Inter Press ServiceActive Citizens – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 24 May 2018 09:33:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Indigenous Peoples Recover Native Languages in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/#respond Fri, 18 May 2018 09:22:22 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155818 Ángel Santiago is a Mexican teenager who speaks one of the variations of the Zapotec language that exists in the state of Oaxaca, in the southwest of Mexico. Standing next to the presidential candidate who is the favorite for the July elections, he calls for an educational curriculum that “respects our culture and our languages.” […]

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Protests Fuel Harassment Faced by Media in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 22:38:39 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155741 Assaults on journalists, persecution of press workers’ unions, direct censorship and smear campaigns are a high cost that freedom of expression has paid in Nicaragua since demonstrations against the government of Daniel Ortega began in April. It is the culmination of “a process of degradation of the practice of journalism and of freedom of expression” […]

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Optimal Use of Water Works Miracles in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 15:49:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155678 Cattle ranching has been severely affected by drought in Brazi’s Northeast region, but it has not only survived but has made a comeback in the Jacuípe river basin thanks to an optimal use of water. José Antonio Borges, who owns 98 hectares of land and 30 cows in Ipirá, one of the 14 municipalities in […]

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José Antonio Borges is surrounded by the forage cactus, ready to be harvested, that he planted on his farm. It is the basis of the diet of their 30 cows, which allows them to produce 400 litres of milk per day, using an automatic milking system twice a day, in Ipirá, in the Jacuípe basin, in Brazil’s northeastern semi-arid ecoregion, where the optimal use of water is transforming family farms. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

José Antonio Borges is surrounded by the forage cactus, ready to be harvested, that he planted on his farm. It is the basis of the diet of their 30 cows, which allows them to produce 400 litres of milk per day, using an automatic milking system twice a day, in Ipirá, in the Jacuípe basin, in Brazil’s northeastern semi-arid ecoregion, where the optimal use of water is transforming family farms. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
IPIRÁ-PINTADAS, Brazil, May 8 2018 (IPS)

Cattle ranching has been severely affected by drought in Brazi’s Northeast region, but it has not only survived but has made a comeback in the Jacuípe river basin thanks to an optimal use of water.

José Antonio Borges, who owns 98 hectares of land and 30 cows in Ipirá, one of the 14 municipalities in the basin, in the northeastern state of Bahia, almost tripled his milk production over the last two years, up to 400 litres per day, without increasing his herd.

To achieve this, he was assisted by technicians from Adapta Sertão, a project promoted by a coalition of organisations under the coordination of the Human Development Network (Redeh), based in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I wake up and I don’t hear the cows mooing, I cannot live,” said Borges to emphasise his vocation that prevented him from abandoning cattle farming in the worst moments of the drought which in the last six years lashed the semi-arid ecoregion, an area of low rainfall in the interior of the Brazilian Northeast.

But his wife, Eliete Brandão Borges, did give up and moved to Ipirá, the capital city of the municipality, where she works as a seamstress. Their 13-year-old son lives in town with her, in order to study. But he does not rule out returning to the farm, “if a good project comes up, like raising chickens.”

Borges, who “feels overwhelmed after a few hours in the city,” points out as factors for the increased dairy productivity the forage cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica Mill), a species from Mexico, which he uses as a food supplement for the cattle, and the second daily milking.

“The neighbours called me crazy for planting the cactus in an intensive way,” he said. “We used to use it, but we planted it more spread out.” Today, at the age of 39, Borges is an example to be followed and receives visits from other farmers interested in learning about how he has increased his productivity.

Normaleide de Oliveira stands in front of the pond on her farm that did not even run out of water during the six years of drought suffered by Brazil's Northeast region. Water availability is an advantage of family farmers in the Jacuípe river basin, compared to other areas of the country's semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Normaleide de Oliveira stands in front of the pond on her farm that did not even run out of water during the six years of drought suffered by Brazil’s Northeast region. Water availability is an advantage of family farmers in the Jacuípe river basin, compared to other areas of the country’s semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

He started after being taken to visit another property that used intensive planting, in an effort to convince him, said Jocivaldo Bastos, the Adapta Sertão technician who advised him. “Actually I don’t use cacti,” Borges acknowledged when he learned about the innovative tecnique.

The thornless, drought-resistant cactus became a lifesaving source of forage for livestock during drought, and is an efficient way to store water during the dry season in the Sertão, the popular name for the driest area in the Northeast, which also covers other areas of the sparsely populated and inhospitable interior of Brazil.

Also extending through the semi-arid region is the construction of concrete tanks designed to capture rainwater, which cost 12,000 reais (3,400 dollars) and can store up to 70,000 litres a year. With this money, 0.4 hectares of cactus can be planted, equivalent to 121,000 litres of water a year, according to a study by Adapta Sertão.

But that requires attention to the details, such as fertilisers, drip irrigation, clearing brush and selecting seedlings. Borges “lost everything” from his first intensive planting of the Opuntia forage cactus.

Parched, hard-packed land without vegetation is now green and fertile thanks to farmer and livestock breeder José Antonio Borges, who regenerated the land, supported by technicians from Adapta Sertão. It is now what he refers to as "the forest" where he grows watermelons and fruit trees, in Brazil's semi-arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Parched, hard-packed land without vegetation is now green and fertile thanks to farmer and livestock breeder José Antonio Borges, who regenerated the land, supported by technicians from Adapta Sertão. It is now what he refers to as “the forest” where he grows watermelons and fruit trees, in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Then he received advice from agricultural technician Bastos and currently has three hectares of cactus plantations and plans to expand.

At the beginning, he was frightened by the need to increase investments, previously limited to 500 Brazilian reais (142 dollars) per month. Now he spends twelve times more, but he earns gross revenues of 13,000 reais (3,700 dollars), according to Bastos.

The second milking, in the afternoon, was also key for Normaleide de Oliveira, a 55-year-old widow, to almost double her milk production. Today it reaches between 150 and 200 liters a day with only 12 dairy cows, on her farm located 12 km from Pintadas, the city in the centre of the Jacuípe basin.

“It is the milk that provides the income I live on,” said the farmer, who owns 30 more cattle. “I used to have 60 in total, but I sold some because of the drought, which almost made me give it all up,” she said.

The Jacuípe basin is seen as privileged compared to other parts of the semi-arid Northeast. The rivers have dried up, but in the drilled wells there is abundant water that, when pumped, irrigates the crops and drinking troughs.

This concrete tank is being built on a large rock on the farm of Normaleide de Oliveira, in the municipality of Pintadas, to be used for fish farming. Stones were used to make the walls using cement, on top of a rock in order to facilitate irrigation by gravity, in an example of agricultural development that optimises the use of the scarce water in the Sertão eco-region in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

This concrete tank is being built on a large rock on the farm of Normaleide de Oliveira, in the municipality of Pintadas, to be used for fish farming. Stones were used to make the walls using cement, on top of a rock in order to facilitate irrigation by gravity, in an example of agricultural development that optimises the use of the scarce water in the Sertão eco-region in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Oliveira has the advantage of having two natural ponds on her property, one of which never completely dried up during the six years of drought.

Now she is building a concrete tank on a large rock near her house that she will devote to raising fish and irrigating her gardens. Its location up on a rock will allow gravity-fed irrigation for the watermelon, squash and vegetables that Oliveira, who lives with her daughter and son-in-law, plans to grow.

The pond was proposed by Jorge Nava, an expert in permaculture who has been working with Adapta Sertão since last year, contributing new techniques to optimise the use of available water.

Adapta Sertão’s aims are to diversify production and strengthen conservation, and incorporate sustainability and adaptability to climate change in family farming.

In Ipirá, Borges has a pond one metre deep and six metres in diameter, with 23,000 litres of water, surrounded by his cilantro crop. In the pond he raises 1,000 tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), a species increasingly popular in fish farming.

Nearby is what he calls “the forest” – several dozen fruit trees on sloping ground with contour furrows, where he already used to plant watermelons using drip irrigation, which now coexist with the new project.

José Antonio Borges' family members enjoy themselves in the 23,000-litre concrete pond built on his farm to irrigate the orchards and raise fish, taking advantage of the water in boreholes drilled on his land in Ipirá , in the semi-arid region of Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Courtesy of Jorge Nava.

José Antonio Borges’ family members enjoy themselves in the 23,000-litre concrete pond built on his farm to irrigate the orchards and raise fish, taking advantage of the water in boreholes drilled on his land in Ipirá , in the semi-arid region of Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Courtesy of Jorge Nava.

“In 70 days he harvested 260 watermelons” and soil that was so dried up and hardened that the tractor had to plow several times, by thin layers each time, is now covered in vegetation, said Nava. “In 40 days the dry land became green,” he stated.

Contour furrows contain the water runoff and moisten the soil evenly. If the furrows were sloping they would flood the lower part, leaving the top dry, which would ruin the irrigation, the expert in permaculture explained.

This “forest” will fulfill the function of providing fruit and regenerating the landscape as well as making better use of water, boosting soil infiltration and acting as a barrier to the wind which increases evaporation, he said.

These are small gestures of respect for natural laws, to avoid waste and to multiply the water by reusing it, making it possible to live well on small farms with less water, he said.

In critical situations it is only about keeping plants alive with millilitres of water, until the next rain ensures production, as in the case of Borges’ watermelons.

Nava attributes his mission and dedication to seeking solutions in accordance with local conditions and demands to what happened to his family, who migrated from the southern tip of Brazil to Apuí, deep in the Amazon rainforest, in 1981, when he was three years old.

