Inter Press Service Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 06 Jul 2015 14:38:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Equality, a Hard Game to Win for Women Footballers in Argentina Mon, 06 Jul 2015 14:33:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

During a women’s football match in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, team manager Mónica Santino has to stop the game and ask a group of boys and young men not to invade the pitch where they’re playing. This frequent occurrence is just one symbol of a struggle being played out, centimeter by centimeter, on Argentina’s pitches.

“Come on, stop just for a while, we’re leaving soon. Don’t get in the middle of our game,” Santino said, trying to persuade in a friendly way the boys and teenagers who bully their way onto the pitch where the women’s match is going on, in Villa 31, a shantytown of 40,000 people on the northeast side of Buenos Aires, right in the middle of the upscale Retiro neighourhood.

“If it was a men’s match they would never do that, because they would have serious problems. But since it’s girls who are playing…” she commented to IPS one night the La Nuestra team was playing.

Although girls and women make up half of the population of this ‘villa miseria’, as shantytowns are called in Argentina, it hasn’t been easy for them to gain a place on the football pitch, traditionally men’s territory.“Playing football here, the girls have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with other young women. Many things that happen for us are political, they have a revolutionary component, because something is changing.” – Mónica Santino

“They think football and the pitch are for them,” one of the players, 15-year-old Agustina Olaña, told IPS.

When the project began in 2007, they had to mark off the area they were using with cones and stones. Now they practice twice a week.

“It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this achievement sends out an extremely important message about gender because football pitches are the most important public spaces in the barrios,” said Santino, a 49-year-old former football player who was the first woman coach in the Argentine Football Association.

“We live in a country where football is the national sport – it explains us as Argentines, it represents us in world championships, but in football women are still second-class citizens,” she lamented.

La Nuestra (Ours) is also an organisation that seeks greater access to football for women, using the sport to empower them, build self esteem and boost gender equality.

The project initially only targeted teenagers. But it was soon overwhelmed by the spontaneous demand from girls and adult women. Of today’s 70 participants, half are between the ages of six and 12, and the rest are over 13.

“For presents, I would get dolls or little balls, but I wanted footballs,” said one of the students, nine-year-old Florencia Carabajal.

“It seems to me that men haven’t learned that we can also play,” said 10-year-old Juanita Burgos, who hopes to become a professional footballer. “The boys used to call me a tomboy. But now they don’t say anything to me anymore. I tell them that if I want to play ball, who are they to say I can’t.”

But her dream is not an easy one for women to reach in Argentina, even though this country won the World Cup twice and has produced legendary players like Diego Maradona and Leonel Messi.

In women’s football, Argentina has never won a global championship. According to Santino, that’s because the big clubs believe “it isn’t a good show, and doesn’t generate money,” which is why Argentina doesn’t invest in women players as other countries do.

“No club has the structure for lower divisions or for girls to start training as players at an early age, which is when you grow as an athlete and get ready to compete,” she said.

“When Argentina has participated in international tournaments, it has been painful, because when we play against teams like those of Germany or the United States, they score 11, 13, 15 goals,” she said.

“Then the brutal criticism starts: that the Argentine jersey can’t be sullied, or that the country can’t be publicly embarrassed that way. But you can see here that we don’t have the infrastructure. Their arguments are really unfair,” said Santino.

“I was fortunate to be on the team, to have played in a world cup, but we really did it on our own, at great sacrifice,” said the La Nuestra coach, 33-year-old Vanina García, who had no choice but to keep working while playing football.

Santino is pushing for the project to be replicated in other barrios, and to that end she draws on her experience as a scout for street soccer for the homeless. She also hopes to create a women’s football club, where the women will not only play but will discuss issues such as sports and gender as well.

La Nuestra emerged from Santino’s work as coordinator of the Women’s Football Programme of the Women’s Centre in the Buenos Aires district of Vicente López. It receives funds from the Buenos Aires city government’s programme for adolescents, and the national government’s children’s affairs secretariat.

“We have managed to do it with the sweat of our brow,” she said.

According to Santino, an activist for women’s rights in sports and a member of the non-governmental Women in Equality Foundation, “this is a pending issue on the feminist agenda.”

“Women are not expected to run, sweat, make an effort,” she said. “They say that if you play football, your body will turn into a man’s body. There’s a widespread idea that all women who play football are lesbians.”

“I believe this involves the same thing as when we’re talking about the right to have an abortion and all the different kinds of prejudice that emerge. It’s a way of controlling women’s bodies, saying what they should look like,” she said.

For Santino, women’s football provides a good excuse to talk about other feminist demands, such as the right to rest and recreation.

“To come to a game, the big burden was the housework,” she said. “They would come after washing the dishes, or taking care of their younger siblings or their own children, starting at a really young age. Things that women are supposed to do. Boys, on the other hand, get home from school, dump their backpacks, and come to the football pitch directly.”

“Playing football here, the girls and women have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with others. For us, a lot of what is happening is political, it has a revolutionary component, because something is changing,” Santino said.

For Karen Marín, 19, who sells chicken and came to this country from Bolivia with her parents when she was eight years old, La Nuestra has offered a way to make friends and become part of Argentine society.

“I suffered from discrimination because I’m Bolivian, and I would draw into myself and just stay in my room,” she said. “One day they invited me here. I’ve never missed a day since. Football helped me with everything, and it especially helped me to be more easy-going and open.”

Despite the difficulties, coach García believes women’s football, which is now practiced in schools and in most neighbourhood tournaments, is more widely accepted.

“I suppose that’s because women have taken on another role,” she said. “In a lot of areas, but in football as well. Women stand up for themselves, and if they want to play football, they play.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Fights to Protect High-Value, Declining Species Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:15:36 +0000 Zadie Neufville The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Threats from climate change, declining reefs, overfishing and possible loss of several commercial species are driving the rollout of new policy measures to keep Caribbean fisheries sustainable.

Regional groups and the U.S.-based NGO Wild Earth Guardians have petitioned for the listing of some of the Caribbean’s most economically valuable marine species as vulnerable, endangered or threatened with extinction.

In addition, regional scientists believe that climate change could alter the ranges of some of the larger species and perhaps wipe out existing ones. “TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years." -- Biologist Kathleen Woods

Fisheries ministers of the Caribbean say they are concerned that “extra-national activities and decisions” could impact the social and economic well being of their countries and their access to international markets. They have agreed to work together to protect both the sustainability and trade of several high value marine species.

At a meeting in November 2014, the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) expressed alarm at the U.S. government’s decision to list the Nassau Grouper, a commercially traded species, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even after successfully thwarting the listing of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), they fret that other species would go the way of the Nassau Grouper.

The conch and Nassau grouper are two of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. The list includes one coral, one ray, five sharks, two sawfish, four groupers and the Queen Conch.

Regional fisheries officials know that such listings will shut down international trade of the affected species. Alternatively, it could lead to rigorous permits and quota systems that prevent trade by vulnerable populations in countries that are without working management structures.

The Guardians say they are driven by the critical state of many Caribbean species and the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for them. The 14 marine species named are already listed as protected or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), endangered species associate Taylor Jones told IPS.

“Specifically in terms of the conch, we note that the U.S. appetite for conch meat is having an impact on stocks in the Caribbean,” she said.

Jones noted that when the Guardians take action the aim is to limit the impact of U.S. consumption patterns – which has already caused the collapse of its own conch fishery – on the rest of the world. The United States is the largest importer of conch meat, consuming 78 per cent of production, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds annually.

While the Guardians failed in their bid to have the conch included in the ESA, concern for the struggling populations of Conch continue. Even though the U.S. closed Florida’s Conch fisheries in 1986, the population has still not recovered and the fisheries in its Caribbean territories are also in poor shape.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), one of the region’s largest exporter of the mollusk, biologist Kathleen Woods reports that conch stocks are on the brink of collapse.

“TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase,” she said. “Preliminary results of the conch visual survey indicate that TCI does not have sufficient densities of adult conch to sustain breeding and spawning. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years.”

