and violence and yet are the most common perpetrators,, according to a UNDP report which also calls for avoiding the criminalization and stigmatization of young people, particularly those with low income.

Many challenges remain for women. An average of 12 percent suffered physical or sexual violence by their partners in the last 12 months. In addition, we have the second highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the world. Also, women do three times more unpaid work at home than men, a disparity that increases in Latin America when there are children in the household.

On the other hand, there are more women in parliaments in our region than ever before. The proportion jumped from 15.2 percent in 2000 to 29.4 percent in 2017, with Latin America being today the second region of the world with more female MPs.

Beyond the report’s figures, the region has taken concrete steps in creating or adapting institutions to implement the SDGs, and several countries are moving towards incorporating the targets into their planning and budgeting.

This is good news. The new agenda provides a historic opportunity to rethink the region’s traditional progress model and encourages many countries to define new ways of working with the public sector, private sector and civil society, for our planet and our people, leaving no one behind.

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Internet Shutdowns in Africa Stifling Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:56:10 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151755 Jonathan Rozen is a Researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa Program*

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Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015, according to the same data.

By Jonathan Rozen
NEW YORK, Aug 21 2017 (IPS)

The internet for journalism is now like the air you breathe,” said Befeqadu Hailu, an Ethiopian journalist and a member of the Zone 9 blogger collective who was arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism. “Without the internet, modern journalism means nothing.” Yet, the internet is something that journalists in multiple African countries are often forced to do without.

Between 30 May and 8 June, the Ethiopian government shut down the country’s internet service for the third time in the last year. These shutdowns have occurred in the context of an ongoing crackdown on the press by authorities, who are currently keeping nine of the 17 journalists recorded on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2016 prison census behind bars.

Since the state-run Ethio Telecom holds monopolistic control over both internet and telephone service, the government has the ability to effectively sever its population’s communications on a whim.

“We’ve been through extraordinarily difficult times [during] the ten days of [the] shutdown,” Tsedale Lemma, editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard, told CPJ over WhatsApp.

There was a complete digital blackout during the first few days after which broadband became available, said Hulu. But since broadband is largely only available for businesses and organisations, many journalists continued to face major challenges. The frequent clampdown on internet access prevents them from securely communicating with sources or publishing on time.

After the third day of the shutdown, Lemma ran between hotels to find internet access. “This is insecure as you are using the business centres there, which is not a secure connection,” Lemma said.

 

Congo-Brazzaville

On 25 June 2017, Congo-Brazzaville’s internet connection was restored after a 15-day shutdown that was reportedly caused by a mysterious fishing boat that damaged the country’s submarine cables.

While journalists and analysts inside and outside of Congo-Brazzaville speculated over the truthfulness of a boat’s involvement, private mobile companies were able to provide some satellite connection. Nevertheless, journalists remained hampered.

“As long as the internet is not stable, many field, remote reporters or correspondents are facing big problems to send their stories, their work,” a Congo-Brazzaville-based journalist told CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015
While online media distributors are effectively blocked from their platforms during internet shutdowns, print and broadcast journalists’ investigative capacities also suffer greatly.

 

Cameroon

For 93 days between January through April 2017, the Cameroonian government with cooperation from private mobile operators cut off internet access in the two western, Anglophone regions of the country.

The government also imposed a suffocating culture of fear through a campaign of arrests and detentions, according to a forthcoming CPJ report on Cameroon’s use of anti-state legislation against journalists. Attacks on the press increased dramatically. At least eight journalists were arrested in connection with their journalism (six of them remain in detention in Yaoundé).

Without the internet, reporting on people’s daily realities became extremely difficult. The media environment in Cameroon was choked. Fear of reprisal, coupled with the internet shutdown, restricted communication between online and offline regions. Coverage of ongoing abuses was stifled.

“Content [was] sent to the [media] station through road,” a Cameroonian broadcast journalist based in the English-speaking regions who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told CPJ. “We could therefore not relay timely news items from other areas because we had to wait for them two [to] three days after.”

With such limited information, speculation reigned supreme, the journalist said.

 

Secure communications

As governments improve their surveillance tactics, journalists are forced to use a small number of internet-based communication platforms in pursuit of private conversation.

“You pick up your phone to make that call, and you know your phone is tapped, you know there is someone on the other end listening,” Lemma told CPJ. “People don’t [even] feel safe meeting in person.”

“It’s no more a secret that many journalists are actually [wiretapped],” a Congolese journalist told CPJ over WhatsApp on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Also, internet is very important for the journalists’ work, since some social media [helps] to bypass [wiretapping] or line monitoring when they need to check or get or publish some facts.”

This perspective is supported by a 2011 report, which highlights how “the November 2009 law on electronic communications and the 2010 decree on identification of [telecommunications] subscribers show that the [Congolese] state has seemingly unlimited power to invade the privacy of its citizens in the interest of security … It seems that the state can access personal data under any pretext without the consent of the individual concerned, who can do nothing to stop it from happening.”

When journalists are too afraid to speak on regular telecommunication lines for fear that their government will intercept the communication and arrive at their door, encrypted internet-based tools like WhatsApp or Signal offer a practical method of communication and information dissemination.

In his 2015 piece titled Surveillance forces journalists to think and act like spies“, CPJ’s staff technologist Tom Lowenthal explains how important encryption technology is for journalists to connect with sources and write important stories. Without secure communication tools, journalists’ ability to communicate privately with sources becomes limited and self-censorship flourishes.

“Internet shutdowns are particularly censorious in areas where fear of reprisal for critical journalism reigns, and unfortunately, this fear exists in many of the African countries that have experienced internet shutdowns,” said CPJ’s emergencies director María Salazar-Ferro. “Journalists should never feel that their work is putting them or those they communicate with in danger.”

 

Resisting shutdowns

Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015, according to the same data.

Many of these shutdowns occur during elections and other moments of political tension, when access to information is critical for the public to make informed decisions.

In response, internet freedom advocates have mobilised to compel governments and telecommunications companies to resist shutting off internet access.

In March 2017, the Freedom Online Coalition, which is composed of 30 national governments working to advance internet freedom, expressed deep concern over the “growing trend of intentional state-sponsored disruptions”. They also offered a list of five good practices for governments to avoid shutdowns and seize the economic and social growth brought by the internet.

In Ethiopia, for example, a 30-day shutdown cost the government upwards of US$8.5 million, while a separate 15-day shutdown in the Republic of the Congo cost over US$72 million, according to a 2016 Brookings Institute report.

On 10 April 2017, a creative advocacy proposal was put to the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), the body that allocates Africa’s IP addresses, which are identifiers for computers and other devices that connect to the internet. The proposal called for the denial of new IP addresses for one year to countries that order their internet to be shut down.

Though media reports indicate that the proposal was denied as a result of intense opposition from African governments, AFRINIC subsequently issued a statement calling for African governments to “renounce the use of internet shutdowns as a policy tool”.

Internet advocates are also targeting telecommunications companies and internet service providers in an effort to get them to resist government calls for shutdowns.

On 15 February 2017, nearly a month into Cameroon’s internet shutdown, CPJ was among 27 signatories on a letter to three Cameroon telecommunication companies’ CEOs, requesting “support in restoring internet access”.

A month later, United Nations Special Rapporteur on free expression David Kay’s report to the UN Human Rights Council highlighted the responsibility of private “provider” companies to “ensure that they do not cause, contribute or become complicit in human rights abuses” involved in shutdowns.

“Being able to survive as a journalist in this age without access to the internet – the idea itself is very daunting,” Lemma told CPJ. “But beyond the idea, it’s everything from losing your security [to] not being able to communicate the way you want.”

Respect for press freedom means letting it breathe by enabling journalists to conduct their work. Without internet access journalists cannot publish online, nor can they conduct thorough investigations or talk securely with their sources. To have a free press, African governments need to #KeepItOn.

This article originally appeared on Africa Portal

 

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Union Conflict Rages on in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/union-conflict-rages-on-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=union-conflict-rages-on-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/union-conflict-rages-on-in-south-africa/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 11:53:45 +0000 Linda Flood http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151753 South African labour unions are at war with each other. Union members are harassed, beaten, and murdered. Five years after the Marikana massacre, when police shot and killed 34 demonstrators, the conflict is ongoing and the wounds do not heal.

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Striking mineworkers at the Marikana mine - Striking miners who were relased from police custody on Sep. 3 2012. Credit: Nat Nxumalo/IPS

Striking miners relased from police custody on Sep. 3 2012. Credit: Nat Nxumalo/IPS

By Linda Flood
RUSTENBURG, South Africa , Aug 21 2017 (IPS/Arbetet Global)

It was two thirty at night. Inside his home, the telephone rang. Sibongile Nota’s brother’s life drew nearer its end. A few minutes passed, the telephone rang again. His brother was now dead.

“His workmates killed him on his way to work”.

Five years have passed since that day when they lost brothers, fathers, husbands. Inside the conference room, silence is near absolute. Outside there is the noise of traffic. The local office in Rustenburg for the National Union of Mineworkers sees a gathering of eight women and men. All sitting with their backs to the wall.

“Now…for the first time I feel like a normal person again”, Sibongile Nota adds.

Reliving the past. On the 9th of August 2012 a group of miners working for the British mining corporation Lonmin at the platinum mine in Marikana, 120 kms northwest of Johannesburg choose to go on strike.

They demand higher wages. Their monthly salary of around 300 euros is far below the union demands of 800.

Over the next few days, their action gains support. The conflict between employees, the company and the police increases, and turns violent. Nearly ten employees are killed or injured. Two Lonmin security guards are also killed.

The violence does not end there.

On the 13th of August, three miners are found dead. One is Sibongile Nota’s brother.

In 2012, 70 percent of Lonmin’s 23000 strong workforce were members of the miners’ union NUM.

“For a long time, we had been demanding wage increases, but in vain. Yet the management of Lonmin, while claiming the wage level couldn’t be raised, saw their own salaries increase by 18 percent. That fuelled protests” recalls Eric Gcilitshana, Health and Safety Secretary of NUM.

A majority of the mineworkers at Lonmin were members of NUM, who thereby represented all workers in negotiations. There was though an existing rivalry and power struggle between labour unions with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) criticizing NUM for being too closely aligned with the governing political party in South Africa, the ANC.

The rivalry between the unions starting getting out of hand. In order to gain the upper hand, AMCU put forward more radical demands and attempted to engage all workers in a strike. Eric Gcilitshana describes that development;

“They said our negotiations with the employers was undermining their strike. And they said that they would kill us!”

Marikana – five years later

Due to the risk of reprisals the names of the relatives of NUM members killed in conflict are fictitious. These persons have also declined to be photographed.

Arbetet Global has for several months attempted to reach spokespersons for AMCU, including president Joseph Mathunjwa. They have rejected approaches by telephone call, e-mail and sms.

No policemen have been charged for the mass shootings of 2012.

44 miners were killed during August 2012.

During the 1990’s Joseph Mathunjwa was the chairman of a local branch of NUM before being sacked in 1999 after clashing with Gwende Mantashe, the present-day General Secretary of the ANC. He chose to register a new union in 2001, the Association of Minworkers and Construction Union, AMCU.

At present, AMCU have about 100 000 members spread around all of South Africa. NUM have 190 000 members, although before the Marikana massacre that number was 300 000.
The violence continues. More are injured. More are killed.

