Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:12:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Ending Modern Slavery Starts in the Boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:11:07 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133731 Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite. “Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible […]

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Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite.

“Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible supply-chain data, told IPS.“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies. It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.” -- Mark Robertson

“But these issue are not unsolvable and there are good examples of companies – and initiatives – tackling the issue.”

There are thought to be some 11.7 million victims of forced labour in Asia, followed by 3.7 million in Africa and 1.8 million in Latin America. Slave labour is part of the production of at least 122 consumer goods from 58 countries, according to the 2012 International Labour Organisation statistics listed in the briefing.

The U.S. federal government compiles its own such list of products produced by slave or child labour. According to the latest update, last year, some 134 goods from 73 countries use child or forced labour in the production processes.

Certain sectors are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labour. According to the new briefing and backed up by these other lists, particularly problematic sectors include agriculture, mining and forestry, as well as manufacturers of apparel, footwear and electronics.

“Asia is the source of many of the world’s manufactured goods, and also home to half the world’s human trafficking – the majority of which is forced labour,” Anti-Slavery International’s Lisa Rende Taylor notes in the report.

Almost 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the briefing, 55 percent of whom are women and girls.

Migrant workers and indigenous populations are considered particularly vulnerable to forced labour. The briefing highlights issues that analysts say have not yet been sufficiently addressed, such as “broker-induced hiring traps”, exacerbated by steadily increasing volumes of migrant workers all around the world.

“For workers, labour brokerage increases migration and job acquisition costs and the risk of serious exploitation, including slavery,” the report states. Further, the presence of both well-organised and informal brokerage companies “in all cases” increases migrant vulnerability.

“The debt that is often necessary for migrant workers to undertake in order to pay recruitment fees, when combined with the deception that is visited upon them by some brokers about job types and salaries, can lead to a situation of debt-bondage,” the report states.

Globalised supply chains

Sedex and Verite highlight the importance of sourcing from responsible businesses and offer recommendations for both brands and suppliers on how to engage in ethical practices in supply chains.

“We are hoping to help companies understand the risks that they and their partners face with regard to the modern slavery,” Dan Viederman, the CEO of Verite, a watchdog group, told IPS. “It takes more commitment from companies to really understand what is happening amongst the hidden process among their business partners.”

Viederman says the new campaign by Verite and Sedex Global will work to motivate companies and their suppliers.

Globalisation and “complex and multi-tiered” supply chains have made it massively more difficult to detect forced labour and human trafficking, the new report states. Thus, “companies need tools, protocols and policies to effectively audit trafficking and to establish mechanisms to protect workers.”

The briefing recommends companies step up actions to “raise awareness internationally and externally of the risks of human trafficking” and to establish corporate policies to address related issues. Particularly important is to “map supply chains, which would help identify vulnerable workers and places of greatest risk.”

Sedex Global, with over 36,000 partners, allows member companies to upload all social audit types, which are primary tools for brands to assess their own facilities and those of their suppliers to detect workers abuse.

The Sedex platform highlights social audits, conducted between 2011 and 2013, that show that a “lack of adequate policies, management and reporting on forced labour” as well as a “lack of legally recognised employment agreements, wages and benefits” can indicate a risk of forced labour being present.

“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies,” Robertson says. “It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.”

Nor is slavery an issue that affects only developing countries.

“Since 2007, more than 3,000 cases of labour trafficking inside the United States have been reported – nearly a third from 2013 alone,” Bradley Myles, the CEO of the Polaris Project, a U.S. anti-trafficking group, says in the new report.

“And there are so many more people who are trapped that we haven’t heard from yet. Business can and should take steps to eradicate this form of modern slavery from their operations and supply chains.”

California model

Consumers also have enormous power – if they use it. But “the issue has not pervaded the conscience of society quite yet,” Karen Stauss, director of programmes for Free the Slaves, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“The word hasn’t gotten out. Consumer power, the company’s buying as well legislative powers, should all be part of the resolution.”

Stauss says a good model comes from a state law here in the United States, called the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, or SB-657. This would require publicly traded companies to disclose what efforts they are making to eradicate human trafficking and slavery from their supply chains.

Many companies, however, do not yet appear to have formal anti-slavery policies. According to the Corporate and Social Responsibility press release, out of 129 companies urged to conform with the California law by Know the Chain, an anti-slavery group, only 11 have done so.

The director of communications of Humanity United, Tim Isgitt said, “After months of outreach to these corporations, approximately 21 percent on the list are still not in compliance with the law.”

“It is necessary to push all businesses, not only progressive ones, to be more transparent to their customers and their investors in their supply chains,” Free the Slaves’ Stauss says.

“Although multinationals might not be directly involved in the exploitation of forced labour, they can help confront it by using their buying power to influence their direct and marginal partners who are involved in the production of the raw materials, where human trafficking and forced slavery are most prevalent.”

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OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agriculture-needs-new-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:32:27 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133705 IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed KANAYO F. NWANZE, president of IFAD

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Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

The Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015 is fast approaching, but according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), poverty still afflicts one in seven people — and one in eight still goes to bed hungry.

Together with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), IFAD unveiled the results of their joint work Apr. 3 to develop five targets to be incorporated in the post-2015 development agenda."We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base." -- Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD

These targets include access to adequate food all year round for all people; ending malnutrition in all its forms with special attention to stunting; making all food production systems more productive, sustainable, resilient and efficient; securing access for all small food producers, especially women, to inputs, knowledge and resources to increase their productivity; and more efficient post-production food systems that reduce the global rate of food loss and waste by 50 percent.

IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, on the role of rural poverty and food security in shaping the current debate on the definition of a new development agenda.

Q: Do you think it is time to rethink the strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

A: It’s not only that I think, I know it. And that is why we have Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are being fashioned. The SDGs are an idea that was born in the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The crafting of a new global development agenda is a unique opportunity to refocus policy, investments and partnerships on inclusive and sustainable rural transformation.

The intent is to produce a new, more inclusive and more sustainable set of global development objectives that have application to all countries. These goals – once agreed by governments – would take effect after the current MDGs expire in 2015.

And measurement will be crucial if we are to achieve what we set out. This is why we are talking about universality but in a local context. The SDGs will be for all countries, developing and developed alike. But their application will need to respond to the reality on the ground, which will vary from country to country.

Q: How do the five targets revealed this month fit in this discussion on the post-2015 development goals?

A: The proposed targets and indicators are intended to provide governments with an informed tool that they use when discussing the precise nature and make-up of the SDGs related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition.

These are five critical issues for a universal, transformative agenda that is ambitious but also realistic and adaptable to different country and regional contexts. The targets can fit under a possible dedicated goal but also under other goals. So, it is for governments to decide whether or not they wish to include these targets in the SDGs.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Q: Why does agriculture represent such a critical aspect within the post-2015 development agenda?

A: We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base, which means more people to feed with less water and farmland. And climate change threatens to alter the whole geography of agriculture and food systems on a global scale.

It is clear that we need a new revolution in agriculture, to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Target areas should address universal and context-specific challenges, but context-adapted approaches and agendas are the building blocks for any effort to feed the world.

Q: Why is the focus on rural areas so important in order to overcome inequality?

A: The world is becoming increasingly urban, yet cities are still fed by the people working the land in rural areas. And it is in those rural areas where 76 percent of the world’s poor live.

At IFAD we see that the gap between rich and poor is primarily a gap between urban and rural. Those who migrate to urban areas, oftentimes do so in the belief that life will be better in the urban cities.

