Inter Press ServiceInter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 17 Jul 2018 16:31:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Immigration, Lot of Myths and Little Realityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/immigration-lot-myths-little-reality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=immigration-lot-myths-little-reality http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/immigration-lot-myths-little-reality/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 16:03:25 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156748 According to the latest statistics, the total immigrants flow for what goes of 2018 is 50.000 people, against 186.768 last year, 1.259.955 in 2016, and 1.327.825 in 2015. There is such an astonishing difference between the reality and the perceptions that it is clear that we are looking to one of the most brilliant manipulations […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

According to the latest statistics, the total immigrants flow for what goes of 2018 is 50.000 people, against 186.768 last year, 1.259.955 in 2016, and 1.327.825 in 2015. There is such an astonishing difference between the reality and the perceptions that it is clear that we are looking to one of the most brilliant manipulations of history.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The last survey, made on 23.000 citizens of France, Germany, Italy, UK, US and Sweden, shows an enormous disinformation. In five of those countries, people believe that immigrants are three times higher than in reality. Italians think they are 30% of the population when they are 10%, an average which is lower than the media of the European Union.

The Swedes are those closer to reality: they think immigrants are 30%, when in fact they are 20%. And Italians think that 50% of the immigrants are Muslim, when in fact it is 30%, conversely, 60% of the immigrants are Christian, and Italians think they are 30%. And in all 6 countries citizens think that immigrants are poorer and without education or knowledges, and therefore a heavy financial burden. Italians think that 40% of the immigrants are jobless, when it is close to 10%, not different from the general rate. Then, the seventh report on the economic impact of Immigration, from Foundation Leonessa that based its research on the statistics of the Italian Institute of Statistics, presented some totally ignored facts. The 2.4 million immigrants in Italy have produced 130 billion euro, or 8.9% of the Gross Internal Product: an amount larger than the FIP from Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia. In the last 5 years, companies started by immigrants have become 25.8 of the total, with 570.000 companies, or 9.4% of the total. The director of the Pension Italian system, Boeri, said in the Parliament that immigrants give to the system 11.5 billion, more than what they cost. He also stressed that Italy is having a demographic crisis, with seven birth for eleven death.

Well, Salvini, the emerging Italian leader, who has based all his political success on making immigrants the greatest threat to Italy, answered with a twitter: Boeri lives in Mars. And that was the end of the story. For more than 50% of the Italians, Salvini twitter was more conclusive than statistics.

Same has happened with the outgoing Director General of the International Institute for Migration, Swing., that quoted a study conducted by the IOM and McKinsey Global Institute “determined that although only 3.5% of the world’s population are migrants, they are producing nine percent of the global wealth measured in GDP terms, which is more than four percent than if they stayed at home”. This did not make any impact on Trump electors, white rural and red collars, who are convinced that immigration is a threat to the country: while they all come from immigrants…

In other words, facts are irrelevant. Perceptions count more. Let us take Germany, where Merkel is being weakened by the immigration issue, barely escaping a revolt of her minister of interior, Seehofer, who is the leader of the Christian Social Union, the sister party of Bavaria of the CDU, Merkel’s party.

Gladly the shy and timid Trump come to Seehofer’s help, by twitting “the Germans are against their government because of its immigration policy who has brought to an increase in crimes”. The fact that in Germany there is a strong decrease in crime, of course is irrelevant for somebody who has made more than 3.750 false statements, over its 38.187 tweets (as on the 14th of July.). Trumps twitters have 53.111.505 followers (at July 15th)- Well, the total circulation of the 1.331 dailies newspapers in the US, is close to 62 million. But the total circulation of the 100 largest dailies is below 10 million copies. So, whatever they write is massively overwhelmed nu Trump twitters…And Trump is not alone in his campaign…he is aligned with Orban of Hungary, Salvini from Italy, Kazynscky from Poland, Kurz from Austria, Pellegrini from Slovaquia, Zeman from Chechia, all in power; of course we have those in the wings, Le Pen from France, Farage from Great Britain and so on for nearly every European country, with the exception of Spain and Portugal. All together, they have been using immigration, nationalism and xenophobia as the new “alternative right’s tools for success.

Let us go back to the case of Germany, Bavaria, who threatens Berlin’s government, is the richest state of Germany, with a population of 12.240 million people. Munich is the third largest city, after Berlin and Hamburg, with 1.400.000 people, and is the second largest employer in the country, and has attracted immigrants, which are all together less than 200.000. The local daily, the Suddeutsche Zeitung, estimates Muslim at 32.000.

The Alternative fur Deutschland, the extreme right -wing party that in the last elections got 13% of the votes (and 92 Seats in the Parliament,) is based basically in an antiimmigrant platform. In a poll in March narrowly surpassed the center-left Social Democrats for the first time in history. The poll by Insa, commissioned by Bild newspaper, showed the AfD at 16 percent support compared to the SPD at 15.5 percent — a new low for what has traditionally been one of Germany’s largest parties.

AfD in the last polls appears to win over CSU in Bavaria, where Muslim immigrants are rare. But the main basis for AFD come from the old East Germany, where immigrants are one fourth of those in West Germany. So, there is no rational link between reacting to presence of immigrants and vote. AFD gets more votes where there are fewer immigrants.

CDU runs now frantically to extreme right wing, xenophobe positions, so to do not lose to the Afd. It will probably loose anyhow. History shows us that voters always prefer to vote the original than copies. But Germans, and Bavarians, are thought to be rational people. Statistics are clear. Each year there are 300.000 less working people. Of the 80.6 million Germans, only 61% is in working age. In 2050, it will shrink to 51%, and those older than 65 will increase from 21% to 33%. Birth rate in Germany is 1.5%; to have a constant population you need a birth rate of 2.1%. And the immigrant’s huge influx has increased the birth rate to a modest 1.59%. Immigrants tend to imitate local trends and do not have many children. Therefore, it is clear to all, that in two decades productivity will decline dramatically (some say 30%), because of less people working, and there will be not enough payers to keep the pension and social security system going. It will be the end of the German locomotive.

The same consideration applies to all of Europe, which has a statistical birth rate of 1.6, which means it will lose close to one million per year. The UN division of Population Statistics consider that Europe should have an influx of 20 million immigrants to retain its course. This is clearly impossible in today political system. With an impeccable observation, a Spanish philosopher, Adela Cortina, has observed that foot players, artist, and rich people, be even Muslim, like princes, are most welcome in Europe. Those who are not welcome are the poor. So, she wrote a book on why we are not in front of a real xenophobia. We face aporofobia, a term she coined using the word apora, the Greek world for poor. In fact, this defense of European civilization is an update of colonialism…

And yet we have plenty of data about the positive impact of immigration. The last is a very complex study over 30 years of immigration, done by the very respected CNRS, the National Center of Scientific Investigation if France, published by Science Advances, on the 15 European countries who did receive 89% of demand for asylum in 2015, the year of the great influx from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. After four years, partly due to the length of the bureaucratic process, the GNP rises by 0.32%. Impacts on the fiscal system are also relevant. Prof. Hippolyte D’Albis, one of the authors, observes that of course initially immigrants are a cost, but this public money is reinvested in the society, and for ten years they produce more wealth than the general population. After ten years they melt in the general statics. It is obvious that the dream of people who come in Europe to escape hunger or wars, is to get a job as soon as possible, pay taxes and contributions to ensure their stability and future, and work hard. At least for a decade. And it is interesting to see the difference between the new right and the old right. The old right was not against immigrants, also because they did provide cheap labor. It was mildly nationalist but was never xenophobe (Jews apart). The alternative right is not interested in statistics and economics. Is interested only to stir fear, to get to the power. Reality is fake news. Trump has claimed that the 250.000 demonstrator against his visit, that kept him out of the center of London, were in fact his supporters. You do not need to be only a narcissist; you need also to reverse reality.

The question, therefore, is what has happened to people. Trump changing a manifestation of 250.00o people intent, would have once ridiculed him. Not now: his tweets are to his supporters undisputed truth. His meeting with Kim brought the vaguest of results, He left the Iran deal, which had several pages of agreement, as one which did not address issues. In the NATO’s meeting, he scolded everybody, and then said that all engaged to increase to 4% their military budget (US is at 3.6%). In the visit to UK, he scolded the beleaguered PM May, defending a hard Brexit, and saluting the resigning Minister of Foreign Affairs and hard Brexiter Johnson as his favorite. He said to May that he did not come to negotiate, but to get what he wanted. He then met Putin, said that the Us was responsible for the bad relations, that Putin was to be believed when he said that there was no Russian meddling in the last elections, and that the Intelligence agencies and the Secretary of Justice, with his Mueller’s probe, were an American disgrace. When, in American history, a President scolding his allies, and praising Us enemies, did not even raised an eyelash from Republican American electorate, which is now Trumpian first than anything else?

Well, a survey, Varieties of Democracy, released last June, says that the concept of Democracy itself is in danger. The survey asked more than 3.000 scholars and country experts to evaluate each of 178 countries on the quality of core features of democracy. At the end of 2016, most people lived in democracies. Since then, one third of the world population, or 2.5 billion have gone through “autocratization”, in which a leader, or a group of leaders begin to limit these democratic attributes, and to rule more unilaterally. Four of the most populous countries, India Russia, Brazil and United States, have been affected by autocratization. Other large countries in democratic decline in the past !0 years include Congo, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. The US fell from seventh to 31st in just two years. The Congress does not like to be able to reign the President, the opposition party looks unable to have any influence over the governing party, and the Judiciary is becoming much more partisan than balanced. The US Supreme Court looked as a counterweight to the Executive, but now its ranking slipped to no.48. A poll from the McKinsey institute found out that now a full 41% of Americans would not mind to do not live in democracy, if the leader they like would remain in power beyond its constitutional term.

By other hand, it is fact that people elect those they like, and therefore any country has the leader they elect, be Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Trump, and not centuries ego Mussolini and Hitler. If they want to listen to Savers sent by God, , who don’t care about reality, is their right. We can only mourn the growing somnambulism of people…

The serious problem is that this will only bring in a near future a disaster. It is really urgent to create an immigration policy, to establish criteria of those that Industrialized countries need for their ability to remain in the world’s competition. This will not happen. All immigrants are presented as a threat, just as a cynical road to power, regardless of reality. Africa’s population will double in the next decades. Nigeria will grow to 400 million, the present population of Europe. Now 60% of Africa’s population is under 25, compared with 32% in United States, and 27% in Europe. Are Europeans going to machine gun the immigrants, (as some xenophobe are already asking) and decline to a region of old people, with little pension and an inexistent social system? Is Europe going to lose its original identity, and the values that are enshrined not only in the European constitution, but also in the National ones? The French Parliament has eliminated the term “race” from its constitution, and the Portuguese government will give to immigrants who have a stable job after a year, the Portuguese citizenship.

By other hand, to government of Nederland, with the support of the Parliament, has decided that will refuse the return to the children born by Dutch parents enrolled with ISIS: those children have been born and raised in a climate of hate and violence, and they would bring a danger to the Dutch society. Nederland was a symbol of tolerance, and refugees for centuries went to Nederland, flying from religious or political conflicts. Nederland has today a population of 17.2 million people, with a high standard of living. How many are the ISIS children? The astounding number of 145. It would be impossible to find 145 families, where those children would forget the horrors through which they went, without any responsibility, and enjoy the benefits of their nationality, which by international law is considered unwaiverable? Is this the new Europe that its citizens want? The new face of United States is separating more than 5.000 children from their immigrant parents… It looks like is the new face of the West…

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Fate of Rohingya Refugees Discussed by IOM Chief and Bangladesh Prime Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/fate-rohingya-refugees-discussed-iom-chief-bangladesh-prime-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingya-refugees-discussed-iom-chief-bangladesh-prime-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/fate-rohingya-refugees-discussed-iom-chief-bangladesh-prime-minister/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 14:33:31 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156746 Almost a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh face a triple threat of extreme weather, funding shortfalls and uncertainty about their future, William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Migration Agency, IOM, said today. Director General Swing said it was crucial for the world to remain focused on the crisis, as a “failure to do so […]

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IOM DG William Swing meets new mothers from the Rohingya refugee and local communities. Photo: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
Dhaka/Cox’s Bazar, Jul 17 2018 (IOM)

Almost a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh face a triple threat of extreme weather, funding shortfalls and uncertainty about their future, William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Migration Agency, IOM, said today.

Director General Swing said it was crucial for the world to remain focused on the crisis, as a “failure to do so would have tragic outcomes for the nearly a million Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh.”

He made the remarks after reviewing progress by IOM and partners in managing the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar discussions with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka and an earlier meeting on Thursday with Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar are in danger of becoming the wretched of the earth, homeless and without a future,” he said, adding, “The world must rally to support them.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated, “The wellbeing of the Rohingyas is our concern while they are here (in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh).”