The strike is in its seventh day. The demonstrating strikers and the police negotiate to cease hostilities.  But reach no deal.

The following day is the 16th of August. Demonstrators gather in a field a few hundred meters away from the mine. A special unit of the police open fire. Within minutes they shoot and kill 34 mineworkers. Injuring at least 78.

South Africa was in shock. A new massacre in South African contemporary history. The worst since the Sharpeville shootings in 1960.

“I was so afraid”, Themba Gowana gestures with his hand, “I ran that way when the police started shooting”

The field where it took place is dry. The grey loamy soil is cracked. Themba Gowana’s tin shed is nearby. He stands in his garden peeling potatoes over a bowl. 5 years have passed.

”Things are a little better now. After the strike I became a member of AMCU. They have made our jobs more secure.

He wasn’t alone in turning to NUMs rival. After the shootings, AMCU won over thousands mineworkers and could therefore push forth their agenda in negotiations with the corporate management.

“Lonmin are alright. Although mineworkers can be sacked without due warning, just because they might do something wrong. If you talk too much, you get sacked. They don’t want us to talk….”

After the Marikana massacre, wage levels for mineworkers have almost doubled. Now they are at around 9000 rand, about 600 euros. But that is still a few thousand rands less than what the union demands.

Themba Gowana grows quiet.

Birdsong can be heard from the trees and a sheep bleats at a distance.

“I am afraid I will lose my job”.

Across the gravel path from Themba Gowana’s shed lives Siyabongile Rofu. He has just woken after nightshift in the mine. A stainless steel refrigerator stands next to the bed that he shares with his brother. Siyabongile Rofu starts cleaning his shack. Near the ceiling, three green soaps lay on a board. Next to the fridge, there’s a plastic basin, two buckets and two pots. A calendar from a local health center hangs on the wall.

Siyabongile Rofu is meticulous. After an hour of cleaning, he still hasn’t finished despite the schack being no larger than ten square meters. White lace fabrics from under the TV are dusted and the plastic floor is swept and wiped.

”Tonight I am going home, to my wife and my three children. They live in the Eastern Cape province and the minibus trip takes twelve hours”.

His children are twelve, eight and five years old. Siyabongile Rofu has worked in Marikana for fifteen years and expects to go on for an equally long time.

“That should be enough”, he says.

Following the strike of 2012, life has improved. The higher wage allows Siyabongile Rofu to send more money home to his family as well he can buy better food.

“I joined AMCU because it is stronger and better than NUM. Almost everyone at the mine belongs to AMCU now”

Siyabongile Rofu knew several of the men who died in the conflict five years ago.

“It was so stupid. But now worker relations are better”.

At NUM’s headquarters in Johannesburg, Health and Security secretary Eric Gcilitshana bemoans the situation.

“We try to recruit new members but it is difficult”.

He rejects the criticism that NUM were too close to Lonmins management and the governing ANC.

“We had to have a positive cooperation. Without it we wouldn’t have had any possibility to influence management”.

14 members of NUM were murdered by other miners in the days before and after the massacre. Their cases have not been included in the commission of inquiry that formed soon after the shootings.

With their own lawyers and with private detectives, NUM has tried to find out what happened in these killings of its members.

“We will help the families and justice must be served” , says Eric Gcilitshana.

Back in the conference room in Rustenburg, a short distance from Marikana, tears roll down the cheeks of Kefiloe Gungqwa.

“Since my husband died I have felt no joy, not at home and not at work. I do not speak to my workmates, I just say hello”.

The stories told by family members in the conference room are not only tragic in their loss of loved ones, but also peculiar as they were forced to seek employment at Lonmin.

Lonmin’s Communications Group Head Wendy Tlou explains: ”This was done to look after the families of the deceased and to ensure that their livelihoods were not negatively impacted by the tragedy.”

Kefiloe Gungqwa dries her tears. She was married for 14 years. A month after the Marikana strike, her husband was stabbed to death. He was an elected representative at NUM.

“Since no one in the family could take my husband’s position I was forced to move here. Now I work as a cleaner and often I am insulted by my co-workers”.

Hands in her lap, fingering a white tissue damp from her tears. Kefiloe Gungqwa may be seated in the NUM office but she is a member of ACMU. She explains:

“I was forced to join. I felt my life was in danger if I didn’t”.

The story is echoed by Thando Nqumkana. And by Siphokazi Mankhala. Nomhle Dibakwane, a teacher, tells a slightly different story. Her husband was murdered but she refuses to join AMCU:

“I cannot betray my husband and join a union that murdered him. Labour unions are a good thing but you cannot force people to join”.

Nomhle Dibakwane says she lives in constant fear.

“It is awful. Our voices, our stories have not been heard. Deaths are deaths. Why is a difference made between those who died in the massacre and those that died before and after it?

The rivalry and the violence between AMCU and NUM has not been limited to Marikana. There are many examples of fatal violence. One year ago a member of AMCU was hacked to death at the platinum mine Northam, north of Marikana.

And last autumn, at the gold mine Sibanye, south of Johannesburg, a NUM member was killed by workmates who belonged to AMCU.

Crispen Chinguno, a researcher at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, points to the root of the conflict:

“As the absolute rights are given to one union at a particular mining house, unions fight to meet the minimum threshold to get the absolute rights and push others out. It will be very difficult for the unions to cooperate if the labour relations system is not changed to allow and promote a multiplicity of unions at the same work place.”

The rivalry between AMCU and NUM is part of the system.

Lonmin’s Wendy Tlou declines to comment on the rivalry between the unions within the company and ascertains that relations between parties depend on mutual respect.

“This was evident in the recent signing of a 3 year wage agreement without any work stoppages“.

The silence from the official political leadership has been evident.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that the South African government conceded the right to compensation for the families of the victims of Marikana.  Also, over ten police who were involved in the shooting will be charged and brought to trial.

ACMU’s official comment was:

“We have waited more than four years for a commitment from government. But those at the top still haven’t taken responsibility, including Lonmin bosses, the police and the state.”

One of the key persons involved in the disastrous developments of Marikana was the South African Deputy president and former union leader Cyril Ramaphosa.

He was one of the founders of NUM in 1982. During the following decade his career in the union married well with his advancement in both politics and the private sector. In 1994, following South Africa’s first democratic election, he was given a seat in parliament representing ANC.

In 2012 Cyril Ramaphosa was a non-executive director in Lonmin. In the days leading up to the massacre, he requested police reenforcements to the area and called the strike “dastardly criminal acts”. He also opposed negotiations with the miners, which was revealed in the investigation that followed. In 2015 the report into the massacre, exonerated both Cyril Ramaphosa and the minister of police Nkosinathi Nhleko.

In May of this year, for the first time, Cyril Ramaphosa apologised for his behaviour during the strike and said that he was willing to make amends with those he had insulted.

Political analyst Nic Borain commented in the newspaper Business Day: ”His claim was that it was a criminal act, not a strike, but history has proven him wrong. The characterisation of the workers as criminals was wrong and thoughtless and in a way arrogant because it implied the only legitimate union was NUM”.

”The legacy of colonialism and apartheid is central in explaining some of the main challenges faced by the workers” says researcher Crispen Chinguno, pointing to the difficulty for South African unions in keeping out of politics.

Life in Marikana goes on as usual for most people. Despite the horrible memories, Siyabongile Rofu’s brother Abongile dreams of a job in the mine, regardless of the tough shifts in the dark.

”Look at my arms”, he says showing the red stripes on his lower arms – scars from lemon trees.

”If I fill 50 sacks a day with lemons, I make only 20 euros per week. I have to find a better job. I am desperate.”

Translation: Ravi Dar

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

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I Will Never Forget Her Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/will-never-forget-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-never-forget-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/will-never-forget-face/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 11:02:29 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151750 UN Migration Agency’s Bashir Mukhtar talks to his colleague Mary-Sanyu Osire about his humanitarian work

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Photo: UNSOM Somalia 2017

Photo: UNSOM Somalia 2017

By International Organization for Migration
Aug 21 2017 (IOM)

On a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Kismaayo, Somalia, hundreds of people pack into a settlement for displaced people. Bashir Mukhtar stands at a water point, helping weary women lift jerry cans of water. Over the last five years, he has witnessed a wave of humanitarian crises, affecting many communities in south Somalia’s Jubbaland. Mukhtar could have easily opted for another profession but decided that humanitarian work in one of the harshest environments was his calling.

“My passion has always been to aid the poor and the vulnerable, helping them have a better life. I was born and raised in a poor community in Somalia, and this is how I give back to society,” said Mukhtar.

The port city of Kismaayo, where Mukhtar works with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, hosts a large population of vulnerable individuals — local residents, people displaced by the prolonged drought and conflict in various parts of the country, as well as refugees returning home from neighbouring countries.

“Our activities picked up early this year, when people needed food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as medical services,” explained Mukhtar. “We had to act fast to save lives and avert a looming famine.”

Humanitarian workers like Bashir made it possible for more than 3 million Somalis to be reached every month with life-saving assistance and livelihood support. The recent drought, for example, affected more than six million people and displaced more than 800,000. This led to an influx of arrivals in major cities like Kismaayo, Baidoa and Mogadishu.

“I witnessed human suffering of the highest magnitude: emaciated children, mothers exhausted by the drought, fathers too weak to provide for their families,” said Mukhtar.

Although needs remain critical, Bashir is happy that the emergency response has helped save the lives of hundreds of vulnerable individuals living inside and outside displacement settlements.

Despite the drive and commitment to reach as many vulnerable populations as possible, there are challenges that make humanitarian work difficult, risky and sometimes frustrating.

“Our major challenge is the lack of adequate funds to meet the needs of vulnerable people. We struggle to reach as many people as possible, and humanitarian crises are becoming more frequent on the continent,” noted Mukhtar.

Often, the number of those in need of help is higher than the available resources.

“In 2014, I met an elderly woman. She begged to be part of a group we were giving humanitarian aid to. Though she met the criteria, we failed to include her because she arrived after the selection had been made. It was one of the most painful moments on my life, and I will never forget her face,” Bashir recalled.

Bashir knows that IOM will continue projects to improve the lives of vulnerable migrants and their host communities. In Kismaayo, the Organization runs four health centres in Dalxiiska, Alanley, Guulwade and Fanoole villages, where some of the most vulnerable populations are found. IOM also implements projects focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), displacement tracking, shelter and non-food items (NFIs), food security and protection, border management, and institutional capacity building.

This story was written by Mary-Osire Sanyu, the UN Migration Agency’s Communications Officer in Somalia, in collaboration with UNSOM. To contact Mary, please email mosire@iom.int.

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Climate Migrants Might Reach One Billion by 2050http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/climate-migrants-might-reach-one-billion-by-2050/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-migrants-might-reach-one-billion-by-2050 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/climate-migrants-might-reach-one-billion-by-2050/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 10:33:35 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151741 Imagine a world with as many as one billion people facing harsh climate change impacts resulting in devastating droughts and/or floods, extreme weather, destruction of natural resources, in particular lands, soils and water, and the consequence of severe livelihoods conditions, famine and starvation. Although not yet based on definite scientific projections, the proven speed with […]

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Photo by UNICEF 2010/Olivier Asselin

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 21 2017 (IPS)

Imagine a world with as many as one billion people facing harsh climate change impacts resulting in devastating droughts and/or floods, extreme weather, destruction of natural resources, in particular lands, soils and water, and the consequence of severe livelihoods conditions, famine and starvation.