The CRFM Secretariat says it is already looking at management plans for the species most eaten or exploited by its member states. The secretariat says there is evidence that Nassau Grouper populations and spawning aggregations are in decline and is supporting the listing.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Secretariat has drafted a strategy to implement minimum standards for the management, conservation and protection for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) across all 17 member states. The Secretariat cites concern for falling catches, declining habitats and the absence of adequate management systems in some countries.

In Jamaica, where the lobster and conch fisheries are regulated by the CITES endangered species treaty, authorities are extending protection to other local species that are already stressed from overfishing and climate change, Director of Fisheries Andre Kong told IPS.

“We are looking at bio-degradable traps and will where possible improve the existing management system to include the spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus) known locally as the chicken lobster,” he said, pointing out that the local species is not governed by the CITES regulations.

Caribbean favorites like the Parrotfish and sea eggs (sea urchins) are in serious decline. Regional groups are seeking to ban those and other species to protect remaining populations and the reef.  Some countries have already restricted the capture of the Parrotfish and the IUCN has recommended its listing as a specially protected species under the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

CRFM has already implemented a management plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flying fish, which supports a small but lucrative trade in the countries that fish for the species. A coral reef action plan is also in place, a review of the legislation of several member states has been completed, alongside the rollout of public awareness programmes for regional fishers. One drawback: the rules are non-binding and left up to individual governments to implement.

Woods, who until mid-2014 headed the TCI government’s Environment and Marine Department, noted that despite the existence of regulations that exceed those introduced by the CRFM, conch and lobster habitats in that country “continue to be degraded and lost because of poor development practices like dredging, the use of caustic materials like bleach for fishing and other activities.”

Veteran TCI fisherman Oscar Talbot echoes Woods belief that a combination of factors, including a lack of political will, poor enforcement and corruption in the regulatory agencies, are the reasons the Conch stocks are close to collapsing.

“Poacher boats, illegal divers and some politicians with their own (processing) plants have played a role in the improper exploitation of the fish, lobster and conch. We also have a lot of fisherman and poachers taking juvenile conch in and out of season,” he said.

TCI is one of the few countries that continue to allow the capture and consumption of sea turtles and sharks, but Woods believes exploitation of these species by locals is sustainable. Talbot wants fishers to stick to the rules and exploit the resources during the open seasons only.

A fisherman for over 40 years, Talbot said the unregulated catches are impacting all the islands’ local fisheries. He is concerned that undersized conchs of up to 18 to the pound have been taken, a sore point for the grandfather who sits on the fisheries advisory council of the TCI.

But while regional leaders express “outrage” at the actions of the NGOs, regional fishers support Talbot’s view that only external pressure will force governments to act.

For most countries, the lack of personnel, funding and illegal fishing have hampered progress. This is not lost on the Guardians.

“In general it appears that the region is struggling with limited resources for conservation, including lack of funding and lack of personnel for enforcement of existing regulations,” Jones said.

And while Talbot and Woods lobby TCI Governor Peter Beckingham to champion immediate changes to the fisheries legislation approved and agreed by local fishers more than a year ago, Jones echoes their aspirations:

“It is our hope that ESA listing would make more U.S. funding and personnel available for use by local conservation programmes,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Swears by Hefty 100 Billion Dollar Target to Fight Climate Change Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 Thalif Deen Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The most devastating impact of climate change – including rising sea levels, floods, cyclones and both droughts and heavy monsoons – will be felt mostly by the world’s poorest nations.

To meet these impending threats – which will destroy countless human lives and ravage agricultural crops – the United Nations is seeking a hefty 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 as part of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) aimed at supporting developing countries strengthen their resilience and help adapt themselves to meet the foreboding challenges.“The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively?" -- Lisa Elges of Transparency International

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on climate change last week: “I will pro-actively engage with leaders from both the global north and south to make sure this goal is met and is considered credible by all.”

The Green Climate Fund, headquartered in Incheon, South Korea, must be “up and running”, he said, with funds that can be disbursed before a key meeting on climate change in Paris in December.

Asked if the ambitious 100-billion-dollar target was realistic, Lisa Elges, Head of Climate Policy at Transparency International, told IPS: “The more practical question is: how can he achieve the target?”

Public purses are stretched, yet public finance is still necessary. And if you want to involve the private sector, you need public finance to give subsidies and attract and leverage private investments, she added.

Elges said one ‘untapped’ source of finance could be the crackdown on illicit financial flows.

For example, if countries tackle money laundering, they can make more taxable money available to address the world’s environmental and development needs.

To put the 100 billion dollars in perspective, Elges said, 1,000 billion dollars are lost annually in illicit financial flows losses, including corruption, bribery and tax evasion.

“When the corrupt lose, the people and planet will gain,” she said.

Michael Westphal, a Senior Associate in the Sustainable Finance team at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told IPS a politically feasible path to reach 100 billion dollars (per year) in international climate funding by 2020 is to include a larger set of climate finance sources and scaling up all public finance.

Reaching the 100-billion-dollar target is possible, he said, but warned it will take a concerted action by public actors to use public finance to leverage private sector investment.

In paper on climate funding, WRI discuss a number of recommendations.

Firstly, developed nations should commit to increasing all public funding flows to 2020.

This includes developed country climate finance as reported to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (mostly finance through bilateral channels), multilateral development bank climate finance, and climate-related official development assistance.

Secondly, developed countries should consider using new and innovative sources of finance toward the 2020 goal, including redirected fossil fuel subsidies, carbon market revenues, financial transaction taxes, export credits, and debt relief – many of which have been little used to mobilise climate finance.

And thirdly, parties should clarify the definition of climate finance and development of methodologies, including those for calculating and attributing leveraged private sector investment, to improve accounting and reporting.

At a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrial nations in Australia last November, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a contribution of 3.0 billion dollars to help the world’s poorest nations fight climate change.

Even before Obama’s pledge, the New York Times reported that at least 10 countries, including France, Germany, and South Korea, had pledged a total of around 3.0 billion dollars to the fund.

The U.S. contribution was followed by a pledge of 1.5 billion dollars by Japan.

Back in November 2014, Hela Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Fund, was quoted as saying: “The contribution by the U.S. will have a direct impact on mobilizing contributions from the other large economies.

Ban told delegates last week: “I strongly urge developed countries to provide a politically credible trajectory for mobilizing 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing countries in curbing emissions and strengthening their resilience.”

It is imperative, he pointed out, that developed countries provide greater clarity on the public finance component of the 100 billion before Paris, as well as on how they will engage private finance

An agreement must also acknowledge the need for long-term, very significant financing beyond 2020.

“I welcome the recent announcement by Germany to double its climate finance support by 2020, and encourage other developed countries to follow this example,” he implored.

Taken in sum, he said, this finance package should build trust and help unlock the additional trillions in financing needed to build low carbon, climate resilient economies.

According to the United Nations, a summit meeting of world leaders last September catalysed “much-needed momentum” on climate finance.

“Public and private sector leaders pledged to mobilise over 200 billion dollars by the end of 2015 to finance low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.”

A meeting in Lima, Peru last December pledged 10 billion dollars for the initialisation of the Green Climate Fund, according to a U.N. statement.

Providing a different perspective, Elges of Transparency International (TI) told IPS: “The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively? If that money goes astray, it could have disastrous consequences on the ground.”

She said there is also the corruption threat of lobby groups – for example, in the fossil fuel industries – in developed countries like the U.S. or the UK, who are able to influence long-term climate policy for short-term gain.

For example: 550 billion dollars per year go to fossil fuel in the form of subsidies, often resulting from corruption and undue influence.

In developing countries, the greater issue is weak governance: in practice, laws on transparency and accountability are not being respected.

One of our priorities at TI is to strengthen these areas of government and help citizens scrutinise hold their leaders to account.

Corruption is a global phenomenon: it affects all countries, albeit in different ways and it can affect every aspect of life, including our global response to climate change, she declared.

Asked if there is a U.N. role in battling corruption in climate change, Elges said climate change, human rights and transnational crime are all covered by U.N. treaties and compliance bodies.