She also underscored the enormity of the impact that so many refugees are having on the local population and the need for global solidarity to find a solution to their plight and humanitarian aid to support them and the surrounding host communities.

Ambassador Swing previously visited Cox’s Bazar in October 2017, less than three months into a violent crisis which has sent more than 700,000 people fleeing over the border from Myanmar since late August 2017.

The Rohingya now live in desperately cramped conditions on bare sandy slopes, with only bamboo and tarpaulin shelters to protect them from the elements. All this in an area that suffers two cyclone seasons yearly and some of the heaviest monsoon conditions in the world.

Ambassador Swing noted the major improvements to the camps’ management and infrastructure carried out by IOM, and an entire spectrum of other UN agencies, NGOs as well as other organizations and the government, including access ways, bridges, drainage, sanitation and improved shelters.

However, as monsoon rains turned many hillsides to mud, Ambassador Swing warned that with just one quarter of joint funding appeal for the entire response met so far, much of the progress made in recent months was at serious risk of collapsing. That, he said, would create yet another life-threatening disaster for the Rohingya community.

Ambassador Swing, who met young mothers from the refugee and local Bangladeshi host community who had recently given birth at an IOM medical facility in the heart of the sprawling mega-camp stressed the vital role that such health services played for people in Cox’s Bazar whether refugee or local residents.

“Everyone must recognize, in addition to the refugees’ needs, the tremendous impact this crisis is having on the host community,” he said.

IOM has been working in Cox’s Bazar providing medical care to the local community long before the crisis which began last August, he noted.

“All mothers – refugees and locals – should have access to safe, hygienic facilities to give birth and it’s profoundly worrying that funding shortages are now threatening these crucial maternity services which are making such differences to the lives of women and babies from all backgrounds.”

Ambassador Swing praised the great hospitality of the local community and the government and people of Bangladesh as a whole in supporting the Rohingya refugees in what is now one of the world’s largest humanitarian responses.

“The world must recognize the hugely generous support that the Bangladesh government and host community here in Cox’s Bazar has offered these refugees who arrived in such desperate conditions with nothing.”

For more information please contact
Leonard Doyle at IOM HQ, Email: ldoyle@iom.int, Tel: +41 792857123
Fiona MacGregor, IOM Cox’s Bazar, Email: fmacgregor@iom.int, Tel: +88 0 1733 335221

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Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 13:44:59 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156734 IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsbermanon about Asia's fight against air pollution.

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On any given day, a pall of smog and dust hangs over Kabul's streets. It clings to the face, burns the eyes, and stains the hands. It bathes the cars, often stuck bumper-to-bumper in traffic, and occludes the view of the distant mountains. Credit: Anand Gopal/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

At the start of the year the pollution in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, reached six times the World Health Organization’s guideline levels for air quality.

Yet the levels, which appear higher than those of South Korea’s capital Seoul—where most people monitor the air pollution levels daily—is not treated with equal concern because of a lack of general awareness. This is despite the fact that air pollution has become the largest cause of premature deaths in Asia.

“When I went to Vietnam, I realised no one thought there was an air pollution problem because no one was directly addressing it. It was worse than Seoul when we checked the level there. In Seoul, people talk about air pollution everyday. In the morning, you check the air quality to see if you need a mask or if the kids can play outside. In Hanoi, the problem is just as bad but people just don’t know about it,” Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman told IPS.

GGGI is one of the organisations working directly with governments in the region to tackle the growing concern of air pollution, as it has become the largest cause of premature death in many nations.

A study released by the WHO this March found air pollution to be the most lethal environmental threat to human health in Asia.  "Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking." -- GGGI director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman

The WHO estimated around 2.2 million of the global seven million premature deaths each year occur in low and middle-income countries, most of them in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The study also found that the world’s megacities exceed the WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times.

Inefficient energy use in households, industry, agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants were the major sources attributed to outdoor air pollution, while the lack of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies contributed most to indoor pollution. The latter puts women and children as the biggest group at risk.

As a result, two-thirds of Southeast Asian cities saw a five percent growth in air pollution between 2008 and 2013 according to a WHO report in 2016. However, the report noted that more governments were increasing their commitments to reduce air pollution.

On his latest visit to Bangkok, Rijsberman spoke to IPS about the efforts governments in the region are making to mitigate the risks from air pollution, and key areas the region needed to focus on before the effects of pollution become irreversible.

Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Dr. Frank Rijsberman says the issue of air pollution in Asia has become “surprisingly alarming”. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Q: You were in Singapore for the World Cities Summit prior to your Bangkok visit. Can you share some of the key insights and trends discussed on the panel?

There was a lot of focus on smart cities at the social innovation panel I was part of. I am very excited about electric mobility from the environmental perspective but also because it is a more sustainable, affordable and healthier form of public transportation.

For example, three-wheelers are the most important form of public transport in Vientiane, Laos, but it is also the biggest source of air pollution.

So we are working on a project to replace these three-wheelers with electric ones. Most of the things I talked about was a shift in perspective to focus on basic public services that need to be more sustainable, inclusive and help to improve the quality of life for the citizens.

Q: Where do you see the impact most visible now that Asia has become a key battleground in the fight against air pollution?

The issue is surprisingly alarming everywhere. The most immediately visible [impact can be seen] in places like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where you cannot even see the other side of the street during winter. The government had to declare a national emergency last year and we worked on a whole series of projects to help reduce that, mostly focusing on indoor air pollution.

A lot of the locals still heat their tents with coal and that means that the children have incredible levels of pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution is actually the second-largest cause of premature deaths for children in Mongolia. But there is also cause for alarm in countries where it is not as clearly visible and people are not so aware of the problem.

Q: What are some of these places that are still falling behind in pollution awareness?

Air pollution is virtually everywhere in Asia in the big cities because of transport, coal-fired power plants and industry. Even in less-developed rural areas where you don’t expect the level to be as high.

Eighty percent of people in Cambodia are still cooking food on an open fire and using coal for heating and as a result, indoor air pollution is a huge problem for them. Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking. It is something that worries us a lot and plays a large part in green growth.

Q: Who do you see as leaders within the region on these issues?

There are quite a few leaders now in renewable energy for electricity production. India, however, is moving fast in positioning itself in the renewable energy industry. The prices have drastically decreased because of large-scale subsidy options where the Indian government says for the next 100 megawatts you can build a power plant or if you want you can offer us the cheapest form of energy.

For those options, the prices have come down comparatively to coal, which used to be assumed as the cheapest option. As a result, a lot of the companies abandon their plans to build coal-fired power plants, which is a huge change.

Southeast Asia appears to have small success but by and large, it is still waiting to take off. However, it can grow very rapidly once it has a breakthrough. In Vietnam late last year, they introduced some good policies for net metering, feed-in-tariff and power purchase agreement. There is a lot of interest but the breakthrough is likely to come in the next one or two years.

Q: What are some challenges facing this breakthrough?

Southeast Asia is variable. In Cambodia, the government is interested in renewable energy but the ministry of environment also just recently signed a contract for a coal-fired power plant. I think we just need to ensure that the stakeholders can see these investments as financially viable on top of the immediate environmental consequences.

We are working on that in quite a few places.

Q: Lastly, what do you think are some areas that have been overlooked in the region?

Only 20 percent of the total global energy use goes to electricity and power production. The other two large parts are mobility/transport and buildings. In Asia, energy efficiency in building materials or cooling and heating structures are hugely important. The technology tends to be there but there is remarkably little interest.

In Mongolia, we are working to prepare a project to improve these existing Soviet-style housing where people control the temperature by opening windows. Everything is over heated and it is the worst way to manage energy. We are proposing to them to retrofit these buildings by insulating them and improving the temperature control. The project will be successful to us if by the end of the year we can mobilise the finance to retrofit the 15,000 apartments with better insulation and e-meters.

Energy efficiency in general whether it is for air conditioning or building is a huge topic, which has not received enough attention. It is as good as adding new energy if you can improve energy efficiency. It is something we think can be shared more within the region.

The post Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsbermanon about Asia's fight against air pollution.

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New York, With 8.5 Million People, Among Cities Heading for a Sustainable Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 12:11:39 +0000 Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156736 Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

By Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

New York has long been considered a pioneer – in fashion, art, music, and food, just to name a few. Now this city of 8.5 million is leading a shift in how we tackle today’s toughest global challenges like climate change, education, inequality, and poverty.

UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

These issues are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda agreed by all nations in 2015 that chart a path for people, prosperity, and the planet. This July, New York is joining countries at the United Nations to report on its progress and to share experiences, becoming the first city to do so.

It makes good sense for New York and other cities to spearhead progress on these global goals – including the need for decent housing, public transport, green spaces and clean air.

More than half of the world’s 7 billion people currently live in cities, and by 2050 that number will be closer to 70%. By 2030, there will be over 700 cities with more than a million inhabitants.

Urban growth is happening fastest in developing countries, which often struggle to meet the demand for quality municipal services and have little experience in planning. Rapid growth can also push up the prices of housing and energy, and can increase pollution, threatening the health and well-being of millions.

Cities are also financial powerhouses, generating 82% of global GDP, yet they also account for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, use 80% of the world’s energy, and generate over 1 billion tonnes of waste per year.

Inequality within cities on issues like income, health, and education are also a big challenge.

Cities are a fulcrum for sustainable development worldwide and crucible for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unleashing the power of cities to help solve global challenges means linking local plans to national plans, and also to global agendas.

Cities are already showing how to lead by example on one of our most pressing global challenges: climate change.

The global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is an alliance of cities and local governments working to combat climate change and move to a low-emission and resilient society. This group has commitments from over 9,000 cities and local governments from 6 continents and 127 countries.

The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September is another example of how cities, as well as states, regions, companies and citizens, are coming together to show how every group can do something and accelerate action.

Which brings us back to New York.

Cities are on the frontlines of nearly every global challenge we currently face, and they need to be at the center of our strategy to solve them. The urban development of yesterday will not suffice.

By using the Sustainable Development Goals as their guide, New York is showing how cities can adapt their plans to mirror development plans, allowing them to grow in the most sustainable way possible while creating policies for the things people living in cities need.

Things like jobs, affordable housing, good education, quality health care, clean air and good waste management, just to name a few. Getting cities right can provide opportunities to address poverty, migration, employment and pollution.

We invite all cities to join New York and help lead the way in planning for a shared and sustainable future that benefits all people of the world.

On 17 July 2018, the UN will host an event at the High-level Political Forum: ‘The SDGs in Action – Working together for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. The event will focus on how cities and human settlement are accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to a transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.

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Excerpt:

Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Emirates Diplomatic Academy hosts King of Spain at WOCMEShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/emirates-diplomatic-academy-hosts-king-spain-wocmes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emirates-diplomatic-academy-hosts-king-spain-wocmes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/emirates-diplomatic-academy-hosts-king-spain-wocmes/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 10:41:21 +0000 WAM http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156732 The Emirates Diplomatic Academy, EDA, held a networking reception in the presence of King Felipe VI of Spain at the fifth World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies, WOCMES, in Seville, Spain. The Congress’ inaugural reception drew the participation of over 200 dignitaries and experts from Spain and the Middle East studies community worldwide. The event […]

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Emirates Diplomatic Academy hosts King of Spain at WOCMES

By WAM
ABU DHABI, Jul 17 2018 (WAM)

The Emirates Diplomatic Academy, EDA, held a networking reception in the presence of King Felipe VI of Spain at the fifth World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies, WOCMES, in Seville, Spain.

The Congress’ inaugural reception drew the participation of over 200 dignitaries and experts from Spain and the Middle East studies community worldwide. The event took place on the opening day of WOCMES, which is running from 16th to 22nd July and convenes nearly 3,000 scholars, media representatives and diplomacy professionals from over 70 countries.

Addressing the audience at the opening ceremony, King Felipe VI said, “The Mediterranean must be the shared space of peace, prosperity and stability for which our citizens yearn. This goal requires a joint responsibility that goes beyond the countries of the Mediterranean. Because the stability and prosperity of European societies is – and has always been – closely linked to the destiny of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.”

“I would like to take the opportunity presented by this Congress, to reaffirm Spain’s unwavering commitment to championing initiatives that help offer effective political and economic responses to the challenges posted by the region,” he continued.

Bernardino León, Director-General of EDA, said, “It is a great honour for EDA to host King Felipe VI. His Majesty’s attendance is testimony to the Academy’s progress in promoting the UAE among the world’s most distinguished leaders.”

He added, “As the country’s leading international relations and diplomatic institution, EDA seeks to address questions, exchange knowledge and explore insights on the Middle East in the broadest sense. We make it our mission to enrich the world’s knowledge about Middle East governance, society and culture. Through our participation in WOCMES, we can showcase our research, develop our international networks and partnerships, and support the UAE’s foreign policy through dialogue with our peers from around the world.”