Although not yet based on definite scientific projections, the proven speed with which the process of climate change has been taking place, might lead to such a scenario by 2050. If so, 1 in 9 human beings would be on the move by then.

Currently, forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate, according to a 2015 study carried out by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University.

“This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

Other specialised sources estimate that “every second, one person is displaced by disaster.” On this, the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reports that in 2015 only, more than 19.2 million people fled disasters in 113 countries. “Disasters displace three to ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.”

Children celebrate International Migrants Day in Egypt, 18 December 2016. Photo: Ingy Mehanna/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2016

Children celebrate International Migrants Day in Egypt, 18 December 2016. Photo: Ingy Mehanna/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2016

 

One Person Displaced Every Second

As climate change continues, adds NRC, it will likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards; the impact will be heavy, warns this independent humanitarian organisation providing aid and assistance to people forced to flee.

“On average, 26 million people are displaced by disasters such as floods and storms every year. That’s one person forced to flee every second.” See: Climate Victims – Every Second, One Person Is Displaced by Disaster

For its part, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) also forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them would be coastal population.

In an interview to IPS, the IOM Director General William Lacy Swing explained that political crises and natural disasters are the other major drivers of migration today.

“We have never had so many complex and protracted humanitarian emergencies now happening simultaneously from West Africa all the way to Asia, with very few spots in between which do not have some issue.”

The UN specialised body’s chief added “We have today 40 million forcibly displaced people and 20 million refugees, the greatest number of uprooted people since the Second World War.” See: Q&A: Crisis and Climate Change Driving Unprecedented Migration

 

Women in Somali region, where 3.3 million people suffer from hunger and need urgent support. Photo: FAO/Tamiru Legesse.

Women in Somali region, where 3.3 million people suffer from hunger and need urgent support. Photo: FAO/Tamiru Legesse.

 

Droughts, Desertification

Another warning comes from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which estimates that some 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of desertification.

Up to 12 million hectares of productive land become barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, which is a lost opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain, adds the Bonn-based Convention secretariat.

Meantime, the increase in droughts and flash floods that are stronger, more frequent and widespread is destroying the land – the Earth’s main fresh water store, according to UNCCD.

“Droughts kill more people than any other single weather-related catastrophe and conflicts among communities over water scarcity are gathering pace. Over 1 billion people today have no access to water, and demand will increase by 30 per cent by 2030.”

On the other hand, getting sustainable energy to all represents one of the biggest development challenges of the 21st century, it continues.

“Research suggests that 1.4 billion people — over 20 per cent of the global population — lack access to electricity, and that at least 2.7 billion people — some 40 cent of the global population — rely on the traditional use of biomass for cooking.”

In short, land, water and energy as resources are all pillars of our survival and of sustainable development.

“They stand or fall together. To be sustainable and in particular to reach poor rural populations, we need to enhance supply, access and security across all three pillars, at the same time, while supporting global climate ambitions.”

 

National Security, Migration

On this, based on the UN Environment Programme’s 2009 study “From Conflict to Peace-building. The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment,” UNCCD reminds that 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years are linked to the control and allocation of natural resources.

“The exposure of more and more poor people to water scarcity and hunger opens the door to the failure of fragile states and regional conflicts. Non-state actor groups are increasingly taking advantage of large cross-border migration flows and abandoned lands.”

Where natural assets including land are poorly managed, warns the Convention, violence might become the dominant means of resource control, forcing natural resource assets out of the hands of legitimate government.

Meanwhile, the number of international migrants worldwide has been on the rise. According to the International migration report (2015), their number has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.

Losing productive land is driving people to make risky life choices, says UNCCD, adding that in rural areas where people depend on scarce productive land resources, land degradation is a driver of forced migration.

Africa is particularly susceptible since more than 90 per cent of economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base like rain-fed, subsistence agriculture.

“Unless we change the way we manage our land, in the next 30 years we may leave a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little choice but to fight or flee.”

 

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South Asia Faces Fury of Floodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/south-asia-faces-fury-floods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-asia-faces-fury-floods http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/south-asia-faces-fury-floods/#respond Sun, 20 Aug 2017 11:32:50 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151737 Aid agencies warn of a serious unfolding humanitarian crisis as floodwaters continue to inundate new areas of three South Asian countries, forcing millions of people to flee their homes for shelters. The death toll from drowning, snakebite, house collapse and landslide triggered by monsoon rains and floods rose to over 600 people, officials said on […]

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South Asia Floods: Women with goats come out of their submerged house, in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Women with goats come out of their submerged house, in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Aug 20 2017 (IPS)

Aid agencies warn of a serious unfolding humanitarian crisis as floodwaters continue to inundate new areas of three South Asian countries, forcing millions of people to flee their homes for shelters.

The death toll from drowning, snakebite, house collapse and landslide triggered by monsoon rains and floods rose to over 600 people, officials said on Aug. 19.In Bangladesh, farmers are bearing the brunt of the ongoing flooding as the country’s agriculture department estimated rice and other crops cultivated in half a million hectares of land in 34 districts were washed away.

More than 16 million have been affected by monsoon floods in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, with many of them either displaced or marooned without food or electricity.

In many areas, although the floodwater has started receding, rivers are still swelling.

A large number of displaced have taken refuge in squalid makeshift camps and are staying in extremely unhygienic conditions, according to aid agencies.

Road and rail communications in the affected areas have been also severely disrupted. Thousands of educational institutions have been forced to close, while submerged hospitals are unable to assist flood victims even as water-borne diseases are spreading.

“This is fast becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises this region has seen in many years and urgent action is needed to meet the growing needs of millions of people affected by these devastating floods,” said Martin Faller, Deputy Regional Director for Asia Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Millions of people across Nepal, Bangladesh and India face severe food shortages and disease caused by polluted flood waters,” Faller said in a statement.

The aid agency Oxfam said there was urgent need for supplies like drinking water, food, shelter, blankets, hygiene kits and solar lights.

Bangladesh authorities said more than a third of the country was submerged, and water levels in major rivers were still rising, inundating new areas every day.

South Asia Floods: The premises of a school inundated by floodwater in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The premises of a school inundated by floodwater in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

In Bangladesh, flooding by major rivers has surpassed the levels set in 1988, the deadliest floods the country had seen to date.

According to the disaster management department control room of the Bangladesh government, at least 98 people died in August.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimated that more than half a million people in Bangladesh were affected by flooding.

In Bangladesh, farmers are bearing the brunt of the ongoing flooding as the country’s agriculture department estimated rice and other crops cultivated in half a million hectares of land in 34 districts were washed away.

Abdul Hamid, a farmer in Rangpur district, said he had cultivated rice in 10 bighas of land, but it was completely ruined by floods. “I don’t know how to recover the loss,” he said, adding that his house was also destroyed.

In India, over 11 million people have been affected by floods in four states across the north of the country. India’s meteorological department is forecasting more heavy rain for the region in the coming days.

The flood situation in parts of India’s northern West Bengal remained grim until August 18, with many rivers still flowing well above the extreme danger level despite improvement in the overall situation in the region, Rajib Banerjee, West Bengal’s minister for irrigation and waterways, told IPS on Aug. 19.

“The situation in Malda still looks grim and remains as a matter of concern as the water of the River Mahananda continues to rise,” he said.

The situation in villages in the Indian state of Assam is very serious, as embankments of rivers in many areas have been breached, forcing hundreds of families to flee their houses. Poor people, mostly farmers, were the chief victims and many took refuge on roadsides and embankments.

South Asia Floods: Children on a boat come to their two-storey tin-roofed house half of which is submerged in flood water, in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Children on a boat come to their two-storey tin-roofed house half of which is submerged in flood water, in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Thousands of people in northern Uttar Pradesh in India, where the authorities sought military help, were also badly affected and many of them still remained marooned.

Bihar, the worst-hit district in India, also estimated over 150 dead and half a million displaced in the past couple of weeks.

“In Nepal, government recorded 134 dead and 30 missing in flood-affected areas,” a senior journalist and director of news and current affairs of Nepal’s ABC News TV, Dr. Suresh Achaya, told IPS.

Some 14 districts out of 75, mostly located along the border with India, were badly affected, Acharya said.

In Nepal, many areas remain cut off after the most recent destructive floods and landslides on Aug. 11 and 12. Villagers and communities are stranded without food, water and electricity though the government said it had been providing the victims with foods and other support.

In the flood-hit areas, thousands of people had taken shelter in schools, temples and sides of roads and embankments.

The Nepalese ministry of agricultural development estimated that floodwaters had washed away rice and other crops worth Rs. 8.11 billion (77 million dollars) and feared the crop damage could cast a long shadow on the economy.

The Nepalese government, at a meeting with chief secretary Rajendra Kishore in the chair on Aug. 18, decided to accept foreign support and aid to meet the need.

Scientists attribute the deadly floods in South Asia to a changing climate, which they believe increased the magnitude of the current flooding many-fold.

“The untimely floods being experienced in Nepal, India and Bangladesh can definitely be attributed to climate change-induced changes in the South Asian monsoon system,” Dr Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), told IPS.

The countries in the region have already been taking the brunt of changing climate that caused extreme weather patterns increasing the daily rainfall amount, droughts, untimely flooding and frequent tropical storms.

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Over 38,000 Migrants Assisted with Voluntary Return by UN Migration Agency in First Half of 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/over-38000-migrants-assisted-with-voluntary-return-by-un-migration-agency-in-first-half-of-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=over-38000-migrants-assisted-with-voluntary-return-by-un-migration-agency-in-first-half-of-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/over-38000-migrants-assisted-with-voluntary-return-by-un-migration-agency-in-first-half-of-2017/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 18:02:54 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151726 Some 19,088 migrants have returned home voluntarily with assistance from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, from 1 April to 30 June 2017, according to the IOM AVRR quarterly bulletin published today (18/08). These migrants have returned from 81 host and transit countries to 136 countries and territories of origin. This brings the number of migrants […]

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Over 38,000 Migrants Assisted with Voluntary Return by UN Migration Agency in First Half of 2017

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Aug 18 2017 (IOM)

Some 19,088 migrants have returned home voluntarily with assistance from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, from 1 April to 30 June 2017, according to the IOM AVRR quarterly bulletin published today (18/08). These migrants have returned from 81 host and transit countries to 136 countries and territories of origin.

This brings the number of migrants assisted to return home voluntarily to 38,019* since the beginning of 2017. The bulletin produced by IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) Unit shows an overall decrease of assisted voluntary returns in the first semester of 2017, as compared to the same period in 2016.

This reflects fewer beneficiaries returning from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. Such a decrease can be explained by a combination of factors including lower influx of migrant arrivals and lower numbers of asylum applications. Other influential factors include changes in national migration and asylum policies, such as restrictions on eligibility criteria for assisted voluntary return. The bulletin also highlights that one third of migrants assisted by IOM during the last quarter were female and nearly one quarter were children.

 

Number of AVRR beneficiaries per month 1 January–30 June 2017. UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Number of AVRR beneficiaries per month 1 January–30 June 2017. UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“Figures presented in the bulletin mirror a situation that is going back to normal for AVRR globally, after the unprecedented, high volumes of assisted voluntary returns from Europe in 2016,”  remarked Nicola Graviano, Senior AVRR Specialist at IOM’s Migrant Assistance Division (MAD) in IOM Headquarters in Geneva. At the same time, the bulletin’s data points to an increase in assisted voluntary returns from countries such as Niger or Djibouti, which are usually considered as transit countries for migrants en route to the EEA or the Gulf countries. “Our colleagues in the field have noticed a general increase in the number of migrants in vulnerable situations among the returnees, who require specific attention and tailored assistance,” concluded Graviano.