The U.N. therefore has a huge role to play – politically and practically, to improve coordination against corruption across the board, and around the world, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisis Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Drastic CO2 Cuts Needed to Save Oceans Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:55:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

If global carbon dioxide emissions are not dramatically curbed, the world’s oceans – and the many services they provide humanity – will suffer “massive and mostly irreversible impacts,” researchers warned in Science magazine Friday.

The report said that impacts on key marine and coastal organisms and ecosystems are already detectable, and several will face high risk of impacts well before 2100, even under a low-emissions scenario of warming below two degrees C.

“These impacts will occur across all latitudes, making this a global concern beyond the north/south divide,” the report said.

Twenty-two leading marine scientists collaborated in the synthesis report . They stress that warming and acidification of surface ocean waters will increase proportionately as CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. Warm-water corals have already been affected, as have mid-latitude seagrass, high-latitude pteropods and krill, mid-latitude bivalves, and fin fishes.

Ocean acidification is especially dire for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fisheries or organisms for their survival.

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, including this latest in Science magazine, it has now been established that most if not all marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with serious consequences for human society.

The world’s oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the CO2 produced by industrialisation since 1750 and over 90 percent of the additional heat.

As a result, the report says the chemistry of the seas is changing faster than at any time since a cataclysmic natural event known as the Great Dying 250 million years ago.

And as atmospheric CO2 increases, protection, adaptation, and repair options for the ocean become fewer and less effective.

“The ocean has been minimally considered at previous climate negotiations. Our study provides compelling arguments for a radical change at the U.N. conference (in Paris) on climate change,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, lead author of the study.

Scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below two degrees C.

It is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, U.N. agencies, NGOs and civil society.

However, even under a scenario of less than two degrees of warming, many marine ecosystems would still suffer significantly, the report says, calling for immediate and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finished Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava 0 Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threat Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Financial Transaction Tax Could Boost New Development Goals Thu, 02 Jul 2015 20:34:25 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel

Ever since the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development in March 2002 called for new and innovative strategies to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA), various financial instruments have been discussed.

Bankers look down onto Robin Hood tax supporters gathered in New York City on Sept 17, 2013. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

Bankers look down onto Robin Hood tax supporters gathered in New York City on Sept 17, 2013. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

They include a solidarity levy on airplane tickets, debt swaps, measures to combat tax havens and capital flights – and the financial transaction tax (FTT).

With the finance ministers of 11 European countries, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, continuing negotiations on the modalities of a future FTT, proponents say it is an opportune moment to look at the controversial tax and its potential as innovative finance mechanism.

Most current discussions on FTTs, including plans on the European Union FTT, involve a small tax on the exchange of financial instruments, such as securities, bonds, shares and derivatives. It would apply to transactions on the wholesale market and not apply to the retail market.

The FTT has two main functions. It is designed to stabilise financial markets by curbing high-frequency trading and speculation, as well as serve as a tool to raise important amounts of revenue, which could be spent, at least in part, on development purposes.

However, there are ongoing debates on the efficiency of an FTT and its potentially damaging effects on the financial sector.

Opponents claim that an EU FTT would cause share-trading to emigrate as happened to Sweden, when it imposed a unilateral FTT about 30 years ago. Such fears have prevented countries with important financial sectors and asset-management industries like the United Kingdom and Luxembourg from consenting to an EU-wide FTT, resulting in the multilateral initiative of the 11 “willing” EU countries instead.“International targets to tackle poverty and climate were knocked badly off course by the reckless actions of the finance industry. It is only right the sector makes a fair contribution for the damage it caused." -- David Hillman

The London-based Institute of Economic Affairs argues in a 2011 report that the revenue an FTT raises is minimal due to falls in revenue from other taxes. Also, price volatility will increase as financial markets get smaller and decreasing income for companies will ultimately translate in higher prices and lower wages for workers in the whole country.

As reported by the Guardian, Matthew Fell, director for competitive markets at the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), said: “The UK government is right to reject a FTT as damaging for jobs and growth.”

“It is disappointing that eurozone economies are pursuing the FTT, whose costs ultimately fall on consumers and businesses, and will be a drag on the eurozone recovery.”

Proponents of the FTT, such as the Robin Hood Tax Campaign and Stamp Out Poverty, do not consider these arguments valid. They point to the fact that FTTs have already been successfully implemented in many countries and that an EU FTT would increase growth in Europe by 0.2 to 0.4 percent according to the European Commission’s most recent impact assessment.

Tackling climate change, ending poverty and malnutrition, enhancing social and economic development in a sustainable manner – the ambitious post-2015 development framework, which will be adopted this year in September at the U.N., requires considerable financial resources.

Those in favour of an FTT also acknowledge its potential as an innovative finance mechanism and confirm that chances to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will increase markedly if a sufficiently significant part of the money raised by means of the tax is spent on humanitarian purposes, climate change and development.

David Hillman, spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Robin Hood Tax campaign, told IPS: “One of the great benefits of the Financial Transaction Tax is that it’s a proven revenue raiser. Many FTTs already exist around the world today that collectively raise at least 30 billion dollars a year.”

“International targets to tackle poverty and climate were knocked badly off course by the reckless actions of the finance industry. It is only right the sector makes a fair contribution for the damage it caused. Because financial markets have grown so large, the FTT is capable of raising the levels of finance needed to tackle these issues.”

Dorothea Schäfer, research director in the field of financial markets at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), also considers the FTT an effective innovative finance tool.

Commenting on the EU FTT, she told IPS: “Key benefits of the FTT are the considerable revenue it can generate and its steering effect, i.e. the fact that it reduces the profitability of high-frequency-trading, stimulates long-term orientation and thus helps to build a sustainable financial system.”

“I consider the FTT a win-win instrument: if the steering effect does not occur because trade with financial instruments remains lucrative, at least a decent amount of income will be raised. However, if the steering effect occurs, and trade with financial instruments, especially derivatives decreases, this will contribute to the stability of the financial system.”

“Provided that the FTT encompasses all financial instruments, it can generate a considerable revenue, even if the tax rates end up being lower than those provided for in the EU Commission draft.”

The proposal by the EU Commission currently requires the 11 participating member states to set tax rates to levels not lower than 0.1 percent on conventional transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives in view of the notional value.

According to Bloomberg Business, the 11 EU member states continue quarreling over the details of a future EU FTT, especially over which trades to tax, the amount of revenue the tax should raise and modes of tax collection.

Another important point of debate is what the money raised should be spent on. In the past, both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have recognised the need to spend at least a part of the revenue on climate change and development objectives.

It remains to be seen if the potential of the FTT as Innovative Finance Mechanism will be taken advantage of to a greater extent in the future. Decisions regarding what share of the tax will be spent on development are made on the national level and depend on political will.

However, this year’s discussions on financing for development and the adoption of the SDGs at the U.N. might allow for a fruitful climate as a basis for further-reaching political decisions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisis Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: If You’re Against Coal Mining, Walk In and Stop It Thu, 02 Jul 2015 17:06:07 +0000 Dorothee Haussermann and Martin Weis Citizens plan to stop the giant coal excavators in the Rhineland coal mines, the world’s biggest land vehicles. Photo credit: ausgeCOhlt

Citizens plan to stop the giant coal excavators in the Rhineland coal mines, the world’s biggest land vehicles. Photo credit: ausgeCOhlt

By Dorothee Haussermann and Martin Weis
BERLIN, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

“If you’re against coal mining, why don’t you just walk into a coal mine and stop the excavators?”

It’s a late June evening in the German town of Mayence and about 40 people are gathered to discuss a coal phase-out and degrowth.

“It’s possible,” continues the speaker. “You just walk up to the excavator and it will stop – at least temporarily. So, if you take the threat of climate change seriously, what keeps you from stopping the destruction right on the spot?”“Large sections of the climate justice movement no longer believe that U.N. negotiations or lobby-ridden governments will come up with the urgent solutions needed to solve our socio-ecological crisis”

To keep coal in the ground and not burn it in order to avert catastrophic climate change, we now know that we cannot rely on the German government. Yesterday, Jul. 1, the partners of the ruling coalition scrapped a proposed climate levy, an instrument that had been proposed by energy minister Sigmar Gabriel to still reach the national climate goals for 2020, an overall emissions reduction of 40 percent.