EDA is one of the sponsors of WOCMES. On the opening day, the Academy organised a policy-oriented panel discussion with its students and faculty. The event focused on two themes of high relevance for UAE and regional diplomacy, the role of small countries in regional politics and soft power.

EDA will also hold an academic panel discussion with presentations from its faculty and students. The panellists will explore how the foreign policies of countries of the GCC region, particularly the UAE, are changing as they take on a more visible role in the wider region. As well as hosting an exhibition of books and other publications authored by its faculty to highlight its research at a dedicated stand throughout the week.

WOCMES serves as a meeting point to present and discuss the latest studies concerning the Middle East, encompassing diverse perspectives from conflict analysis and resolution to migration, water, the environment, culture and media.

WAM/Nour Salman

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Greening the Way for Thailand’s First Green and Smart Cityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:29:00 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156704 Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region. “It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan […]

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The country has seen an increase in awareness for green growth from public and private sectors in recent years. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region.

“It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan Ram-Indra told IPS. GGGI is an international organisation that works with developing and emerging countries to create programmes according to a sustainable green growth model.

Thailand has seen an increase in awareness of green growth from public and private sectors in recent years under the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative — an economic strategy that seeks to transform the nation’s economy from one reliant on manufacturing to a value-based economy focused on innovation, higher technologies and green industries.

At the heart of this ambitious endeavour is Thailand’s industrial sector. As the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, the industrial sector accounts for almost 40 percent of the country’s GDP. It also happens to be a significant contributor to pollution and reduced energy security within the country.

The sector alone accounts for 37.1 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, while 27.9 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to its operations. According to GGGI’s study to support the government’s climate change master plan, it finds that this translates to a net economic loss of roughly USD900 million to the Thai economy.

“This issue is quite new and the industry might not have a clear idea on how to approach it. This is where GGGI can come in to help guide them. The other thing is that we can help to identify bankable projects to achieve their green vision. This is where GGGI plays a critical role in mobilising private finance and developmental projects,” Ram-Indra said.

The industry has also experienced difficulties, with an economic slowdown between 2015 to 2016, labour shortages and depleting natural resources. However, the investment outlook is more positive this year thanks to a boost in investment in industrial estates through the government’s approval of the new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) law in late February.

The USD45 billion EEC project in the country’s industrial east is the latest in a series of measures rolled out to stimulate investment in the Thai economy and is projected to generate USD39 billion over the next decade.

Ram-Indra believes the EEC will provide significant potential and growth for the sector, but also warns that to maintain its competitive edge, the industry needs to look towards green investments.
Ram-Indra sees the creation of more sustainable industrial parks as an enhancement to the bottomline.

“This green investment will help people on the ground, including the owners and investors to save costs through energy efficiency and higher productivity from the workforce because they are able to enjoy a better quality of living.”

GGGI estimated in their roadmap to support Thailand’s climate change master plan that the Thai economy can potentially save about USD100 million if the manufacturing sector implements GHG reduction projects. The sector’s potential for green improvements is one of the main reasons why the organisation chose to work closely with industrial estates, Ram-Indra explained. Furthermore, the policy is also in line with working towards Thailand’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by cutting its GHG emission by 20 to 25 percent by 2030.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, GGGI’s Director-General, and Vikrom Kromadit, CEO of AMATA Corporation PCL at the MoU signing ceremony for Green and Smart Industrial Town Development. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

In its most recent effort on Jul. 12, GGGI signed a memorandum of understanding with one of Thailand’s largest industrial estate operator’s, AMATA Corporation PCL. Under the MoU signed by GGGI’s Director-General Dr. Frank Rijsberman and AMATA’s CEO Vikrom Kromadit, AMATA will be GGGI’s first partner from the private sector in implementing its green city development programme.

“With AMATA, we want to demonstrate that industrial estates can be very different. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) is doing some interesting developments to improve the quality of these places and certain environmentally projects. But we think the vision for the industrial estates can be radically different. They could be zero-carbon or zero-waste. There are great places to cut down the commuting time,” Rijsberman told IPS.

He added that AMATA employed a large number of people “and if they all spend two hours commuting each way, you can cut down that [with] a better public transport system.”

“Not only is the environment improved, but the quality of life for those people. We think these industrial estates can be model smart cities. We want to demonstrate that they can still be commercially attractive investments but have a radically different impact on the people’s quality of life and environment,” he said.

GGGI has assisted Indonesia set up 12 special economic zones or SEZs. According to a GGGI report, the “policy interventions to enable green projects in these four sectors would yield sufficient returns and create USD870 Million in potential net economic benefits.”

“AMATA is interesting to us because we also have states in Vietnam where there are about 230 of these special economic zones. They are just starting in Laos and Myanmar. Our intent is that once we demonstrate to AMATA how this can work, it should have an impact on industrial estates in Thailand and throughout the region.

“We are doing other projects along the same line in Vietnam, our green investment specialist is working with a company to install solar roofing in the park and helping them to work with banks and working out the best business model. The idea is if one is successful, then it can really scale,” Rijsberman said.

For Kromadit, the future of the country’s development depends on having a smarter and better facility environment. He hopes the MoU will help push future developments to see environmental issues including access to greener spaces on top of reducing pollution as incentives for investment in the EEC.

GGGI’s work also considers the societal aspect affecting the community and workforce in and around the industrial estate. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for those people including cleaner air, lessening their transportation time and overall improving the standards of living,” Ram-Indra said.

Thai manufacturers and industrial estate operators should take confidence in the transition towards eco-industrial developments by looking towards one of its biggest competitors, Indonesia. A recent study by consulting firm Solidiance showed Indonesia’s top five green industrial parks have produced encouraging results.

Companies that have reused their water were able to decrease 10 to 15 percent from costs for purchasing new water and lowering their production costs. Cost saving on energy maintenance can reach up to 7 to 15 percent by employing green technology such as solar cells and LED lights. The study also projected that green space could generate a higher return for the company in the long run (over 50 years). One industrial city marketing manager noted that in addition to continued engagement between stakeholders and the local community, the community benefitted from better housing.

IEAT has implemented a similar programme with the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. The programme reported an improvement in public sentiment towards the industrial sector and enhanced cooperation between communities and more companies adopting environmentally and socially responsible mechanisms in their businesses.

Tara Buakamsri, Country Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS he would like to see greater community engagement in the IEAT programmes.
“To ask whether the idea of eco-industrial estates can be sustainable, it has to be in the context of a framework for good governance that require transparency and check and balances between all the stakeholders involved. We need to involve the local communities that live around the estates as well.”

Ram-Indra hoped the success of the AMATA partnership and other sustainable industrial parks would not only signal other companies to follow suit, but also act as a model for other countries especially those in the Southeast Asia region.

“My concern is that the change is not happening fast enough. There needs to be a bigger push from all the stakeholders involved,” he said.

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Despite Progress, South Asia Faces Daunting Challenges in Water & Sanitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:16:16 +0000 Vanita Suneja http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156725 Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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A girl washes her hands and face with soap and water at a water tap, installed with the support of HSBC and WaterAid, in Sylhet District, Bangladesh. Credit: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

By Vanita Suneja
NEW DELHI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

In 2030, when I would be turning sixty, I’d like to tell my grandchildren the story of how – once upon a time – the lives of poor people in South Asia were transformed: that leaders came together to bring economic prosperity and social development to people that until then had lived in an unequal and polluted world.

What I am more likely to tell them, is how – even with the knowledge that nearly 800,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – governments failed to act and people remain locked in a cycle of ill-health and poverty.

Ending the cycle of poverty absolutely by 2030, without leaving behind a single person, is the most ambitious promise made to date by world leaders in 2015 when they adopted the sustainable development goals: which included the provision of universal access to water and sanitation that is essential for achieving significant progress in health, education and equality.

When people have access to clean water and decent sanitation, their wellbeing increases: women and girls have time to go to school because they don’t have to fetch water for their families – this responsibility often falls on the female members or a family, and with better health comes increased productivity both in school and at work.

For every £1 invested in WASH at least £4 is returned in increased productivity, primarily based on improved health and more time to work or study.

With floods and droughts affecting the region at different times of the year, it is important that climate-resilient services are set up. This includes managing resources responsibly and minimising the effects of climate change.

Governments in South Asia have taken steps in the right direction. Nepal has taken a rights-based approach to water, sanitation and hygiene in its constitution, which sets the bar for accountability at the highest political level. The constitution states peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment as well as the right to access to safe water and sanitation.

Through its Clean India Mission, an incredible story emerges from India, where considerable progress has been made on sanitation. The Indian government aims to ensure that the entire population will have access to a decent toilet by 2019, so that nobody has to go in the open after that.

Bangladesh has shown the way on inclusion, having achieved the Open Defecation Free status before 2015. The government of Bangladesh has since adopted an inclusive approach to water as well, and is working to connect all those living in makeshift houses in the capital’s slums to a piped network.

Despite this progress, South Asia faces daunting challenges. Governments, donors and the private sector must be held accountable if they are not doing enough. While 88 percent of South Asia’s population has access to at least basic water, still more than half the population of South Asia lacks access to even basic sanitation.

Disparities are large between cities and rural areas: while 5.6 percent of the urban population in South Asian nations defecate in the open – having no other option as no decent sanitation is available to them – yet in rural areas, this is as high as 45 percent.

For all nations to deliver on their commitment to provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, governments need to prioritise WASH – the NGO term for water, sanitation and hygiene – and ensure that finances are directed towards achieving those goals.

Sanitation, water and hygiene have a bearing on health, education, nutrition, equality and poverty eradication. WASH is thus crucial to breaking the cycle of ill-health and poverty in which too many people still live today.

An important part of the promise to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere, is to leave no one behind. This requires renewed focus on addressing the equity challenge.

The private sector and civil society groups have an important role to play in partnering with the government to reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations.

This week, world leaders are coming together at the United Nations in New York to discuss the progress made on sustainable development goal 6 – to provide universal access to clean water and decent sanitation.

This is an important moment to highlight the urgency of having clean drinking water and a proper toilet, and to ensure that the lives of people in South Asia and beyond will be transformed within a generation.

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Excerpt:

Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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Africa Could be Next Frontier for Cryptocurrencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 14:55:49 +0000 Pavithra Rao http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156721 Pavithra Rao, Africa Renewal*

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Interest in cryptocurrency, a form of digital currency, is growing steadily in Africa. Some economists say it is a disruptive innovation that will blossom on the continent.

By Pavithra Rao
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

Cryptocurrency is not bound by geography because it is internet based; its transactions are stored in a database called blockchain, which is a group of connected computers that record transactions in a ledger in real time.

The difference between cryptocurrency and, say, Visa or Mastercard, is that a cryptocurrency is not now regulated by government and doesn’t need middlemen, and transactions rely on the internet, which means they can happen anywhere in the world.

The big cryptocurrency global brands include Bitcoin, Litecoin, XRP, Dash, Lisk and Monero, but Bitcoin leads the pack in Africa. Created in 2009 by a person or people with the alias Satoshi Nakamoto, investors hope Bitcoin becomes the new mode of financial transaction in the digital age.

“Africa is rarely mentioned among the largest markets for cryptocurrency, but it may be set to steal a march over other markets,” says Rakesh Sharma, a business and technology journalist.

Sharma says that citizens of countries battling high inflation are likely to opt for cryptocurrency, because “with their paradigm of decentralization, cryptocurrencies offer an alternative to disastrous central bank policies.”

Stealing a march

South Sudan’s inflation rate was 102% between September 2016 and September 2017, according to the World Bank. Other countries with double-digit inflation rates include Egypt, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is no surprise that some of these countries are among the main Bitcoin economies in Africa.

The main Bitcoin countries are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to gobitcoin.io, a website dedicated to Bitcoin news in Africa. The BBC adds that cryptocurrency is gaining ground in Uganda.

When Zimbabwe’s inflation skyrocketed in 2015, forcing authorities to print $100 trillion notes (each worth just $40), some Zimbabweans turned to Bitcoin.

Zimbabweans and citizens of other African countries transact in Bitcoin “as opposed to their local currencies, which are plagued with hyperinflation,” comments Emmanuel Tokunbo Darko, vice president of marketing for ICOWatchlist.com, a platform that hosts cryptocurrency tokens.

There will be 725 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa by 2020, according to the GSM Association, which represents the interests of mobile operators globally. That means more Africans will have the tools to plug into the cryptocurrency ecosystem, says Sharma.

“I check my Bitcoin every day [on my mobile phone] and any chance I can get. Any minute, any hour, anytime, as often as I can,” Peace Akware, a Ugandan millennial, told the BBC.