However they get caught up in the bulging slums of cities, they lose their social cohesion which is provided by rural communities and they go into slums, they become nothing but breeding ground for social turmoil and desperation. One only has to look at what is happening today in what was described as the ‘Arab spring’.

Q: But beyond the issue of exclusion and turmoil, why is key to addressing rural poverty?

A: Because the rural space is basically where the food is produced: in the developing world 80 percent in some cases 90 percent of all food that is consumed domestically is produced in rural areas.

Food agriculture does not grow in cities, it grows in rural areas, and the livelihoods of the majority of the rural population provide not only food, it provides employment, it provides economic empowerment,[…] and social cohesion.

Essentially, if we do not invest in rural areas through agricultural development we are dismantling the foundations for national security, not just only food security. And that translates into not just national security but also global security and global peace.

Q: What risks are we facing in terms of global security, if we don’t face and take concrete action to ensure food security?

A: We just need to go back to what happened in 2007 and 2008: the global food price crisis, as it is said, and how circumstances culminated in what happened in 40 countries around the world where there were food riots.

Those riots were the results of inaction that occurred in some 25-30 years due to these investments in agriculture and the imbalances in trade, across countries and across continents. Forty countries experienced serious problems with food riots, and they brought down two governments, one in Haiti and another one in Madagascar. […] We’ve seen it, [and] it continues to repeat itself.

Q: What role are developed countries expected to play in the achievement of these five targets?

A: All countries will have an essential role to play in achieving the SDGs – whatever they end up looking like. Countries have agreed that this is a “universal” agenda and developed countries’ commitment will have to extend beyond ODA [Official Development Assistance] alone.

At IFAD we [are] seeing that development is moving beyond aid to achieve self-sustaining, private sector-led inclusive growth and development. For example, in Africa, generated revenue shot up from 141 billion dollars in 2002 to 520 billion dollars in 2011. This is truly a universal challenge, but it also requires local and country-level ownership and international collaboration at all levels.

 

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Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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CEOs at Big U.S. Companies Paid 331 Times Average Worker http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 00:03:37 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133702 In new data certain to fuel the growing public debate over economic inequality, a survey released Tuesday by the biggest U.S. trade-union federation found that the CEOs of top U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker in 2013. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch database, U.S. CEOs of […]

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Fast food workers protest for higher wages in New York City, July 2013. Credit: Annette Bernhardt/cc by 2.0

Fast food workers protest for higher wages in New York City, July 2013. Credit: Annette Bernhardt/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

In new data certain to fuel the growing public debate over economic inequality, a survey released Tuesday by the biggest U.S. trade-union federation found that the CEOs of top U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker in 2013.

According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch database, U.S. CEOs of 350 companies made an average of 11.7 million dollars last year compared to the average worker who earned 35,293 dollars.Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures.

The same CEOs averaged an income 774 times greater than U.S. workers who earned the federal hourly minimum wage of 7.25 dollars in 2013, or just over 15,000 dollars a year, according to the database.

A separate survey of the top 100 U.S. corporations released by the New York Times Sunday found that the media compensation of CEOs of those companies last year was yet higher — 13.9 million dollars.

That survey, the Equilar 100 CEO Pay Study, found that those CEOs took home a combined 1.5 billion dollars in 2013, slightly higher than their haul the previous year. As in past years, the biggest earner was Lawrence Ellison, CEO of Oracle, who landed 78.4 million dollars in a combination of cash, stocks, and options.

The two surveys, both released as tens of millions of people filed their annual tax returns, are certain to add to the growing public debate about rising income and wealth inequality.

It is a theme that came to the fore during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement and that President Barack Obama has described as the “defining challenge of our time” as the 2014 mid-term election campaign gets underway. He has sought to address it by, among other measures, seeking an increase the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and expanding overtime pay for federal workers.

Obama’s focus on inequality — and the dangers it poses — has gained some important intellectual and even theological backing in recent months.

In a major revision of its traditional neo-liberal orthodoxy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month released a study raising the alarm about the impact of negative impacts of inequality on both economic growth and political stability, with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warning that it created “an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential” and threatens “the precious fabric that holds our society together.”

Pope Francis has also spoken repeatedly – including in a private meeting with Obama at the Vatican last month – about the dangers posed by economic inequality, while the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, published in January, identified severe income disparity as the biggest risk to global stability over the next decade.

Meanwhile, an epic new study by French economist Thomas Piketty, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century,’ that compares today’s levels of inequality to those of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, is gaining favourable reviews in virtually every mainstream publication.

Piketty, whose work is based on data from dozens of Western countries dating back two centuries and argues that radical redistribution measures, including a “global tax on capital,” are needed to reverse current trends toward greater inequality, is speaking to standing-room-only audiences in think tanks here this week.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month lifting the aggregate limits that wealthy individuals can contribute to political campaigns and parties has added to fears that, in the words of a number of civic organisations, the U.S. political system is moving increasingly towards a “plutocracy”.

Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures. In his book, Pikkety shows that inequality of both wealth and income in the U.S. exceeds that of Europe in 1900.

The 331:1 ratio between the income of the 350 corporate CEOs in the Pay Watch survey and average workers is generally consistent with the pay gap that has prevailed over the past decade.

That ratio contrasts dramatically with the average that prevailed after World War II. In 1950, for example, the differential between the top corporate earners and the average workers was only around 20:1. As recently as 1980 – just before the Reagan administration began implementing its “magic of the marketplace” economic policies – the ratio had climbed only to 42:1, according to Sarah Anderson, a veteran compensation watcher at the Institute for Policy Studies here.

“I don’t think that anyone, except maybe Larry Ellison, would claim that today’s managers are somehow an evolved form of homo sapiens compared to their predecessors 30 or 60 years ago,” said Bart Naylor, Financial Policy Advocate at Public Citizen, a civic accountability group.

“Those who built the pharmaceutical industry and the hi-tech industry …were fine senior executives, and they didn’t drain the economy the way today’s senior executives insist on doing,” he told IPS. “The machinery of awarding senior executive pay is clearly broken.”

What is particularly galling to unions and their allies is that many top companies argue that they can’t afford to raise wages at the same time that they are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago. While the average worker earned 35,293 dollars last year, the S&P’s 500 Index companies earned an average of 41,249 dollars in profits per employee – a 38 percent increase.

“Pay Watch calls attention to the insane level of compensation for CEOs, while the workers who create those corporate profits struggle for enough money to take care of the basics,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“Consider that the retirement benefits of the CEO of Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, has benefits of over 232 million dollars in his company retirement fund, all of which is tax deferred,” said Anderson. “It’s quite obscene when you know it’s a corporation that relies on very low-paid labour.”

Congress is currently considering several measures to address the issue, although most of them are opposed by Republicans who enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives.

Nonetheless, a tax package introduced by the Republican chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee would close one large loophole that permits CEOs to deduct so-called “performance pay” – what they earn when they achieve certain benchmarks set by their board of directors – from their taxes.

“It’s pretty outrageous when the CEOs of some of the biggest companies of the National Restaurant Association are essentially getting heavily subsidised when so many of their workers are relying on public assistance and fighting for an increase in the minimum wage,” Anderson told IPS.

In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to formally adopt a long-pending rule that would require publicly held corporations to disclose how the pay received by their CEO compares to that of their employees, including full-times, part-time, temporary, seasonal and non-U.S. staff.

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U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133695 The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation. But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation.