As it stands, the energy sector is behind on its targets, largely due to the continued use of lignite or brown coal. Four of Europe’s five largest emitters are German lignite power plants and coal accounts for one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate levy proposed a cap on CO2 emissions for individual power plants, which would have primarily affected the oldest and dirtiest lignite power stations. The measure was backed by climate scientists and economic experts. It also enjoyed huge public support, with the overwhelming majority of Germans in favour of a coal phase-out.

However, powerful interests mobilised against the measure. These included members of the governing parties, the big power suppliers RWE and Vattenfall which would have been most affected, and IGBCE, the mining industry trade union.

Playing the ‘jobs-will-be-lost’ card, they introduced an alternative proposal, which has been criticised for seeking smaller emission cuts at a higher cost to consumers and taxpayers. Yet, the government agreed yesterday to drop the climate levy in favour of the industry proposal.

Two points are particularly infuriating and in fact quite worrying. There seems to be an absolute disconnect between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier rhetoric of the ‘decarbonisation of the worldwide economy’ at the Jun. 7-8 G7 Summit in Elmau, and the actions of her government at home only a few days later. Secondly, the influence of the coal industry in the democratic process is staggering. Their hastily compiled alternative actually carried the day and the big polluters are let off the hook.

The German example is a case in point of why large sections of the climate justice movement no longer believe that U.N. negotiations or lobby-ridden governments will come up with the urgent solutions needed to solve our socio-ecological crisis.

This is why we are taking the creation of an equitable and ecological society into our own hands instead of relying on promises of green growth or paying lip service to the G7.

This summer, the German and European anti-coal movement will take the fight to a new level. A coalition of grassroots groups and NGOs have called for a mass act of civil disobedience that is intended to bring operations in the Rhineland coalfields – the biggest source of Europe’s CO2 emissions – to a halt.

From Aug. 14 to 16, hundreds of people from across Europe plan to enter an open-pit lignite mine with many more standing outside the mine in solidarity. Under the banner Ende Gelände, which translates into ‘this far and no further’, they will aim to block the mining infrastructure.

During the G7 summit, four people already showed that it can be done when they scaled one of the monstrously huge excavators and stopped work in the mine for two days.

The action this summer is part of a growing and diverse movement against lignite mining, ranging from local citizens’ initiatives against poisonous air pollution, to fights for divestment and the occupation of an old-growth forest that stands to be cleared for the extension of the mines.

Those participating in the discussion in Mayence were convinced that this upcoming action in August is a moral imperative.

“Of course, it’s illegal but civil disobedience is our emergency brake,” said one. “If people thirty years from now were to ask us what we did to prevent the mass extinction of species, heat waves, crop failures, the melting of glaciers and wildfires, can we say: I could have stopped coal mining, but I didn’t because there was a sign saying ‘No Trespassing’?”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Panama and Nicaragua – Two Canals, One Shared Dream Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:31:54 +0000 Iralis Fragiel 0 Union Islanders Wonder if Their Home Will Be the Next Atlantis Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:46:18 +0000 Kenton X. Chance Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, says he has seen the sea rise significantly over the past 22 years. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, says he has seen the sea rise significantly over the past 22 years. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Fifteen years ago, Stephanie Browne, a former Member of Parliament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, needed only to look at the beach outside her house to know why her community in Union Island was called “Big Sand”.

So expansive were the beach and dunes that people played cricket games there without getting wet.“The water is too deep to show you where our fence was because a part of our fence is now way out in the sea." -- Stephanie Browne

Today, just a few feet of sand remain, saved only by the large boulders that have been placed more than 20 feet into the sea, where the fence for Browne’s property once stood.

“There could have been other reasons but I think climate change is the main reason for losing that beach down there,” Browne, who retired from politics 15 years ago, tells IPS.

“The water is too deep to show you where our fence was because a part of our fence is now way out in the sea and we have lost land for a number of years,” she says.

“What we’ve had to do is to use the boulders to try to keep our land and that’s why we are able to still have a little beach there. If not, there would absolutely be no beach,” she explains.

Browne tells IPS that she estimates the amount of land lost is enough to build a two-bedroom house of the type common in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, complete with a yard and fencing.

“There was a lot of sand and a lot of beach. Now, we have a lot of rocks, trying to save what we can,” she says.

Union Island is one of the southern-most islands in the archipelagic nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a country of 32 islands, islets and cays.

Unlike St. Vincent, the “main island”, the Grenadines has the white sand beaches commonly associated with tourism, the main revenue earner on the island and the country.

But rising seas, blamed on climate change, are beginning to imperil the beaches on the five-kilometre by three-kilometre island of 3,000 people.

Allan Providence, a senior officer at Union Island Airport, was born in St. Vincent but has been living in Union Island for 22 years.

“I know exactly what the island was like before it came to this point,” he tells IPS while standing on the sliver of sand that remains at Big Sand.

“What you are seeing here, this location, this is a structure that they used to have beach-o-rama and picnics and so on, and even out in the water where you are seeing the water is breaking now was where people would congregate, partying,” Providence says, pointing to an area 30 to 40 feet away.

The structure to which he referred is a concrete building with a zinc roof that has begun to collapse as the rising water undermines its foundation.

“But now, we have the sea is here. So, over the years, it has really degraded and brought it to this point,” Providence tells IPS.

“The water is rising and the sea is coming in, and that would definitely be as a result of climate change. Definitely. It was never like this,” Providence tells IPS.

Residents of Union Island are doing what they can to highlight the impact of climate change.

One way that this is being done is through Radio Grenadines, an Internet radio station that was officially launched on June 12, two years after it was founded in the bedrooms of two residents.

The launch of the not-for-profit radio station coincided with the graduation of 21 its contributors from a media training course endorsed by the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.

The training programme focused on using media to spread awareness about climate change and what can be done at the level of the citizen. It was funded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP).

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Haydn Billingy, national co-ordinator of the GEF, noted that the National Anthem of St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates the seas and “golden sands” of the Grenadines.

“These are the very things we use, that we call our natural resources, to attract our tourists and being that we are so depended on these natural resources, we have to show respect for them,” he said.

He noted that the Radio Grenadines project looks at using electronic media to raise awareness “about the important issue of climate change that is affecting us not only locally but globally”.

“In this harsh economic climate, there are still NGOs who are locally bred who care enough about the environment to dedicate tremendous voluntary work to ensure that it is protected for future generations,” Billingy said in reference to Radio Grenadines and other NGOs that focus on climate change.

“It shows that some people still appreciate and understand the indelible, fragile connection between the environment and human health and also livelihoods,” Billingy told the graduates.

In addition to the 21 persons trained in radio broadcasting, 62 members of NGOs that focus on the environment and climate change were trained in public relations and media use.

Billingy tells IPS that this is what is meant by “community empowerment”.

“These persons are now in a position to understand the environmental issues that are affecting St. Vincent and the Grenadines and they are possibly in a position to now be employed in the area of media and even the environment. This is what we mean when we talk about sustainable livelihoods.

“Indeed, I am seeing the Grenadines being the forerunner of environmental protection in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Billingy tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Poor Bear the Brunt of Corruption in India’s Food Distribution System Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:21:41 +0000 Neeta Lal With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Chottey Lal, 43, a daily wage labourer at a construction site in NOIDA, a township in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a beleaguered man. After a gruelling 12-hour daily shift at the dusty location, he and his wife Subha make barely enough to feed a family of seven.

Nor is the couple ever able to procure the subsidized rations they are legally entitled to, under a government law, from their local fair price shop.

"I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons." -- Savirti, a 50-year-old woman who is cut off from India's public food distribution system
“Whenever we go to the outlet, we’re shooed away by the grocer saying stocks have run out. We end up buying expensive food from the market, which isn’t enough to feed the entire family. Everybody knows the shopkeeper is profiteering from selling grain on the black market. But what can we, the poor, do? We’ve complained at the local police station also, but no action has been taken against the vendor,” Lal told IPS.