To go to school sometimes he had to travel nine days from his home, through the jungle. He became aware of the risk of desertification in the Amazon. The shallow-rooted forests are highly vulnerable to drought and deforestation, he learned.

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From the Syrian War to Argentina – Or How to Start a New Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/syrian-war-argentina-start-new-life/#comments Mon, 07 May 2018 02:49:08 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155642 Fares al Badwan moved to Buenos Aires alone, from Syria, in 2011. He was 17 years old then and the armed conflict in his country had just broken out. Since then he has managed to bring over his whole family and today he cannot imagine living outside of Argentina. “I like the people here. No […]

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Protests, Strikes, Solidarity – France Revisits May ‘68http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68/#respond Sat, 05 May 2018 11:44:19 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155633 “It’s good to be in Paris on a sunny May day and see many universities occupied … and the strikes against neo-liberalism,” declared British Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali at an event in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on May 3. “That’s very pleasing.” Ali and the American civil rights icon Angela Davis were […]

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Nanterre conference poster. Credit: SAES

By A. D. McKenzie
NANTERRE, France, May 5 2018 (IPS)

“It’s good to be in Paris on a sunny May day and see many universities occupied … and the strikes against neo-liberalism,” declared British Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali at an event in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on May 3. “That’s very pleasing.”

Ali and the American civil rights icon Angela Davis were the speakers at the free public event, “Solidarité et Alliances”, to commemorate 50 years since the massive May 1968 civil unrest, which paralysed the French economy through nation-wide strikes and demonstrations.

As they spoke at a packed theatre, students were blocking buildings at nearby Paris Nanterre University, hence Ali’s comments. Similar action has been taking place at universities in Paris and other cities such as Toulouse and Rennes.

Echoing 1968, France is currently gripped by a series of strikes involving railway employees and other workers, while students are demonstrating against the government’s higher-education reforms that would make admittance to public universities more selective.

American civil rights icon Dr. Angela Davis. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

The students say the changes are contrary to the French tradition of offering all high school graduates a place at public universities and would adversely affect poorer students, who are already underrepresented on campuses. The government’s stance is that reform is necessary to deal with a high drop-out rate and overcrowded institutions.

Rail workers, meanwhile, object to the restructuring of the national railway company, the SNCF. On Labour Day, May 1, street marches in Paris erupted in violence, with masked far-Left “anarchist” agitators burning vehicles and smashing shop windows.

The widespread protests coincide with several conferences and cultural programmes that are reflecting on themes of revolution in remembrance of “May ‘68”.

Davis, for instance, will be back in France next month as the keynote speaker at a conference at Paris Nanterre University titled “Revolution(s)”. The organizers – La Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES) – are hoping the campus will by then be accessible to the 400 expected participants.

“Nanterre as a town doesn’t have much of a historical aspect; it’s not like Paris or Bordeaux. The one thing we have here is the university and the ’68 protests,” said Bernard Cros, the main organizer of the meeting and a lecturer in British and Commonwealth studies.

The 1968 student demonstrations actually started at Nanterre, when students occupied an administrative building to protest class discrimination and other societal issues. Subsequent confrontations with the university administration and law enforcement agents led to additional universities and the public joining the protests, and, at the height of the May ’68 movement, more than 10 million workers were on strike in France.

Fifty years later, the current protests at Nanterre began when a group of students occupied a classroom in April to voice disapproval of the government’s reforms. The situation escalated when the university’s president called in the police to remove them, and officers in riot gear descended on the university. That in turn caused others to join the protest in solidarity.

Since then, students have shut down the campus. Visitors can see iron barricades in front of doorways, along with graffiti such as “Make Nanterre great again”, a paraphrasing of the slogan used by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, and that used by French President Emmanuel Macron to show his support for climate action (“Make our planet great again”).

The conference with Davis may not make the university “great again” but her presence in France generates huge interest among students, faculty and the public.

Cros said that Davis’s name was the “first that came to mind” when Nanterre was chosen as the 2018 site of the annual congress of the SAES – an academic association for those researching and teaching English language, literatures and culture. The university awarded Davis an honorary doctorate in 2014, so she is “already linked” to the institution, he added.

“What is not revolutionary about Angela Davis is what you have to ask,” Cros said in an interview. “Where would the world be without people like her? She put her own safety on the line. It raises questions about what it means to be politically committed. Whether you agree with all her views or not, this is something that attracts support.”

Doorways barricaded at Paris Nanterre University. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Indeed some 900 people filled the Nanterre-Amandiers Theatre at the May 3 event where Davis and Ali spoke (the event is separate from the coming university conference). As the activists walked onto the stage, there was deafening applause and several young people leapt to their feet with shouts of appreciation.

“I’m not a person who tends to be inspired by nostalgia, but sometimes I find myself wanting that closeness (from 1968) again,” said Davis, in response to a question from one of the evening’s moderators about whether the “historical memory of ‘68” could help the world to imagine a better future.

“I don’t know if you know my story, but I needed some solidarity myself … I take solidarity very seriously,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be here this evening.”

Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and active in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968. Later, in 1970, guns she had bought were used by a high-school student when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother, and left the building with hostages, including the judge.

In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed, and Davis was arrested following a huge manhunt, and charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder” of the judge, although she had not been in the courtroom.

She declared her innocence, and sympathisers in the United States and other countries, including France, mobilised to demand her freedom. After being incarcerated for 16 months, she was released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges in 1972.

During the theatre discussion, Davis described the civil rights struggles in which she had participated, highlighting the gender battles in particular, and pointing out that the U.S. civil rights movement was “very much informed” by what was happening around the world at the time.

For Tariq Ali, the ’68 movement was a time of international solidarity. In contrast, “there is very little solidarity with the Arab countries” at present, he said.

Speaking of conflicts in the Middle East, Ali said: “All these wars create refugees … then you give the refugees a kick in the backside and say ‘we don’t want you’.”

He said that citizens should demand of countries that if they start a war they should “take 100,000” refugees.

Many in the audience reacted with applause to these words. (In another university near Paris -at Saint Denis – migrants have occupied a building for several months, largely with the support of students who’re also demonstrating).

Outside the theatre, the “revolutionary” fervor is continuing. General strikes are expected to last throughout May and June, and the Nanterre students have voted to continue the protests until May 7 for now.

“The university is a very mixed population, and some support the demonstrations while others don’t,” Cros told IPS. “But nearly everyone understands the reasons for the protests. If you tell students: ‘we’re not spending money on you’, what is the message you’re sending them?”

With more than 2 million students in higher education, France ranks 19th among 26 developed countries for the quality of the sector, according to statistics from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other observers note that funding for public universities is decreasing. (The government has promised increased financing).

Meanwhile, some students just want to get on with their lives. One third-year student said that while he understood the motivations of his protesting peers, his concern was to take his exams and finish his programme.

“I’ve been preparing for a long time,” he said. “For me personally, all this is tough.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

 

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Central Americans Demand to be Consulted About Mining Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/central-americans-demand-consulted-mining-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-americans-demand-consulted-mining-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/central-americans-demand-consulted-mining-projects/#respond Fri, 04 May 2018 02:30:33 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155612 Rosa Dávila is busy cooking ears of corn, to be eaten by the men and women who have set up a checkpoint on the side of the road to block the passage of supplies sent to a mining company that operates in the area. The San Rafael mining company, a subsidiary of the Canadian company […]

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Residents of the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores maintain a permanent sit-down in front of the Constitutional Court, in the centre of Guatemala’s capital, to demand that the country's highest court rule on the demand for a suspension of the San Rafael mining company's permit to operate a mine in that municipality. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Residents of the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores maintain a permanent sit-down in front of the Constitutional Court, in the centre of Guatemala’s capital, to demand that the country's highest court rule on the demand for a suspension of the San Rafael mining company's permit to operate a mine in that municipality. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
GUATEMALA CITY, May 4 2018 (IPS)

Rosa Dávila is busy cooking ears of corn, to be eaten by the men and women who have set up a checkpoint on the side of the road to block the passage of supplies sent to a mining company that operates in the area.

The San Rafael mining company, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Tahoe Resources, is located on the outskirts of San Rafael Las Flores, a town 96 km southeast of Guatemala City, in the department of Santa Rosa.

The roadblock has been mounted by the inhabitants of Casillas, a neighbouring rural municipality, located a few kilometres down the road, and which cannot be avoided on the way to the mine. Other transit points have also been blocked by the “resistance”, as the anti-mining protesters refer to themselves.

“The first thing we want, for God’s sake, is for them to go back to their country,” said Dávila, a 48-year-old homemaker and mother of seven, as she stoked the fire.

The residents of this and other neighbouring municipalities are firmly opposed to the company’s mining operations, due to the social and environmental damage they say has been caused since they began in 2007.

Conflicts like this have broken out in other areas of Guatemala and in other Central American countries, not only with mining companies but also with hydroelectric power companies.

“It’s not fair, and the worst thing is that they never asked us if we wanted these companies to come here,” Dávila told IPS while moving about in the kitchen set up in an improvised camp, which IPS visited on Apr. 29.

The lack of prior consultations with the communities where such projects are installed is a recurrent problem in the countries of Central America, whose governments fail to comply with international regulations that call for prior consultation over whether or not the population approves of these investments.

In late April, environmental organisations held in the Guatemalan capital the Second Regional Meeting of the Central American Alliance against Mining, which concluded with the requirement that the governments of the region comply with international and regional obligations to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consultation.