But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest that went unsung and unnoticed."Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss." -- James A. Paul

Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

The refusal of a visa to the Sudanese president was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But does the United States have a right to implicitly act on an ICC ruling when Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC?

“Good question,” said John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University.

“As you suggest, the U.S. had no obligations under the Rome Statute,” he told IPS.

So the question would not arise of Washington having an obligation that might conflict with the obligation to grant a visa to a representative of a U.N. member state, he added.

It would be harder if the United States were a party to the Rome Statute.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Even then, the two obligations might not conflict. That is, the U.S. would have an obligation to let him in. Once he is in, the U.S. would have an obligation to turn him over to the ICC,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses of War: American Interventionism Since World War II’.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in-waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the Headquarters Agreement – even though Washington got away scot-free after barring the Sudanese president from the General Assembly last year.

James A. Paul, who served for over 19 years as executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.S. government was in clear violation of international law and practice.

This includes violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

This particular violation of visa denial is one of many such violations, some of which get lots of attention and some of which don’t, he said.

“My guess is that there have been hundreds of cases in which the U.S. has refused entry visas for various reasons. There are also hundreds of other cases of violation of the agreement in other ways,” said Paul, who has kept close track of the politics of the United Nations for nearly two decades.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestine leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, he said, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

“That case made headlines, but most do not,” said Paul.

Take, for example, the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to a senior Argentine diplomat who had been accredited to participate with the Brazilian team on the U.N. Security Council in 2010.

“Washington took this step presumably because it wanted to block regional coordination on the Council – a totally illegitimate reason,” Paul said, adding there was no argument the person involved represented a security threat.

“So I think we can say that Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss,” he added.

Quigley told IPS he saw no exception for security, terrorism and foreign policy in the Headquarters Agreement.

The resolutions by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to bar the Iranian envoy, are irrelevant, he said.

“What matters is the text of the Headquarters Agreement. If domestic legislation was adopted that purported to reserve rights to the U.S. that are not expressed in the Headquarters Agreement, the domestic legislation does not allow the U.S. to evade its obligations,” said Quigley.

“As I read the legislation adopted by Congress, it gives grounds for denial of a visa, but it is still up to the president to decide the grounds exist, so it is not Congress that is denying a visa to a particular person.”

The president should properly regard the Headquarters Agreement as his guide, added Quigley.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

Quigley said, “I can see that there might be some validity to the view that the U.S. and Iran should work this out, but at this point the U.S. has denied and does not seem inclined to reconsider.”

That being the case, it is the U.N. that is the injured party under the Headquarters Agreement. It should not be up to Iran to take the initiative to take action on the matter, he argued.

Paul told IPS some diplomats face restrictions as to where they can live and where in the U.S. they can travel.

There have been many complaints about U.S. banking restrictions having serious negative consequences for delegations, who sometimes cannot pay their bills as a result.

Finally, of course, there is the scandal of spying on U.N. staff and on delegations.

“When you put all this together, you have a stark picture of disregard for the norms of diplomacy and the letter of international agreements. It is a sad story,” he added.

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Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:14:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133691 The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa. The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by […]

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National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa.

The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by the end of May. The statute, known as Section 1502 and covering what are referred to as “conflict minerals”, became law in 2010, but the details of its actual implementation have remained up in the air ever since.The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States.” -- Holly Dranginis

“There are very encouraging aspects of this ruling, and the bottom line is that the rule hasn’t been overturned and now companies will need to move forward,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the Washington office of Global Witness, a watchdog group that supports Section 1502, told IPS.

“The heart of this statute is companies carrying out due diligence on their supply chains so they can figure out whether their minerals are coming from conflict areas. Due diligence is a process – first knowing the supply chain and then taking action to address any problems. This ruling has upheld the due diligence and reporting aspects.”

The U.S. Congress hoped Section 1502 would help quell the violence that has wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for the past decade and a half. Findings by the United Nations, rights groups and others have warned that rebels in these areas have funded their operations in part by mining and selling any of five minerals that have become particularly sought after by the international electronics industry.

The rule has come under attack by U.S. business groups who say the requirements would be onerous and infringe on their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, by forcing them to label their products “conflict free”. But agreeing with previous rulings, a three-judge bench on Monday dismissed most of these concerns.

The dismissal included business concerns that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not adequately analysed costs and benefits of the regulation.

“The rule’s benefits would occur half-a-world away in the midst of an opaque conflict about which little reliable information exists, and concern a subject about which the [SEC] has no particular expertise,” the court stated in its decision.

“Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

Compelled speech

Yet the court also offered a split decision in favour of the manufacturers on the free speech concern, allowing both proponents and critics of Section 1502 to claim victory.

U.S. law allows for certain “compelled” public disclosures, but generally only if those are recitations of straight fact. However, the court found the issue of conflict minerals to be far more complex.

“[I]t is far from clear that the description at issue – whether a product is ‘conflict free’ – is factual and nonideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts,” the court stated.

“The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups … By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will appeal this part of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (the agency says it’s reviewing the ruling). For now, the decision undermines a key strategy for groups hoping to use a labelling requirement to shame companies into compliance, though related information will still be publicly available.

The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States,” Holly Dranginis, a policy associate with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, said Monday.

“The court’s proposal that a conflict-free determination is ideological is unfounded and undercuts the power of society’s growing awareness that global markets and security in fragile states are in fact linked.”

Meanwhile, a separate case before the same court could soon undermine the free speech finding. A smaller bench has already ruled in favour of requiring meat producers to include “country of origin” information on their products, and the case is now slated to be heard by the full court in mid-May.

A dissenting opinion in the conflict minerals ruling noted that the meat-labelling decision could have a significant impact on Monday’s ruling.

6,000 reports

The complexities of implementing Section 1502 remain highly problematic in central Africa, and some are warning that the law could soon collapse under its own weight. Yet others say the regulation is already having a noticeable impact, with the Enough Project suggesting that “over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [are] now free of armed groups.”

Monday’s ruling should now allow the U.S. side of the statute’s implementation to proceed. This means that around 6,000 U.S. companies will need to file reports with the SEC, and post them to company websites, by the end of May.

The lawsuit against Section 1502 was brought by three of the United States’ largest business lobbies, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. In a joint statement sent to IPS, the three lauded the decision.

“[W]e are pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s decision … finding the statute and regulation are unconstitutional,” the groups stated. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and abhor the violence in that country, but this rule was not the appropriate way to address this problem.”

Yet other businesses are already complying with the spirit of Section 1502. Perhaps the most significant of these companies, Intel, is actually a member of NAM.

In January, the company pledged to remove all conflict minerals from its microprocessors. It says it now has no plans to change course.

“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to do our part to achieve conflict-free supply chains and to report publicly on these efforts,” Lisa Malloy, an Intel spokesperson, told IPS.

“The challenge of responsible minerals sourcing requires a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies in the U.S. and internationally, non-profit groups and industry. We urge all partners to continue the momentum towards a solution.”

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Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 18:41:45 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133677 When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms. N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet […]

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Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms.

N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet that is set to be released next month by his technology company Siregex.The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

“It is more than me feeling sorry for them. It is also about filling the digital gap between the south and the north, and bringing Ivorian education into the 21st century,” N’Doufou tells IPS.

Qelasy means “classroom” in several African languages, including Akan, Malinke, Lingala and Bamileke.

The Qelasy team began by converting all government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format.

“We were obligated to process everything in a way to have quality images for high definition screens. It is a lot of work,” explains N’Doufou, who is CEO of Siregex.