Bitcoin spreads
That African governments are not now regulating cryptocurrency may be a factor spurring its growth on the continent; however, there is no guarantee that governments will not change their current mindset.

Rather than simply not wanting to, governments may be powerless to regulate cryptocurrency, the Nigerian central bank indicated recently. Currently tackling the country’s 12% inflation rate, the Nigerian apex bank announced that it could not control or regulate Bitcoin, “just the same way no one is going to control or regulate the internet. We don’t own it.”

Fearing a collapse of the banking industry or arbitrary appropriation of money by the government, Africans without access to banks and who live in politically unstable countries could be attracted to cryptocurrency. “Bitcoin transactions help to eliminate the procedural bottlenecks that plague traditional banking and financial services,” Darko explains.

Some 15 cryptocurrency-related operations began in Africa in the past year alone, reports Sharma. But South Africa–based Luno Exchange, established in 2013 and now boasting 1.5 million customers in over 40 countries worldwide, is the first to be based in Africa.

Others, particularly cryptocurrency-based remittance services, are popping up in various countries. These services include Abra, which operates in Malawi and Morocco, GeoPay in South Africa, BitMari in Zimbabwe and London-based Kobocoin, which was launched by Nigerian entrepreneur Felix Onyemechi Ugoji.

The Plaas Application is a mobile app that enables farmers to manage their stock on the blockchain.

Launched in 2013, Kenya’s BitPesa facilitates virtual remittances transfers to both African and international locations, to and from individuals’ mobile wallets, where cryptocurrency is stored. LocalBitcoins.com in Kenya reported trading volumes in excess of $1.8 million as of December 2017, underlining the lucrativeness of the business.

“I started mining Bitcoin [in Nairobi, Kenya] in September 2017 and, so far, this is the best business I have ever tried,” Gladys Laboi told Africa Renewal, adding: “Under six months, I earned $800 after investing in $700.”

Not to be left out, some governments are moving into the virtual currency terrain. Tunisia’s eDinar is a government-issued digital currency. Senegal is in the process of creating eCFA, which, if successful, could be emulated by other Francophone countries in Africa.

There will be government-issued cryptocurrencies in Africa in the near future, predicts Shireen Ramjoo, ceo of Liquid Crypto-Money, a South Africa-based cryptocurrency consulting firm.

Industry experts believe that cryptocurrency will be around for years. That Bitcoin users can send money to just about anywhere there is an internet connection for relatively small fees and with no third-party interference is an advantage that standard government-issued currencies cannot offer.

“Every single computer device on the surface of the planet with an internet connection can access information on the blockchain and make ‘transactional’ inputs onto it. The information cannot be distorted, deleted, modified or destroyed, and [the] computer device has the same information as everybody,” says Darko.

Another recommendation is that transactions are anonymous, and users’ information is private and safe; there is little possibility of identity theft, which is common with other forms of digital payment.

As of December 2017, the global demand for cryptocurrency had increased to the extent that a Bitcoin sold for $20,000. Its value had been $1,000 one year prior.

Ponzi scheme
Nevertheless, some industry watchers refer to cryptocurrency as a risky and temperamental scheme, citing the crash to $8,700 in the value of Bitcoin last February, from a high of $20,000 in December 2017.

Without regulations, cryptocurrency is a double-edged sword; there may be gains from time to time, but any precipitous crash in price could leave investors with no escape route. Manasseh Egedegbe, an investment manager based in Nigeria, says that Bitcoin’s frenzied price surge seems like the dot-com bubble at the turn of the millennium.

There is also the fact that cryptocurrency can be used by criminals to funnel funds. In 2011 Bitcoin was a currency of choice for drug peddlers, according to the US Justice Department, which seized almost $48 million worth of illegal contrabands that year, and discovered that the criminals involved had made transactions totaling 150,000 Bitcoins (approximately $130 million.

Countries such as Bangladesh, Ecuador and Kyrgyzstan believe the risks outweigh the gains and have banned Bitcoin as well as initial coin offerings or ICOs, which are used by start-ups to evade the demand for capital by banks and other financing institutions.

Quartz Africa, an online business news publication, reported last December that a similar scheme, Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM), once had over two million users in Nigeria, while also operating in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

There are reports that South Africa’s central bank is actively studying cryptocurrency and may institute guidelines to foster innovation. Those guidelines could be a slippery slope to regulation. The Sunday Times of South Africa reported in March that 27,500 individuals, including South Africans, lost more than $50 million when they were duped into transferring their Bitcoins into an online wallet. The publication called it “one of the biggest scams to hit South Africa.”

At 22% (the world average is 48%), Africa has the lowest rate of Internet usage of any region, according to a 2017 report by the International Communications Union, which may undercut optimistic projections of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology on the continent. Also, poor power supply in many countries continues to impede the internet access on which cryptocurrency largely depends.

Despite some analysts likening Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to a Ponzi scheme, many Africans are taking the risk to invest in them.

Other experts, such as Darko, believe Africa should warmly embrace the innovation. “Truth be told, Africa needs blockchain technology and its resultant cryptocurrencies more than any part of the world,” he says

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information. The link to the original article follows: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2018-july-2018/africa-could-be-next-frontier-cryptocurrency

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Excerpt:

Pavithra Rao, Africa Renewal*

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Will Trump’s Trade War Make America Great Again?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 14:26:11 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156713 The United States has had the world’s largest trade deficit for almost half a century. In 2017, the US trade deficit in goods and services was $566 billion; without services, the merchandise account deficit was $810 billion. The largest US trade deficit is with China, amounting to $375 billion, rising dramatically from an average of […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

The United States has had the world’s largest trade deficit for almost half a century. In 2017, the US trade deficit in goods and services was $566 billion; without services, the merchandise account deficit was $810 billion.

The largest US trade deficit is with China, amounting to $375 billion, rising dramatically from an average of $34 billion in the 1990s. In 2017, its trade deficit with Japan was $69 billion, and with Germany, $65 billion. The US also has trade deficits with both its NAFTA partners, including $71 billion with Mexico.

President Trump wants to reduce these deficits with protectionist measures. In March 2018, he imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminium, a month after imposing tariffs and quotas on imported solar panels and washing machines. On 10 July, the US listed Chinese imports worth $200 billion annually that will face 10% tariffs, probably from September, following 25% tariffs on $34 billion of such imports from 7 July.

 

Do US trade deficits reflect weakness?

The usual explanation for bilateral trade deficits is price differentials. However, the US accuses such countries of ‘unfair’ trade practices, such as currency manipulation, wage suppression and government subsidies to boost exports, besides blocking US imports.

Trump views most trade deals such as NAFTA as unfair. His team insists that renegotiating trade deals, ‘buying American’, a strong dollar and confronting China will shrink US trade deficits.

Anis Chowdhury

But the country’s overall trade deficit, offset by capital inflows, is related to the gap between its savings and investments. The US spends more than it produces, thus importing foreign goods and services. Cheap credit fuels debt-financed consumption, increasing the trade deficit.

Total US household debt rose to $13.2 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, the 15th consecutive quarter of growth in the mortgage, student, auto and credit card loan categories. American consumer debt was more than double GDP in 2017.

US government budget deficits have also been growing. From 67.7% of GDP in 2008, US government debt rose to 105.4% in 2017. The federal budget deficit was $665 billion in FY2017, rising 14% from $585 billion in FY2016.

The US budget deficit was 3.5% of GDP in 2017. According to the US Congressional Budget Office, it will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously projected, due to Trump tax cuts and spending increases.

The growing US economy may also increase the trade deficit, as consumers spend more on imported goods and services. The stronger dollar has made foreign products cheaper for American consumers while making US exports more expensive for foreigners.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

These underlying economic forces have become more important than policies in raising the overall trade deficit, while bilateral deficits reflect specific commercial relations with particular countries. Thus, disrupting bilateral trade relations may only shift the trade deficit to others.

 

Have the cake and eat it?

So, why does the US have a structural trade deficit? As the de facto international ‘reserve currency’ after the Second World War, the US has provided the rest of the world with liquidity. Its perceived military strength means it is seen as a safe place to keep financial assets. Of about $10 trillion in global reserves in 2016, for example, around three fifths were held in US dollars.

US supply of international liquidity by issuing the global reserve currency offers several economic advantages. It also earns seigniorage from issuing the main currency used around the world, due to the difference between the face value of a currency note and the cost of issuing it.

With growing foreign demand for dollars, the US can run deficits almost indefinitely by creating more debt or selling assets. Demand for dollar-denominated assets, e.g., US Treasury bonds, raises their prices, lowering interest rates, to finance both consumption and investment.

While foreign investors buy low-yielding, short-term US assets, Americans can invest abroad in higher-yielding, long-term assets. The US usually reaps higher returns on such investments than it pays for debt, labelled America’s ‘exorbitant privilege’.

Thus, for the US to enjoy the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of the dollar’s role as the major reserve currency, it must run a chronic trade deficit. Therefore, giving up the dollar’s global reserve currency status will have major implications for the US economy, finances and living standards.

 

Can the US win Trump’s trade war?

Barry Eichengreen noted that countries in military alliances with reserve-currency issuing countries hold about 30% more of the partner’s currency in their foreign-exchange reserves than countries not in such alliances. Instead, Trump has prioritized reducing trade deficits to strengthen the US dollar and dominance while disrupting some old political alliances.

As the US retreats from the global diplomatic stage, use of other reserve currencies, including China’s renminbi, has been growing, especially in Europe and Africa. Thus, ironically, as Trump wages trade wars on both foes and friends, China will probably gain, both geopolitically and economically.

The resulting global economic shift will not only hurt the US dollar and economy through the exchange rate and borrowing costs, but also its geopolitical dominance.


Anis Chowdhury
, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Blue Economy Movement Gains Traction in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 10:42:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156707 An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger. Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need […]

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A coastal city, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, is an area where people have relied on the ocean for food and employment for as long as they have lived there. An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger.

Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need to diversify their economies.

“The African Union has also adopted the blue economy, which is about exploiting resources such as oceans, lakes and rivers, into its 2063 development agenda for socio-economic transformation,” Danson Mwangangi, an independent economic researcher and analyst, tells IPS.

He says that for agrarian economies like Kenya, “agriculture alone will not be sufficient to drive the economy since the sector is facing many challenges, including shrinking farmlands, pest infestations and unpredictable weather changes.”The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it. -- Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya

In Kenya, for instance, World Bank statistics show that in 2017 alone maize production dropped 20 to 30 percent due to insufficient rains and army worm infestation. The country has an annual maize shortfall of eight million bags per year.
Against this backdrop, experts are urging African countries to diversify and look beyond land-based resources by exploring the blue economy as it presents immense untapped potential.

The World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in their 2018 policy brief make a strong case in favour of the blue economy.
Mwangangi says that it can significantly enable Africa to improve its volumes of global trade, achieve food security and meet its energy demands.

Ocean renewable energy has the potential to meet up to 400 percent of the current global energy demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Seventy percent of African countries are either coastal or islands, we need to harness such valuable coastlines,” says Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya.
He tells IPS that the blue world can significantly transform the lives of communities that live closest to those bodies of water since they lead very precarious lives.

According to John Omingo, head of commercial shipping at the Kenya Maritime Authority, very little has been done in the way of harnessing these vast water-based resources for economic gain.
“Africa’s coastline is about 31,000 kilometres long and yet trade among African countries accounts for 11 percent of the total trade volume, which is the lowest compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Europe and America,” he expounds.

Bita tells IPS that while Africa is the largest island on earth as it has the Atlantic Ocean on the west; the Indian Ocean on the east; the Antarctic ocean on the south, and the Mediterranean and Red Sea on the north, “there is very little shipping that is going on in Africa. African-owned ships account for less than 1.2 percent of the world’s shipping.”

Ahead of the upcoming Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, that will be co-host by Kenya and Canada this November, in Nairobi, economic experts are optimistic that the blue economy movement is gaining traction.
The high-level conference is expected to advance a global agenda on sustainable exploitation of oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.

One of Freetown’s larger fishing harbours is Goderich Beach, less than 30 minute’s drive from the city’s downtown core. There, a single motorised boat can bring in as much as 300 dollars worth of fish in a single day. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

“Holding the conference in Africa with Canada as a co-host is also very strategic and shows that the continent is coming into this agenda as an important partner. Some of the most important gateways for international trade are actually in Africa,” says Bita.
Mwangangi says that African countries will need to assess their own individual capacities and interpret the blue economy in the manner that makes most economic sense to them.

“The concept is not a one-size-fits-all. Each country will need to evaluate what water-based natural resources are at their disposal,” he says. “On the Indian Ocean side of the continent where we have South Africa and Mauritius, countries tend to embrace an industrial approach,” he adds.