“We call upon Central American governments to reflect on the viability of what they call development, when we know that the extractive industry is a model of destruction and death for our countries,” explained Julio González, of the Guatemalan environmental organisation MadreSelva, at the end of the meeting, on Apr. 27.

That organisation and the other participants in the meeting have joined forces in the regional Alliance against mining, in order to constitute a block with more power in the face of the activities of the extractive industries in Central America.

In the municipality of Casillas, in the department of Santa Rosa, in Guatemala, local inhabitants erected a roadblock on the road that leads to the San Rafael Las Flores mine, blocking the passage of trucks carrying supplies to the site. In the picture, Rosa Dávila (centre) peels ears of corn in the activists’ improvised camp. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

In the municipality of Casillas, in the department of Santa Rosa, in Guatemala, local inhabitants erected a roadblock on the road that leads to the San Rafael Las Flores mine, blocking the passage of trucks carrying supplies to the site. In the picture, Rosa Dávila (centre) peels ears of corn in the activists’ improvised camp. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

One of the rules under which the organisation operates is ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, in force since September 1991, which has been ratified by 22 countries, including all countries in Central America except El Salvador and Panama.

Article 6 of the Convention establishes that governments shall “consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures (…) whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly,” such as when a national or municipal state institution grants a concession to international consortiums.

But that is basically dead letter in the Central American countries that have ratified it, said activists consulted by IPS during the meeting.

The governments have not promoted consultations, because they believe that important development projects would be halted, so it is the affected communities that have carried out their own consultations, they added.

In Guatemala, where 63 percent of the population is indigenous, around 90 such consultations have been held, by show of hands.

“Before the hydroelectric companies were to arrive, we began to carry out consultations, and we asked whether these businesses have the right to take our rivers, and the vast majority said no,” 69-year-old Mayan Indian Cirilo Acabal Osorio told IPS.

So far they have managed to stop attempts by companies to install projects in the eight communities putting up resistance in that region, which are predominantly Mayan, said the native of Zona Reina, municipality of Uspatán, in the department of Quiche in northwestern Guatemala.

In Honduras more than 40 open town meetings have been held in which the population of different localities has rejected similar projects, said Pedro Landa, of the Reflection, Research and Communication Team (ERIC), attached to the Jesuits.

“But the State continues to ignore the will of the people,” he said.

Environmentalist activists said local governments in the area consider the consultation processes to be non-binding, and as a result do not take them into account.

Before the Salvadoran legislature approved, in March 2017, a historic law prohibiting metal mining in all its forms, civil society organisations carried out popular consultations in at least four municipalities, under the Municipal Code.

For now there is no need for further consultations, as the law banned mining company investments. But the spectre of mining is still present after the right-wing parties, its natural allies, obtained an overwhelming majority in the Legislative Assembly in the Mar. 4 elections, warned Rodolfo Calles, of the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES).

Convention 169 refers only to indigenous peoples, although the experts said in the meeting that national laws that serve the same purpose can be applied: people affected by any industrial activity must be informed and consulted beforehand.

“In the case of countries that do not have indigenous communities, they will use other mechanisms that they undoubtedly have, such as referendums,” Sonia Gutiérrez, an expert with the Association of Mayan Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala, told IPS.

The extractive industry has no economic weight in the region, despite its impacts on the environment and on production in the communities where it operates, Nicaraguan activist Olman Onel told IPS. He pointed out that in his country, for example, it only contributes one percent of GDP and 0.66 percent of employment.

On the other hand, the participants in the forum denounced the police and judicial persecution suffered by environmentalists in the whole region, as a mechanism to silence opposition to such projects.

Landa, of ERIC, said that in Honduras, where more than 800 extractive projects and 143 hydroelectric projects have been approved in recent years, at least 127 environmentalists have been killed, including Berta Cáceres.

She was riddled by bullets on Mar. 3, 2016, for her fierce opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, located between the departments of Santa Bárbara and Intibucá, in the northwest of the country.

Meanwhile, in San Rafael Las Flores, local inhabitants have organised to defend their land and their livelihood, agriculture, although the damage caused by the extractive activity is already evident, they said.

Rudy Pivaral, a 62-year-old farmer, told IPS that the impacts on the flora and fauna are already being felt, and there is a decrease and drying up of water sources, which makes it impossible to continue producing two or three harvests a year, in addition to the health problems associated with water pollution.

Around 96 families in the village of La Cuchilla, on a hill next to the site, had to be evicted because of damage to the walls of the houses, due to the vibrations produced by the drilling in the ground.

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Steady Old Hand of Repression Seeks to Strangle New Media in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 13:48:28 +0000 Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155606 Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark
JOHANNESBURG, May 3 2018 (IPS)

In African countries where journalists are targeted with killings and beatings while traditional news outlets have been muzzled by governments and other actors unhappy with criticism, bloggers and social media users have become the new independent media by providing much-needed coverage, commentary and analysis.

Credit: UNESCO

The new frontier for clampdowns on free expression is now social media. The same repressive tactics are being transferred from traditional media as we know it to private citizens who dare share information and news. In East Africa, some administrations, done with decimating independent traditional media, are now moving to crush dissent online in new ways — using economics as the weapon of choice.

In Tanzania, the government of President John Magufuli last month craftily enacted legislation requiring all online publishers, including bloggers and podcasters to pay around US$920 — unaffordable for most of the country’s bloggers — for the privilege of posting content online.

From May 5, just two days after World Press Freedom Day, all online publishers have to register with the authorities and fork out about US$480 for a three-year licence, as well as US$440 every year to operate a blog.

However, bloggers tend to make very little from blogs, posting mostly out of passion and earning little if not nothing from advertising, which is usually the revenue source for this media. So there is precious little to be made from online advertising, which is not a widely used form of advertising in Tanzania. So, the required fees make blogging a very expensive affair.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online) Regulations 2018, which came into effect in March, not only imposes the exorbitant fees to post content online but also requires anyone publishing online content to carry out extensive data reporting such as keeping a log of visitors to the platform, information on investors and staff, future plans, among other requirements.

Blogs are also usually solo operations, run with no staff or resources to keep up with these onerous obligations. The law also requires internet café’s to install surveillance cameras and to record and archive activities inside their premises.

The new law defines a blog as “a website containing a writer’s, or group of writer’s own, experiences, observations, opinions including current news … images, video clips and links to other websites”. This basically covers all forms of posts from the personal to public affairs matters and news items.

According to the new law, publishing content that “causes annoyance, threatens harm or evil, encourages or incites crime, or leads to public disorder”, can lead to the license being revoked, a fine of no less than 5million Shillings (about $2 000) or no less than 12 months’ imprisonment or both.

The interpretation of what is “annoying” or “evil” leaves the law wide open to abuse by those in power. For example is a fashion blog commentary on a politician an annoyance? Is questioning the use of public funds an annoyance?

The government’s Communication Ministry spokesman Innocent Mungy defended the law, telling Al Jazeera that it serves to “protect those who were being victims of slurs”. However, the deliberately vague and broad nature of the regulation, and the sweeping powers given to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to keep a register of bloggers, online forums, radio and television online and to take action against non-compliance of the regulations, including ordering the removal of content is a cause for raising red flags for freedom of expression in the country.

There is no doubt that this policy will deal a fatal blow to freedom of expression and an open internet in Tanzania as well as to diversity in the media space.

The new regulations attack fundamental human rights of Tanzanians in two main ways. First it excludes most from being able to express themselves online through the increasingly popular format, blogs. It also discourages internet use by instilling fear in users.

And for the precious few bloggers who might be able to afford the prohibitively expensive fees, the sweeping, ambiguous restrictions give authorities power to declare much of what they say as criminally offensive and liable to prosecution and criminal conviction.

While proponents of the law might also invoke the “curbing the spread of terrorism via social media” argument, it is clear these regulations are beyond threats of terror. Not only are the fees intended to prevent ordinary bloggers and journalists from posting editorial content online, but it severely restricts their freedom of expression as well as the public’s access to information at large.

In a country where the media historically holds strong ties to government interests, and where a sustained campaign of media repression has been underway for years – and intensified since the election of Magufuli in 2015 – blogging has given a voice to many Tanzanians who would not otherwise be heard and has given content to an audience that is searching for it.

The government has wasted no time exploiting the law’s vaguely-worded terms to put online users on notice. Hugely popular rapper, Diamond Platinumz (Nasseb Abdul), was arrested in mid-April for posting an Instagram picture of himself kissing a woman — considered a violation of the regulation’s ban on “indecency”.

The government held public consultations on the proposed policy last year but pushed it through without any changes despite objections from various stakeholders to aspects of the legislation. Three Tanzanian NGOs in March filed a complaint at the East Africa Court of Justice over the law, arguing it violates press freedom.

Ordinary users of blogs are also not spared. For, example, those who post content or comment on Facebook are subject to the same rules meaning even personal political opinions are at risk.

But Tanzania is not alone in this kind of crackdown. Uganda is also drafting its own plan of attack on freedom of speech online. From July this year, users of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will have to pay a daily tax of about USD0.05 to reduce what longtime President Yoweri Museveni calls “gossip”. Of Uganda’s 41 million people, more than half are mobile phone subscribers and 17 million use the internet. The policy is currently before parliament after approval by the cabinet.

In neighbouring Rwanda, a 2016 law makes it broadly illegal to cause “annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety” with a digital device.