“We also enriched the curriculum with images and videos in way to make the educational experience more convivial.”

A solution to Ivorian problems 

The tablet uses an Android operating system and is resistant to water splashes, dust, humidity and heat.

“The Qelasy is protected against everything that an African pupil without transportation might encounter during their walk home from school,” says N’Doufou.

“We knew we needed our own product … Our clients’ needs are very specific,” he explained.

The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

It can also be programmed to allow kids to surf the web or play games according to a pre-defined timetable. Siregex staff have also developed a store where parents and educators can buy over 1,000 elements like apps, educational materials and books.

While the Qelasy is currently focused on education, its marketing director Fabrice Dan tells IPS that users will soon be able to use it for other things. “We believe in technology as a way to create positive changes. And we believe in education. But eventually, we will present solutions in other fields, like agriculture and microcredit,” he says.

Qelasy was launched at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress 2014.  Exactly how much it will sell for has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be priced between 275 and 315 dollars.

That’s a steep price in a country where, according to government figures, only two million of its 23 million people are classified as middle class, earning between two and 20 dollars a day.

While N’Doufou expects the government to purchase a few tablets for use in schools, this product will mostly benefit the country’s middle and upper classes.

For now, it is only available for the Ivorian market, but the firm is targeting Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

However, the biggest challenge to the success of the product remains the electricity deficit. In a country where, according to the World Bank, only 59 percent of the population has access to electricity, a tablet with an eight-hour battery life faces limited penetration.

But N’Doufou says “There is an 80 percent cellphone penetration rate in Côte d’Ivoire in spite of the low electricity penetration. People find solutions in villages. They will for this too.”

While N’Doufou says “most of the know-how comes from here,” the Qelasy was assembled in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzen, where 10,000 units have been produced.

Other Ivorian Tech Solutions 

The Qelasy is merely the latest in locally-developed technologies designed specifically to answer Ivorian problems.

Last week, young Ivorian programmer Regis Bamba launched an app to record the licence plate numbers and other details of taxis. Taxi Tracker allows a user to send this information about the taxi they are travelling in to selected users who can follow their journey in real time.

It is an attempt to find a way to prevent incidents like the murder of young Ivorian model Awa Fadiga, who was attacked during a taxi ride home in March.

The story of Fadiga’s tragic death gripped the nation as it exposed gaps in the country’s security and healthcare systems. She had been left untreated in a comatose state for more than 12 hours at a local hospital, which allegedly refused to treat her until payment for her care was received.

“It is my reaction to her death. I saw her picture, and I thought that could be my little sister. I told myself that I could not just sit back with my arms crossed,” Bamba tells IPS.

“It is my concrete solution as a citizen until the authorities do something meaningful to protect citizens. So Awa’s death will not be in vain.”

Another application, Mô Ni Bah, was developed by Jean Delmas Ehui in 2013 and allows Ivorians to declare births through SMS.

Trained locals then transfer the information provided in the SMSes to a registration authority. It has been another important invention in a country where the great distance between rural areas and government centres has hindered birth registration. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, almost a third of births are undeclared here.

Bacely Yoro Bi, a technology evangelist, internet strategist and organiser of ConnecTIC — a gathering of Abidjan’s IT enthusiasts — says there is definitively a boom in the local IT business.

“There is a lot happening here in terms of technology, although it is still limited to Abidjan. There are several start-ups that have been created with a local focus,” he tells IPS.

Part of the success, says Yoro Bi, is because of the cooperation among developers.

“Qelasy has been possible because there is a techie community that support each other,” N’Doufou points out.

Yoro Bi says that Côte d’Ivoire’s inventions should be exported to the rest of West Africa and to the world.

With the creation of two free trade zones dedicated to technology in Abidjan’s suburbs, and investments in internet infrastructure, he predicts that inventors like N’Doufou and Bamba now have the potential to go beyond the national borders.

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Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his […]

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Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells EurasiaNet.org. The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks EurasiaNet.org not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OP-ED: Egyptian-Saudi Coalition in Defence of Autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:28:37 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133684 The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism. The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism.

The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated a “terrorist” organisation and are vowed to dismantle.It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

The two new partners and the UAE also loathe Qatar for hosting and funding Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The continued incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists and dozens of other journalists on trumped up charges is no coincidence.

The court case is symptomatic of the current Saudi-Egyptian relationship in their counter-revolution against the 2011 pro-democracy upheavals that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his fellow autocrats in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.

The pro-autocracy partnership between the Egyptian military junta and the Saudi ruling family goes beyond their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the perceived threat of terrorism. It emanates from the autocrats’ visceral opposition to democracy and human rights, including minority and women’s rights.

What should be most critical to them as they contemplate the future of their coalition of counter-revolutionaries, however, is the growing Western conviction that dictators can no longer provide stability.

The Egyptian Field Marshall and the Saudi potentate also abhor the key demands of the Arab uprisings and reject their peoples’ calls for freedom, dignity, justice, and genuine economic and political reform.

They are equally terrified of the coming end of the authoritarian paradigm, which could bring about their demise or at least force them to share power with their people. The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, are willing to trample on their people’s rights in order to safeguard family tribal rule.

The Saudi-Egyptian partnership is also directed at the Obama administration primarily because of Washington’s diplomatic engagement with Iran.

According to media and Human Rights Watch reports, at least 15,000 secular and Islamist activists are currently being held in Egyptian prisons, without having been charged or convicted. This number includes hundreds of MB leaders and activists and thousands of its supporters.

Many of them, including teenagers, have also been tortured and abused physically and psychologically. These mass arrests and summary trials and convictions of Islamists and liberals alike belie the Saudi-Egyptian claim that theirs is a campaign against terrorism.

A brief history of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations in the past 60 years have been erratic, depending on leadership, ideology, and regional and world events. During the Nasser era in the 1950s and ‘60s, relations were very tense because of Saudi fears of Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

The Saudis saw Nasser a nationalist firebrand arousing Arab masses against colonialism and Arab monarchies. He supported national liberation movements and wars of independence against the French in North Africa and the British in the Arab littoral of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi monarchy viewed Nasser’s call for Arab unity “from the roaring ocean to the rebellious Gulf” as a threat to their survival and declared a war on “secular” Arab nationalism and “atheist” Communism.

They perceived Nasser’s war in Yemen against the tribal monarchy as an existential threat at their door and began to fund and arm the royalists in Yemen against the Egyptian military campaign.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the two opposite poles of the “Arab cold war” during the 1950s and ‘60s. Nasser represented emerging Arab republicanism while Saudi Arabia epitomised traditional monarchies. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union; Saudi Arabia turned to the United States.

In the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia declared the proselytisation of its brand of Islam as a cardinal principle of its foreign policy for the purpose of fighting Arab nationalism and Communism.

It’s ironic that Saudi Arabia is currently supporting and funding the military junta in Egypt at a time when the military-turned-civilian presidential shoe-in Sisi is resurrecting the Nasserist brand of politics.

In the next three to five years, the most intriguing analytic question will be whether this partnership would endure and how long the post-2011 generation of Arabs would tolerate a coalition of secular autocracy and a religious theocracy.

Saudi Arabia supported Egyptian President Sadat’s war against Israel in 1973 but broke with him later in that decade after he visited Jerusalem and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

By the early 1980s, however, the two countries re-established close relations because of their common interest in supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and in pushing for the Saudi-articulated Arab Peace Initiative.