From 1 January until 30 June 2017, the EEA and Switzerland was the region from where most migrants returned (73 per cent), while South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia remained the region with the largest number of returnees (39 per cent). Migrants assisted by IOM mainly returned from Germany (16,645), Greece (2,924) and Niger (2,795). The main countries of origin were Albania (4,421), Iraq (4,006) and Ethiopia (2,330).

* Periodic data is provisional and should therefore be considered as an estimation. AVRR global data is reviewed and finalized on an annual basis.

To access IOM’s AVRR Bulletin 2017/II, please click here.

To access IOM’s AVRR 2016 Key Highlights report, please click here.

For further information about IOM’s AVRR programmes, please click here.

For more information, please contact IOM HQ in Geneva:
Nazanine Nozarian, Tel: +41 22 717 9314, Email: nnozarian@iom.int or Jorge Galindo, Tel: +41 22 717 9205, Email: jgalindo@iom.int

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Civilians Increasingly Bearing Burden of Armed Conflicts in Arab Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 11:32:17 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151695 The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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World Humanitarian Day / Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo. August 2014. photo credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo. August 2014. photo credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Switzerland, Aug 18 2017 (IPS)

The war in Syria has now entered its 6th year and is becoming the world’s worst man-made disaster.

The humanitarian calamity in Syria has affected millions of lives; more than half of Syria’s pre-war population has been forced to flee, including 6.3 million internally displaced persons and 5.1 million refugees living in refugee camps in the Middle East and in Europe. It is also estimated that approximately 465,000 people have lost their lives because of this enduring conflict with no immediate end in sight.

Arab civilians are also suffering in other major armed conflicts in the Middle East. According to UNHCR and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, at least 3 million Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the civil strife in Iraq.

Iraq Body Count estimates that more than 50% of the war-related deaths – following the 2003 Iraq invasion – were civilians.

In Yemen, the United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 civilians have perished from the fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthi rebels. On top of this, IOM and UNHCR estimates that around 3 million Yemeni civilians have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of the conflict.

World Humanitarian Day / Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim. Credit: United Nations Library at Geneva

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim. Credit: United Nations Library at Geneva

The high civilian tolls witnessed in these conflicts reveal that civilians are increasingly bearing the burden of armed conflicts in the Arab region.

The pattern of modern warfare has changed: battles that were once fought in the unpopulated shores of Normandie and in the desert of El Alamein are now being fought in the urban centres of Gaza, Mosul, Baghdad and Aleppo affecting the lives of millions of civilians.
The theme of the 2017 World Humanitarian Day – Civilians caught in conflict are not a target – reaffirm the vision expressed in the 10 May 2017 report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict calling for “collective action to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”

A “global protection crisis” has emerged – noted the Secretary General in the same report – owing to the rise of use of force of which civilians are ultimately the main victims. Since the end of World War II, it is estimated that between 60-90% of war-related deaths are primarily among civilians. Civilians have become the primary casualties of war in the 21st century.

The irregular and black market arms trade have fuelled the rise of violent and extremist groups in numerous countries in the Arab region.

The illicit arms trade has enabled terrorist groups to thrive in countries affected by conflict and violence. Disturbing images of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals being bombed in Palestine, in Syria and in Iraq show that civilian infrastructure is increasingly being targeted by belligerents.

Although the Arms Trade Treaty sought to regulate the international arms trade, the flow of arms and weapons to violent and extremist groups continues to fuel bloody conflicts in the Arab region owing to the lack of ratification of the Treaty by the member states of the United Nations.

Warfare and armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in urban centres in the Arab region. It has brought the war closer to people. The pattern of modern warfare has changed: Battles that were once fought in the unpopulated shores of Normandie and in the desert of El Alamein are now being fought in the urban centres of Gaza, Mosul, Baghdad and Aleppo affecting the lives of millions of civilians.

World Humanitarian Day / Civilians are Not a Target

The use of heavy weapons, so-called strategic bombardments and the use of modern technologies such as drones have increased the likelihood of inflicting collateral damage on civilians during armed conflicts. The disproportionate use of force has caused immense suffering leading to abuse and to killings of civilians. Collateral damage has emerged as an acceptable term to justify errors and the indiscriminate use of force.

In order to respond to the need to provide protection to civilians in armed conflict, the world has a moral responsibility to end the illegal trade of arms and weapons fuelling the growth of violent and extremist groups.

States need to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and comply with its provisions so as to end the illicit arms trade that is currently estimated to lie at around 10 billion US dollars per year. Weapons and arms should not end up in the hands of extremist groups such as DAESH that commit heinous and unscrupulous crimes on civilian populations in the Arab region.

I also appeal to the international community to ensure that all parties to conflict comply with their provisions to protect the lives of civilians in line with the provisions set forth in the Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War commonly known as the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Respect for international law must guide the actions of belligerents in armed conflicts. Widespread crimes against humanity affecting civilians must be condemned uniformly by world leaders regardless of where they take place. Civilians should not bear the burden of the devastating consequences of military conflicts.

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From the Penthouse to the Dog Househttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/penthouse-dog-house/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=penthouse-dog-house http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/penthouse-dog-house/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:46:34 +0000 Neville de Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151725 All that goes up must come down was considered a truism from the days of yore. The apple that descended on the Newtonian dome-probably a fable anyway- had obviously got Sir Isaac thinking. So was born what is called the law of gravity. Those untutored in physics were often told by elders not to walk […]

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By Neville de Silva
LONDON, Aug 18 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

All that goes up must come down was considered a truism from the days of yore. The apple that descended on the Newtonian dome-probably a fable anyway- had obviously got Sir Isaac thinking. So was born what is called the law of gravity.

Those untutored in physics were often told by elders not to walk under coconut trees in case a nut falls on their pate. But there are nuts that ignore such advice and one day pays the price for discarding their school texts which would have told them that objects do fall whatever the height, even from the fifth floor.

Remember what happened to a loquacious minister of the former regime who in search of his misplaced room key in a hotel somewhere in Australia went tumbling down from the balcony on to the bushes below. His son almost fell 35,000 ft in the company of a plane load of passengers and crew when he mistakenly tried to open the exit door instead of the toilet door. So it was said at the time.

These are dangerous times. The higher you go the harder you fall. These days when politics has become a money-spinning vocation and amassing wealth at the expense of the public is a time-tested occupation with even the corrupt prone to preach against corruption, one needs to be careful.
Whether it be the good, the bad or the ugly they somehow defy gravity and keep going up and up, at least their bank balances and other assets do.

One cannot cheat the laws of nature forever. At times people do get entangled in a web of deceit. Is that what happened to Ravi Karunanayake, former finance minister and until late last week foreign minister who has fallen from grace? On Thursday I was still trying to decide on a subject for today’s column when news of resignation hit cyber space.

Earlier in the life of this government Tilak Marapana honourably resigned his portfolio after a speech in parliament in which he inappropriately made references to one of his former clients under investigation at the time.Now Ravi Karunanayake has, like Marapana, gone from the front benches to the rear to sit among what some call the parliamentary hoi polloi, the back benchers.

Yet within months the former Thomian Tilak Marapana had risen like Lazarus and was back in the cabinet, albeit in some ambiguous role playing, as it were, for the minor counties. That, however, was till Friday when he was suddenly elevated to acting foreign minister.

Since the former foreign minister has quoted scripture in his resignation speech we might do the same, in our fashion. Will we see the Second Coming of the old Royalist Karunanayake or has he been thrown to the wolves by some of his former schoolmates (as Karunanayake has tangentially hinted) who have learnt not to depart but to protect themselves (and the party?) from further political fallout now that the Treasury bond scandal is beginning to unravel and possibly edging closer to ‘home’ or so it seems.

Rarely, if ever, does a country have three cabinet spokespersons. But then we are the wonder of Asia and set trendy ways to achieve political obscurity if not oblivion. Anyway the most vociferous of them who often has a habit of straying beyond the contours of the week’s cabinet discussions and interposes his own comments, stood steadfastly by his fallen (or falling at the time) colleague just as Mark Antony did speaking to Brutus and Cassius about the assassinated Caesar.

The modern text has Antony referring to corruption though the original has no reference to the corrupt. Yet in the circumstances the modern seems more appropriate. Says Antony: “Oh, mighty Caesar! Do you lie so low? Have all your conquests, glories, triumphs, achievements, come to so little? Farewell. Gentlemen, I don’t know what you intend to do, who else you intend to kill, who else you consider corrupt”.

If I might add a couple of lines of my own to bring Shakespeare up to date on Sri Lanka’s convoluted, contentious and often corrupt politics it would read:

“It was only the other day you were chosen as Asia’s best and our envoys celebrated in London town. Today you lie rejected and dejected. See how the mighty have fallen. Will others join you on the floor, bespoiling those lavish rugs with their blood for party and country?”
In a passionate plea Ravi Karunanayake’s daughter Onella appealed for understanding and justice for her beleaguered father who suddenly became the centrepiece of this drama. An anxious public waiting for the promised crackdown on corruption and abuse by the previous regime have seen no accountability, nothing more than a chimerical creation.

So when a serving minister fell foul of the inquiry by accident or design, a hungry public denied the theatrics they expected from corruption trials at last found something to savour, never mind who was being hung out to dry. The drama was made more exciting because here was a government minister being ‘crucified’-as Karunanayake called it- when all the time the public had been waiting to see the former ruling clan and its senior white-collar officials in the dock.

This sudden and dramatic turn of events where the recent accuser has become today’s accused was theatre of a high order and served as a moral pep pill for a disenchanted public. Scant wonder then that this turned out to be drama not for the gallery but for the pits and Onella Karunanayake was prompted to make that plea on behalf of her father. When she asked why only my father, a distraught daughter was articulating a question that many were asking in their own way.

Brutus was there plowing his lonely furrow. But where were Cassius and Casca the real plotters of the conspiracy to assassinate of Caesar. Would they ever be found and with enough evidence to bring them to trial for this Commission is not a court of law but a fact finding mission only.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe seemed proud of his colleague’s resignation. It was proof of the principles of good governance advocated by the unity government. Those advocates of clean and accountable government had told the citizenry that nobody was above the law and the people believed it then. But do they believe it now?. They know only too well that one swallow does not a summer make.

The troubles for the Yahapalanaya government which claimed it will exorcise this country of all kinds of malfeasance and malignity are hardly over. The saga of the Treasury bond affair continues to fester. One does not have to be a prophet to say that President Sirisena is enjoying the squirming that is going on inside the UNP which has behaved with hauteur and haughtiness as the SLFP struggled to maintain order within its ranks.

There might well be more on the UNP plate. It was reported last week that sections of the UNP are planning to bring a “no confidence” motion against the Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. He has publicly declared he is opposed the ‘sale’ of Hambantota port to the Chinese and said he will not rest until he regains its ownership on behalf of the people.