Worldwide, the CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks threats to civil society, has found that journalists are the biggest group on the receiving end of violations for their work. Citizen journalists, bloggers and general social media users need special attention if the right to access information and freedom of expression are to be protected.

Civil society and traditional media have a duty to diligently highlight these violations and stand in solidarity with those being persecuted and hindered from freely using new forms of media.

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Excerpt:

Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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African Governments Mark World Press Freedom Day with Crackdown Against Online Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 07:11:02 +0000 Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155590 Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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By Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen
ACCRA, Ghana, May 3 2018 (IPS)

When Uganda in April ordered Internet service providers to shut down all news sites that had not been authorized by the communications regulator (pdf), it was the latest attempt by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to constrict the space for independent media.

The regulator said that only 14 online publishers had met the requirements to remain online, including a USD 20 fee and an interpol clearance certificate (pdf). If the directive is implemented in full, millions of websites would become inaccessible and Ugandans would be thrown into a virtual information blackout.

Uganda is not alone in its ambition to control online journalism.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, governments are taking aggressive steps to control what their citizens do and say online, justifying their suppression as necessary for public order and morality or security.

Unless this repressive trend is stemmed, Africa’s young but robust and diverse online media will wither. As journalists today meet in Accra, Ghana, to mark World Press Freedom Day, openness of online journalism in Africa hangs in the balance.

In similar fashion to its northern neighbour, the government of Tanzanian president John Magufuli now requires bloggers to register, a privilege that could cost an initial USD 484 and another USD 440 annually. The government will also license those streaming content online, though at a reduced fee.

Tanzania’s steep registration fee is most certainly impossible for many people in a country where gross national income per capita is USD 900. Those who have not applied for registration by May 5 face, upon conviction, a fine of five million Tanzanian shillings (USD 2,200), a prison term of a minimum 12 months, or both.

Registration requirements pose a barrier to entry for those who want to have their voices heard online. Free expression has flourished on the Internet precisely because users are unencumbered by infrastructure, regulatory or financial demands that weigh so heavily on traditional media like newspapers, radio, or television.

Although CPJ advocates for transparency in media ownership, there is fear that governments are collecting this information with the intention of being better able to target critical reporters and outlets.

This intention was laid bare in Tanzania, where the March 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) regulations would effectively strip Internet users of anonymity that often protects whistleblowers and dissenters. Yet it’s not just registration that is stifling online journalism.

On January 1, 2018, Timothy Elombah, editor-in-chief of Elombah.com, was arrested with his brother, Daniel, at their home, and charged in Abuja under Sections 24 and 26 of Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act. Although Daniel was released, Timothy spent 25 days in detention.

During a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists in Abuja, Timothy said he believes they were arrested and charged in reprisal for their critical reporting on Nigeria’s government. A court hearing for their case is scheduled for today, May 3.

Nigeria’s cybercrime act and its vaguely worded offenses have been repeatedly used against journalists, according to CPJ research. For example, Section 24 (1-b) criminalizes “grossly offensive” messages sent using a computer and Section 26 (c) may find guilty anyone that “insults publicly through a computer system or network.” These offenses are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and five years respectively, and/or a multi-million-Naira fine.

Ambiguously defined crimes can also be found in South Africa’s Film and Publications Amendment Bill. In March 2018, South Africa’s National Assembly approved amendments to the Films and Publications Act, also dubbed the Internet Censorship Bill, that would grant authorities wide powers to regulate online media content, including newspapers and social media.

While the government has argued it will protect children from explicit content and fight hate speech and revenge pornography, the South African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) has criticised the bill for its “vague definitions and impractical requirements” that would grant the state power to dictate what content can be posted online, crossing the “fine line between protection and censorship”.

South African intentions to control online media are not new. During a June 2017 meeting in Durban, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers expressed concern over South Africa’s cybercrime bill’s “vague language that affords opportunity for repressive implementation, as well as enhanced investigative and surveillance powers for security agents.” If passed into law, both these bills would imperil online journalism in South Africa.

During the Internet Freedom Forum held last month (April) in Abuja, Wakabi Wairagala, the executive director of Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), warned of copy-cat legislation, in which African governments adopt similar versions of the problematic regulations. The crafters of Nigeria’s cybercrime act did not sufficiently consider the negative ramifications for press freedom and free expression online. South Africa’s lawmakers may yet avoid this mistake.

Across Africa, governments have sought to close the internet as an open space for journalism. Ethiopia, Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo, Uganda and Somaliland have shut down Internet access, in whole or in part, to control public debate during elections or public demonstrations. Yet it is during these moments of political tension that citizens most need accurate information to make decisions.

This is not to say that the Internet does not pose governance challenges. Citizens and government have reason to be concerned about disinformation, hate speech, and incitement to violence. It is in this context that responsible journalism remains as important as ever.

But heavy-handed regulation or legislation that unduly curbs press freedom and free expression is not the appropriate response. Instead of silencing dissenting ideas, laws ought to protect the digital rights of citizens and nurture press freedom online.

For example, Nigeria’s National Assembly and Senate have passed the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. If signed into law by the president, the law would guarantee (pdf) the rights of expression and information online, protect whistleblowers, and limit government censorship to specific, narrowly defined circumstances as mandated by a judge.

The proposed law in Nigeria shows that it is possible for African governments to write regulations and laws that work for, not against, journalists. But unfortunately this bill is the exception to a repressive norm.

(The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. It defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. www.cpj.org )

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Excerpt:

Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Free Media Under Threat Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-media-threat-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/#comments Wed, 02 May 2018 16:35:27 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155586 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2018 (IPS)

Buoyed on by the likes of United States’ President Donald Trump, a growing number of political leaders are encouraging hostility towards news media and journalists across the globe are finding it harder than ever to do their jobs.

This is among the main findings in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index which examines 180 countries and their relationship with the media.

Mr. Trump signs the UN Secretary-General’s guest book. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

While launching the report, RSF’s Secretary General Christopher Deloire reflected on the erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principles: a free press.

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire,” Deloire said.

U.S. Ranking Drops

According to the report, the U.S. is partly responsible for the downward trend of the media’s image globally.

The report highlights the impact of Trump’s “Fake News” slogan- a reference used to discredit and deny news reports.

“Trump’s ‘fake news’ phenomenon has certainly had a global impact. Leaders of countries both democratic and authoritarian have taken advantage of this language to conflate any critical news coverage with false news coverage or misreporting,” RSF’s North America Director Margaux Ewen told IPS.

Trump’s method of dismissing media has been picked up by a growing number of world leaders, the report found.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but instead as an adversary. Trump himself has called reporters ‘enemies of the people,” Ewen said.

“It’s sad that the U.S. – often seen as a shining beacon of press freedom and democracy is slipping, it’s no longer the gold standard,” she continued.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s report saw the United States drop to number to 45 in the index, down two spots from its 2017 rank.

Europe “Not Perfect”

Whilst European countries Sweden and Norway ranked the freest media environments in the world, the region as a whole had more nations drop down the list than any other.

European nations such as Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Serbia all fell considerably.

“With the rise of populist politics and strongmen leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue,” the report stated.

In Europe, recent high profile journalist killings – the murder of Daphne Galizina in Malta and the Jan Kuciak in Slovakia – have been attributed to the region’s dip in rankings.

The report highlighted several cases where countries have slid in the ranks due to ‘strongmen’ leaders.

For example, Philippines dipped to 133 on the list largely due to its President, Rodrigo Duterte, who often justifies the killing of journalists.

Last year, four journalists where killed in the country for their work, earning it the reputation of the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists.

Turkey also fell in this year’s ranking to 157. Its president, Recap Tayyip Erdogan has long held the media in contempt.

The country now has more reporters in jail than anywhere else in the world.

Similarly, Eritrea came in at at the bottom of the ranking. The report noted that the media are subject to the whim of President Isaias Afeworki who has overseen a deterioration in human rights and global freedoms.

After questioning the government’s authoritarian tendencies, Swedish-Eritrea journalist Dawit Isaak was arrested in 2001. He has been detained for the past 17 years without ever being brought to a court.

The UN has since called on his release, and RSF recently submitted a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with concerns over the state of press freedom in the East African nation.

However, RSF found that press freedom in Africa has improved—though the variation from country to country is still considerable.

Whilst Ewen admitted that there was not many positives to draw from the report, she says a silver lining is the future appointment of United Nations special representative for journalists.

“That will mean that we can immediately coordinate international efforts for the press when a journalist is in danger. That’s something RSF has been leading for the past few years, along with more than 130 supporting NGOs and media outlets,” Ewen told IPS.

“That’s something we can look forward to,” she continued.

The post Free Media Under Threat Globally appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Mexico’s Solidarity Towards Haitians Only Goes So Farhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mexicos-solidarity-towards-haitians-goes-far/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-solidarity-towards-haitians-goes-far http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mexicos-solidarity-towards-haitians-goes-far/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 18:25:35 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155551 In the airport of this Mexican city, on the border with the United States, customs agents warn that they will carry out a “random” inspection. But it’s not so random. The only people who are stopped and checked have dark skin and kinky hair, and virtually do not speak a word of Spanish. The same […]

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Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 14:20:52 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155540 Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 30 2018 (IPS)

When Sri Lankan journalist Richard de Zoysa was abducted from his home in Colombo on the night of February 18th, 1990, his family knew there would be dark days ahead. The population was still reeling from one of the bloodiest episodes in the island nation’s history – a government counterinsurgency campaign to crush a Marxist rebellion in southern Sri Lanka, which left between 30,000 and 60,000 people dead at the hands of government death squads.