Research shows that South Africa’s Operation Phakisa, a national development plan, also places a focus on the blue economy as it is expected to create one million new jobs by 2030 and add approximately USD13 billion into the country’s economy.

Experts also point to Mauritius which is among the smallest countries in the world but has territorial waters the size of South Africa, making the small nation one the strongest blue economies in Africa. It ranked as Africa’s wealthiest nation based on its per capita income in 2015. Bita adds that Mozambique, which lies alongside the Indian Ocean, is characterised by the highest species of diverse and abundant natural resources.

Kenya is among African countries that are developing strategies to mainstream the blue economy within its national economic blueprint. Bita says that this East African nation’s blue economy includes maritime transport and logistics services, fisheries and aquaculture, tourism as well as the extractive industries such as the offshore mining of gas and oil, titanium and niobium.

Nonetheless, environment experts, including Bita, have expressed concerns that ongoing talks on the blue economy have largely revolved around full exploitation, in order for countries to develop rapidly in the next 10 years, and little on sustainability.

“This is a problem since there is evidence to show that oceans resources are limited. For instance, explorers have presented evidence to show that at least 90 percent of the largest predatory fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans,” he cautions.

The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it, he adds.

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DEWA begins testing turbines at 700MW M-Stationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/dewa-begins-testing-turbines-700mw-m-station/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dewa-begins-testing-turbines-700mw-m-station http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/dewa-begins-testing-turbines-700mw-m-station/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 10:37:32 +0000 WAM http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156710 Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, DEWA, has started testing the turbines in the M-Station expansion project in Jebel Ali, which is the newest and largest electricity generation and water desalination plant in the UAE. The cost of the expansion project is AED1.47 billion. Testing includes an initial operation of turbines and power generators and connecting […]

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By WAM
DUBAI, Jul 16 2018 (WAM)

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, DEWA, has started testing the turbines in the M-Station expansion project in Jebel Ali, which is the newest and largest electricity generation and water desalination plant in the UAE.

The cost of the expansion project is AED1.47 billion. Testing includes an initial operation of turbines and power generators and connecting them to the grid. These tests are essential to ensure the quality and reliability of the units while connected to the grid. Tests are scheduled to continue until the completion of the project in Q4 of 2018.

The project’s team currently focuses on preparations and operational readiness to assess the station’s readiness. After the completion of the initial tests, DEWA will start testing the pilot operation of the plant. A plan has been devised to conduct these tests according to the best practices, and based on accumulated experience in this field, to achieve maximum reliability, efficiency and safety. The plan aims to reduce commission costs in three areas: rationalising fuel consumption, regulating interruptions, and reducing heat rate.

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, DEWA Managing Director and CEO, said that the Jebel Ali M-Station expansion project supports DEWA’s efforts to enhance the infrastructure, improve DEWA’s services according to the highest international standards, and support its vision to become a sustainable innovative world class utility.

He added that the tests are conducted in four main stages: initial operational launch, operational tests, reliability tests, and performance tests. These tests aim to achieve the project’s objectives by ensuring the conformity of its technical specifications. When completed, the project will increase the station’s total capacity to 2,885MW.

The expansion project includes the provision of new power generating units adding a further 700MW to the installed generating capacity of M-Station. The expansion project includes the addition of two dual-fuel gas turbine generators, two heat recovery steam boilers, and one steam turbine with 90 percent of fuel efficiency. This will increase the plant’s thermal efficiency from 82.4 percent to 85.8 percent, which is one of the highest thermal-efficiency rates in the world, Al Tayer added.

WAM/Rola Alghoul/Nour Salman

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Why World Cup can mirror but not resolve global complexitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/world-cup-can-mirror-not-resolve-global-complexities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-cup-can-mirror-not-resolve-global-complexities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/world-cup-can-mirror-not-resolve-global-complexities/#respond Sat, 14 Jul 2018 16:41:42 +0000 Ehtesham Shahid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156740 On July 15, the world will have a new football champion. The team, not necessarily the best in the world, will be crowned and remain so until another round of qualifiers build up to the crescendo we are witnessing now. The World Cup thus far has already separated men from the boys. Some champions have […]

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By Ehtesham Shahid
Jul 14 2018 (Al Arabiya)

On July 15, the world will have a new football champion. The team, not necessarily the best in the world, will be crowned and remain so until another round of qualifiers build up to the crescendo we are witnessing now.

Ehtesham Shahid

The World Cup thus far has already separated men from the boys. Some champions have fallen from grace, some promises have remained unfulfilled and some new scripts written. All that is familiar territory.

As ever, the beautiful game is mirroring complexities and frailties of life. In fact, the all-Europe affair that it has reduced itself to in a way reflects how different a trajectory football follows to the world of politics and economy.

Europe is definitely not the center of the world as far as today’s economic progress is concerned. Iceland and Ireland, the two European countries with GDP topping 5 percent, very quickly went out of the reckoning at the World Cup.

ALSO READ: Mesut Ozil’s father urges son to quit German national team

On the other hand, Asia, the region with the most rapid economic growth, had next to nothing to show for in the soccer arena. Africa and the Arab world showed promise but couldn’t live up to expectations.

In other words, economic power doesn’t automatically make a successful footballing nation and vice versa. Events such as these generally make countries cobble up players from rich fat clubs, invoking nationalistic fervor.
“Football undoubtedly holds a mirror to the society but to assume that it can answer complex questions surrounding immigration and human rights is too far-fetched an idea”

Ehtesham Shahid

That is why soon after the tournament is over clubs go back to making multi-million deals for star performers irrespective of which country or region they come from. In fact, the process gathers momentum during the World Cup as talents are spotted for longer runs at the club level.

Marketplace has become the best judge of footballing talent and also the most unbiased bidder.

Soccer immigrants

Hogging the limelight, and rightly so, has been stories of first-generation immigrant footballers who are making it big on the world stage.

While their success reinforces the opportunities available to them in these countries, it also suggests that the countries of their origin could have benefited from their talent if they had created circumstances to ensure they stayed.

But just because these players have made it to their national teams doesn’t in any way end the predicament millions of refugees and immigrants are in. Football undoubtedly holds a mirror to the society but to assume that it can answer complex questions surrounding immigration and human rights is too far-fetched an idea.

While Germans lost early in Russia – and the social media had a gala time highlighting historical parallels – this by no means suggests its current state of economic or political affairs. Russia’s spectacular progress during early stages of the tournament suggested a nationalist fervor, which was cut short by the sudden death of penalties.

Over the years, some teams have exceeded expectations while others have flattered to deceive. This has been the story of all such tournaments. Some big guns always fly back early while few underdogs last longer than expected.

ALSO READ: Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid to join Italian club Juventus

At the end of the day, the success of a team boils down to a few critical factors – a master tactician, few outstanding blokes on the field, extensive preparations and strokes of luck. Indeed, it takes ages to develop a system that builds the backbone of a team.

Stories of individual brilliance also run parallel to such tournaments and beyond. So a Mohammed Salah, despite Egypt’s under-par performance, will continue to shine. He is likely to be a more enduring symbol of football uniting cultures than a team full of immigrants who melt away to respective clubs as soon as the tournament is over.

Success of teams such as Belgium or France has been attributed to immigrant players but this is definitely going to change the discourse surrounding immigrants in these countries. Football can cloud jingoistic behavior for a while but not forever.

The beautiful game definitely plays a role in uniting people across geographical and political boundaries but it would be too much to expect it to bring the world closer. Ours is a complex world and football only mirrors that complexity.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham and he can be reached at Ehtesham.Shahid@alarabiya.net.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English.

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DG Swing Discusses Myanmar Crisis with Aung San Suu Kyihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/dg-swing-discusses-myanmar-crisis-aung-san-suu-kyi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dg-swing-discusses-myanmar-crisis-aung-san-suu-kyi http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/dg-swing-discusses-myanmar-crisis-aung-san-suu-kyi/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 15:43:30 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156729 IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing said rebuilding community cohesion in Myanmar is key to resolving the crisis created by the flight of 700,000 refugees to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since last August. DG Swing made the remarks in a meeting Thursday with Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar in the nation’s capital Nay […]

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IOM DG William Lacy Swing meets with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on refugee crisis. Photo: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
Nay Pyi Taw, Jul 13 2018 (IOM)

IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing said rebuilding community cohesion in Myanmar is key to resolving the crisis created by the flight of 700,000 refugees to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since last August.

DG Swing made the remarks in a meeting Thursday with Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar in the nation’s capital Nay Pyi Taw. He also welcomed a plan recently agreed to by UNDP and UNHCR (the UN agencies, respectively, for development and refugees) and the Myanmar government.

The Joint Myanmar Government-UN plan is designed to create the conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return and reintegration of the refugees with quick impact projects to benefit communities. The aim is to create confidence-building and social cohesion measures leading to economic growth and development.

“Myanmar faces great challenges, and there is an urgent need to help bring communities together to enable the country to achieve its great potential” Swing said.

IOM has a track record in peace and reconciliation worldwide, and he offered its support in this regard.

In wide-ranging discussions, Swing and Aung San Suu Kyi discussed IOM’s decade-long, active presence in Myanmar where its 600 staff are providing a range of services to vulnerable communities in 13 of the country’s 14 states and regions, including Rakhine state. IOM’s work focuses on safe and orderly migration, community development, health care, disaster risk reduction and preventing human trafficking and smuggling.

The meeting coincided with peace and reconciliation talks in the capital which Aung San Suu Kyi is leading. With a number of the country’s multiple ethnic groups still involved in active conflict, the government faces many challenges beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis of the refugees.

One of those is migration with its long borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh. (Some 25 per cent of Myanmar’s population are migrants, whether internally or in foreign countries.)

For more information contact Leonard Doyle Tel +41 792857123 / Email ldoyle@iom.int

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Humanitarian Situation Worsens as Over 800,000 Displaced People Face Cold and Heavy Rains in Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/humanitarian-situation-worsens-800000-displaced-people-face-cold-heavy-rains-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-situation-worsens-800000-displaced-people-face-cold-heavy-rains-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/humanitarian-situation-worsens-800000-displaced-people-face-cold-heavy-rains-ethiopia/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:10:42 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156700 Over 800,000 internally displaced persons are living without adequate shelter and safe sanitation in Ethiopia, resulting in a worsening humanitarian situation further exacerbated by cold, wet weather brought on by the rainy season. Clashes last month between communities along the border of two Ethiopian regions – Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and Oromia […]

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Samira,* a displaced Ethiopian, holds one of her seven children in front of the tiny space she shares with other families at the Gedeb site. Credit: Olivia Headon/IOM 2018

By International Organization for Migration
DILLA, Ethiopia, Jul 13 2018 (IOM)

Over 800,000 internally displaced persons are living without adequate shelter and safe sanitation in Ethiopia, resulting in a worsening humanitarian situation further exacerbated by cold, wet weather brought on by the rainy season.

Clashes last month between communities along the border of two Ethiopian regions – Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and Oromia Region – forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Those displaced in June added to some smaller-scale displacements that occurred in April and May.

According to data collected through IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), there were already 1,776,685 people internally displaced throughout Ethiopia – most due to drought and subsequent floods – before these latest movements.

Walking for days to find safety, many sleeping out in the open along the way, the displaced communities have few if any possessions beyond the clothes they left in, and no food or money.

Samira*, a 22-year-old mother of seven who arrived three months ago in one of the first waves of displacement, is now living in Gedeb (Gedeo Zone), where local authorities have requested IOM, the UN Migration Agency, to focus its site management support.

Her family left home with very little and have hardly had enough to sustain their lives while displaced. Her husband was also wounded in his leg when they were fleeing.

“We only managed to escape with our lives – we did not carry anything with us, only our children, but I know there are people here who have it worse than us,” said Samira, whose family has found shelter in a disused building.

“We are really grateful to have shelter to protect us from the outside but we need more food and clothes – our children are cold. There are good organizations supporting us but we need much more.”

The Government of Ethiopia which has lead the response since the crisis began, is racing to provide vital humanitarian services across numerous displacement sites in West Guji Zone (Oromia) and Gedeo Zone (SNNPR), the latter hosting the majority of those displaced.

Many of the displaced people are staying with relatives in local communities or in rented accommodations, while others are sheltering in collective centres like schools, government buildings and disused factories. Those staying in local communities still come to the collective centres during the day to access humanitarian services.

Thousands of people are crammed into overcrowded collective centres unfit for human habitation. Others sleep outside on dirt floors with nothing more than a tarpaulin to shield them from the cold and rain. Open fire cooking in overly congested buildings, poor sanitation and cold weather are all contributing to a worsening environment from both health and protection perspectives.