The Saudi King viewed President Hosni Mubarak warmly and was dismayed by his fall. He was particularly incensed by Washington’s seeming precipitous abandonment of Mubarak in January 2011.

The Saudi monarchy applauded General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi and pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian treasury. They also indicated they would make up any deficit in case U.S. aid to Egypt is halted.

The Saudis have endorsed Sisi’s decision to run for president of Egypt and adopted similar harsh policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and all political dissent. Several factors seem to push Saudi Arabia closer to Egypt.

The Saudis are concerned about their growing loss of influence and prestige in the region, especially their failure in thwarting the interim nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Their policy in Syria is in shambles.

Initially, they encouraged jihadists to go to Syria to fight the Assad regime, but now they cannot control the pro-Al-Qaeda radical Salafi jihadists fighting the Damascus tyrant.

The Saudis also failed in transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council into a more unified structure. Other than Bahrain, almost every other state has balked at the Saudi suggestion, viewing it a power grab.

In an absurd form of retaliation against Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from that country. The Saudis are engaged in tribal vendettas against their fellow tribal ruling families, which is out of place in a 21st century globalised and well-connected world.

The oil wealth and the regime’s inspired religious fatwas by establishment clerics have a diminishing impact on the younger generation connected to the global new social media.

Despite the heavy-handed crackdown, protests, demonstrations, and confrontations with the security forces are a daily occurrence in Egypt. It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

It won’t be long before Western governments conclude that autocracy is bad for their moral sensibilities, destructive for business, and threatening for their presence in the region. The Saudi-Egyptian coalition of autocrats will soon be in the crosshairs.

In order to endure, such a coalition must be based on respect for their peoples, a genuine commitment to human rights, and a serious effort to address the “deficits” of liberty, education, and women’s rights that have afflicted Arab society for decades.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Is Puerto Rico Going the Way of Greece and Detroit? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/puerto-rico-going-way-greece-detroit/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:28:42 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133680 Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status. “The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary […]

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Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

Electric utility workers of the UTIER labour union protest for safer workplace conditions. UTIER spearheads the fight against privatisation and against the Puerto Rico government's unpopular emergency economic measures. Courtesy of Photo Jam

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Puerto Rican society has been shaken to its foundations by the announcement in February by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s credit rating agencies that they had downgraded the island’s creditworthiness to junk status.

“The problems that confront the commonwealth are many years in the making, and include years of deficit financing, pension underfunding, and budgetary imbalance, along with seven years of economic recession,” said Moody’s."Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice." -- Luis Pedraza-Leduc

Located in the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico has been a Commonwealth of the United States since 1952.

Moody’s added that the island’s worsening economic situation has “now put the commonwealth in a position where its debt load and fixed costs are high, its liquidity is narrow, and its market access has become constrained.”

In order to meet its debt obligations, the PR legislature has considered enacting fiscal measures that are strongly opposed by labour unions, including dipping into the public school teachers’ retirement fund. Law 160, the retirement “reform”, was approved by both House and Senate earlier this year.

Unions have headed to court to challenge the law. On Apr. 11, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled some key provisions were unconstitutional because they breached teachers’ contracts.

Schoolteachers’ unions declared the ruling a triumph, although the court upheld other parts of the law that adversely affect Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

The current fiscal crisis is the result of the commonwealth economic model’s failure, according to union official Luis Pedraza-Leduc.

“Our economic model, based on providing cheap labour to the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries and light manufacturing, has exhausted itself,” said Pedraza-Leduc, who runs the UTIER utility workers union’s Solidarity Programme (PROSOL) and is spokesperson of the Coordinadora Sindical, a coalition of over a dozen unions.

“In recent decades there has been a worldwide trend towards reducing state involvement in the economy to a minimum,” he told IPS.

“Things that were considered basic services provided by the state are now turned into commodities as private enterprise moves in to fill those spaces. Rather than reducing these essential services, the government went into debt.”

According to a chart provided by the office of PR Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, the commonwealth’s public debt reached 10 billion dollars in 1987, when the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) ruled, and passed the 20-billion-dollar mark in 1998 under governor Pedro Rossello, of the New Progressive Party.

Under PDP governor Sila M. Calderon (2001-2004) the debt went over 30 billion dollars. And at the end of his 2009-2012 mandate, NPP governor Luis Fortuño left the country with more than 60 billion in debt. Garcia-Padilla belongs to the PDP.

Pedraza-Leduc recalls that successive governors undertook neoliberal measures that made matters even worse.

“Governor Rossello privatised the health sector, the phone company and the water utility. Governor Acevedo-Vila [of the PDP, 2004-2007] imposed a sales tax on retail sales [known as IVU],” he said.

Governor Fortuño laid off over 30,000 public sector workers, and introduced “public-private partnerships”, which were decried by labour unions as thinly disguised privatisation schemes. Upon beginning his mandate in early 2013, Garcia-Padilla privatised the San Juan international airport and is considering new taxes.

The Puerto Rico Constitution obligates the government to honour its debts.

“In order to pay bondholders, the government could close down schools, reduce the number of Urban Train daily trips, scale down 911 emergency phone services, and freeze the hiring of employees”, warned Pedraza-Leduc. “They are considering reducing Christmas bonuses and sick leave days.”

According to University Puerto Rico economist Martha Quiñones, “We are having here the same crisis as Greece and Detroit, but here it is broader because of our colonial situation.

“We had an economic model based on bringing foreign corporations and enticing them with cheap labour and tax incentives,” she told IPS, calling this the “exogenous” model, which is based on bringing investment from outside.

“It did not work. Not enough jobs were created, and the unemployed do not pay taxes. Locally owned businesses ended up picking up the tax burden that foreign investors were exempted from, which caused many of them to close. Local and foreign businesses were not competing in conditions of equality.”

Quiñones said that the model’s death knell was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar trade deals that the U.S. has struck, which made even cheaper labour available in other parts of the world.

Successive Puerto Rico governments made up for these failures by requesting help from the U.S. government in the form of food stamps and unemployment benefits, and other forms of social assistance. Another way was by issuing bonds, which led to long-term debt and the current debacle.

As an alternative, Quiñones advocates an “endogenous” economic model, which strengthens local capabilities rather than looking abroad for deliverance. “The government must support locally owned businesses,” she said. “Those are the businesses that create jobs at home and pay taxes.

“The government must also collect the IVU sales tax, which most retailers simply pocketed. A progressive tax reform is needed, plus rich tax evaders must be brought to justice. Start by investigating businesses that take only cash, and individuals who are taking second mortgages. Those are pretty obvious red flags.”

She also advocates that the health system be changed to single payer, “which would be more efficient than the current inefficient and unsustainable health system we have now.

“Working people are faced with three choices: they can migrate, resign themselves to poverty, or go out to the street to organise and struggle for justice,” said Pedraza-Leduc.

But he admits that the prospects for all-out popular struggle are uncertain at best. “The lack of class consciousness complicates the outlook. Maybe we are not prepared for a confrontation,” he said.

To him, the way out of the impasse lies in education. “I propose an educational project, a Union School [Escuela Sindical] that can transcend the unions and branch out into broader issues and thus further the political struggle.

“And we need a new model for our country, we need to speak concretely about justice and a fair distribution of wealth.”

He also called for a reexamination of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. “Under our current status we are not allowed to sign trade agreements with other countries. We could be associating ourselves with other countries, and also get cheaper oil from Venezuela. But under our current status we cannot.”