The late Richard de Zoysa, former IPS UN Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka.

Even more disturbing than the extrajudicial killings was the wave of enforced disappearances that took place between 1988 and 1990: tens of thousands of Sinhalese men and boys suspected of being members or sympathizers of the People’s Liberation Front, or JVP, went missing, never to return.

At the time of his kidnapping, de Zoysa was a stringer for this publication, filing regular reports on the political violence plaguing the country. He was on the verge of accepting the post of Bureau Chief of the agency’s Lisbon-based European desk when the goons came knocking.

For hours that bled into days, his mother, Manorani Saravanamuttu had no idea what had become of him. High-ranking officials assured her that he was alive, in police custody, but refused to give her exact coordinates when she asked to be allowed to bring him some clothing – he had been wearing only a sarong when he was kidnapped – or a meal.

It later transpired that while she was making frantic phone calls and searching for answers, de Zoysa was already dead, shot in the head at point blank range, and his body dumped in the Indian Ocean, a tactic that had become a common feature of the government’s systematic abductions.

A fisherman happened to recognize his face – de Zoysa was also a well-known television personality at the time – when his body washed up on shore in a coastal town just south of the capital. He alerted the authorities who in turn contacted de Zoysa’s mother.

According to a 1991 Washington Post interview with Saravanamuttu, the discovery of her son’s body was a turning point, for her personally, and for the nation as a whole. When she walked out of the inquest a few days after de Zoysa’s abduction, she found herself surrounded by reporters, to whom she made a statement that resonated with countless families across the island: “I am the luckiest mother in Sri Lanka. I got my son’s body back. There are thousands of mothers who never get their children’s bodies back.”

Mothers of the Disappeared

Saravanamuttu’s statement quickly catalyzed a movement known as the Mother’s Front, which had been a long time coming. Perhaps due to her privileged status as a member of the country’s English-speaking elite, she became a kind of totem pole around which women from the poorer, politically marginalized and largely Sinhala-speaking rural belt could gather, and from which they could draw strength. By 1991, according to the Post, the Mother’s Front counted 25,000 registered members.

The movement did not succeed in bringing justice to many of its victims. To this day, not a single person has been convicted for de Zoysa’s murder. Ministers who opposed Saravanamuttu and others’ attempts to seek answers in the murders or disappearances of their loved ones continue to hold positions of power within the government – Ranil Wickremesinghe, who the Post quoted as brushing de Zoysa’s murder off as “suicide or something else”, now serves as the Prime Minister, the second-highest political office in the country.

Amnesty International estimates that since the 1980s, there have been as many as 100,000 enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

The Mother’s Front movement did, however, make a crucial contribution to the country’s political landscape, one which continues to have ramifications today: it tied together forever the plight of Sri Lanka’s disappeared with the fate of its journalists and press freedom – or the lack thereof.

Exactly 20 years after de Zoysa was assassinated, another journalist’s disappearance prompted a woman to step into the global spotlight, much as Saravanamuttu did back in the 90s. This journalist’s name is Prageeth Eknaligoda, and he was last seen on January 24th, 2010. He telephoned his wife, Sandhya around 10 p.m. to inform her that he was on his way home from the offices of Lanka eNews (LEN), where he was a renowned columnist and cartoonist. He never arrived.

From local police stations all the way to the United Nations in Geneva, Sandhya has searched for answers as to his whereabouts. It is only in the last two years that some information regarding his abduction and detention by army intelligence personnel has been revealed.

Both Saravanamuttu and Sandhya Eknaligoda have received international recognition for their tireless campaigning. In 1990 de Zoysa’s mother accepted IPS’ press freedom award at the United Nations on her son’s behalf, and last year Sandhya was honored with a 2017 International Woman of Courage Award. But back in Sri Lanka, she faces a government and a public that is at best indifferent, and at worst openly hostile to her continued efforts to find her husband.

A New Front: Tamil Women in the North

Sandhya has also been one of the few women, and one of the lone voices, connecting the issue of press freedom with the movement of families of the disappeared led by Tamil women in Sri Lanka’s northern province, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged a 28-year-long guerilla war against the Government of Sri Lanka for an independent homeland for the country’s Tamil minority.

Since January 2017, hundreds of Tamil civilians have observed continuous, 24-hour roadside protests in five key locations throughout the former warzone – Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Maruthankerny (Jaffna district) – demanding answers about their disappeared loved ones.

Like the Mother’s Front in the 1990s, this movement too has been several years in the making. When the civil war ended in 2009, some 300,000 Tamil civilians were rounded up and detained in open-air camps, while hundreds of others – particularly men who surrendered to the armed forces – were taken into government custody under suspicion of being members or supporters of the LTTE.

But while the camps have closed and a large number of people reunited with their families, an estimated 20,000 people are still unaccounted for, including those who disappeared in the early years of the conflict, as well as others who have been abducted as recently as 2016 and 2017.

In 2016, Parliament passed a bill to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) tasked with investigating what Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera called “one of the largest caseloads of missing persons in the world.”

However, rights groups like Amnesty International raised concerns about the bill, including the government’s failure to consult affected families throughout the process. This past March, the government passed a bill that would, for the first time in the country’s history, criminalize enforced disappearances.

But these cosmetic measures have failed to yield concrete results.

In an interview with IPS, Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based activist who has been visiting the protests in the northern province, noted that Tamil families’ decision to spend day after day in the burning sun by the side of polluted, dusty highways and roads is indicative of their lack of faith in government mechanisms like the OMP and the judiciary to bring them relief. He also called attention to the dismal levels of support or solidarity they have received from Sri Lanka’s broader civil society, including from English and Sinhala-language media or women’s groups in the capital.

“It’s not fair that these families – particularly elderly Tamil women who are leading the protests – should have to carry this burden alone. They have already suffered heavily during the war – they starved in bunkers, they didn’t have medication for their injuries, they have lost family members. All these factors have made them physically weak and emotionally vulnerable, yet now they are also shouldering the burden of keeping these protests going.”

He recalls meeting women as old as 70, adding that protestors sometimes don’t have food, and must endure the vagaries of the weather in the arid northern province. Some of the younger women are forced to bring their children with them. And most, if not all of these families, face the additional financial hardship of having lost their primary breadwinner, or losing out on livelihoods in order to participate in the protests for long periods.

“In my memory, such a strong movement led by women, occurring simultaneously in five locations across the North and East, or any region, is unprecedented,” Fernando said. “And yet it has not become a priority for the rest of the country.”

He called Sandhya Eknaligoda’s participation in the protests as a Sinhala Buddhist ally an “exception” to the rule of general indifference, which he chalked up to a combination of political and ideological issues.

“Some people believe these protests are too radical, too politicized, that there should be more cooperation with, and less criticism of, the government,” he explained. But as Fernando himself noted in an article for Groundviews, one of Sri Lanka’s leading citizen journalism websites, Tamil families have met repeatedly with elected officials, including President Maithripala Sirisena, to no avail.

No Closure

Fernando is not the only one to draw attention to Tamil families’ disadvantaged position with regard to both deaths and disappearances.

Another person to make this connection was Lal Wickrematunge, the brother of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader who was murdered in broad daylight in 2010, and whose killers still haven’t been brought to justice.

Lal pointed to the ongoing investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department into military intelligence officers’ involvement in the kidnapping and torture of former deputy editor of The Nation newspaper, Keith Noyahr – and the arrest earlier this month of Major General Amal Karunasekera in connection with multiple attacks on journalists, including Noyahr, and Lasantha Wickrematunge – as a possible avenue of closure for the families.

According to a recent report in the Sunday Observer, “The assault on former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and the abduction of journalist and activist Poddala Jayantha are also linked to the same shadowy military intelligence networks, run at the time by the country’s powerful former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

But Lal Wickrematunge told IPS in a phone interview that while his family, along with international rights groups, are “keenly watching the progress of the investigation, which will determine if the government is serious about law and order”, he is concerned about those who may never receive answers – such as the families of two Tamil journalists who were assassinated in 2006.

Suresh Kumar and Ranjith Kumar were both employees of the Jaffna-based Tamil-language daily Uthayan, whose employees and offices have been attacked multiple times, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Other disappeared Tamil journalists whose cases receive scant attention include Subramanium Ramachandran, who was last seen at an army checkpoint in Jaffna in 2007.

For Fernando, the task of keeping the torch lit for Sri Lanka’s dead and disappeared cannot be laid at the feet of their family members alone – it is a responsibility that the entire country must share.

“What we need first and foremost are independent institutions capable of meting out truth and justice and winning the confidence of the families. And secondly, there is a need for stronger support for victims’ families from civil society – activists and professionals like lawyers, journalists and women’s groups.”

“Pushing for answers about what happened, and demanding prosecutions and convictions requires an exceptional degree of commitment,” he added. “Not everyone has the strength to wage such a battle, on a daily basis, against extremely heavy odds.”

*Kanya D’Almeida was formerly the Race and Justice Reporter for Rewire.News, and has also reported for IPS from the UN, Washington DC, and her native Sri Lanka. She is currently completing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University, New York.