Savirti, 50, and Kamla, 39, have a worse tale to share.

Both women, who are widows and live with their married sons, are dependent on their families for food and a roof over their heads. However, they have been reduced to beggary as the family income is meagre and the grain rations they receive from the fair price shops are barely enough to feed half the family.

“I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons,” Savitri told IPS.

Kamla similarly feels she “eats better outside the home than inside” due to strangers’ kindness.

Engulfed in corruption, leakages and inefficiency, India’s public food distribution system (PDS) – a network of about 60,000 fair price shops around this country of 1.2 billion people – is depriving millions of poor people of the food grain they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene are supposed to be supplied to the public through this network at a fraction of the market rates.

The NFSA aims to sustain two-thirds of the country’s population by providing 35 kg of subsidised food grains per person per month at one to three rupees (0.01 to 0.04 dollars) per kilo.

However, only 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) have so far implemented the law, which was passed by Parliament in September 2013. The rest of the 25 states or UTs have not implemented it yet.

To make matters worse, national surveys have highlighted how millions of tonnes of grain are siphoned off from the distribution system by unscrupulous merchants.

They sell this loot in the open market at high profits, or export it in collusion with corrupt officials from the state-run Food Corporation of India. Much of the food from the PDS is also diverted to neighbouring countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Singapore.

A government study done in Uttar Pradesh found that numerous, competing agencies, poor coordination and low administrative accountability have combined to cripple the delivery mechanism.

The Justice D. P. Wadhwa Committee, which was tasked by the Supreme Court of India with monitoring its orders in a public interest litigation case on the right to food in 2006, recently came out with a damning indictment of the PDS.

Investigating irregularities in the chain’s distribution, the committee revealed that 80 percent of the corruption in distribution happens even before supplies reach the ration shops.

Worse, nearly 60 percent of the food that is channeled through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit. “What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption,” explains food expert Devinder Sharma who helms the New Delhi-based collective, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

This rampant and systemic abuse in the delivery chain augurs ill for a country like India, home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the recent annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The report states that the numbers translate as over 15 percent of the country’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and the proportion of malnourished people in the country.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World about India.

Close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa, with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth, states the WHO.

In a bid to tackle the problem of chronic hunger, the Shanta Kumar Committee, tasked with a review of the PDS in India, submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year, recommending a gradual phasing out of the PDS and a move to cash transfers.

The proposed cash transfer, according to the committee, will whittle down poor beneficiaries’ reliance on PDS ration shops. Some experts have buttressed this idea with the argument that dismantling the food procurement system, by providing coupons or food entitlements in the form of cash to the beneficiaries and allowing them to buy their own quota from the market, is a far more foolproof system.

The belief is that if the people are given the subsidy directly, both the government and the consumers will benefit.

Each year India’s granaries burst with bumper harvests of wheat and rice, but the grain is either pilfered by middlemen or allowed to rot in the rain while millions starve.

The government also incurs a huge expenditure on the food grains it supplies through the system. The leakage of food grains supplied to the PDS is as high as 48 percent, say surveys, and the buffer stocks it maintains are often far above the requirement, leading to huge costs on maintenance.

Ironically, the PDS is one of the largest programmes in India aimed at social welfare of the poor. Renowned economist Jean Drèze has argued that the impact on poverty reduction can be considerable if the PDS works efficiently.

Currently, close to 23 percent of India’s people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day – an arbitrary line that the Asian Development recently found to be an inadequate measure of poverty, suggesting that a line of 1.51 dollars would better reflect the sum required to keep a person at a minimum standard of existence.

Regardless of how extreme poverty is measured, it is clear that millions in this country are at, or very close, to, the point of starvation every single day.

Experts like Dr. Ravi Khetrapal, an agricultural scientist formerly with the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, believe the PDS to be an essential component of Indian society because the prevailing market prices for essential commodities are beyond the reach of the downtrodden.

“If the poor don’t access this network, they will starve to death,” he told IPS. “The network can play a more meaningful role if it is streamlined to ensure micro-level success and availability of food grains for all poor households.”

India has an impressive list of programmes to fight hunger, and the budget allocation for these is increased every year, and yet the poor go hungry. In fact, according to U.N. data, the number of impoverished people in the country is increasing with every passing year.

The answer does not lie in dismantling the PDS system, but reforming the world’s largest food delivery system to cleanse it of corruption, and make it more effective.

“This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling – from the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains – it has never been attempted in earnest. We need to build a system that ensures food for all at all times. This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is a great economic loss,” Sharma told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Remains Divided Over Domestic and State Terrorism Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:01:15 +0000 Thalif Deen Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen

When nine African-American worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist inside a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, there was a sharp division of opinion in the United States whether that murderous act of killing innocent civilians constituted a “hate crime” or an “act of terrorism.”

Or both?

Just after the shooting, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department said the crime was “undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism”.“Terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

But Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was quoted as saying: “We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism.

“If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathiser and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses — he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard,” he said.

The ultimate definition of terrorism has continued to defy governments, rights groups, the media and even the United Nations.

The United States and Israel continue to label “Hamas” a terrorist organisation but much of the mainstream media calls it “a militant organisation.”

Last year, the European Court of Justice upheld an appeal by Hamas, pointing out that its designation as a “terrorist” group by the European Union (EU) was “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.”

Since 2000, a U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism has failed to adopt the last of its conventions against terrorism: the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) sponsored by India.

In an interview with Time magazine last May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “We should not look at terrorism from the name plates – which group they belong to, what their geographical location is, and who the victims are.”

These individual groups or names will keep changing, he said. “Today you are looking at Taliban or ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): tomorrow you might be looking at another name.”

Modi said the United Nations should pass the CCIT. “At least, it will clearly establish whom you view as a terrorist and whom you don’t,” he said.

But the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee remains deadlocked, mostly over definitions because “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

Ambassador Rohan Perera, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the work of his committee has resulted in the adoption of three counter terrorism conventions, namely, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

The committee, he said, has been mandated by the General Assembly “to provide comprehensive legal framework to fill possible gaps in the existing sectoral Conventions on Terrorism.”

While the negotiations had reached an advanced stage by the fall of 2001 and there was a strong possibility of the convention being adopted that year, in the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/11, the requisite political will to reach a consensus failed to materialize, he added.

The draft CCIT, like the precedent sectoral conventions contains an ‘operational’ criminal law definition of acts of terrorism.

The CCIT has taken on added importance due to the widespread death and destruction caused by groups dubbed “terrorist organisations,” including the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida and Boko Haram.

“We can no longer stand by and watch as this phenomenon spreads,” says U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

“With their message of hate, violent extremists directly assault the legitimacy of the U.N. Charter and values of peace, justice and human dignity on which that document and international relations are based,” said Feltman, who also chairs the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and is the executive director of the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre.

He said there are almost 50,000 Twitter accounts supporting ISIL, with an average of 1,000 followers each.

Ambassador Perera told IPS the key outstanding issue is how the CCIT was to address certain concerns expressed by different groups of states, namely; the question of acts committed in the course of struggle for national liberation against foreign occupation; the question of acts of military forces of States in peacetime; and the question of state terrorism

According to Arab diplomats, Israel has to be singled out for what they call “state terrorism.”

But the use of that term is strongly opposed by Israel’s supporters, including the United States and most Western nations.

Asked about state terrorism, U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters last February; “.. the definition of terrorism and what comprises a terrorist group or terrorist entity remains in the hands of member states and the treaty language they are working on.”

“They have to decide,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the approach adopted by the Bureau of the Ad Hoc Committee was to address some of the concerns by excluding applicable legal regimes from the scope of the Convention, rather than seeking to exclude specific acts.

Accordingly, a compromise proposal made by the coordinator to serve as a basis for negotiation, clarified that the activities of armed forces, which are governed by International Humanitarian Law, are not governed by the present convention and that the CCIT is without prejudice to the rules of International Law applicable in armed conflict.