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:56:45 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133673 On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope. When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But […]

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On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the defender of Russians everywhere, and used that rationale to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the slogan seems more pertinent than ever – at least to Kazakhstani leaders in Astana.

Ever since the Soviet collapse in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration has stressed the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony. For the most part, Nazarbayev has succeeded in keeping the country tranquil, enabling the economy to attain an unrivaled level of growth in Central Asia.

But now, the ripple-effect created by the Ukraine crisis threatens to test the loyalties of Kazakhstan’s ethnically diverse populace, in particular the substantial ethnic Russian minority, which is concentrated in northern regions of the country.

Given recent developments, boosting patriotism has rocketed up Nazarbayev’s political agenda. Highlighting the high level of concern in Astana, officials introduced amendments in early April to punish public calls for separatism with long jail terms.

Separatist sentiment in the industrial northeast created a headache for Nazarbayev in the 1990s – and Oskemen was once a hotbed of intrigue, with 13 pro-Russian conspirators jailed over a separatist plot in 2000. In this city, known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk, 67 percent of inhabitants are Russian, triple the national ratio.“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here. It’s seen as an opportunity.” -- Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University

Separatist moods ebbed as Kazakhstan consolidated its nationhood – but the scenarios playing out in Ukraine are enough to cause Nazarbayev a full-blown migraine. Russia’s justification of its annexation of Crimea on the grounds of protecting Russian speakers makes Astana jittery. In Kazakhstan, 22 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, with far higher ratios living along the sprawling 7,000-kilometre border with Russia.

Inflammatory statements by Russian nationalists about claims on northern Kazakhstan have added fuel to the fire, sparking an unusual diplomatic spat between close allies Moscow and Astana. On Apr. 11, following a sharp rebuke from Kazakhstan, Moscow disassociated itself from the pronouncements – but did not explicitly deny having designs on Kazakhstan’s territory.

Astana may be up in arms, but Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community views the nationalist outbursts across the border with equanimity.

“On the immutability of borders … talking about some actions being eternal is simply somewhat incorrect,” says Viktor Sharonov, a gruff Cossack ataman (leader), choosing his words carefully. “Then what call would the Scottish have to hold a referendum on separating from Great Britain?”

Sharonov was speaking on Apr. 8 at a meeting of Oskemen-based Russian community groups attended by EurasiaNet.org, where community leaders championed the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and denounced what they perceive as Western meddling in Russia’s backyard.

“I personally, and our Cossacks, see this as the desire of Western countries … to totally do the dirty on Russia once again,” Sharonov said heatedly.

“Unfortunately real fascists, ultranationalists… have come to power in Kyiv,” obliging Moscow to intervene to defend Russian speakers’ rights, said Oleg Navozov, chairman of the LAD Slavic movement.

On one hand, the prevailing view among Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community, as articulated by Navozov, echoes Astana’s official line: Nazarbayev has called the government in Kyiv “neo-fascists” and railed against Ukraine’s “discrimination against minority rights,” winning him plaudits from these community leaders.

“Nazarbayev supported Russia in those actions aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine and protecting its national interests,” said Nikolay Plakhotin of LAD approvingly.

On the other hand, Russian intervention in Ukraine leaves many in Kazakhstan wondering: What if Moscow decides Russian speakers here need protection?

This scenario is overwhelmingly rejected in Oskemen, where Russian speakers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org said without exception that Nazarbayev’s inclusive ethnic and linguistic policies rule it out.

“The situation in Kazakhstan is completely different to Ukraine,” Vadim Obukhov, deputy head of the Russian Cultural Centre, said. “We don’t have any confrontation between Kazakhs and Russians.”

As Nazarbayev juggles competing agendas, promoting the interests of the majority Kazakhs while protecting minority rights, “this balance is being maintained very competently,” said newspaper publisher Yevgeniy Cherkashin.

Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance in the Ukraine crisis is playing well in the Russian-speaking community in the north, although elsewhere critics vehemently attack it as a betrayal of national interests.

“In the consciousness of many Russians the northern part of Kazakhstan is Russian territory,” Almaty-based analyst Aydos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org, hence “as many Kazakhs understand it, this [official pro-Moscow] position is mistaken.”

In Oskemen some ethnic Kazakhs do “fear” a Russian land grab, albeit at some hazy point in the future, Kenzhebay, a middle-aged Oskemen resident who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org. Many also believe that close partnership with Russia offers Kazakhstan its best protection: Astana can best safeguard its sovereignty by acting as a friend to Moscow rather than foe.

Russians questioned on Oskemen’s city streets viewed the idea of Moscow encroaching on Kazakhstan as preposterous. “I don’t think Russia’s going to grab a piece of Kazakhstan – what would it want to do that for?” puzzled engineer Viktor Chernyshev.

“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here,” explains Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University. “It’s seen as an opportunity.”

From Oskemen, the Russian city of Novosibirsk is closer than Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, and locals flock over the border into Siberia to work and study – helped by Kazakhstan’s membership of the Russia-led Customs Union.

This free trade zone is to be transformed next month into the Eurasian Economic Union, amid vociferous opposition from Kazakh nationalists and liberals who fear Russian domination. But in northeastern Kazakhstan backing for the union is rock solid.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, or his vision of the union as a political vehicle promoting Russia-dominated post-Soviet integration; and some in Oskemen seem to share his dream.

The union represents “a return – perhaps not entirely, but nevertheless largely – to what existed in the Soviet Union,” suggested Navozov.

These words may be music to Putin’s ears, but perhaps not to Nazarbayev’s: he is suspicious of any political element to integration and has pledged not to cede “an iota” of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

While looking to Russia for political and economic reference points, Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community is strongly loyal to Nazarbayev, seeing him not only as guarantor of minority rights but also as guarantor of political and social stability.

Ukraine-style unrest is impossible here, said Leonid Kartashev, president of the Russian National Cultural Centre, since “in Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev is legitimately elected, and in Kazakhstan there is a legitimate government.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Valparaíso Blaze Highlights the City’s Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:05:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133670 The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality. The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed […]

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The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile , Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality.

The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed at least 12 lives, completely destroyed 2,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

The flames covered at least six of the 42 hills that surround this city of 250,000 people, which is built in the form of a natural amphitheatre facing the Pacific ocean.

Jorge Llanos, 60, lived on the Cerro El Litre, one of the hills lining the city. Early Saturday he set out for his job at the market at Quilpué, near central Valparaíso, where he has a vegetable stand.

“I was coming back home on the bus when I saw the inferno. I got off and from the street I looked up at the hill: ‘My house!’ I shouted. When I got there, it was too late,” he told IPS.

Since the night of the fire, Llanos has been staying at a school that is operating as a shelter.

On Monday, he climbed the hill to look at his house. “There’s nothing there…I lost everything,” he said, sobbing.

Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, is built on a bay surrounded by hills and mountains where most of the city’s inhabitants are concentrated. It is this South American country’s second-largest port.

The hills, which start to rise just one kilometre from the coast, are densely populated with brightly coloured wooden houses. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the city a World Heritage Site.

Valparaíso is also a cultural centre in Chile. Nobel Literature laureate Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) built one of his three houses there, and it is the site of the National Council of Culture and the Arts.

It has also been the seat of Congress since the return to democracy after the 1973-1990 dictatorship, when the old legislature in Santiago was replaced by the new building in Valparaíso, to decentralise the branches of government.

But 22 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

Valparaíso is also one of the areas in Chile with the largest number of families living in slums.