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Excerpt:

Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

&nbsp
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Women Farmers in Peru Bring Healthy Meals to Local Schoolshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/women-farmers-peru-bring-healthy-meals-local-schools/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-peru-bring-healthy-meals-local-schools http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/women-farmers-peru-bring-healthy-meals-local-schools/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 22:50:27 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155498 Getting children and adolescents to replace junk food with nutritious local organic foods is the aim of a group of women farmers in a rural area of Piura, on Peru’s north coast, as they struggle to overcome the impact of the El Niño climate phenomenon. “We have given talks about healthy eating in schools, because […]

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Under the hot sun of the Pacific Ocean coast, in the department of Piura, 25 women farmers undergoing training in the Agroecological School return from a technical assistance activity in the province of Morropón, in northern Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Sabina Córdova

Under the hot sun of the Pacific Ocean coast, in the department of Piura, 25 women farmers undergoing training in the Agroecological School return from a technical assistance activity in the province of Morropón, in northern Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Sabina Córdova

By Mariela Jara
CHULUCANAS, Peru, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

Getting children and adolescents to replace junk food with nutritious local organic foods is the aim of a group of women farmers in a rural area of Piura, on Peru’s north coast, as they struggle to overcome the impact of the El Niño climate phenomenon.

“We have given talks about healthy eating in schools, because in today’s times we have forgotten what it means to eat healthy, nutritious food, and everything is fried or sweets, which is why there is malnutrition and obesity,” one of the women, Rosa Rojas, who has an organic garden in the community of Piedra de Toro, told IPS.

She is one of 25 women farmers trained in agro-ecological techniques by the non-governmental Flora Tristán Centre for Peruvian Women. They are engaged in small-scale agriculture in the valleys and highlands of Morropón, one of the eight provinces in the department of Piura, whose capital is Chulucanas."I feel that I contribute to the well-being of my family and my community. With the other women we are constantly working to eliminate malnutrition, anemia and obesity from our lives because these cause other ills. If we sit idly by, what future are we going to have?" -- Jacqueline Sandoval

The department of Piura was hit between December 2016 and May 2017 by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific.

During that period, heavy rains and flooding affected more than one million people, left 230,000 without homes, and destroyed 1,200 hectares of crops, according to the governmental National Information System for Disaster Prevention and Response.

Rojas, 53, remembers those terrible months when many families were torn apart with the departure of parents or older siblings, forced to go abroad to make a living and to support those left behind in their communities.

“Women were left in charge of the homes and the plots of land, worrying about how to put food on the table for our children and grandchildren,” she said.

“We had to eat the beans that we had kept for seed, and supporting each other among all the neighbours, we have recovered little by little to be able to plant again on the land that had been washed clean by the rains,” she said.

Almost a year later, she has replanted her vegetables, including coriander, lettuce, carrots, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, yellow peppers and cucumbers, using organic fertiliser that she makes herself.

“My family’s diet is enriched with these healthy and nutritious organic fruits and vegetables. My community is waking up to what is natural food, we are learning the importance of eating vegetables daily, and that is what we are sharing at schools with teachers, mothers, fathers and students,” she said.

Yaqueline Sandoval, 42, a farmer in the community of Algodonal, in the neighbouring municipality of Santa Catalina de Mossa, is also recovering from the ravages of the coastal El Niño.

Rosa Rojas (2nd-R), stands with other women farmers participating in the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women's Centre, where they were trained in organic production techniques that they have been applying in their gardens, in the rural area of the department of Piura, in Peru's northern coastal region. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Rosa Rojas (2nd-R), stands with other women farmers participating in the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women’s Centre, where they were trained in organic production techniques that they have been applying in their gardens, in the rural area of the department of Piura, in Peru’s northern coastal region. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

She says she has resumed planting in her organic garden, together with her family, where the star product is the cowpea bean or black-eyed pea, which they call the “bean of hope” as it is ready for eating in a short time.

“Just 40 days after planning we are eating our beans. It is a very generous plant, it feeds us and it is a seed for the future because it adapts to different conditions and is very strong, something vital now we are facing climate change,” Sandoval told IPS.

Changing school habits

This is one of the inputs that the farmers use to create “healthy lunch boxes,” for students to carry their meals to eat in the public primary and secondary schools in the urban centres of the municipalities.

The lunches include meals prepared with local produce, to replace what schoolchildren were buying in the kiosks at their schools, such as cookies, crackers and chocolate, sugary drinks and other industrially processed sweets.

“We make tortillas with our vegetables and beans, we prepare passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) soft drinks, and we accompany it with a banana,” Sandoval said, describing what the children are now carrying in their lunch boxes.

“They are healthy and nutritious fruits of our land, free of chemicals, that nourish and do not damage the children’s health,” she said proudly about the initiative she is carrying out with other mothers of schoolchildren at the local “Horacio Zevallos” school.

This experience began last year with talks in the high school classrooms on the benefits of a healthy diet and the negative effects on their bodies and health of fast food or junk food.

“There was so much interest that this year in the Science, Technology and Environment course they are working in a small garden that they have set up on the premises of the school, where they are planting lettuce, carrots and other vegetables,” she added.

Sandoval, who considers herself an activist and entrepreneur, said agroecology is a tool that has allowed her to improve her relationship with nature, to make better use of the soil, water and seeds, and consequently, to improve her diet and health.

“I feel that I contribute to the well-being of my family and my community,” she said. “With the other women we are constantly working to eliminate malnutrition, anemia and obesity from our lives because these cause other ills. If we sit idly by, what future are we going to have?”

Sandoval’s concern is well-founded.

The governmental Observatory of Nutrition and the Study of Overweight and Obesity indicates that more than 53 percent of Peru’s population has excess body fat and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranks the country as the third in Latin America in terms of overweight and obesity.

Escolástica Juárez, 57, stands on her family farm where she grows organic fruits and vegetables in the village of Chapica, Morropón province, in the northern coastal department of Piura, Peru. She is involved in the effort to promote healthy eating at the local school. Credit: Courtesy of Sabina Córdova

Escolástica Juárez, 57, stands on her family farm where she grows organic fruits and vegetables in the village of Chapica, Morropón province, in the northern coastal department of Piura, Peru. She is involved in the effort to promote healthy eating at the local school. Credit: Courtesy of Sabina Córdova

For its part, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has warned that one in five children under ten is already experiencing this problem due to the combination of factors such as inadequate diets and low levels of physical activity. And in Piura, three out of ten children under five suffer from anemia.

Eating healthy and nutritious food in a region rich in biodiversity could seem normal. But it is still a pending objective due to a lack of public investment in small-scale agriculture, training for rural populations and attention to the problem of water shortages.

In this context, taking advantage of traditional knowledge and using new know-how acquired in training and thanks to technical assistance puts women farmers in a better position to face the permanent challenges of climate change in order to achieve food security.

“Knowing about agroecology helps us use water more efficiently, irrigate our crops without wasting, replace crops that need a lot of irrigation, and choose beans that adapt to droughts. This knowledge is important for our food security,” said Escolástica Juárez.

Juàrez, a 57-year-old farmer, lives in the village of Chapica, in the municipality of Chulucanas, where the temperature reaches 37 degrees Celsius.

She has taken the healthy lunchbox initiative to the local “Colegio de Fátima” school.

“The school principal has called us back to continue with the talks this year,” she told IPS. “My grandson tells me that more of his classmates are eating healthy meals, it’s a matter of persistence, it takes time to bet families to change bad habits but it can be learned.”

She added that she feels grateful for the “bean of hope”, which like other farmers she has learned to cook in different ways, based on knowledge they have shared among themselves.

“We can eat them fresh from the pod, store them to cook later, and select some for seed. Even if there is a shortage of water, we know that it will feed us. We return the plant’s generosity sharing what we know with other neighbours and at the schools,” Juárez said.

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“Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:01:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155477 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

When a Malaysian politician of a bygone era was asked about the “leading newspapers” in his country, he shot back: “We don’t have any leading newspapers in our country because all our newspapers are misleading.”

But that comment, perhaps uttered half-jokingly about two decades ago, underwent a reality check recently when the Malaysian government passed legislation to impose prison sentences up to six years in jail if journalists are found guilty of spreading “fake news”.

The bill defines fake news as “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings, or in any other form, capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

And ever since President Donald Trump repeatedly used the term last year – more so to deny even the most verifiable facts and figures— some of the developing nations have followed in his jackbooted footsteps trying to muzzle the press, primarily on negative stories.

A president in perpetual denial, Trump has been described as a “serial liar” by his former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) James Comey – and some of the lying is meant to denigrate journalists whose stories and exposes are dismissed as “fake news.”

Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS: “Many Asian governments – including Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines – have jumped on the “fake news” bandwagon started by President Trump.”

But more broadly, he pointed out, the lack of a strong U.S. voice promoting the basic value press freedom at the heart of the U.S. constitution has emboldened governments – from China to Pakistan.

“Governments that wish to suppress freedom of expression know that the U.S. President will give them a free pass, something they could not count on in the past. Citizens of these countries need to find their own way to struggle for press freedom,” declared Butler.

In early April, India threatened to penalize journalists for spreading “fake news”. But in less than 48 hours the government had second thoughts and annulled the announcement without an explanation.

Norman Solomon. executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, told IPS powerful demagogues in many parts of the world hate a free press and want to curb or crush whatever independent media outlets might get in the way of power.

“Trump’s denunciations of “fake news” amount to a new rhetorical wrinkle in centuries-old techniques of blaming the messengers for unwanted news,” he added.

Governments, like large corporations, are in the business of news management, Solomon said, pointing out that “they use powerful megaphones and an array of leverage to gain favorable media coverage and suppress or discredit unfavorable coverage.”

In some societies, he noted, the repression takes the form of threats, raids, prosecution and imprisonment. In more democratic societies, the repression is apt to take the form of “soft power” inducements, economic carrots and sticks, massive public-relations campaigns and nonstop floods of propaganda.