This provides a ‘carve out’ for acts committed in national liberation struggles by pointing to the applicable law.

“It is further provided that in the case of activities undertaken by the military forces of States, as they are governed by other rules of International Law, such acts are not governed by the convention,” said Perera.

This approach recognises the fact that the CCIT, once adopted, will not operate in a vacuum, but alongside other legal regimes.

“And it would be a matter for the domestic courts of Member States to determine which regime applies in a given situation,” he added.

Perera also said since the CCIT is a law enforcement instrument dealing with individual criminal responsibility, issues of concern raised by certain States relating to state terrorism are sought to be addressed in an accompanying resolution to be adopted along with CCIT, which recalls the obligations of States under International Law, as set out in international legal instruments and judgments of the International Court of Justice.

This approach, he said, is in keeping with the general practice of the United Nations General Assembly in adopting Conventions.

While all proposals that have been presented remain on the table, since 2002 delegations have shown willingness to engage in the negotiations on the basis of the compromise proposal made by the Bureau, without prejudice to their respective positions.

During the Sixteenth Session of the Ad Hoc Committee in April 2013, the Committee was able to present a consolidated text of the draft convention, leaving open the outstanding scope, Article 3. The consolidated text reflects the work accomplished on the CCIT so far.

“It is very much hoped that in the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, the Member States will demonstrate the necessary political will to overcome the hurdles that have held up the reaching of a consensus on the CCIT,” Perera declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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A New Climate for Peace Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:16:59 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel

U.N. officials, government leaders and civil society actors gathered Tuesday at the German House for a panel discussion on climate change as a “threat-multiplier”.

The debate centered on a report titled “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks.” Commissioned in early 2014 by the G7 member states, the report was written by leading political research institutes headed by Adelphi, International Alert, the Wilson Center and the EU Institute for Security Studies.

The report underscores the significant impact climate change will have on foreign and security policies. It identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks and calls on leaders and decision-makers to “act now to limit future risks to the planet we share and the peace we seek”.

The seven risk situations outlined in the report are local resource competition, livelihood insecurity and migration, extreme weather events and disasters, volatile food prices, transboundary water management, sea-level rise and coastal degradation as well as the unintended effects of climate policies.

The report calls on G7 member countries to take the lead in building resilience to climate change beginning at the national level and moving on to cooperation and integrated approaches on a multilateral and global level.

The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to the report, making climate-fragility risks a national foreign policy priority is the first necessary step for G7 countries. This will require them to develop capacities within government departments and create cross-sectoral working groups.

Secondly, G7 cooperation will be needed as a platform for concerted inter-governmental action based on the G7 countries’ global status and shared commitment to action on climate change.

This should be complemented, thirdly, by multilateral cooperation within institutions such as the World Bank and the U.N. and, fourthly, by partnerships with local governments, non-state actors and partner states to ensure that global measures and decisions will result in local actions on the ground.

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, made it clear that not every conflict or extreme weather event is linked to climate change. However, he said, the increasing number of both is definitely a symptom of that global problem.

Throughout the discussion, speakers repeatedly underscored the necessity of dealing with climate change not only from an environmental point of view, but also taking into account its implications on other policy areas such as development, economics and security, and thus recognising its cross-governmental nature.

Lukas Rüttinger, Senior Project Manager at Adelphi and one of the main authors of the report, welcomes the fact that some countries like Germany, the United Kingdom and France are pushing this agenda and moving climate change out of the environmental sphere.

“Compared to what we have seen about ten years ago, there are clear signs that the impact of climate change as security threat is given much more recognition by governments and foreign policy decision-makers today,” he told IPS.

“The fact that the topic is now on the agenda of the U.N. High Level Event on Climate Change and taken up by the U.N. Security Council can be seen as steps in the right direction. However, that doesn’t mean that enough is done yet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: BRICS for Building a New World Order? Wed, 01 Jul 2015 11:38:34 +0000 Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

As the leaders of the BRICS five meet in the Russian city of Ufa for their annual summit Jul. 8–10, their agenda is likely to be dominated by economic and security concerns, triggered by the continuing economic crisis in the European Union and the security situation in the Middle East.

The seventh annual summit of the large emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – also takes place with a background of escalating tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as well as the growing economic power of Asia, in particular, China.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

Nearly a decade and a half has passed since the BRIC acronym was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, a Goldman Sachs executive, now a minister in David Cameron’s U.K. government, to refer to the four fast-growing emerging markets. South Africa was added in 2011, on China’s request, to expand BRIC to BRICS.

Although in operation as a formal group since 2006, and holding annual summits since 2009, the BRICS countries have escaped much comment in international media, partly because of the different political systems and socio-cultural norms, as well as stages of development, within this group of large and diverse nations.

The emergence of such groupings coincides with the relative economic decline of the West.

This has created the opportunity for emerging powers, such as China and India, to participate in global governance structures hitherto dominated by the United States and its Western allies.

That the centre of economic gravity is shifting away from the West is acknowledged in the view of the U.S. Administration of Barack Obama that the ‘pivot’ of U.S. foreign policy is moving to Asia.“The major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades … [it is predicted that] by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy”

And there is evidence of this shift. In the Fortune 500 ranking, the number of transnational corporations based in Brazil, Russia, India and China has grown from 27 in 2005 to more than 100 in 2015. China’s Huawei, a telecommunications equipment firm, is the world’s largest holder of international patents; Brazil’s Petrobras is the fourth largest oil company in the world, while the Tata group became the first Indian conglomerate to reach 100 billion dollars in revenues.

Since 2006, China has been the largest holder of foreign currency reserves, estimated in 2015 to be more than 3.8 trillion dollars. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed that of the United States in 2014, making it the world’s largest economy in purchasing-power parity terms.

More broadly, the major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades, prompting the United Nations Development Programme to proclaim The Rise of the South (the title of its 2013 Human Development Report), which predicts that by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

Though the individual relationships between BRICS countries and the United States differ markedly (Russia and China being generally anti-Washington while Brazil and South Africa relatively close to the United States and India moving from its traditional non-aligned position to a ‘multi-aligned’ one), the group was conceived as an alternative to American power and is the only major group of nations not to include the United States or any other G-7 nation.

Nevertheless, none of the five member nations are eager for confrontation with the United States – with the possible exception of Russia – the country with which they have their most important relationship. Indeed, China is one of the largest investors in the United States, while India, Brazil and South Africa demonstrate democratic affinities with the West: India’s IT industry is particularly dependent on its close ties with the United States and Europe.

Although the idea of BRIC was initiated in Russia, it is China that has emerged as the driving force behind this grouping. British author Martin Jacques has noted in his international bestseller When China Rules the World, that China operates “both within and outside the existing international system while at the same time, in effect, sponsoring a new China-centric international system which will exist alongside the present system and probably slowly begin to usurp it.”

One manifestation of this change is the establishment of a BRICS bank (the ‘New Development Bank’) to fund developmental projects, potentially to rival the Western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF. Headquartered in Shanghai, China has made the largest contribution to setting it up and is likely that the bank will further enhance China’s domination of the BRICS group.

Beyond BRICS, Beijing has also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which already has 57 members, including Australia, Germany and Britain, and in which China will hold over 25 percent of voting rights. Two other BRICS nations – India and Russia – are the AIIB’s second and third largest shareholders.

Such changes have an impact on the media scene as well. As part of China’s ‘going out’ strategy, billions of dollars have been earmarked for external communication, including the expansion of Chinese broadcasting networks such as CCTV News and Xinhua’s English-language TV, CNC World.

Russia has also raised its international profile by entering the English-language news world in 2005 with the launch of the Russia Today (now called RT) network, which, apart from English, also broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Spanish and Arabic.

However, as a new book Mapping BRICS Media – which I co-edited with Kaarle Nordenstreng of the University of Tampere, Finland – shows, there is very little intra-BRICS media exchange and most of the BRICS nations continue to receive international news largely from Anglo-American media.