According to the Fundación Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile Foundation), Valparaíso is the city with the most slums in Chile, and the region of Valparaíso is home to one-third of all families living in shantytowns.

In terms of inequality, this city also holds the record: while the average monthly income of the poorest 10 percent of the population is just 270 dollars, the monthly income of the wealthiest 10 percent averages 7,200 dollars.

“The enormous blaze that has affected this city has brought to light the terrible vulnerability of the families living in slums, who were hit the hardest,” the director of Un Techo Para Chile – Valparaíso, Alejandro Muñoz, told IPS.

The fire, which spread from forested areas at the top of the hills down into poor neighbourhoods of mainly wooden houses, “completely destroyed four slums,” he said.

This was the worst fire ever in a Chilean city in terms of the area affected – some 900 hectares – but not with respect to the number of victims.

In 1953, for example, 50 people were killed in a fire, and in 1960 a blaze destroyed the flat part of the city.

Muñoz pointed out that Valparaíso is a World Heritage Site, and Viña del Mar, a nearby coastal resort, is known as the “garden city”. But “a harsh and sometimes difficult to understand reality hides behind the hills of both cities – that of slum-dwelling families,” he said.

Lorena Carraja and her 80-year-old parents have been staying since Saturday at an improvised shelter set up on a tennis court. In the cold, bleak camp, she described the moment when the flames reached her home.

“It was a veritable inferno; we were completely surrounded by fire which in one second spread from one side to the other, with strong winds that carried the flames from hill to hill. It was horrible, terrifying, I had never seen anything so huge in my whole life, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she told IPS.

But in the end, Carraja, 50, didn’t lose her home, although she did lose many of her belongings. “It doesn’t matter, everything can be replaced; thank God we’re alive,” she said.

Then she sighed and described, with a catch in her voice, how she heard “people screaming, children crying, while people were fainting.”

Cities in Chile were built with little urban planning, experts say. And families seeking a chance at a better life have flocked to the outer edges of large cities like Valparaíso.

But “the central and local governments have not taken an interest in the arrival of marginal populations to the cities, and there hasn’t been systematic concern in this country for the people who come to the cities,” Leonardo Piña, an anthropologist at the Alberto Hurtado University, told IPS.

“Valparaíso is no exception,” he said.

Piña added that the houses on the hills around the city “were built one on top of the other, and while it is exotic and seen as extraordinarily beautiful, to the point that it was named a World Heritage Site, that hasn’t meant that the concern has gone any farther than just giving it that label.

“The disaster has shown how bad the neglect is,” the anthropologist said.

The UNESCO declaration drew heavy flows of investment to Valparaíso from the Inter-American Development Bank, and the implementation of an ambitious Programme for Urban Recovery and Development generated high expectations among the people in this port city.

However, the 73 million dollars invested in the programme between 2006 and 2012 failed to make a dent in the poverty and marginalisation.

Piña said the main thing missing were policies that would effectively bring basic services to the poor, in order to make it possible for them to have a decent standard of living.

A long, intense drought, high winds, and unusually high Southern Hemisphere autumn temperatures came together to make it “the perfect fire,” said the regional governor of Valparaíso, Ricardo Bravo.

Experts agree that what is needed now is relief for the victims of the tragedy.

But later what will be required is political will to reduce the poverty in the “crazy port,” as Neruda referred to the city in his poem “Ode to Valparaíso”, written in the watchtower of La Sebastiana, his house built like a ship. The city, he wrote, would soon forget its tears, to “return to building up your houses, painting your doors green, your windows yellow.”

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IPCC Climate Report Calls for “Major Institutional Change” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 23:41:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133668 Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions. The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental […]

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Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions.

The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-overseen body. The new update warns that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed” two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, an internationally agreed upon threshold."The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels." -- Oscar Reyes

The full report, which focuses on mitigation, is to be made public on Tuesday. But a widely watched summary for policymakers was released Sunday in Berlin, the site of a week of reportedly hectic negotiations between government representatives.

“We expect the full report to say that it is still possible to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, but that we’re not currently on a path to doing so,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“Others have found that we’re not on that pathway even if countries were to deliver on past pledges, and some countries aren’t on track to do so. A key message is that we need substantially more effort on mitigation, and that this is a critical decade for action.”

The previous IPCC report, released last month, assessed the impacts of climate change, which it said were already being felt in nearly every country around the world. The new one looks at what to do about it.

“This is a strong call for international action, particularly around the notion that this is a problem of the global commons,” Levin says.

“Every individual country needs to participate in the solution to climate change, yet this is complicated by the fact that countries have very different capabilities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. We can now expect lots of conversation about the extent to which greater cooperation and collective action is perceived to be fair.”

Substantial investments

The full report, the work of 235 authors, represents the current scientific consensus around climate change and the potential response. Yet the policymakers’ summary is seen as a far more political document, mediating between the scientific findings and the varying constraints and motivations felt by national governments on the issue.

The latest report is likely to be particularly polarising. The three updates, constituting the IPCC’s fifth assessment, will be merged into a unified report in October, which in turn will form the basis for negotiations next year to agree on a new global response to climate change, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

While previous IPCC updates focused on the science behind climate change and its potential impacts, mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm.

In order to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, the new report, examining some 1,200 potential scenarios, finds that global emissions will need to be brought down by anywhere from 40 to 70 percent within the next 35 years. Thereafter, they will need to be further reduced to near zero by the end of the century.

“Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the working group that put out the new report, said Sunday. “All of these require substantial investments.”

The report does not put a specific number on those investments. It does, however, note that they would have a relatively minor impact on overall economic growth, with “ambitious mitigation” efforts reducing consumption growth by just 0.06 percent.

Yet they caution that “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”

The IPCC estimates that investment in conventional fossil fuel technologies for the electricity sector – the most polluting – will likely decline by around 20 percent over the next two decades. At the same time, funding for “low cost” power supply – including renewables but also nuclear, natural gas and “carbon capture” technologies – will increase by 100 percent.

“The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels. Yet the way the IPCC addresses this is problematic, and is a reflection of existing power dynamics,” Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank here, told IPS.

“While it’s positive that they point out that renewables are achievable at scale, they also talk about gas as a potential transition fuel. Yet many models say that doing so actually discourages investment in renewables. There are also problems with the tremendous costs of many of the technological fixes they’re putting forward.”

Equity and income

The policymakers’ summary is a consensus document, meaning that all 195 member countries have signed off on its findings. Yet it appears that last week’s negotiations in Berlin were arduous, particularly as countries position themselves ahead of the final UNFCCC negotiations next year.

Debate over how the financial onus for mitigation and adaptation costs will be parcelled out has played out in particular between middle-income and rich countries. While the latter are primarily responsible for the high greenhouse gas emissions of the past, today this is no longer the case.

Even as previous IPCC reports have categorised countries as simply “developing” or “developed” (similar to the UNFCCC approach), some rich countries have wanted to more fully differentiate the middle-income countries and their responsibility for current emissions. Apparently in response, the new IPCC report now characterises country economies on a four-part scale.

Yet some influential developing countries have pushed back on this. In a formal note of “substantial reservation” seen by IPS, the Saudi Arabian delegation warns that using “income-based country groupings” is overly vague, given that countries can shift between groups “regardless of their actual per capita emissions”.

Nine other countries, including Egypt, India, Malaysia, Qatar, Venezuela and others, reportedly signed on to the Saudi note of dissent.

Bolivia wrote a separate dissent that likewise disputes income-based classification. But it also decries the IPCC’s lack of focus on “non-market-based approaches to address international cooperation in climate change through the provision of finance and transfer of technology from developed to developing countries.”