In the midst of all this, journalists constantly face a challenge of pursuing facts and underlying truths no matter where they might lead, he argued.

In some countries, the obstacles induce fear of imprisonment or even death, while in other countries the fears are along the lines of stalled careers and loss of employment, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

In an oped piece titled “Mr. Trump’s War on the Truth”, the New York Times said in early April that when Trump calls every piece of information he does not like “fake news”, he also encourages politicians in other countries, who are not constrained by constitutional free speech protections or independent judiciaries, to more aggressively squelch the press.

“They know that there will be little international condemnation of their actions because one of the most important standard bearers for a free press – the American government—is led by a man trying to discredit the free press.”

Ian Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War*, told IPS that to some extent all news is “fake” but some are flakier than others. But there are degrees of objectivity.

“Fake News” is a real problem – more as an accusation that kills serious debate than as a category of news in itself. Ideologues of both right and left use it to block acceptance of inconvenient information. The main stream media (“MSM”) are particularly reviled, he added.

As Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?”

“I have a hierarchy of veracity. I would rather believe my own lying eyes than any media source! I watched the planes hit the WTC for example. Do I trust the MSM? Not much, and I would examine its content critically.”

In general, Williams said, the MSM is more conspicuous for what it ignores than for its lies, and it often reveals its biases. In particular the American media depends on government sources and is often naively trusting of them although Trump’s behaviour might be altering that.

For all its faults, he said, the MSM has competition and the fear that it might be scooped by rivals. On the other hand that means it has a herd mentality, so it collectively and uncritically bought into the Iraq WMDs and spurious scandal of “Oil for Food”, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“But I would trust them before Fox, Murdoch tabloids and Breitbart, and above all before authoritarian state news agencies where an editor would lose his or her job and possibly head for not toeing the line”.

He pointed out that the BBC sometimes criticises its government. SANA and Russia Today never!

“And I also mistrust “Independent” journalists, who have permission and help to enter totalitarian states so they can tell the “truth” and expose MSM lies, sometimes at government organised press conferences. I scour their work assiduously but vainly for any hint of criticism of their hosts!”

Is the UN reliable?, he asked.

“Largely so, because it is so leaky that when reports are doctored, word leaks out and there are 193 missions checking for bias and rushing in with corrections”, said Williams, a former UN correspondent for The Nation, and author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776; The Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past; The Alms Trade; and The UN For Beginners.

Solomon, of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS that in every society, there is a vital need for ongoing truth-telling that can make democracy real as the informed consent of the governed.

Right now, in the United States, Russia and China, and scores of other nations, people at the top of the governmental and economic power structures are eager to gain and maintain the uninformed acquiescence of the ruled.

“No matter how different the social, political and media systems may be, journalists face the challenge of overcoming the overt or tacit censorship efforts by government, corporate owners or wealthy individuals. The imperative goal is to make good on the potential of press freedom,” declared Solomon.

Meanwhile, a Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, along with his counterparts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), reads: “Fake news” has emerged as a global topic of concern and there is a risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking and other approaches contrary to human rights law.”

“In this Joint Declaration, we identify general principles that should apply to any efforts to deal with these issues,” said a statement released in March.

The Declaration identifies the applicable human rights standards, encourages the promotion of diversity and plurality in the media, and emphasizes the particular roles played by digital intermediaries, as well as journalists and media outlets.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post “Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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From Mega to Micro, a Transition that Will Democratise Energy in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 02:32:26 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155425 An energy transition is spreading around the globe. But in Brazil it will be characterised by sharp contrasts, with large hydroelectric plants being replaced by solar microgenerators and government decisions being replaced by family and community decision-making. “The future is solar, but it will be a difficult and slow process, because electricity concessionaires will not […]

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Over to You, Children! Zambia’s ‘Plant a Million Trees’ Takes Roothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/children-zambias-plant-million-trees-takes-root/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-zambias-plant-million-trees-takes-root http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/children-zambias-plant-million-trees-takes-root/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:38:06 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155418 Trees are a vital component in the ecosystem—they not only give oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give refuge to wildlife, but also provide materials for tools, shelter and ultimately, food for both animals and human beings. In fact, according to the World Bank statistics, some 1.3 billion people around the world depend on […]

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Matero East primary school students collecting water. Credit: Munich Advisors Group

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, Apr 24 2018 (IPS)

Trees are a vital component in the ecosystem—they not only give oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give refuge to wildlife, but also provide materials for tools, shelter and ultimately, food for both animals and human beings.

In fact, according to the World Bank statistics, some 1.3 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihood—that is a fifth of the global population. This includes income from the sale of trees and tree-related products. It also includes the value of fruit, fodder, medicines, and other direct or indirect products that they consume.

In monetary terms, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the annual net benefit of restoring 150 million hectares of land at approximately 85 billion dollars per year. Additionally, it would sequester massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

However, it is globally recognised that forest restoration requires an integrated approach which appreciates and understands forests along their entire value chain. Thus, it is crucial to see forest landscape restoration efforts as much more than just protecting forests, but as a force for economic growth and poverty reduction.

It is from this background that several game-changing initiatives such as the decade-long United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)’s Great Green Wall, UN REDD plus strategy for carbon trading, and national governments’ annual tree planting exercises are being implemented to restore the world’s degraded landscapes and in the process transform millions of lives.

Seedlings thrive at Chunga School. Credit: Munich Advisors Group

For Zambia, the forestry sector contributes significantly to household incomes for forest dependent communities, particularly in rural areas. Nationally, according to recent data by the Integrated Land Use Assessment (ILUA) project, the forestry sector contributes 5.5% to GDP.

But for a country which boasts 44 million hectares of forests covering 58.7 percent of the total land surface area, 5.5% contribution to GDP is not good enough. And an alarming annual deforestation rate of 276,021 hectares confirms this challenge that require immediate attention.

“Growing population and economic pressure has increased demand for economic and social development, forcing people to just take from the environment instead of growing from it,” says Richard Jeffery, a conservation expert. Jeffery believes “Plant A Million” (PAM) initiative could reverse this trend as it is promoting an economic benefit model.

What is PAM?

“Plant A Million” (PAM) aims to plant at least two billion trees by 2021. According to Emmanuel Chibesakunda, PAM initiator, sponsor and project manager, the vision is to accelerate and scale up a tree-based economy for socio-economic change in Zambia and mitigate climate change impacts.

“Plant A Million is a joint public-private tree planting initiative that is promoting a tree-based economy and sustainable development through local school and community participation,” Chibesakunda told IPS. “This initiative focuses on developing the future of Zambia with the full set of skills and know how, through promoting thought leadership and innovation, social responsibility, leadership skills and helping children to connect to the world.”

Therefore, he adds, the project has taken a deliberate strategy to entrust the future in the hands of future leaders—children, thus the emphasis on public schools and community participation.

Under this strategy, he says, education and attitude change are key project outcomes:

“We want to shift away from the focus on number of trees planted as the wrong success factors. Key is how many trees survive the critical first two years, and the value they add to the community. Our focus is attitude change, and it has to start with the future leaders—children.”

Children as key players

There is a common adage in one of Zambia’s local languages, Bemba, which states: imiti ikula empanga, loosely translated as “today’s seedlings are tomorrow’s forests.” In a nutshell, the values being imparted in today’s children will determine the future world view.

Roy Lombe, an educator, believes that today’s seedlings have to be well nurtured through a practical hands-on approach. “Our generation has mishandled forests due to poor attitude, and so we don’t want to fall in the same trap,” he says. “Once they learn the value of a tree while young, they will not depart from it when they grow into adults.”

Confirming this nurture-analogy, is Maureen Chibenga, a 16-year-old Grade Eleven pupil at Lake Road PTA School.

“When the project team came to our school, I did not hesitate to be a champion, as my interest in trees dates back to my early life family values—farming,” Chibenga told IPS. “My grandfather has a farm, my father has a farm, so I saw this as an opportunity to grow my knowledge of trees and their value to humanity.”

For 15-year-old Subilo Banda, also in Grade Eleven at the same school, his motivation, he says, is to correct the wrongs of the past.

“I think our generation is open-minded. The old generation’s mistakes have taught us what we know. That’s why I think it is a very good idea to start with us in terms of mindset change,” he says, adding that there is a better possibility for his generation to embrace a ‘green’ lifestyle due to this early exposure and education.

As an incentive, the schools involved will be earning an income. Chilando Chella, Lake Road PTA School Manager, cannot wait for this exciting opportunity to make extra cash: “We have targeted to raise 50,000 seedlings this year from which we expect to earn thousands of kwacha. And we plan to plough back this money into skills training, for we know that not all of our learners will end up in the formal sector.”

So far, the project has already reached out to 12 schools with 15,000 students in Lusaka district, who are growing 500,000 tree seedlings. A further 132 schools are on standby to be included in the program within the next eight months with the target from the vice president to reach 720 schools in all 10 provinces in the next two years involving approximately one million children.

Zambian Vice President Inonge Wina (right), with Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Jean Kapata, during the launch of the 2018 tree planting exercise. Credit: Munich Advisors Group

Government buy-in

With the project announced by Republican Vice President in February 2018 during the National Tree Planting day, almost all ministries are already keyed-in. Strategic among them are the Ministries of National Development Planning (overall coordination), General Education and High Education (Schools, Colleges and Universities), and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, which holds the forestry sector portfolio.