If I might get back to Julius Caesar, ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Is he speaking as Minister of Justice or as Minister of Buddha Sasana or in some pseudo-patriotic garb he has donned in recent days? He will not rest, he says, until he sends the Chinese packing. Maybe the Chinese could suggest a traditional cure for Rajapakshe’s political insomnia. Perhaps he could draw inspiration from the conduct of that ‘hit man’ of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara or revive the services of Avant Garde and chase the Chinese all the way back to Beijing.
If those in the UNP planning to move a confidence motion against the Justice Minister are serious then justice might well be done and the party better served.

In the meantime President Sirisena should temporarily recall the Kandyan sword, the kasthane, he gifted to the museum and keep it handy. If the UNP does to Justice Minister Rajapakshe what it has done to Ravi Karunanayake President Sirisena could hand over the sword to the Justice Minister to fall on it.

Now that Rajapakshe is trying to carve for himself a role as a patriot, or it is being carved for him, he might well relish the fall. As far as the public is concerned justice would have been done.

By the way isn’t Minister Faizser Musthapha desperately looking for ways to get rid of rubbish?

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Value Naturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/value-nature/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=value-nature http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/value-nature/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:36:12 +0000 Isabel Ongpin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151724 WE take our natural environment too much for granted. Look how we treat trees in urban area; we marginalize them by crowding them with structures, damaging their roots, cutting off branches disrespectfully, cluttering their surroundings with concrete, fire, trash. Notice how signs for plumber and electrician services or advertisements are thoughtlessly nailed to their trunks. […]

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By MA. Isabel Ongpin
Aug 18 2017 (Manila Times)

WE take our natural environment too much for granted. Look how we treat trees in urban area; we marginalize them by crowding them with structures, damaging their roots, cutting off branches disrespectfully, cluttering their surroundings with concrete, fire, trash. Notice how signs for plumber and electrician services or advertisements are thoughtlessly nailed to their trunks. Sometimes we even fell them and one mindless excuse is that their leaves require much effort to sweep away. Yet trees are necessary for shade, temperature control, aesthetics.

All of nature has a purpose in this world. Open spaces, water bodies, foliage, grass and what comes with them—birds, insects, animals—are essential to the health of the planet.

While some of us accept and appreciate our environment, most of us do not think that in present circumstances of modernity, particularly in urban areas where there is population density and structures galore, perhaps Nature needs a helping hand to stay alive and well.

This means Nature does not only need to be conserved and protected but it needs to be expanded.

Real estate developers should be more positive about the environment. They should include it in every project not just allowing what is there of the natural environment to play a role but to expand and enhance it. Landscaping in the grand and meaningful sense should be part of any real estate development. Thus, open spaces, water bodies, trees, grass and flowers should be part and parcel of every project they undertake. These must be created. The natural environment in real estate should not be a token but an emphatic ingredient.

Governments, both local and national, should lead the way. Infrastructure should not be confined to the building of roads, bridges, transport, structures. It should blend them with greenery, foliage, trees, water bodies to bring about health, aesthetics and the well-being that Nature gives human beings. In the infrastructure now in place in our country, the addition of greenery and taking away over-cemented areas (as in our town plazas) to bring them closer to Nature would be a worthwhile positive action.

Our country is blessed with a pleasant tropical climate, humidity, two seasons, a rich biodiversity of plants and trees. But let us not leave it at that but take a more active role in bringing them to our urban areas, our public spaces, our homes and institutions. We should have healthy indoor plants in our buildings and homes, plant the unique and varied endemic trees we have in our public spaces. We must have Nature in our daily surroundings for our physical and mental health.

I notice that in the concrete jungle that is New York City there are numerous pocket parks with trees, flowers and greenery that mitigate the harshness of cement. Jakarta, a crowded Asian metropolis like our Metro Manila, has giant trees and open spaces in its downtown area which give it a singular tropical touch so fitting to it. Kolkata has the Maidan, a huge park with no structures, no stalls, no commerce, just open space, greenery and trees for the public to enjoy.

Lately, I came across Berlin’s park, the Tiergarten, in the middle of the city. Formerly a royal hunting ground it was turned into a park. Affirmative action was taken by adding to its area, buying up more land until the park area reached 250 hectares in total. Then it was planned by professional landscapers who designed walkways, ponds, hedges, flowers and trees.

World War II created havoc. Bombing, food scarcity necessitating vegetable gardens, the need for fuel in the bleak postwar winters felled the trees. It was a ruin with only 700 trees left out of 200,000. But the public’s belief in having the park brought it back. The local government brought in 220,000 trees between 1949 and 1959 to rehabilitate the park. They were planted and nurtured with Berlin s postwar mayor, Ernst Reuter, personally planting a linden tree. The Tiergarten is a park again, a natural environmental space that has been given a place in one of the world s most modern and progressive cities.

There are lessons we can learn and apply from the above examples. One is that Nature is part of life in this planet. Another is that Nature has to be nurtured and protected and expanded.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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UAE bears treatment expenses of 90 injured Yemenis in Indian hospitalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/uae-bears-treatment-expenses-90-injured-yemenis-indian-hospitals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uae-bears-treatment-expenses-90-injured-yemenis-indian-hospitals http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/uae-bears-treatment-expenses-90-injured-yemenis-indian-hospitals/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:53:43 +0000 WAM http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151723 Ninety Yemenis who were injured in the war launched by the Houthi militias against the Yemeni people left the interim capital Aden for India on Thursday to receive medical care at the expense of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The humanitarian medical gesture is in implementation of the directives given by President His Highness Sheikh […]

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By WAM
ABU DHABI, Aug 18 2017 (WAM)

Ninety Yemenis who were injured in the war launched by the Houthi militias against the Yemeni people left the interim capital Aden for India on Thursday to receive medical care at the expense of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The humanitarian medical gesture is in implementation of the directives given by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, under the supervision of H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation.

The Foundation is bearing the treatment costs as part of the UAE’s constant efforts to ease the suffering of the Yemeni people, and stand with them in their difficult times.

Earlier, the Foundation footed the bill for treatment of 90 Yemenis who were treated in Indian hospitals. They had sustained injuries in attacks against them by the Houthi militias. It has also provide all means to transport the wounded to approved hospitals immediately.

The UAE has so far paid for the treatment of 300 injured Yemenis and for their escorts as part of its assistance programme to Yemen.

The UAE has pledged to treat 1,500 wounded Yemenis at hospitals in Jordan, Sudan and India, and has sent relief and medical convoys to Yemen.

The humanitarian and health conditions in Yemen has reached catastrophic proportions because of the Houthis’ refusal to give access to humanitarian and medical supplies for the Yemenis in need, a situation that has aggravated their suffering.

Since the eruption of the Yemeni crisis, the UAE has offered more than AED2 billion in humanitarian, relief, food and medical assistance.

WAM/Tariq alfaham

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Courting disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/courting-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=courting-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/courting-disaster/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:44:11 +0000 Imaduddin Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151721 SIXTEEN million people in Pakistan lack access to safe water. Scarcity of clean water and poor sanitation claim 19,000 children under five years of age in Pakistan annually, according to WaterAid. Per FAO/World Bank data, Pakistan’s internal renewable freshwater per capita is less than that in Syria, whose civil war has in part been attributed […]

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Scarcity of clean water in Pakistan - Courting Disaster

By Imaduddin Ahmed
Aug 18 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

SIXTEEN million people in Pakistan lack access to safe water. Scarcity of clean water and poor sanitation claim 19,000 children under five years of age in Pakistan annually, according to WaterAid. Per FAO/World Bank data, Pakistan’s internal renewable freshwater per capita is less than that in Syria, whose civil war has in part been attributed to water scarcity.

The Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources forecasts worsening scarcity. The way in which new hydroelectric plants on the Chenab and upstream Jhelum are operated by India could further exacerbate shortages.

Besides taking the legal action that the government is against India, Pakistan needs to reduce water wastage to prevent worsening scarcity; it must also widen access to potable water. Agriculture accounts for 97 per cent of Pakistan’s water consumption, making it the natural place to look first for waste reduction.

To start, the government can minimise distribution losses along irrigation canals. Samplings by researchers at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, suggest losses as high as two-thirds among unlined watercourses; lining seems to reduce losses by a fifth. Maintenance can also reduce residual losses. Despite being categorised as water scarce in 2005, rice-growers over-irrigate their fields, limiting productivity. Pakistan exports almost a quarter of its extracted ground­water through rice exports, which account for 7pc of the country’s exports monetarily.

Unless the government starts taking steps to curb the over-tapping of groundwater for water-intensive crops such as rice, sugarcane and wheat, farmers will eventually be forced by a low water table and increased costs of extraction to find more sustainable ways of farming.

Given the right balance, strands of rice would not draw so heavily from groundwater. Our ancestors along the Indus had reason to farm it 4,500 years ago: it is resistant to monsoon floods. Poly-cropped in the summer alongside drought-resistant millet as well as protein-filled beans, rice strengthened the flood resistance of millet, now largely perceived as birdseed, but a cereal worth the government’s time to market for human consumption once again. As a cover-crop, it increases rainfall infiltration and retention.

Waste reduction alone, however, will not increase access to potable water to those currently without. This is where technological innovation should play a role.

Farmers in the dry hills above Lima, Peru, harvest their morning fog using nets. Nets stretched vertically between poles catch 200 to 400 litres of non-precipitating droplets per day, which are then carried by gutters to storage containers. As in the case of Lima, Karachi, which is home to perhaps a tenth of the total population of the country, sits on the coast and is humid year-round, but the bulk of precipitation is confined to just three months. The water is not potable, but given the low cost of erecting nets in open spaces and on rooftops, it is worth seeing whether yields would be sufficient to wash and cook with.

Desalinisation plants can cater to household demand for water in coastal Karachi and Gwadar. There are challenges. For instance, the fault, given the unhappy experience in Gwadar, probably lies with the public administration and concerns technical assets, because a private plant has been selling water to the government using a desalinisation plant.

Atmospheric water generators can provide cost-effective drinking water to isolated communities in humid climates. The devices condense water from the air by one of three methods: cooling the air below its dew point, exposing it to desiccants, or pressurising it. The condensed water can be disinfected by oxidisation and exposure to ultraviolet light, and rendered potable by adding minerals.

Commercial units that cost $55,000 produce up to 40 litres an hour of drinking water in ideal conditions. Consuming 8-12kW of power per hour, the units could be solar powered, which would make them suitable for catering to rural communities without electricity, but would also add considerably to capital costs. Until the Pakistani market sees proof of atmospheric water generators’ commercial viability, Wapda would do well to demonstrate it.

Recent findings by paleoclimatologists have identified the same beginning of the end for the Indus Valley Civilisation as Bronze Age civilisations in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia: drought. The government must coordinate a response to prevent this. It must maintain its own water distribution channels and penalise heavily private parties who do not maintain theirs, regulate groundwater use and look to the sea and skies. Water is in the air. It offers more than a drop to drink.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The writer is pursuing a PhD in the economics of rural infrastructure.

Twitter: @ImadAhmed

 

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Ratcheting up tension in Korean Peninsulahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/ratcheting-up-tension-in-korean-peninsula/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ratcheting-up-tension-in-korean-peninsula http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/ratcheting-up-tension-in-korean-peninsula/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:30:01 +0000 Mahmood Hasan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151720 Mahmood Hasan is former ambassador and secretary

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Mahmood Hasan is former ambassador and secretary

By Mahmood Hasan
Aug 18 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

A lot has been reported over the past couple of weeks about the escalating tension in the Korean Peninsula. As the western media demonises North Korea, one gets the impression that it is led by a “crazy fat kid” (Kim Jong-Un, 33), who is ready to go to war with America.