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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Turtles Change Migration Routes Due to Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/turtles-change-migration-routes-due-climate-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:46:20 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133660 The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle has few sanctuaries left in the world, and this is one of them. But in 2012 only 53 nests were counted on the beaches of this national park in Costa Rica. And there is an enemy that conservation efforts can’t fight: the beaches themselves are shrinking. For centuries, the […]

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Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK, Costa Rica , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle has few sanctuaries left in the world, and this is one of them. But in 2012 only 53 nests were counted on the beaches of this national park in Costa Rica. And there is an enemy that conservation efforts can’t fight: the beaches themselves are shrinking.

For centuries, the over eight km of beaches in Cahuita have provided a nesting ground for four species of sea turtle: the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), and the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

But the erosion of the sand and the rising sea level have reduced the size of their breeding grounds and the number of turtles who come to lay their eggs in this national park in the southeast Costa Rican province of Limón after migrating across the Caribbean sea.

“Many turtles now go to the beaches outside the park, in places we have no control over, which makes them more vulnerable,” the park administrator Mario Cerdas told IPS.

In the three years he has run the park, Cerdas has seen a drop in the numbers of turtles coming to nest.

The Cahuita National Park covers 1,100 hectares of land on a swampy peninsula and 23,000 hectares of ocean, including the country’s most important coral reef.

It was created in 1970 as a national monument, and in 1978 was declared a park to protect the fragile ecosystems.

The turtles’ change of destination, to beaches outside the park, is not the only concern. In sea turtles, gender is determined by the temperature of the sand on the nesting beaches, with cool beaches producing more males and warm beaches more females.

As a result of climate change, heat is increasing in Central America, which means that more females than males are born.

“This could be acceptable for the population up to a certain point, but if the gender ratio gap becomes too big, there could be problems,” said Borja Heredia, a scientist with the secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

And this is just one of hundreds of cases where climate change is affecting migratory species.

Drought in Africa is hindering the journey that millions of birds undertake every year across the Sahara desert; polar bears are finding it more and more difficult to find food; and global warming has modified the migratory routes of the monarch butterfly.

Scientists and government officials from around the world met Apr. 9-11 in Guácimo, Limón to study these effects and find solutions.

The workshop was organised by a CMS working group on climate change, made up of experts from more than 20 countries.

“What we are looking at is how to tackle climate change and the impact on migrant species, and that can be whales, it can be turtles, it can be birds, it can be invertebrates,” Colin Galbraith, head of the working group, and the CMS Conference of Parties appointed councillor for climate change, told IPS.

The team is to deliver a report in early May to the 120 states parties to the Convention. In June, the CMS’s scientific committee will evaluate it. After that, the next step would be to receive the approval of the Conference of the Parties in November in Quito, Ecuador.

Because climate change is expected to bring different changes to different regions, protecting species that migrate through the various regions presents an unprecedented challenge.

Manmade national borders do not mean anything to animals, which is why the CMS aims to create an international system of conservation areas to protect them on their migratory routes.

Galbraith told IPS that the report will focus on three main areas.

“Pulling information together and putting it into a plan to develop information and data sharing; how can we adapt to climate change but then also how can we help different countries build capacity; and how can we communicate this to the wider world,” said the head of the working group.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the fragility of the world’s ecosystems to global warming, in the second volume of its 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change, which focuses on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

In coastal zones, the rising sea level is endangering habitats like coral reefs, wetlands and nesting beaches.

In Cahuita, for example, up to one-quarter of the beaches have been lost in 15 years, according to Cerdas. During the last high tide event, the water reached the park ranger’s wooden house, which is located 100 metres from the high tide line.

“Migratory animals face many of the same challenges that humans do: having to choose when to travel, what route to take, where to eat and rest, and how long to stay before returning home,” CMS Executive Secretary Bradnee Chambers wrote in a column published by IPS.

“Unfortunately, these choices that are seemingly so trivial for humans are life-or-death decisions for migratory animals,” he added.

The report by the working group that met last week in Costa Rica will also be taken into consideration by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, in an effort to generate multidisciplinary knowledge.

“The different environment-related conventions have to start to look each other in the eye and work together more, cooperating with resources and research,” said Max Andrade, head of the public policy unit in the under-secretariat on climate change in Ecuador’s environment ministry.

Ecuador will seek to put a spotlight on global warming, as host to the next Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP11), Andrade said.

The decision to create the working group on climate change was reached at the last meeting, held in Norway three years ago.

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Emerging Nations Opt for Arms Spending Over Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:02:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133658 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise […]

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The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise in military expenditures by emerging non-Western and developing nations who are, ironically, the strongest candidates for development aid."Four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined." -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Asked whether there are any future prospects of reversing this trend, Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS, “At present, there is little or no prospect of a large-scale transfer of resources from military spending to spending on human and economic development.”

Of the top 15 military spenders in 2013, eight were non-Western nations: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The Western countries in the top 15 were the United States, France, UK, Germany, Italy and Australia, plus Japan. Canada, a former high spender, dropped out of the list in 2013.

The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated, said Perlo-Freeman.

“While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races,” he added.

World military expenditure totalled 1.75 trillion dollars in 2013, a fall of 1.9 percent in real terms since 2012, according to SIPRI.

The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries, led by the United States.

But military spending in the rest of the world increased by 1.8 percent.

Bemoaning the rise in arms spending, the secretary-general said last year the world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year.

“And four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined,” he noted.

The bottom line: the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded, said Ban. Bloated military budgets, he said, promote proliferation, derail arms control, doom disarmament and detract from social and economic development.

Last week, a U.N. expert came out strongly against rising arms expenditures on the occasion of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

The U.N.’s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, called upon all governments “to proactively inform the public about military expenditures and to justify them.

“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are,” he said in a statement released here.

Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs, he added.

According to SIPRI, the fall in U.S. spending in 2013, by 7.8 percent, is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011.

Meanwhile, austerity policies continued to determine trends in Western and Central Europe and in other Western countries.

Perlo-Freeman told IPS the worst conflict in the world today, in Syria, which has killed over 150,000 people, is still less severe than the worst conflicts of even 15 years ago, such as the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led to the deaths of millions.

There are certainly tensions in many parts of the world, most notably between Russia and Ukraine at the moment, but inter-state armed conflict is still extremely rare, he added.

“I think the increases in military spending in many parts of the world can rather be traced to a continuing belief in the centrality of military power to conceptions of national security and national greatness,” he said.

He said the United States has set a very clear example in this regard, most especially under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), but even now the notion that U.S. global military supremacy is a national necessity is effectively unchallenged in the political mainstream.

Other major powers, especially Russia and China, do not view this U.S. dominance in their neighbourhoods with equanimity, or accept their subordinate position in the system.

While neither can challenge the U.S.’s global role, each has been seeking to increase their own military power sufficiently to be able to exert regional influence and not be subject to U.S. dominance, he noted.

This pattern is repeated at lower levels, amongst middle powers such as India.

“Even in much more peaceful regions, Brazil, which has always sought a higher status in the international system, regards having a strong, modern military as an essential part of this,” Perlo-Freeman said.

However, Brazil’s spending has leveled off in recent years, as its economy has not been as strong as in the past and as it has other pressing social priorities that compete with military spending.

There are other important factors as well – one is simply economic growth, which tends to lift military spending along with other areas of spending, said Perlo-Freeman.

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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