In support of and in close coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, IOM is providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations in collective centres and within local communities through an integrated approach focusing on core aid distribution, emergency shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance, primary emergency health care and site management support. In addition, IOM’s DTM is supporting the overall response by much needed identification of population movements and needs.

“With so many people displaced in such a short space of time, IOM mobilized response teams and resources to immediately help the Government and local communities address the rapidly-mounting humanitarian needs,” said Maureen Achieng, IOM Ethiopia Chief of Mission and Representative to the African Union, IGAD and UNECA.

“However, the rains continue and people have very little to survive on – more support is urgently needed from the international community.”

In the past week, IOM distributed 1,000 blankets and began building 40 communal shelters to protect displaced communities from the weather. By Thursday (12/07), IOM had completed 15 of a planned 150 latrines and had started digging several more. These activities are being done in addition to displacement tracking rapid assessments, and other ongoing support.

For more information, please contact Olivia Headon in Ethiopia, Tel: +251902484062, Email: oheadon@iom.int

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Japan: the Land of the Rising Robotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/japan-land-rising-robots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-land-rising-robots http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/japan-land-rising-robots/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 12:39:31 +0000 Todd Schneider - Gee Hee Hong and Anh Van Le http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156697 Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

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Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

By Todd Schneider, Gee Hee Hong and Anh Van Le
WASHNGTON DC, Jul 13 2018 (IPS)

While automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the coming decades, it is likely to have an impact on portions of almost all jobs to some degree—depending on the type of work and the tasks involved.

Set to move beyond routine and repetitive manufacturing activities, automation has the potential to appear in a much broader range of activities than seen until now, and to redefine human labor and work style in services and other sectors.

In Japan, the rapid decline in the labor force and the limited influx of immigrants create a powerful incentive for automation, which makes the country a particularly useful laboratory for the study of the future landscape of work.

Japan’s estimated population fell by a record-breaking 264,000 people in 2017. Currently, deaths outnumber births by an average of 1,000 people a day. The Tohoku region in northern Japan, for example, now has fewer inhabitants than it did in 1950.

Japan’s birth rate has long been significantly below the 2.1 births a woman needed to sustain growth—it currently stands at about 1.4 births a woman—and unlike for many other advanced economies, immigration is not sufficient to fill the gap.

Nearly a third of Japanese citizens were older than 65 in 2015—research from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research suggests that number will rise to nearly 40 percent by 2050.

The Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released an estimate for Japan that showed the country’s population will dip below 100 million shortly after the middle of the 21st century. By the century’s end, Japan stands to lose 34 percent of its current population.

Japan’s domestic labor force (those ages 15–64) is projected to decline even faster than the overall population, dropping by some 24 million between now and 2050. With immigration unlikely to rise enough to compensate for this dramatic decline anytime soon, Japan faces dim prospects for productivity, potential output, and income growth (see Chart 1).

Japan is no stranger to coping with limited resources—including labor—and has historically been a leader in technological development. Automation and robotics, either to replace or enhance human labor, are familiar concepts in Japanese society. Japanese companies have traditionally been at the forefront in robotic technology.

Firms such as FANUC, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Sony, and the Yaskawa Electric Corporation led the way in robotic development during Japan’s economic rise. Automation and the integration of robotic technology into industrial production have also been an integral part of Japan’s postwar economic success.

Kawasaki Robotics started commercial production of industrial robots over 40 years ago. About 700,000 industrial robots were used worldwide in 1995, 500,000 of them in Japan.

Japan is still a leader in robot production and industrial use. The country exported some $1.6 billion worth of industrial robots in 2016—more than the next five biggest exporters (Germany, France, Italy, United States, South Korea) combined.

Japan is also one of the most robot-integrated economies in the world in terms of “robot density”—measured as the number of robots relative to humans in manufacturing and industry. Japan led the world in this measure until 2009, when Korea’s use of industrial robots surged and Japan’s industrial production increasingly moved abroad (see Chart 2).

The success of the first marriage of Japan’s labor force with robotics—the automation of key sectors such as the automotive and electronics industries in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—augurs well for the next wave of technology and artificial intelligence and for an impact on employment and wages beyond manufacturing.

First, the gap in productivity growth between the manufacturing and services sectors in Japan is extremely wide. While there are many causes, the largest gains in industrial productivity have been closely correlated with increased use of information and communication technology and automation.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the most productive manufacturing sectors in Japan—automotive and electronics—are the ones whose production processes are heavily reliant on automation.

By contrast, the services sector, which accounts for 75 percent of GDP, has seen little annual productivity growth—only about half that of the United States. Labor productivity has roughly tripled since 1970 in manufacturing, but improved by only about 25 percent in the nonmanufacturing sector.

The coming wave of automation technology and artificial intelligence promises new possibilities for replacing or augmenting labor in the nonmanufacturing sector (for example, in transportation, communications, retail services, storage, and others).

According to several government reports (including the Bank of Japan’s Regional Economic Report and the annual survey on planned capital spending by the Development Bank of Japan), even small and medium-sized firms are embracing new technology to compensate for scarce labor and stay competitive.

For example, Family Mart, a Japanese retail convenience store chain, is accelerating implementation of self-checkout registers, while the restaurant group Colowide and many other restaurant operators have installed touch-screen order terminals to streamline operations and reduce the need for staff.

Other examples abound in health care, financial, transportation, and other services—including robot chefs and hotel staff.

Second, empirical evidence suggests that—contrary to fears for the worst—automation and increased use of robotics have had an overall positive impact on domestic employment and income growth.

IMF staff calculations—based on an approach pioneered by Acemoglu and Restrepo (2017) using prefectural level data from Japan—found increased robot density in manufacturing to be associated not only with greater productivity, but also with local gains in employment and wages.

Notably, these findings—which exclude crisis periods—are the opposite of results of a similar exercise based on US data. It appears that Japan’s experience may differ significantly from that of other advanced economies.

Japan’s progress in automation, use of robots, and integration of artificial intelligence with daily living is likely to move at a faster pace than in many other advanced economies for several reasons:

Shrinking population and the more rapidly shrinking workforce
: As noted above, the constraint on productivity implied by a secular decline in the labor force will effectively push many industries to invest in new technology—as appears evident in Japan now, including among small and medium-sized enterprises, which have a more difficult time attracting and retaining labor. Japan is not alone in this demographic trend, but is well ahead of other advanced economies.

Aging population: The aging of Japan’s population— the so-called baby boom generation will reach 75 in just a few years—is creating substantial labor needs in health and eldercare that cannot be met by “natural” workforce entrants (that is, natives). As a result, the proliferation of robots will extend well beyond Japanese factories to include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, airports, train stations, and even temples.

Declining quality
of services: Surveys support the view that both the volume and quality of services in Japan are in decline. Recent work by the research arm of Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (Morikawa 2018) shows that the quality of services is eroding as a result of labor shortages.

Most critically affected are parcel delivery services, hospitals, restaurants, elementary and high schools, convenience stores, and government services.

These same factors may explain why—in model- based simulations—Japan could experience higher and more immediate gains from the continued advance of robotics and artificial intelligence in the economy.

Looking at data across the Group of 20 industrialized countries, a simulation prepared by the IMF staff points to the risk of declining labor shares, income polarization, and rising inequality. This assumes substantial transition costs (unemployment, lower wages) as increasing automation substitutes for and displaces existing human labor.

However, applying this same approach only to Japan yields some very different results. Specifically, with a shrinking labor force, even fully substitutable automation could boost wages and economic growth.

In other words, with labor literally disappearing and dim prospects for relief through higher immigration, automation and robotics can fill the labor gap and result in higher output and greater income rather than replacement of the human workforce.

These positive results notwithstanding, Japan is not immune from societal and welfare risks linked to increased automation. Polarization of the labor force, in which a relatively small proportion of workers have the training and education needed to fully leverage productivity from robotics, is always a social risk.

Research suggests that the female labor force, which has swelled in the past five years, is particularly vulnerable to displacement, given the heavy concentration of women in nonregular jobs (that is, temporary, part-time, or other positions outside the mainstream of Japan’s lifetime employment system), whose tasks are more susceptible to automation (Hamaguchi and Kondo 2017).

There is no crystal ball that can accurately predict how fast and how far robotics and artificial intelligence will advance in the next few decades. Nor is there perfect foresight with regard to how these technologies will be adapted to substitute for human labor— particularly in sectors outside of manufacturing.

Aside from the nontrivial technological challenges, there are a range of hurdles related to supporting infrastructure— including the legal framework for the use of such technologies alongside the general population— that will need to be worked out. Key issues could include consumer protection, data protection, intellectual property, and commercial contracting.

But the wave of change is clearly coming and will affect virtually all professions in one way or another. Japan is a relatively unique case. Given the population and labor force dynamics, the net benefits from increased automation have been high and could be even higher, and such technology may offer a partial solution to the challenge of supporting long-term productivity and economic growth.

Japan’s experience could hold valuable lessons for such countries as China and Korea, which will face similar demographic trends in the future, and for Europe’s advanced economies.

For policymakers, the first hurdle is to accept that change is coming. The steam engine was likely just as disconcerting, but it came nonetheless—putting an end to some jobs but generating many new ones as well.

Artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation have the potential to make just as big a change, and the second hurdle may be to find ways to help the public prepare for and leverage this transformation to make lives better and incomes higher.

Strong and effective social safety nets will be crucial, since disruption of some traditional labor and social contracts seems inevitable. But education and skills development will also be necessary to enable more people to take advantage of jobs in a high-tech world.

And in Japan’s case, this also means a stronger effort to bring greater equality into the labor force—between men and women, between regular and nonregular employees, and even across regions—so that the benefits and risks of automation can be more equally shared.

The link to the original article: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/06/japan-labor-force-artificial-intelligence-and-robots/schneider.htm

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Excerpt:

Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

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Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:54:03 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156690 IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

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Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges the young farmers face. Soil degradation will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2018 (IPS)

Land degradation caused by human activities is occurring at an alarming rate across the world, and the cost will be steep if no action is taken.

In recent years, environmental groups have been sounding the alarm on land degradation while stories of the human impact on the environment have inundated twitter feeds and development news—and with good reason.

This year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) produced the world’s first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment highlighting the dangers and far-reaching impacts of land degradation.

The United Nations-backed study found that land degradation has reached “critical” levels across the world as 75 percent of land is already degraded and projections show that such degradation will increase to over 90 percent by 2050.

Since then, more reports have poured in highlighting concerns over the issue.

Most recently, the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission created a “World Atlas of Desertification” and found that an area half the size of the European Union is degraded every year by farming, city expansion, and deforestation.

Before that, the U.N Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reported that the global economy will lose a staggering USD23 trillion by 2050 because of land degradation.

Not only will it affect economies, but the phenomenon will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability.

IPS spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of IPBES’ assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

Q: How is land degradation caused, and what are the dangers? 

Land degradation is kind of at the overlap of many contemporary concerns. For instance, a very long proportion of the current drivers of climate change come out of things that are related to land degradation.

About one-third of current climate change relates to processes of land degradation—either deforestation or decrease in soil carbon for agriculture and other similar processes.

Climate change has a reverse effect on land degradation—as the climate changes, the ecosystems that were in a particular place can no longer exist there. In the transition period while ecosystems try to sort everything out, those ecosystems lose their ability to supply the things on which we come to rely.

The current major driver of biodiversity loss is the loss of habitat, and loss of habitat is directly related to land degradation.

From the human side, these direct impacts come through the supply of food.

The result of a lot of this is that for people who depend on ecosystems for their livelihoods, their livelihoods are undermined. So those people are either worse off or are forced to move off the land and into other people’s territories and that leads to problems of conflict.

Q: What were some of the more concerning or surprising findings in the IPBES assessment?

This is quite likely the single environmental issue within the world today that affects the largest number of people.

There are many environmental issues that are going to have a big effect as the century unfolds—things like climate change and biodiversity loss— and there are many environmental issues that affect limited populations, like air pollution.

But when you look over the entire world, about two people out of every five are directly materially impacted by land degradation.

Q: What are some of the challenges around acting on land degradation? And what action(s) should governments take to overcome such challenges? 

The biggest single constraining factor is the fragmentation of land issues across many authorities … This is costing us, in terms of lost production and risks, billions and billions of dollars. But it’s not obvious to anyone because no one sees the full picture.

I think you need to attack the problem of integration between authorities at multiple levels.

First, the kind of management we do on the land physically has to move to what we call landscape-scale management. In other words, you don’t look at all the little bits individually, you actually look across the landscape and then you fit the bits into it.

When you get a level up, which is national management, it’s probably better that we do this by arranging for more than communication but coordination between the various agencies which have partial responsibility.

We also need coordination at the international level because although land degradation has its primary impact on the local level, many of the drivers of the causes of it have international manifestations.