Compared to the US superpower, even nuclear-armed DPRK is a piddling. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is basically an impoverished country with an oppressive, unstable political structure dominated by its military. Having 46,540 sq miles area, a population of 25 million people, USD 30 billion GDP (2015) and chronic shortage of food and medical supplies—it has been cornered by the Korean Armistice Agreement of July 1953. The Armistice ceased hostilities of the Korean War (1950-53), but no peace treaty has been agreed on so far. Technically it is still at war with the US.

The Kim Jong-Un regime is deeply insecure and under constant fear that the Republic of Korea (ROK), with American help, will invade the North and try to instigate a regime change. Pyongyang also feels unsafe after the recent political changes in ROK.

The latest bout of tensions stems from the North testing two ICBMs in July. Latest reports suggest that Pyongyang has developed a miniaturised nuclear device that can be mounted on its ICBMs and launched on targets as far as the US mainland. Nuclear-DPRK has changed the security equation in East Asia. To protect DPRK from enemies such as ROK, Japan and America, Kim has two priorities—autonomy over a modernised military and political independence. DPRK describes its nuclear weapons as a “nuclear deterrent for self-defence”. It is a mystery as to how the poor country of DPRK funds it nuclear and missile programmes.

What is noteworthy is that tensions flare up every time American troops in South Korea play provocative war games. The next joint military exercise called “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian” is scheduled from August 21-31, 2017. These drills make Pyongyang jittery and it ratchets up war invectives against the Americans. The Americans also match the rhetoric with equal vengeance.

Donald Trump personally came out with extremely crude, off-the-cuff threats to DPRK. He threatened Kim Jong-Un with “fire and fury” if DPRK tried to attack American targets. Pyongyang responded to this by preparing plans to launch an attack on the American military base in Guam. Interestingly, the threat did not come from Kim Jong-Un personally, but from his military command. Upping the ante, Trump warned that US military was “locked and loaded” should Kim Jong-Un “act unwisely”.

While Trump has been making irresponsible threats, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated that the United States is not an enemy of DPRK and there will be no regime change or military operation against it. Defence Secretary James Mattis said that though the US was ready (militarily)—“diplomatic efforts” were underway to deal with the threat. Clearly, there is incoherence in Washington.

It appears Donald Trump has found an able sparring-partner in Kim Jong-Un. By making nasty threats Donald Trump has pinned himself to a corner—with no room for flexibility. World leaders have called upon Donald Trump to avoid further tension with DPRK. Kim Jong-Un, by not personally threatening attack on Guam, retained the option not to implement the threats of his military command.

China, DPRK’s most important ally and trading partner, has called upon Washington and Pyongyang to calm down, and has asked the Americans to cease its military exercises that escalate tension. Beijing–Pyongyang relation has suffered in recent times because of DPRK’s repeated nuclear and missile tests. Beijing’s frustration with Pyongyang was in evidence when it voted on August 6, 2017, at the UN Security Council Resolution to strengthen sanctions on DPRK.

What is most surprising is that Chinese leaders have not made any public statements on the ongoing tension between DPRK and the US. The China factor is most important in the current fracas. Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times on August 11, said that China shall stay neutral if DPRK fires first. Donald Trump has been asking Beijing to restrain Kim Jong-Un and on August 12 spoke to Xi Jinping, who advised him to avoid “words and deeds” that would “exacerbate” the already tense situation. Chinese assertion to stay neutral is a clear warning to Pyongyang to stop being reckless. And the implied threat that China may be drawn into the fight, if US attempts pre-emptive strike on DPRK, is also a warning to Donald Trump. Beijing simply cannot allow US adventures on DPRK, a buffer ensconced under its belly. Kim Jong-Un knows well that had DPRK been geographically located away from China, Americans would have pulverised it militarily long ago, as it has done to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

Sanctions have not stopped DPRK from developing its nuclear and missiles programmes. An American pre-emptive strike would lead to an apocalypse. So the only option worth considering is to find a diplomatic solution. Understandably, Kim Jong-Un will continue to brandish his missiles and push for maximum concessions from America—recognition as nuclear-weapon-state (NWS), end diplomatic isolation, end the state of war with a peace treaty, withdrawal of sanctions and obtain economic concessions. Can Washington, which wants complete cap on DPRK’s nuclear programme, agree to Kim’s wish list without annoying ROK and Japan? Only Beijing can help bring the two opposing parties together for a diplomatic solution and restore calm in the peninsula, as there is no contact between them.

Mike Pompeo, CIA director said on August 13 that there was no imminent threat of a nuclear war with DPRK. ROK President Moon Jae-In also declared there will be no war in the Peninsula. Japan’s Shinzo Abe also called upon Beijing to stop Pyongyang launching missiles. The only way war can break out is through a miscalculation or by accident. Meanwhile, both sides should handle their military assets cautiously and refrain from making irresponsible threats.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Women Slowly Break Barriers in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:54:22 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151717 When one thinks of Bangladesh, its political leadership naturally comes to mind as the leaders of the country’s major parties are women, including the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Speaker of the National Parliament. When it comes to gender equality in daily life, the reality is still different, but many women in Bangladesh […]

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Four women’s groups from Mohalbari, Surail and Damoir villages in Northern Bangladesh participated in a two-day leadership and mobilization training in Dinajpur to spread the initiative of successful women-led cooperatives improving the livelihood of the rural poor. Among the 51 participants, most were landless women coming from Hindu, Muslim and indigenous communities. Credit: IFAD

Four women’s groups from Mohalbari, Surail and Damoir villages in Northern Bangladesh participated in a two-day leadership and mobilization training in Dinajpur to spread the initiative of successful women-led cooperatives improving the livelihood of the rural poor. Among the 51 participants, most were landless women coming from Hindu, Muslim and indigenous communities. Credit: IFAD

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Aug 18 2017 (IPS)

When one thinks of Bangladesh, its political leadership naturally comes to mind as the leaders of the country’s major parties are women, including the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Speaker of the National Parliament.

When it comes to gender equality in daily life, the reality is still different, but many women in Bangladesh are breaking barriers by taking traditionally male jobs – once unthinkable. Take the case of six rural women working in a refueling station in the port city of Narayanganj near the capital Dhaka, a job that entails a degree of personal risk.A 2015 World Bank report said women in Bangladesh account for only 27 percent of the total labour force - a scenario the government and its development partners are determined to change.

Happy Akhter of Magura, Lippi Akhter of Moulvibazar and Rikta of Patuakhali districts are among the six women employees of the refueling station, set up by Saiful Islam, a former police officer, in 2001.

“It’s important to utilise the potential of everyone, including women. And the well-off section of society should come up to support them,” Islam told the Narayanganj correspondent of UNB, a national news agency.

Lippi Akhter added, “My satisfaction is that I can support my family — two daughters and one son — with what I get from this job. I’m not at all worried about myself but I want my children to be educated.”

Asked about their security as they are dealing with male motorists, Lippi said, “We’re safe here as our owner is an ex-police officer. We appreciate his concern about us. He has also made arrangements for our accommodation.”

Taking such a job, where the women have to deal with transport workers, is a matter of great courage as violence against women is widespread.

In the district where these women are working, a 15-year-old girl was raped a by a group of transport workers in a moving truck on the night of August 2. Police arrested the driver hours after the incident. During a preliminary investigation, he confessed to committing the crime with the other men.

In a press statement, Naripokkho, a women’s rights body, said, “The society is being affected due to the repeated incidents of violence against women and children. We’re aggrieved and concerned in such a situation.

“Some 280 women and children fell victims to rape from January to June this year,” Naripokkho said referring to a report of Ain o Shalish Kendro, a human rights body.  It said 39 more were the victims of attempted rape during the period, while 16 were killed after rape, and five committed suicide after rape.

Citing police data, Naripokkho said 1,914 rape cases were filed and 1,109 rape incidents took place between April and June, indicating 12 rape incidents every day.

As elsewhere in the world, women account for almost half of Bangladesh’s total population. Today, the country’s total population is 1.65 million, including 49.40 per cent women, according to the Bangladesh Election Commission.

However, a 2015 World Bank report said women in Bangladesh account for only 27 percent of the total labour force. Nepal has the highest female labour participation rate of 80 percent. “The labour market [in Bangladesh] remains divided along gender lines and progress towards gender equality seems to have stalled,” the World Bank said.

According to a 2014 study by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a civil society think tank of Bangladesh, “…the contribution of women to the national income has continued to remain insignificant when compared to men because of the under-representation of their contribution to the national income accounts.”

Worldwide, women account for about one-third of the workforce in the unorganised sector. But the International Labour Organization says in Bangladesh, only 3.25 percent of employed women are working in the public sector and 8.25 percent in the private sector. The remaining 89.5 percent are employed in the informal sector with varying and often unpredictable earning patterns – or as it so often happens, work without any payment at all.

Non-recognition of women’s unpaid activity, the CPD study says, also leads to undervaluation of their economic contribution.

The situation is slowly changing as the government takes on various projects with support from international partners. To give women’s empowerment a boost, particularly in the country’s impoverished north, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh in collaboration with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has launched a project on Climate Resilient Community Development (CRCD) Project with a greater focus on gender parity.

The six-year project will be implemented in six districts, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Jamalpur, which are known as poverty pockets.

The project seeks to achieve at least 33 percent of women in the overall labour market, and 15 percent in construction-related areas with relevant actions like subsidised courses for women, inclusion of informal sectors and incentives to employers to employ females, functional literacy, and skill development training.

The project follows a gender sensitive design, noting that 10 per cent of households in the project areas are headed by women, and most of these households are extremely poor.

As it does always, IFAD is promoting the active participation of ‘Labour Contracting Society (LCS).  Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP) is one of them.

CCRIP Project Director A.K.M. Lutfur Rahman said poverty alleviation, education, irrigation, agriculture, women’s empowerment and tree planting are the social aspects of the project apart from its engineering aspects, and women are participating.

The project is expected to contribute to the construction of gender sensitive infrastructure that meets the needs of both women and men. In line with national development policies and IFAD’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy, the goal is to empower women and men to ensure equal access to project benefits.

As security concerns prevail due to the growing violence against women, Professor Sharmind Neelormi of the Department of Economics of Jahangir Nagar University in Bangladesh stressed the importance of ensuring a gender-friendly working environment in the project areas, in addition to revisiting the wage rate.

Professor Sharmind came up with the suggestions on August 1 last in Dhaka while presenting the findings of a study she conducted with support from LGED and IFAD.

Talking to IPS, MB Akther, Programme Director & Interim Country Director of OXFAM Bangladesh, said women’s empowerment is a continuous process. A woman needs five to six years of multidimensional supports, he said. She also needs help in building market linkages for income-generating activities.

Akther said providing capital resources to women is not the only solution. They should also know how to invest resources for generating income and for that they need trainings, raising knowledge and cooperation to build market linkages.

“ICT, particularly the operation of mobile phones, is also an effective tool for women to search job markets or market prices for a product,” he said, adding that he is aware of the IFAD projects.

Talking about women’s contributions to both the household economy and the national one, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a public-sector apex development body, told IPS in October last year that women’s contributions come from their participation both in formal and informal sectors, and even those, who work outside home in formal or informal sectors, also take care of household chores.

“If women’s household-level activities and their works in informal sectors are economically evaluated and added to the national income, Bangladesh may already be a middle-income country,” he added.