The growing economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing – most notably in the 2014 multi-billion dollar gas deal – indicates a new Sino-Russian economic equation outside Western control.

Two key U.S.-led trade agreements being negotiated – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and both excluding the BRICS nations – are partly a reaction to the perceived competition from nations such as China.

For its part, China appears to have used the BRICS grouping to allay fears that it is rising ‘with the rest’ and therefore less threatening to Western hegemony.

The BRICS summit takes place jointly with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council meeting. The only other time that BRICS and the SCO combined their summits was also in Russia – in Ekaterinburg in 2009.

Apart from two BRICS members, China and Russia, the SCO includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. SCO has not expanded its membership since it was set up in 2001. India has an ‘observer’ status within SCO, though there is talk that it might be granted full membership at the Ufa summit.

Were that to happen, the ‘pivot’ would have moved a few notches further towards Asia.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Perfecting Detection of the Bomb Tue, 30 Jun 2015 23:55:07 +0000 Ramesh Jaura CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

By Ramesh Jaura
VIENNA, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

An international conference has highlighted advances made in detecting nuclear explosions,tracking storms or clouds of volcanic ash, locating epicentres of earthquakes, monitoring the drift of huge icebergs, observing the movements of marine mammals, and detecting plane crashes.

The five-day ‘Science and Technology 2015 Conference’ (SnT2015), which ended Jun. 26, was the fifth in a series of multi-disciplinary conferences organised by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which has been based in the Austrian capital since 1997.

The conference was attended by more than 1100 scientists and other experts, policy makers and representatives of national agencies, independent academic research institutions and civil society organisations from around the world.“With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] CTBT’s entry into force” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

SnT2015 drew attention to an important finding of CTBTO sensors: the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was the largest to hit Earth in at least a century.

Participants also heard that the Air Algérie flight between Burkina Faso and Algeria which crashed in Mali in July 2014 was detected by the CTBTO’s monitoring station in Cote d’Ivoire, 960 kilometres from the impact of the aircraft.

The importance of SnT2015 lies in the fact that CTBTO is tasked with campaigning for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which outlaws nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. It also aims to develop reliable tools to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected.

These include seismic, hydro-acoustic, infrasound (frequencies too low to be heard by the human ear), and radionuclide sensors. Scientists and other experts demonstrated and explained in presentations and posters how the four state-of-the-art technologies work in practice.

170 seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth, the vast majority of which are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the announced North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 have also been detected.

CTBTO’s 11 hydro-acoustic stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater. Sixty infrasound stations on the Earth’s surface can detect ultra-low frequency sound waves that are emitted by large explosions.

CTBTO’s 80 radionuclide stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles; 40 of them also pick up noble gas, the “smoking gun” from an underground nuclear test. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. Sixteen laboratories support radionuclide stations.

When complete, CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) will consist of 337 facilities spanning the globe to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Nearly 90 percent of the facilities are already up and running.

An important theme of the conference was performance optimisation which, according to W. Randy Bell, Director of CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC), “will have growing relevance as we sustain and recapitalise the IMS and IDC in the year ahead.”

In the past 20 years, the international community has invested more than one billion dollars in the global monitoring system whose data can be used by CTBTO member states – and not only for test ban verification purposes. All stations are connected through satellite links to the IDC in Vienna.

“Our stations do not necessarily have to be in the same country as the event, but in fact can detect events from far outside from where they are located. For example, the last DPRK (North Korean) nuclear test was picked up as far as Peru,” CTBTO’s Public Information Officer Thomas Mützelburg told IPS.

“Our 183 member states have access to both the raw data and the analysis results. Through their national data centres, they study both and arrive at their own conclusion as to the possible nature of events detected,” he said. Scientists from Papua New Guinea and Argentina said they found the data “extremely useful”.

Stressing the importance of data sharing, CTBTO Executive Secretary, Lassina Zerbo, said in an interview with Nature: “If you make your data available, you connect with the outside scientific community and you keep abreast of developments in science and technology. Not only does it make the CTBTO more visible, it also pushes us to think outside the box. If you see that data can serve another purpose, that helps you to step back a little bit, look at the broader picture and see how you can improve your detection.”

Photo credit: CTBTO

Photo credit: CTBTO

In opening remarks to the conference, Zerbo said: “You will have heard me say again and again that I am passionate about this organisation. Today I am not only passionate but very happy to see all of you who share this passion: a passion for science in the service of peace. It gives me hope for the future of our children that the best and brightest scientists of our time congregate to perfect the detection of the bomb instead of working to perfect the bomb itself.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone in a message to the conference when he said: “With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the CTBT’s entry into force.”

South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, pointed out that her country “is a committed and consistent supporter” of CTBTO. She added: “South Africa has been at the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation in Africa for over twenty years. We gave up our nuclear arsenal and signed the Pelindaba Treaty in 1996, which establishes Africa as a nuclear weapons-free zone, a zone that only came into force in July 2009.

Beside the presentations by scientists, discussion panels addressed topics of current special interest in the CTBT monitoring community. One alluded to the role of science in on-site inspections (OSIs), which are provided for under the Treaty after it enters into force.

This discussion benefited from the experience of the 2014 Integrated Field Exercise (IFE14) in Jordan. “IFE14 was the largest and most comprehensive such exercise so far conducted in the build-up of CTBTO’s OSI capabilities,” said IDC director Bell.

Participants also had an opportunity to listen to a discussion on the opportunities that new and emerging technologies can play in overcoming the challenges of nuclear security. Members of the Technology for Global Security (Tech4GS) group joined former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry in a panel discussion on ‘Citizen Networks: the Promise of Technological Innovation’.

“We are verging on another nuclear arms race,” said Perry. “I do not think that it is irreversible. This is the time to stop and reflect, debate the issue and see if there’s some third choice, some alternative, between doing nothing and having a new arms race.”

A feature of the conference was the CTBT Academic Forum focused on ‘Strengthening the CTBT through Academic Engagement’, at which Bob Frye, prestigious Emmy award-winning producer and director of documentaries and network news programme, pleaded for the need to inspire “the next generation of critical thinkers” to help usher in a world free of nuclear tests and atomic weapons of mass destruction.

The forum also provided an overview of impressive CTBT online educational resources and experiences with teaching the CTBT from the perspective of teachers and professors in Austria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Pakistan and Russia.

With a view to bridging science and policy, the forum discussed ‘technical education for policymakers and policy education for scientists’ with the participation of eminent experts, including Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; Nikolai Sokov of the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies; Ference Dalnoki-Veress of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Edward Ifft of the Center for Security Studies, Georgetown; and Matt Yedlin of the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia.

There was general agreement on the need to integrate technical issues of CTBT into training for diplomats and other policymakers, and increasing awareness of CTBT and broader nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy issues within the scientific community.

Yet another panel – comprising Jean du Preez, chief of CTBTO’s external relations, protocol and international cooperation, Piece Corden of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas Blake of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and Jenifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists – looked ahead with a view to forging new and better links with and beyond academia, effectively engaging with the civil society, the youth and the media.

“Progress comes in increments,” said one panellist, “but not by itself.”

[With inputs from Valentina Gasbarri]

Edited by Phil Harris    

The writer can be contacted at

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Toilets with Piped Music for Rich, Open Defecation on Rail Tracks for Poor Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:34:08 +0000 Thalif Deen Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

By Thalif Deen

As most developing nations fall short of meeting their goals on sanitation, the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a new U.N. report released here.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’, authored by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), says one in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces." -- Tim Brewer of WaterAid

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” he said.

Pointing out the existing inequities, the report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

Still, the world has made “spectacular progress” in water, Jeffrey O’Malley, Director, Data, at UNICEF’s Research and Policy Division, told reporters Tuesday.

In 2015, 91 percent of the global population used an improved drinking water source, up from 76 percent in 1990, while 6.6 billion people have access to improved drinking water.

The total without access globally is now 663 million, almost a 100 million fewer than last year’s estimate, and the first time the number has fallen below 700 million.

As the MDGs expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report.

Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the MDG goal on water was met largely because of those who were easiest to reach.