So you can’t solve it purely at the local level—you have to have a national level which sets in place the right policies, and you need an international level to ensure, for instance, that global trade does not take place in such a way that it drives land degradation.

Q: Is it a matter of achieving land degradation neutrality or do people need to make a shift in lifestyle?

Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

We do need to achieve land degradation neutrality, which is basically equivalent to saying that you are halting the decline. The only way to achieve that in the long term is to alter many of our lifestyle impacts because it is those that are ultimately driving the increasing degradation of the land.

Land degradation neutrality is the strategy we would take but it has to be underpinned by these bigger scale changes in the demands that we put on ecosystems.

Q: What is your message to the international community to act on this issue? 

I am concerned that not enough is being done.

There’s a distribution of responsibility—you can’t solve this all at the international level nor all at the local level. It requires really strong action at all of those levels.

If you think of the Rio Conventions—the three conventions including the Climate Change Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, and the one related to land degradation, which was specifically around dry land degradation—the climate convention has moved forward with some ground breaking international collaborative agreements. Biodiversity is sort of moving forward but perhaps not as fast, and the convention on desertification hasn’t gone anywhere at all. The question is why?

Partly, because up until now, this has not been seen as a critically important issue. [It is an] ‘it affects far away people; it doesn’t affect us’ kind of issue.

What we point out is that both the causes and the consequences ultimately end up being international so it does affect everyone.

It’s a key driver of both the biodiversity loss and climate change, and that’s one of the reasons we have to raise its profile and address it sooner rather than later.

Other ambitions like many of the Sustainable Development Goals will not be possible unless we sort this one out too.

The post Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

The post Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Forests and Marine Resources Continue to Shrinkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 20:28:56 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156681 Deforestation and unsustainable farming are depriving the planet of forests, while destructive practices in fishing are limiting the chance to sustainably manage our oceans. According to United Nations estimates, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The global demand for food is estimated […]

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About 80 percent of Guyana’s forests, some 15 million hectares, have remained untouched over time. Time is running as the total area of the world’s forests shrink by the day. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

Deforestation and unsustainable farming are depriving the planet of forests, while destructive practices in fishing are limiting the chance to sustainably manage our oceans.

According to United Nations estimates, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The global demand for food is estimated to grow by 50 percent,  placing productive land and seas under huge pressure.

It ultimately means that the way we manage our forests and oceans now is crucial in addressing our future needs, warn two biennial reports released this July by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

The two reports titled The State of the World’s Forests(SOFO) and on The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), aim to highlight key facts over the state of our planet’s forests and waters and shed light on the need to address forestry, fisheries and aquaculture issues.

Time is running out for the world’s forests

“Time is running out for the world’s forests, whose total area is shrinking by the day,” says the SOFO report. In addition, deforestation is a leading cause of climate change as forests’ ability to sequester carbon decreases as they are lost.

The report warns that by halting deforestation, restoring degraded forests, and managing forests sustainably, damaging consequences for the planet and its dwellers can be avoided. The international community needs to promote an all-inclusive approach that fosters the benefits of forests and trees, engaging all stakeholders.

The SOFO report highlights that forests and trees are vital both to people and the planet, as they bolster livelihoods, provide clean air and water, conserve biodiversity and respond to climate change. It also refers to the greening of urban areas too.

“Making cities greener is critical to ensure the sustainable future of cities health and wellbeing of city dwellers,” Simone Borelli, agroforestry and urban/peri-urban forestry officer at FAO, told IPS. “Adding vegetation in urban areas has been shown to reduce urban temperatures and is regularly cited as a key mechanism for the Urban Heat Island Effect.”

Making cities greener is critical to ensure the sustainable future of cities health and wellbeing of city dwellers. Pictured here is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“Measures such as shading and judicious use of vegetation are of special importance in hot-arid regions, where intense solar radiation and high air temperatures may have detrimental impacts on even the most basic human activities,” he said.

Borelli said that research in Dubai has shown that trees in urban areas “can reduce temperatures by up to 8°Celsius” and similar studies conducted in Amman have shown that trees “can reduce the cooling load of building by up to 35 percent.”

Furthermore, “by absorbing excess water and increasing soil infiltration and stability, urban and peri-urban trees can mitigate the occurrence and impact of flooding events.”

These issues will also be discussed in November during the first World Forum on Urban Forests, which will take place in Mantova, Italy, to discuss possible long-term collaboration on the development of urban forestry strategies.

The importance of sustaining fisheries

Meanwhile, 60 million people are engaged in the primary sector of fisheries and aquaculture, according to the SOFIA report.

“Including those engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture value chain, their families and dependents, we estimate that 10 to 12 percent of the world’s population relies on the sector for their livelihood. This demonstrates how important it is to sustain fisheries,” Manuel Barange, director of the fisheries and aquaculture policy and resources division at FAO, told IPS.

The 2018 edition of the SOFIA report is an updated analysis illustrating the major trends in global capture fisheries and aquaculture. It also highlights emerging issues, such as the increase in fish consumption (which has doubled due to population growth since 1961) and climate change, that “will affect humanity’s ability to sustainably manage global aquatic resources in the future.” 

The SOFIA report includes future projections of fish production, aquaculture production, prices and food fish supply. 

Fishermen carry their boat in from the sea in Doring Bay, 350km North of Cape Town. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

The report highlights that too many people around the world rely on fish for their livelihoods and survival and therefore it is important to enact sustainable fishing and tackle worst practices such as the enormous food waste that occurs in the fish sector.

“While the sustainability of fisheries is improving in developed countries, this is not the case in developing countries,” said Barange. “Unless we change this trend, we will challenge the food and nutrition security of places where fish is needed most.”

One example of an unsustainable fishing practice is dynamite fishing. The practice, which is illegal, involves the use of explosives to kill fish. This, however, harms the ecosystem and has contributed to the destruction, for example, of Southeast Asian coral reefs for the past 20 years.

Another key aspect to address, according to the report, is that of illegal, unreported and unregulated or IUU fishing. IUU fishing often occurs, undermining national, regional and global efforts to manage fisheries sustainably. “[IUU fishing] is threatening the sustainability of fisheries. Implementing the Port States Measures Agreement, which came into force in 2016, is crucial to make IUU history,” said Barange.

“Countries need to do more than recognise the risk of IUU fishing – they must act decisively, and act now.”

IUU fleets have largely targeted valuable species such as the ‘Antarctic krill’ (Euphasia superba) and the ‘Patagonian toothfish’ (Dissostichus eleginoides). However, through management measures implemented by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the situation is slowly improving.

Moving forward to the 2030 agenda

Food and agriculture are key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and, as the two reports note, “many of the SDGs are directly relevant to fisheries and aquaculture as well as to forestries.”

The SOFO report suggests that the contributions of forests and trees to SDGs might be “complex and context-specific”, and “more work is needed to understand some of the relationships that underlie these contributions.”

SDGs are directly linked to fisheries and aquaculture, too, as the SOFIA report highlights the critical importance of these activities for the food, nutrition and employment of millions of people, many of whom struggle to maintain reasonable livelihoods.

Forest, seas, lakes and waterways are crucial environments for our healthy lives and, for millions of people, for their subsistence and survival. Underestimating the importance of preserving them and regulating their management in a more sustainable way, would be an enormous mistake.

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Why Women Migrant Workers Are Compelled to Come Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/women-migrant-workers-compelled-come-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-migrant-workers-compelled-come-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/women-migrant-workers-compelled-come-back/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 16:19:52 +0000 Nazmul Ahasan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156678 Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women have gone to the Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia, in search of a livelihood. Nearly five thousand of them have so far returned, with many alleging torture and serious abuse. Shariful Hasan, the head of BRAC's migration programme, which has helped many of these returnees, talks to The Daily Star's Nazmul Ahasan over the issue.

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Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women have gone to the Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia, in search of a livelihood. Nearly five thousand of them have so far returned, with many alleging torture and serious abuse. Shariful Hasan, the head of BRAC's migration programme, which has helped many of these returnees, talks to The Daily Star's Nazmul Ahasan over the issue.

By Nazmul Ahasan
Jul 12 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

 
How severe was the exploitation of those women migrant workers you have interviewed?

Everyone knows how restrictive the state of freedom—especially that of women—is in Saudi Arabia. So, you can only imagine how vulnerable a foreign worker could become in such a society. It was because of such vulnerability that countries like the Philippines and Indonesia stopped sending their women workers to the country. In fact, Bangladesh sought to cash in on the vacuum created by the absence of Filipino and Indonesian workers.

Shariful Hasan

From the human rights perspective, the treatment received by thousands of Bangladeshi female workers at the hands of their employers constitutes a grave violation of their rights. Can a human being work for 17–18 hours tirelessly without any day-off—that too at very low wages?

The kafala system—under which migrant workers in domestic and construction sectors are regulated across the Middle East—is incompatible with modern human rights laws. Under the system, every worker is virtually subjugated by his or her respective employer. This system allows the employers to take away their labourers’ passports or even withhold wages, creating easy opportunities for employers to exploit workers. In fact, Bangladeshi workers often refer to their employers as malik or owner. Many Bangladeshi women workers reported having been treated by their employers as bonded workers.

In such a restrictive culture, women are particularly more vulnerable to exploitation—both economic and sexual.

But the Saudi authorities claim that the workers’ failure to adapt to the Saudi culture is the foremost reason for the returns. How true are these claims?

Our workers have always been able to adapt to a different culture and even harsh conditions around the world. They sacrifice so much to go abroad to change their lives. Bangladeshi women workers in Hong Kong or Japan are not subjected to such a system and enjoy relatively better treatment and benefit. So, if it was our women who were inherently unable to adapt to a foreign culture, why does no one return from these countries?

So, I do not believe that the problem is with our workers. And under the international laws and human rights convention, it is not up to the labourers to adapt to their employers’ cultural restrictions; on the contrary, employers are obliged to facilitate and ensure employers’ fundamental rights. One deserves to be treated with basic human decency and dignity regardless of the culture he or she is living in.

It’s not a cultural issue altogether. Among two hundred thousand women who had gone to the country, only five thousand returned. It is actually individual sponsors or employers who are at fault.

What about other Middle Eastern countries?

As domestic workers, Bangladeshi women mainly go to Hong Kong, Lebanon and Jordan, apart from Saudi Arabia. Normally, the problem is prevalent in the Middle East and is particularly acute in one country. That is because, perhaps, it is the most conservative state in the Middle East. In the region, Qatar does a lot better: The country has taken steps to reform its laws governing expatriate labourers, recently joined two core UN human rights treaties, and allows international organisations such as the International Labor Organisation (ILO) to operate.

BRAC’s migration programme led by you helped those Bangladeshi women return home. How or in what ways did you help these distressed women?

In most cases, we are contacted by relatives of those workers. The father or husband of a worker may seek help from one of our hundreds of field offices scattered across the country—mostly in rural areas. In return, the field office contacts us. We then try to collect the worker’s details such as address, contact number, passport number, etc. When these details are in our hand, we approach the expatriate welfare ministry to intervene. The ministry then contacts the Bangladeshi embassy in Saudi Arabia which seeks to rescue the worker.

In other cases, many women flee their employers’ home after having endured abuse and violence. They somehow contact the embassy and take shelter in the embassy’s safe home while the details of their return are sorted out. In these cases, we try to facilitate their return by contacting the relevant government authorities and providing them with useful information.

We also pick them up at the airport and give them immediate shelter, food and counsel.

Many of the returnees have reportedly faced harsh social stigma and even been abandoned by their families. Why would a family reject one of its members in such a time of distress?

In our society, there are many who would blame a girl for the sufferings she might have endured. In most cases, these women did not go to Saudi Arabia willingly. They were asked by their husbands or parents to go abroad to change the financial situation of their family. As long as they send money, everyone back home is happy. When she has to return having suffered sexually or physically, there’s a tendency among many to blame her. Almost all returnees have had a problem in any phase of the reintegration process in the society.

Does your programme help these women, too?

Yes. The first thing we do is bring psychiatrists and counsellors to deal with the mental trauma that these women have undergone. We also try to persuade the families of these women to take them back. Overall, we conduct campaigns to change the societal attitude towards these returnees.

However, the economic fallout that these women face immediately in the wake of their return is the most challenging problem. When a woman returns and is not accepted by her family, where would she go and how would she live? In our capacity, we talked to the Leather goods & Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association and managed to get financial help and jobs for a number of these women.

I believe we need a national policy as to how we can help these women reintegrate into the mainstream society.

What could the government do in protecting women workers’ rights abroad and helping those who returned?