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Soy Changes Map of Brazil, Set to Become World’s Leading Producerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 17:22:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151713 “Our wealth lies in the climate, not in the land,” said Antonio Galván, president of the Rural Union of Sinop, a municipality created just 37 years ago, which has prospered due to the continued expansion of soy in Brazil. Sinop, population 133,000, is the biggest city in northern Mato Grosso, a state in west- central […]

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The soybean harvest this year in Brazil will hit record levels and reaffirm that the country is about to displace the United States as the world’s top producer of soy. Credit: Embrapa

The soybean harvest this year in Brazil will hit record levels and reaffirm that the country is about to displace the United States as the world’s top producer of soy. Credit: Embrapa

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 2017 (IPS)

“Our wealth lies in the climate, not in the land,” said Antonio Galván, president of the Rural Union of Sinop, a municipality created just 37 years ago, which has prospered due to the continued expansion of soy in Brazil.

Sinop, population 133,000, is the biggest city in northern Mato Grosso, a state in west- central Brazil which has experienced a major expansion of the agricultural frontier since the 1970s, and is currently the leading national producer of soy, accounting for 27 per cent of Brazil’s production.

“We have 14 to 15 million hectares of land available to expand soybean crops by 150 per cent in Mato Grosso, with no need to deforest,” Galván told IPS from Sinop.

For this reason, “it is a natural tendency,” he said, for Brazil to soon overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of soy, as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predict, in the report “2017-2026 Agricultural Outlook”.

More or less regular rainfall from October to May is the main factor for the growth of agriculture in northern Mato Grosso, explained Galván.

Besides soy, which is planted at the start of the rainy season and harvested about four months later, other crops are also planted, but at the end of the rainy season – generally cotton and maize, of which Mato Grosso has also become the biggest producer in the country in the past four years.

State-owned lands, divided between the “Cerrado” ecoregion – the Brazilian savannah – and the Amazon forest, used to be undervalued for their low fertility, until they became the new agricultural frontier.

Galván, originally from the far south of Brazil, moved to Sinop in 1986, when land was still cheap. “Soybean was just starting in Sinop when I came, the local economy was only based on livestock and logging,” he recalled.

That year, Mato Grosso produced 1.9 million tons of soybean. But by 2016 the state’s soy crop reached 26.03 million tons, and this year it is expected to increase between 11 and 12 per cent, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s National Supply Agency.

Many of the migrants from southern Brazil who founded and settled in Sinop did not share that prosperity reflected in one of the highest human development rates in Brazil’s hinterland. “They went bankrupt and returned to their places of origin,” defeated by the harsh living conditions and lack of transport at the beginning, lamented Galván.

The city’s name comes from the initials (in Portuguese) of the company that “colonised” the area, the Real Estate Company of Northeastern Paraná (a southern state), buying lands, building the first houses and streets, and attracting families to an illusory El Dorado.

 Complex of soy and maize storehouses and processing plants in Lucas Rio Verde, in the heart of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s main producer of soy, maize and cotton, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Complex of soy and maize storehouses and processing plants in Lucas Rio Verde, in the heart of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s main producer of soy, maize and cotton, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

This is how Brazil’s Amazon region was populated, with the 1964-1985 military dictatorship promoting internal migration, which expanded the deforestation and provoked land conflicts, massacres of indigenous people and malaria epidemics.

The production of soy also expanded from south to northwest, although more slowly.

Soy began to be grown in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state, in 1914, because it had the most temperate climate, the only one suitable at the time. The expansion began in 1970, when national output was just 1.5 million tons.

In a decade production rose tenfold, and it more than doubled again in the 1990s, advancing towards the north until Mato Grosso took the lead in production in 2000.

While production stagnated in the south, in Mato Grosso it tripled so far this century, and expanded to previously inconceivable areas, such as the Northeast, including the semi-arid parts, and the humid northern Amazon region.

Soy became the main national agricultural product, representing half of the production of cereals, pulses and oilseeds, and the largest export revenues: 25 billion dollars in 2016. The rural map and economy of Brazil changed radically in the process.

“The main obstacles for the expansion of soy are infrastructure and logistics. On the large agricultural estates technology continues to improve while productivity grows, with yields approaching the U.S. average of 3,730 kilos per hectare,” said Alexandre Cattelan, head of Technology Transfer in Embrapa Soy.

Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), created in 1973 by the Agriculture Ministry, is a complex of 47 specialised units, including Embrapa Soy, scattered around the country.

It played a decisive role in the adaptation of soy to Brazil’s tropical climate, with increasing productivity. Output, using new seeds and techniques, increased 6.17 times, while the cultivated area grew 3.82 times since 1980.

“We have the land and know-how to overtake the U.S., but we lack proper roads, ports, railways and sufficient storage facilities,” Cattelan told IPS. This year, because of a record harvest, the storehouses are full and there is no space for the maize that is now being harvested.

Highway BR163, which crosses the most productive area in Mato Grosso and runs to the river ports in the Amazon, is the shortest way for exporting locally produced soy and maize. But it still has an unpaved 100-km stretch and is impassable during the rainy season.

Adequate seeds and the use of lime, fertilisers and micronutrients to improve the soil helped to expand the crop to the Cerrado savannah region, said Cattelan, an agronomist who has a PhD in soil microbiology.

Direct seeding, which excludes plowing of the earth and involves covering it with straw, the inoculation of bacteria which fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce costs and environmental damage, such as the contamination of the water table, he said.

A bottleneck for the production of soy could be a slowdown in the consumption of protein in China, from a 7.9 per cent increase in the last decade to a 2.3 per cent increase over the next decade, according to the FAO and OECD report.

The report also projects a lower level of growth of per capita consumption of food in the countries of the developing South, from 1.1 per cent against the previous 3.1 per cent, and the stabilisation of the use of vegetable oils for making biodiesel.

Moreover, the expansion of soy generates controversy, especially because of the intense use of genetically modified seeds and agrochemicals, sald Alice Thuault, associate director of the non-governmental Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), which operates in northern Mato Grosso.

In 2011, a study identified toxic agrochemicals in the breastmilk of many women in Lucas do Rio Verde, a municipality next to Sinop.

The production of soy also drives the deforestation of the Amazon forest, although in a much lower proportion than livestock production, which “occupies 50 to 70 per cent of the recently deforested areas,” Thuault told IPS.

Furthermore, soybean growers, mostly producers with large extensions of land, dominate local politics and rule according to their interests, to the detriment of family farmers, the environment and public health. Former Mato Grosso governor Blairo Maggi is currently Brazil’s agriculture minister.

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Resettling Congolese Refugees in Angola, a New Shot at a Normal Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/resettling-congolese-refugees-in-angola-a-new-shot-at-a-normal-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resettling-congolese-refugees-in-angola-a-new-shot-at-a-normal-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/resettling-congolese-refugees-in-angola-a-new-shot-at-a-normal-life/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 12:58:52 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151707 The UN’s refugee agency is relocating more than 33,000 Congolese refugees from overcrowded temporary shelters in northern Angola to a more permanent establishment in Lóvua. From April this year, Angola witnessed an influx of refugees—who were fleeing violence in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo—to its Lunda Norte province. The government rushed to manage the situation […]

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Congolese Refugees in Angola - Families who fled militia attacks in Kasai Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrive at the newly established Lóvua settlement in northern Angola. Credit: UNHCR/Rui Padilha

Families who fled militia attacks in Kasai Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrive at the newly established Lóvua settlement in northern Angola. Credit: UNHCR/Rui Padilha

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2017 (IPS)

The UN’s refugee agency is relocating more than 33,000 Congolese refugees from overcrowded temporary shelters in northern Angola to a more permanent establishment in Lóvua.

From April this year, Angola witnessed an influx of refugees—who were fleeing violence in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo—to its Lunda Norte province. The government rushed to manage the situation by setting up temporary centers in Cacanda and Mussunge.

From the very beginning, authorities in Angola deliberated on questions of a more permanent settlement to ensure stability within the country.

“The centers quickly became overcrowded and the situation became very difficult. The government began working on setting up Lóvua two months ago,” Margarida Loureiro, who works as an external relations officer at the UN Field Office in Dundo, the provincial capital of Lunda Norte, told IPS.

Not all refugees who have biometrically registered—and all 33,142 have—chose to live in the temporary centers. Many lived with other host communities across Lunda Norte. Unintentionally, this allowed the government to relocate, for instance, roughly 400 families from Mussunge, and close the shelter quickly.

Now, the UN refugee agency and government authorities, through town hall meetings, have brought attention to a more cohesive space for all Congolese refugees in Lóvua.

Lóvua, which is located 100 kms (or 62 miles) from the DRC border, has been bracketed into nine zones. Every zone is divided by nine villages and every village is divided by 72 plots of land. Each village can host a maximum of 360 people. When families first arrive at the shelter, they are assisted with food and blankets. After a 24-hour period of assistance, they are sent to their plot of land where they work to build their own homes.

Still, funding the project, in spite of an interagency appeal by the UN in June for 65.5 million dollars, has had dismal results—only 32 percent of the money has come through.

Agencies are predicting that an estimated 50,000 Congolese refugees will need help by the end of the year.

“Although the number of refugee arrivals have swindled at this time of the year, the government has kept its borders open. To ensure Lóvua’s sustainability, we still need greater funding,” said Margarida.

Angola is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and has historically received refugees from the DRC. Before the influx in April, Angola hosted as many as 13,400 refugees from DRC.

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When Policies Speak the Same Language, Africa’s Trade and Investment Will Listenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/policies-speak-language-africas-trade-investment-will-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=policies-speak-language-africas-trade-investment-will-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/policies-speak-language-africas-trade-investment-will-listen/#comments Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:21:24 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151709 The rising Maputo-Catembe Bridge is a hard-to-miss addition to Mozambique’s shoreline. The 725-million-dollar bridge – billed to be the largest suspension bridge in Africa on its completion in 2018 – represents Mozambique’s new investment portfolio and a show of its policy commitment to boosting international trade. But the country can improve on its trade and […]

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Mozambique is open for business. A new suspension bridge rises on Maputo Bay. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Mozambique is open for business. A new suspension bridge rises on Maputo Bay. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MAPUTO, Aug 17 2017 (IPS)

The rising Maputo-Catembe Bridge is a hard-to-miss addition to Mozambique’s shoreline.

The 725-million-dollar bridge – billed to be the largest suspension bridge in Africa on its completion in 2018 – represents Mozambique’s new investment portfolio and a show of its policy commitment to boosting international trade.“African governments have identified policy incoherence as the elephant in the room." --Wadzanai Katsande of FAO

But the country can improve on its trade and investment if it can effectively align its national trade and agricultural policies to ensure sufficient coordination between trade and agricultural policymakers, experts say.

Initiatives to improve agricultural productivity, value chain development, employment creation, and food security are often constrained by market and trade-related bottlenecks which are a result of the misalignment between agricultural and trade policies.

This was part of findings discussed at a meeting convened by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the Mozambican capital earlier this month. The high-level meeting attracted decision makers from the ministries of agriculture, finance, trade, industry and commerce, private sector representatives and donor groups.

To help address this challenge, FAO, in collaboration with Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) at the World Trade Organisation and the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), has piloted a regional project to help countries coordinate policy making processing, starting with agriculture and trade.