“The poorest are often still being left behind. What we need to do in the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now under negotiation, is to make sure that progress for the poorest is made the headline figure.”

“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces,” he noted.

Brewer said monitoring is key: “We need to measure basic access for the poor, as well as measuring other indicators such as whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated.”

“This is the only way to make sure we reach everyone, everywhere by 2030 and hold governments accountable to their promises,” he argued.

In countries like Japan and South Korea, according to published reports, sanitation is far beyond a basic necessity: it has the trappings of luxury with piped in music, automatic flushing, and in some cases, scenic window views — even while millions in developing nations defecate openly in nearby rural jungles or on rail tracks (with their bowel movements apparently being coordinated with train schedules, according to a New York Times report.)

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Asked if it would be realistic for sanitation goals to be rolled into the proposed SDGs with a target date of 2030, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS that an even more ambitious sanitation target is suggested for the new SDG agenda – to eliminate open defecation and achieve universal access to sanitation.

“I think the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2030 is possible, but only if we start focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable right now (rather than waiting for the wealthiest to gain access first, as has historically been the case).”

He said: “We can also learn from the successes of the past 25 years, and especially the last 15. A number of countries have made rapid gains during the MDG era.’

For example, he pointed out, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation rates by 64 percentage points and Thailand has closed the gap in access between the richest and the poorest.

This shows what is possible when countries recognise the importance of tackling inequalities in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), thus unlocking wider benefits in health, nutrition, education and economic productivity, he noted.

Asked how the sanitation problem can be resolved, Wijesekera told IPS: “Sanitation is not rocket science; most developed countries take it for granted.”

“But our experience on the ground in developing countries shows that it is not just a question of governments investing money and technology. It is also about changing ordinary people’s attitudes and behaviours, and this takes time,” he said.

Sanitation can best be addressed by countries establishing and investing in people and systems at a local level to change people’s behaviours, and to get the private sector engaged in providing affordable and good quality products and services for the poor.

This, he said, needs to be led by countries themselves, and donors, international organisations and the private sector all have a role in providing financing and expertise.

He also said there is a growing awareness of the importance of sanitation as a foundation for human and economic development.

World leaders – from the U.N. Secretary-General, to the President of the World Bank, to the Prime Minister of India – are all talking about it.

“We need to translate this high level political support into action in order for all people to have access to what is theirs as a human right: clean drinking water and adequate sanitation,” said Wijesekera.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Cuba: Blazing a Trail in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS Tue, 30 Jun 2015 20:13:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Providing pregnant mothers with antiretroviral medicines can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from 45 percent to just one percent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Providing pregnant mothers with antiretroviral medicines can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from 45 percent to just one percent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

In 2013, an estimated 240,000 children were born with HIV. This was an improvement from 2009, when 400,000 babies tested positive for the infection, but still a far cry from the global target of reducing total child infections to 40,000 by 2015.

Bucking the global trend, one small island nation has made gigantic strides towards the 2015 goal. That country is Cuba, and in 2013 it recorded just two babies born with HIV.

Today, Cuba has become the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé said in a press release today, “This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere. It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children.”

Every single year, over 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Without proper treatment, they run a 15-45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their kids – during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding.

But if both mother and child receive proper antiretroviral treatment, the risk of transmission falls to just one percent.

Since 2010, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the WHO, has been working with its partners in Cuba and other states in the region to roll out a comprehensive programme to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis.

This process has involved improving early access to prenatal care, testing for pregnant women and their partners, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding.

Such services were undertaken and provided within the larger framework of equitable access and universal healthcare, in which maternal and child health is integrated with programmes to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

“Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV,” PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne said in a statement on Jun. 30.

“Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis,” she added.

WHO and its partners first published comprehensive guidelines on the processes and criteria for validation of eliminating mother-to-child transmissions in 2014.

Because treatment and prevention can never be 100 percent effective, ‘elimination’ is defined as “a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem”, according to PAHO.

In March of 2015, a group of international experts visited Cuba to assess its progress towards the elimination target, and spent five days visiting health clinics, labs and government institutions interviewing a range of experts and other stakeholders.

Comprised of experts from 10 countries including Argentina, Japan and Zambia, the mission considered a number of indicators – all of which must be met for at least one year – including confirming that new child infections as a result of mother-to-child transmissions are less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births.

Other indicators, which must be met for at least two years in order to receive validation, include ascertaining that more than 95 percent of HIV-positive women know their status, receive at least one ante-natal visit, and receive antiretroviral drugs.

“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan announced on Jun. 30.

“This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation,” she added.

According to the World AIDS Day 2014 Report, there were 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2013. Since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, 39 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses and close to 78 million have become infected with HIV.

Thanks to sustained local and global efforts to fight the epidemic, the death toll has fallen significantly in the past decade, from 2.4 million deaths in 2005 to 1.5 million in 2013, representing a 35-percent decline.

New infections have also declined by an estimated 38 percent since 2001, from 3.4 million to 2.1 million in 2013.

Among children, new infections have fallen from an estimated 580,000 in 2001 to 240,000 in 2013. If more countries emulate Cuba’s example, the international community will be closer to its 2015 goals, and the ultimate goal of eliminating AIDS altogether.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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China Hailed as Leader for New Climate Plan Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:55:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Kitty Stapp

Environmental groups are praising China following the formal submission of Beijing’s highly-anticipated climate change strategy to the United Nations Tuesday.

The plan includes a commitment to peak emissions around the year 2030, reduce carbon intensity 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix by about 20 percent by 2030.

The pledges are part of China’s so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which every country must submit ahead of the December U.N. climate talks in Paris (COP21). At that high-level meeting, a global climate deal is expected to be agreed which will come into force by 2025.

“China’s INDC is a positive boost to the ongoing international climate change process leading to Paris,” said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group. “China’s efforts to align its domestic growth agenda and global climate change agenda is a leading example of how a fundamental shift is needed to grow the economy differently.”

According to data from The Climate Group, China is currently the world’s biggest investor in clean energy, spending a record 89.5 billion dollars last year to account for almost a third of the world’s total renewables investment.

China’s rapid economic growth is still largely based on coal, which still accounts for two-thirds of its energy mix. However, the growth of its renewables sector is already having an impact, with the National Bureau of Statistics of China reporting that in 2014 coal consumption fell 2.9 percent even while its total energy consumption grew, thanks to a 16.9 percent share from clean energy including wind and hydro.

Jennifer Morgan, Global Climate Director, Climate Program, World Resources Institute, said Tuesday that, “China’s plan reflects its firm commitment to address the climate crisis. Already, 40 countries have released their national commitments, showing the growing momentum behind international climate action this year.

“China is largely motivated by its strong national interests to tackle persistent air pollution problems, limit climate impacts and expand its renewable energy job force,” she said in a statement. “More than 3.4 million people in China are already working in the clean energy sector.”

China currently accounts for a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions and one-third of the G20’s (which as a group produces 75 percent of the world’s emissions).

At the moment, the world seems set on a path for a potentially catastrophic temperature rise of up to 4 degrees C., not the less than 2 degrees that is seen as a critical threshhold, according to Janos Pasztor, the U.N.’s assistant secretary general and Ban Ki-moon’s chief adviser on climate change.

Around 40 countries have submitted INDCs thus far, but experts believe bolder targets are needed across the board.

The International Energy Agency has already warned that the INDCs submitted “will have a positive impact on future energy trends, but fall short of the major course correction required to meet the 2 Celsius degrees goal.”

“It is clear that China’s plan to tackle carbon emissions and build an economy on renewables and clean technology is firmly embedded at the highest level of government. We hope that India, Brazil and others will soon follow and show the required level of ambition,” said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group.

A survey released earlier this month found that China leads the world in public support for government action on climate change.

Some 60 percent of respondents in China favour a leadership role for their country, versus 44 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Britain.

And a new study by the London School of Economics (LSE) predicts that China’s greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2025, five years earlier than the time frame indicated by Beijing, thanks to steady reductions in coal consumption.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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