I don’t believe there’s any deficiency in willingness from the government to address the issue. The problem lies elsewhere. Our faulty recruitment system largely depends on unscrupulous middlemen. If we could make the system more transparent such as calling for open applications, the dependence on middlemen would dramatically fall, as would the entire cost for potential workers. Then we could train and prepare them for the jobs, help them cope with cultural and language barriers, and make them aware of their rights and ways of seeking remedies—the scenario will be totally different if we could do this.

The reality, however, is that there’s a culture of denial: our policymakers do not even recognise the problem. Some simply deny that there’s a problem, while others underestimate the severity of the crisis. If we do not recognise the problem in the first place, how would we solve it?

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post Why Women Migrant Workers Are Compelled to Come Back appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women have gone to the Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia, in search of a livelihood. Nearly five thousand of them have so far returned, with many alleging torture and serious abuse. Shariful Hasan, the head of BRAC's migration programme, which has helped many of these returnees, talks to The Daily Star's Nazmul Ahasan over the issue.

The post Why Women Migrant Workers Are Compelled to Come Back appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Mission Accomplished: 15 Years of Peacekeeping Success in Liberiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 14:53:50 +0000 Kingsley Ighobor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156673 Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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Liberians wave goodbye to departing Ukrainian peacekeepers. Credit: UN Photo/Gonzalez Farran

By Kingsley Ighobor
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

On a bright, sunny day in January this year, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf turned over power to George Weah, a decorated soccer star, following peaceful and successful elections. This marked Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years.

In his inaugural address, President Weah was quick to advise his compatriots to “not allow political loyalties to prevent us from collaborating in national interest.” He vowed to tackle inequality because “the absence of equality and unity led us down the path of destroying our own country.”

Weah was referring to the Liberian civil war from 1989 to 2003, which left the country in tatters politically and economically. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was deployed in 2003 to help restore peace and security in the country.

After nearly 15 years in Liberia, the UN peacekeeping mission ended last March, having disarmed more than 100,000 combatants, secured about 21,000 weapons, enabled about one million refugees and displaced persons to return home and assisted in the holding of three peaceful presidential and legislative elections.

The UN’s secretary-general António Guterres in a statement issued in early April expressed his “respect to the memory of 202 peacekeepers who lost their lives” in Liberia.

“Peace is here to stay and our democracy is maturing. Now we need jobs,” Marwolo Kpadeh, head of the Liberian Youth Network, a leading youth organization, told Africa Renewal.

After the peaceful handover of power, Kpadeh is correct when he says that Liberia’s key challenge is now mostly economic. “Limited employment continues to undermine the welfare of Liberians in both urban and rural areas,” notes the World Bank.

UN’s engagement continues

While President Weah must deal with economic issues, the withdrawal of UNMIL peacekeepers will test the government’s readiness to perform public safety and security duties, writes FrontPageAfrica, a Liberian newspaper.

The UN has allayed concerns, promising to remain engaged even in the absence of a peacekeeping force.

The UN family will remain in the country “with a view to ensuring that the hard-won peace can be sustained and the country and its people will continue to progress and thrive,” Guterres added, in his statement.

The UN Country Team, including its agencies, funds and programmes, such as the UN Development Programme, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, will remain in the country.

A “strengthened Resident Coordinator” will lead the team and help the government achieve targets set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Amina Mohammed, the UN’s deputy-secretary-general, said in March.

Mohammed, who visited Liberia in late March as the final batch of peacekeepers prepared to leave, praised UNMIL for being “at the forefront of establishing the key foundations for peace in Liberia.”

The UN’s promise of continuing engagement should be welcome news to Liberians, who have been dealing with the ubiquitous peacekeepers over the past 14 years.

How it began

The Liberian civil war began in 1989 when Charles Taylor started a military campaign to overthrow President Samuel Doe.

By 2003, with more than 205,000 people killed, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of a peacekeeping force consisting of up to 15,000 military personnel and over 1,000 police officers, among others.

UNMIL began operations in October 2003, when about 3,500 troops of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), who had arrived in Liberia a few months prior, were rehatted as UN peacekeepers. Guterres said that ECOMOG troops laid the foundation ahead of UN peacekeepers’ deployment.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed by President Taylor and leaders of all warring factions and political parties on August 18, 2003 in Accra, Ghana, provided the political cover for UNMIL’s deployment throughout the country.

UNMIL’s first force commander, now-retired Lieutenant General Daniel Opande, described the situation of the country at the time of deployment: “Nothing functioned, the government had collapsed, no security arrangement, the entire country was in turmoil. People were moving from place to place, looking for safety or for food. It was very bad.”

“When I arrived in Liberia, a thick cloud of uncertainty and insecurity hung over the country,” corroborates Patrick Coker, who joined UNMIL as a senior public information officer in October 2003. “There was no electricity, no water, fighters carried weapons around, thousands of internally displaced persons, hopelessness, poverty, anguish—we were on edge.”

UNMIL and its partners, including an interim government headed by Gyude Bryant, attempted but failed to begin disarmament on December 7, 2003. General Opande attributed the botched attempt to UNMIL’s ill-preparedness. There was a misunderstanding over money to be paid the fighters, and when they began firing in the air, the process ended abruptly.

Successful disarmament

Fighters of the rebel faction Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy (LURD) tested UNMIL’s resolve on Christmas Day of 2003 when they prevented the peacekeepers from deploying in Tubmanburg, northwest of Monrovia. Two days later, General Opande led heavy reinforcements of troops and weapons back to Tubmanburg. This time the fighters capitulated, even danced—and, bizarrely, set fire to their checkpoint.

“The Liberian people are tired of war. We too are tired,” said LURD’s deputy chief of staff, “General” Oforie Diah.

The mission had learned a lesson and so, when disarmament restarted in April 2004 after a robust communications campaign to educate combatants on the process, there were no serious hitches.

Coker recalls that “dealing with the ex-combatants, who had been in the bushes for more than a decade, was no easy task.” At the slightest provocation, such as a delay in payment of disarmament allowance, they rioted and threatened to torpedo the peace process. During such moments, UNMIL and partners often relied on Liberian women to bring the former fighters under control.

“If there is a group in Liberia that I, Opande, can give the biggest congratulations for bringing peace, it is the women,” says Lieutenant General Opande.

After a successful disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration process and peaceful elections, the mission’s attention shifted to providing security for the country, helping to midwife a new army and police force and extending civil authority throughout the country. As well, UNMIL provided technical and logistical support to various government departments.

Renewed hope

Former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf inherited an economy ruined by war; however, she mobilized foreign and domestic resources to kick-start development, including in the energy and transportation sectors.

In 2010, Liberia secured nearly $5 billion in debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank and other creditors. That was 90% of the country’s total foreign debt and 15% of its GDP.

As the economy was taking off, the Ebola epidemic hit in late 2014 and caused a negative 1.6% growth rate by 2016. The World Bank now forecasts modest but sustained positive growth after a 2.6% rise last year.

Fourteen years of war, bad leadership and the Ebola epidemic might have derailed Liberia’s socioeconomic development, but Weah’s inauguration—as much as Sirleaf’s 12 years in power—appears to be rekindling hope in the country’s future.

President Weah needs to build on Sirleaf’s successes, writes Benjamin Spatz in the New York Times. “She brought Liberia back from the dead. Now it’s his turn to nurture the country’s fledgling institutions by taking on its coercive, corrupt political culture.”

In sum: “Liberia is an important example of what sustainable peace means in practise,” reflected Mohammed, speaking for the UN.

Kpadeh’s hope of a better country depends on sustained peace. “Development is never possible without peace,” he said. “We should all be proud of UNMIL’s achievement.”

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information.
The link to the original article: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2018-july-2018/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia

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Excerpt:

Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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A UN Parliament Gains Support in an Age of Divisive Political Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 14:20:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156670 A long standing proposal for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) is slowly gathering momentum. The 751-member European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg has called on the European Union (EU) to extend its support for the establishment of the proposed new body — specifically with a resolution before the upcoming 73rd session of the […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

A long standing proposal for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) is slowly gathering momentum.

The 751-member European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg has called on the European Union (EU) to extend its support for the establishment of the proposed new body — specifically with a resolution before the upcoming 73rd session of the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA), which begins in mid-September.

The UN General Assembly. Credit: UN photo

The EP has also called for an equally ambitious “UN Reform Summit” in 2020 — a meeting of world leaders–to boost another long-pending proposal for the restructuring of the United Nations, including significant changes in the composition and functioning of the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC).

The proposed reform of the UNSC has been under negotiations for over 20 years now — with no tangible success.

A resolution adopted in Strasbourg last week states that a “United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) within the United Nations system” should serve “to increase the democratic character, the democratic accountability and the transparency of global governance and to allow for better citizen participation in the activities of the UN.”

Andreas Bummel, executive director of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Democracy without Borders, welcomed the resolution of the EU Parliament as an “important initiative”.

“Multilateralism and democracy are under attack worldwide. A democratization and strengthening of the UN must be part of the countermeasures,” he said.

Asked if the proposed parliament will conflict with the UNGA, he told IPS: “No. The UNPA is conceived of as an additional and complementary body. In fact, we propose that it should be set up by the UNGA as part of the UNGA’s revitalization according to Article 22 of the UN Charter.”

Bummel also said the international campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, which is being coordinated by his NGO, is supported by over 1,500 members of parliament from more than 100 countries as well as numerous scientists, former UN officials and personalities.

Explaining further, he said: “Please note that the European Parliament’s support is not the same as such of the EU” (which comprises 28 member states representing over 510 million people in Europe).

The European Parliament calls on the EU’s governments to support. In previous years, he said, Malta and Italy showed an interest and more recently Ireland.

Outside Europe, the Pan-African Parliament and the Latin-American Parliament have endorsed the proposal, Bummel added.

The proposal is also being backed by several international NGOs.

Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programme Officer at the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, told IPS: “We support the call for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. We had argued in our 2014 State of Civil Society Report on ‘reimagining global governance’ that there’s a currently a double democratic deficit that manifests itself at the international level”.

In many parts of the world, he warned, “inclusive democracy is being subverted at the national level by authoritarian regimes and divisive political leaders”.

He pointed out that these very entities then get to make decisions on behalf of their people at the UN where already people’s access and ability to input in decision making is limited.

In any case, a UN Parliamentary Assembly will be an opportunity for people to directly interface with international decision making which increasingly impacts their lives at the local level, he added.

Jens Martens, executive director of the Global Policy Forum based in Bonn/New York, told IPS that in times of rising nationalism and authoritarianism, all efforts to strengthen the UN and democratic multilateralism are highly welcome.

The proposed UN Parliamentary Assembly can be an important element within a UN reform package if it complements the necessary strengthening of civil society participation in the UN.

However, he noted, this kind of governance reforms remain symbolic window dressing as long as the UN does not receive the necessary financial resources to fulfil its mandate and is strengthened in key areas of global policy, including tax cooperation and the regulation of transnational corporations.

Martens said Global Policy Forum supports the call for a “2020 UN Reform Summit”. The 75th anniversary of the UN provides a new opportunity for strengthening and renewal of the institutional framework for sustainable development in the UN.

Meanwhile, a recently-published book by Jo Leinen MEP and Bummel titled “A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century” features the history, relevance and implementation of the world parliament proposal arguing that a UNPA would be the first step.

The European Parliament and its members have been vocal about their strong support for the proposal.

Jo Leinen MEP (Germany), was quoted as saying, : “The UN urgently needs more openness and a stronger democratic foundation. The European Parliament therefore calls for the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly within the United Nations system. The European Union and its Member States should now play an active role in the implementation of this innovation.”

According to Eugen Freund MEP (Austria): “The reform of the United Nations has accompanied me for much of my life. I first encountered it when I was at the UN in New York in 1978, forty years ago. Unfortunately, not much has changed since. The General assembly has more members now, but it is still a body of unelected diplomats.”

Therefore, he argued, the idea of eventually complementing them with elected parliamentarians is a very appealing one.

“They would certainly be closer to the populace and thus would have to regularly answer their constituency. Whether that would also streamline the decision making processes remains to be seen.”

Daniel Jositsch MP (Switzerland) said: “The escalating crisis in international cooperation shows that new ways must be found to combat global problems. It is therefore very positive that the European Parliament is calling on the European states to speak out in favour of the creation of a UN Parliament. It is important that they will not simply pay lip service to this goal, but that concrete implementation measures are being taken.”

There has also been support from outside Europe.

Ivone Soares MP (Mozambique and member of the Pan-African Parliament) said: “With resolutions passed by the European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament and the Latin-American Parliament, the time has come for progressive governments in these three major world regions to consider the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.”

And, according to Fernando Iglesias MP (Argentina), “From the many initiatives in favor of a more peaceful, fair and democratic world the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly is the decisive one. The recent support given by the European Parliament to this proposal shows that the members of the most important supranational parliamentary body are ready to work for its creation.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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