Mozambique is one of four countries in East and Southern Africa targeted in the pilot project aimed at developing a model for best practices in policy development and harmonization in enhancing economic development.

An assessment of the agriculture and trade policy framework and policymaking processes in Mozambique has been done to understand decision making in setting objectives and priorities for the country’s agriculture and trade sector.

The assessment also sought to contribute to the development of a coherent national policy framework on agricultural trade in Mozambique, said Wadzanai Katsande, Outcome Coordinator for the Food Systems Programme of the FAO.

Though listed as one of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) in the world, Mozambique is rich in natural and mineral resources including gas. The country is a bright investment destination in Africa.

Policy alignment is the key

“On paper, policies sound well and good, but in practice the story is different. There are still coordination and consistency issues in the policy formulation and implementation processes within and between agriculture and trade and these need to be addressed,” says Samuel Zita, an International Trade and Development Consultant, who recently led on an analytical study commissioned by the FAO on “Coordination between agriculture and trade policy making in Mozambique.”

“When agriculture and trade policies speak the same language that creates some predictability to investors, any disconnect between the two can have a negative effect on foreign direct investment,” Zita told IPS.

The study which focused on the country’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) processes also looked at the policy documents from these processes such as the CAADP National Agricultural Investment Plan (PNISA)] and the Diagnostic Trade Integration Strategy (DTIS). It recommended that Mozambique should improve the dissemination of policies, plans and strategies to stakeholders through various media. In addition, there should be an improvement in the description and publication of agricultural production and trade data.

Agriculture – defined by the national constitution as the basis of the country’s economic development – contributes 25 percent to Mozambique’s GDP of nearly 14 billion dollars. Raw aluminium, electricity, prawns, cotton, cashew nuts, sugar, citrus, coconuts and timber are major exports.

Policy cohesion can help facilitate trade development by simplifying the regulatory and policy environment for small businesses, so countries can attract private sector investment at local and international levels, says Jonathan Werner, Country Coordinator, Executive Secretariat of the Enhanced Integrated Framework at the WTO.

“We are facing many challenges for regional trade integration in Africa,” Werner Told IPS. “Our findings have shown that aligned policy processes can help create an enabling environment for trade and development.”

Policy cementing the SDGs

African governments have committed themselves to a multitude of agreements, protocols and declarations meant to promote greater agriculture productivity and trade which are major drivers of economic growth, but something is still missing in getting it all together: effective policies both at national and regional levels. Until the well-meaning policies trade and agriculture are aligned, Africa will continue to miss out on attracting the level of investment it should.

Mozambique has taken the first steps towards aligning its national agriculture and trade sector policies to boost economic development.

“African governments have identified policy incoherence as the elephant in the room and getting the policies in trade and agriculture to speak to each other is key to turning policies into action,” Katsande said noting that agriculture and trade development form the basis of key initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Malabo Declaration and African Union’s Agenda 2063.

A boost for Inter-Africa trade

Africa has no less than 14 regional trading blocs but inter-Africa trade is low at 12 percent of the continent’s trade, according to statistics from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). However, Africa’s trade with Europe and Asia is at nearly 60 percent. Some of the bottlenecks to Africa trading with Africa include trade policy harmonization, reducing export/import duties low production capacity, differing production quality standards and poor infrastructure.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) set to be signed into operation by December 2017 will help double inter African trade. In 2012 African head of state endorsed the establishment of the free trade area by 2017. Trade is one of the pathways to unlocking economic growth in Africa to boost employment and foster innovation in a continent replete with opportunities.

Gerhard Erasmus, an associate at the Trade Law Centre, a trade law capacity building institution based in Cape Town, South Africa, said low inter-Africa trade was a real issue which has been blamed by some economists on the fact that African nations often produce the same goods (mostly agriculture and basic commodities) for which the intra-African export opportunities are limited.

“Unless we move up the ladder of value addition, industrialization and services we will remain stuck,” Erasmus said. “Thus domestic development plans need adjustment and targeted investments are necessary. There are many trade facilitation challenges, from long queues at border posts, corruption, uncoordinated technical standards and requirements, to red tape and inadequate infrastructure.”

Eramus said regional economic communities and even the African Union had policies and plans to address the many trade challenges, but implementation often encountered problems at national levels regarding political buy-in, lack of resources, technical capacity problems, and plain bad governance.

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Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, is Now Legally Bindinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding/#respond Wed, 16 Aug 2017 10:47:56 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151690 The Minamata Convention — a legally-binding landmark treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade – entered into force August 16. The primary aim of the Convention is “to protect human health and the environment” from mercury releases, which are considered both environmental and health hazards, according to the United Nations. […]

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Minamata Convention - Informal gold mining is one of the main sources of mercury contamination. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS.

Informal gold mining is one of the main sources of mercury contamination. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 16 2017 (IPS)

The Minamata Convention — a legally-binding landmark treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade – entered into force August 16.

The primary aim of the Convention is “to protect human health and the environment” from mercury releases, which are considered both environmental and health hazards, according to the United Nations.

So far, the international treaty has been signed by 128 of the 193 UN member states and ratified by 74 countries, which are now legally obliged to comply with its provisions.

The Minamata Convention joins three other UN conventions seeking to reduce impacts from chemicals and waste – the Basel Convention (1992), Rotterdam Convention (2004) and Stockholm Convention (2004).

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), an international coalition of over 95 public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from more than 50 countries, has been calling for a legally binding treaty for over a decade and “welcomes the new protocol”.

The treaty holds critical obligations for all 74 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

According to ZMWG, mercury is a global pollutant that travels long distances. Its most toxic form – methylmercury – accumulates in large predatory fish and is taken up in bodies through eating fish, with the worst impacts on babies in utero and small children.

In an interview with IPS, Michael Bender and Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Co-coordinators of ZMWG said despite its flaws, the new treaty presents the best opportunity to address the global mercury crisis.

‘’The ZMWG looks forward to effective treaty implementation and providing support, where feasible, particularly to developing countries and countries with economies in transition”.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What would be the significant impact of the Minamata Convention entering into legal force on August 16? How will it advance the longstanding global campaign to end the widespread use of mercury which has long been declared both an environmental and health hazard worldwide?

A: The new treaty is a mixture of mandatory and voluntary elements intended to control the burgeoning global mercury crisis.  It holds critical obligations that affect global use, trade, emissions and disposal of mercury.  In the near term, such provisions include a prohibition on any new primary mining of mercury, and phasing out mercury added products (by 2020) and mercury bearing processes (by 2025).

Some of these steps were unthinkable several years ago.  Now, viable, available and cost effective alternatives exist for most all products containing mercury like thermometers, dental amalgam, thermostats, measuring devices and batteries, as well as processes using mercury (e.g. production of chlorine.)

Support for treaty implementation will be provided through a financial mechanism established in the Convention text. Furthermore, the treaty includes reporting provisions (also relevant to the question below) which entails the Convention Secretariat monitoring progress and, over time, having the Conference of the Parties address issues that may arise.

The treaty also includes other provisions which provide information and guidance necessary to reduce major sources of emissions and releases. Taken together, these steps will eventually lead to significant global mercury reductions.

However, while heading in the right direction, the treaty does not move far enough nor fast enough in the short run to address the spiraling human health risks from mercury exposure.

In the case of major emission sources, like coal-fired power plants, the requirements are for countries to follow BAT/BEP practices (best available technologies/best environmental practices) to curtail releases, but no numerical reduction targets were established. New facilities will not be required to have mercury pollution controls for 5 years after the treaty enters into force, with existing facilities given 10 years before they begin their control efforts.

The treaty also addresses artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), which is both the largest intentional use and emission source of mercury globally.  However, while required ASGM national action plans (NAPs) will foster reduced use, the treaty fails to include a provision to require an eventual end to mercury use. It is envisioned, however, that NAPs will eliminate many of the worst practices that constitute the vast majority of mercury use in the sector.

While the Convention bans new primary mercury mining, it allows existing primary mining for 15 years (but does not allow supplying such uses as ASGM.)  From this source, mercury is only allowed in the manufacturing of mercury-added products and other manufacturing processes.

Q: What in your opinion are the key provisions of the Convention that could eventually lead to a worldwide ban on the use of mercury?

A: The Convention contains control measures aimed at significantly limiting the global supply of mercury to complement and reinforce the demand reduction control measures. Specifically, the Article 3 provisions limit the sources of mercury available for use and trade, and specify procedures to follow where such trade is allowed. Eventually, as mercury uses diminish, via the different Convention provisions – (e.g. the Convention’s 2020 mercury-added product phase out, and 2025 ban on the mercury use in the chlorine production)–  the production and exports from primary mercury mines will be reduced.

As discussed above, while the Convention does not ban its use, the provision to develop plans for curtailing mercury use in artisanal and small scale gold mining is important, since it is the largest mercury use and release sector, far surpassing emissions from coal fired power plants.

Q: With 74 ratifications so far, is there any mechanism that will help monitor the implementation of the convention by the 74 countries that are state parties and who are legally obliged to comply with the provisions of the convention?  Does the convention lay out any penalties against those who violate the convention or fail to implement its provisions?

A: The Convention establishes reporting requirements by the Parties, including reporting on “measures it has taken to implement provisions of the Convention and on the effectiveness of such measures…”   Further, no later than six years after the Convention enters into force, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Convention The evaluation shall be based on available reports and monitoring information, reports submitted pursuant and information and recommendations provided the Implementation and compliance committee.

This is why discussions during COP1 (scheduled to take place in Geneva September 24-29) regarding reporting forms are so important. The Article 21 reporting requirements will provide critical information on the global mercury situation and the effectiveness of the Convention in achieving mercury reductions and protecting human health.

Information Parties report on should be made publicly available. This should include information on emissions and releases; the quantities of waste mercury (i.e., commodity-grade mercury no longer used) that was disposed, and the method of final disposal; and the decisions on frequency of reporting.  Most importantly (at least for mercury production and trade) we recommend the data be provided annually in order to accurately monitor the changing global circumstances, and because of the problems with other data sources.

Finally, the Convention does not foresee penalties for noncompliance.  However, the Convention compliance committee will also focus on assisting countries come into compliance as well as also identifying areas where countries may need more assistance. In addition, individual country laws can enact penalties – (e.g. the EU regulation on mercury discusses penalties, and the Member States have to define these within their national laws.)

The NGOs will also play the watchdog role in monitoring progress, and ‘naming and shaming’ as relevant, as we follow the process in the COPs, etc.

Q: Are there any concerns that some of the leading countries, including UK, Russia, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa, Australia and Spain are not on the list of ratifiers of the convention? Have they given any indications of future ratifications?

A: For developed countries, it’s anticipated that they already have implemented many of the conference provisions, or are in a position to finance them in the future (unlike developing countries, which will rely on Convention funding.)

As far as South Africa, our partner NGO, Ground Work, has stated that ratification remains a challenge in South Africa because the industrial sector is very heavily driven by the coal industry, with almost 90% of the energy from coal. The large-scale mining sector is also not willing to declare the amount of mercury released from the ore that they mine.

All EU countries will eventually all ratify.  India has started the process toward ratification, as has Australia and also Russia- but it may take some time.

In the meantime, India has taken some affirmative steps in shifting out of mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants and regulating mercury.  However, emissions from thermal power plants is still a concern since almost 60 % of the energy generated is from coal and the cost associated with capturing mercury from coal emissions is viewed as a constrain.

Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, is Now Legally Binding

 

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