Professor Nkandu Luo is the Minister of Higher Education. With a considered view that her ministry is the bedrock on which development is anchored, Professor Luo also believes the project is in tandem with, and supports the value system agenda that government is promoting, as espoused in the country’s constitution.

“Honesty and hard work are some of the key values that our constitution is promoting, and I think this project is timely in this regard. Teaching our young ones to learn the value of hard work, of honesty and being able to earn based on one’s input and not expecting to earn where one has not sown. So, this project will be used by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs to push the value system agenda as advocated in our constitution.”

Meanwhile, for the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the approach of not looking at plantations but individuals is very important, considering the high deforestation rate that the country is recording.

“I am not afraid to mention here, and let me put it on record, that for as long as we do not provide alternative energy solutions for our people, they will continue cutting trees,” laments Jean Kapata, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources.

“But I am happy to report that we have started looking at several alternative options one of which is the bamboo for charcoal which we believe will be a game changer if well implemented.”

According to Kapata, government is considering scaling up plantations of some fast-growing bamboo species which can be harvested starting at four years and can go on up to fifty years.

However, attitude change requires information. And Dora Siliya, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, argues for a narrative change regarding the climate change and development discourse.

“We have been looking at this climate change issue wrongly, only thinking about how to mitigate, adapt and conserve, we have not thought of what wealth and jobs can be created from this agenda…so it is time we took a different approach as communicators on how to publicise these issues for mindset change, and this ministry is taking a lead on that front.”

In terms of scale, PAM is an ambitious project that could change Zambia’s forestry landscape forever. However, with several initiatives undertaken in the past, which have seemingly not achieved the desired results, there is always room for caution.

Finnish Ambassador to Zambia Timo Olkkonen provides some guidance to the PAM initiators:

“Finland has directly and indirectly contributed to Zambia’s efforts to have sustainably managed forests, over the last 50 years of development cooperation between the two countries. However, some of the projects and programmes have not been hugely successful; it is therefore imperative for you to understand reasons why some of the initiatives of the past have not yielded much results, there are key lessons to be learnt.”

As the project awaits its official launch by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu later this month, the children already involved are keen to be key influencers.

“I wouldn’t blame charcoal makers for it is a source of livelihood for some of them, but let them learn to plant more than what they cut,” says 15-year-old Mutwiva Upeme, Grade Eleven pupil at Chunga School. “Thank you for letting us get involved—we are the future!”

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Authoritarian Govts Tighten Grip on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/#respond Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:39:30 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155386 The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes. At the same time, […]

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Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
ROME, Apr 22 2018 (IPS)

The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes.

At the same time, the conference will discuss state institutions’ accountability towards their citizens.

• Politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing media outlets, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets.

• Officials in more authoritarian settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to intensify crackdowns on independent or opposition-oriented outlets.

• Authorities in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments, such as before elections or during protests.

• Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

• The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan

The day takes place in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women. Among the goals, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.

Today, the number of countries with right to information laws is steadily increasing. The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.

Still, according to Freedom House, a free press is accessible to only 13% of the world population and a partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

The level of restriction on press freedom has been one of the highest in MENA countries such as Syria. Even though article 43 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees freedom of the press while a 2011 media law bans monopolistic media alongside with “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” these laws are not practiced in the government-held areas of the country. According to the media law, publication of any information on armed forces and spread of information that might affect national security and provoke “hate crimes” is forbidden in Syria. In case of violating this law, journalists are held accountable and fined with 1 million Syrian pounds ($4,600).

At the same time, despite the fact that article 3 of the media law guarantees freedom of expression as stated in the Syrian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 4 of the same law declares that the media must practice this freedom with “awareness and responsibility”.

Consequently, this broad wording allows the Syrian government to restrict press freedom in multiple ways and in case of disobedience, punish journalists for anti-state crimes. For instance, in December 2016, the government imprisoned seven Syrian journalists through security-related legislation and used torture to receive their confession.

From the political perspective, Syrian authorities spread propaganda and false information while forcefully restricting publication of news in the government-controlled areas. Distribution of “all printed material” has been led by the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, responsible for censorship in Syria. This, alongside the economic problems caused by war, has decreased media diversity in the government-controlled area, leaving only a few dozen print publications which rarely deal with the political issues.

From the economic perspective, most of the print publications are owned by the government-allied businessmen who also control editorial policy. This, on the other hand, intensifies the problem of the non-existent free press in Syria.

However, despite this fact, in the opposition-controlled territory new print and broadcast outlets have emerged, funded by volunteers and some of them based abroad. For instance, the opposition TV channel – Orient TV owned by Ghassan Aboud, an exiled Syrian entrepreneur – broadcasts from Dubai while having correspondents in Syria.

According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, “when politicians lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same…[undermining] democracy’s status as a model of press freedom.”

The case of Syria demonstrates how the absence of press freedom and an independent judiciary triggers development of authoritarian governments. The “just, effective and independent judiciary” is a base for an effective rule of law which builds a strong democratic system, guaranteeing the right of freedom of information, expression and safety of journalists.

This, on the other hand, provides free press that is compulsory for representing political will and needs of people, and for establishing good governance. Press freedom allows journalists to monitor and report about the on-going events taking place in different sectors of the state. As a result, this makes it possible to hold governments accountable towards their people and helps to accomplish the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

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Working Together Is Key to Meeting Water Targets by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/working-together-key-meeting-water-targets-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=working-together-key-meeting-water-targets-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/working-together-key-meeting-water-targets-2030/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 21:44:52 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154996 Mutual collaboration and coordination among the various stakeholders are tools to accelerate the actions necessary to meet the 6th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in the 2030 Agenda, which states the need to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all. The Global Water Partnership (GWP), an international network created in 1996 to promote integrated […]

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A crowd, mainly of students, has filled the Citizen Village, the building where the new generations are educated in environmental and water issues, with cinema, facilities, toys and talks, every day during the 8th World Water Forum, held Mar. 18-23 in Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A crowd, mainly of students, has filled the Citizen Village, the building where the new generations are educated in environmental and water issues, with cinema, facilities, toys and talks, every day during the 8th World Water Forum, held Mar. 18-23 in Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Mar 22 2018 (IPS)

Mutual collaboration and coordination among the various stakeholders are tools to accelerate the actions necessary to meet the 6th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in the 2030 Agenda, which states the need to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all.

The Global Water Partnership (GWP), an international network created in 1996 to promote integrated water resources management (IWRM), calls for working and thinking together as a key to fulfilling SDG number 6, of the 17 goals that make up the Agenda, agreed in 2015 by the world’s governments within the framework of the United Nations.

To this end, on Mar. 20 it launched the campaign “Act on SDG 6” in Brasilia, during an event emphasising the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships to promote water security, in the context of the Eighth World Water Forum, hosted by Brasilia Mar. 18-23.

“To integrate the different sectors and organisations at the national and regional levels, to implement solutions and improve water indicators” is what we are seeking in order to advance towards the targets, said Joshua Newton, senior GWP network officer in charge of coordinating the work of SDG 6 and global water political processes, governance and stakeholder engagement.

“We facilitate, through partnerships, the search for funds for projects, connecting governmental actors, international organisations, and leaders,” he told IPS.

The campaign is close to concluding an initial phase of monitoring indicators to identify “where we are” in relation to SDG 6, Newton explained.

The second phase, which “is about to begin” is to “design responses, how to act to meet the goals,” followed by the third, the implementation phase, which requires financing: “the most difficult part,” he said.

Nor is it easy to drum up political will, integrate human beings and sectors with different interests, reconcile different uses of water, such as for agriculture, energy and human consumption, but “we try to bring people together to address water problems,” he added.

Another difficulty arises from the diversity of conditions: “IWRM is not present in all countries and water governance varies greatly between countries, and these are things that we seek to harmonise,” concluded Newton, an expert in international relations who has been dedicated to water issues since 1995, when he was living in Argentina.

For the GWP, the 5th of the six specific targets included in SDG 6 is of particular importance, as it states the need to “implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate,” by 2030, coinciding with the mission of the network, which has more than 3,000 members worldwide.

Gladys Villarreal, in charge of the care of water basins in Panama’s Environment Ministry, believes that water unites people despite their diversity and helps them to understand each other. She believes it will not be difficult for Panama to meet the 6th Sustainable Development Goal, which seeks to make access to clean water and sanitation universal by 2030. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Gladys Villarreal, in charge of the care of water basins in Panama’s Environment Ministry, believes that water unites people despite their diversity and helps them to understand each other. She believes it will not be difficult for Panama to meet the 6th Sustainable Development Goal, which seeks to make access to clean water and sanitation universal by 2030. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The GWP is made up of governmental and intergovernmental institutions, international, non-governmental and academic organisations, companies and public service providers.

“I do not think it is difficult to reach SDG 6 in my country, we have already collected a great deal of information about our water and we started to implement IWRM in surface and underground sources,” said Gladys Villarreal, director of Hydrographic Basins at Panama’s Environment Ministry, at the launch of the GWP campaign.

In addition, “we have a 2015-2050 Water Security Plan,” with five strategic goals to guarantee water for domestic use, sanitation, healthy basins, with monitored water quality, all of which are sustainability targets, she told IPS.

But there is much to be done, she admitted. Of the 51 basins in Panama, there are organised water committees in only 14, and groundwater resources have hardly been studied. However, Villarreal pointed out that Panama has a Water Law, in force since 1965, and in the process of being updated.

Guatemala, on the other hand, does not have a specific law and has been facing water conflicts since 2016, between local communities, the government and private companies.

But “the tension is decreasing” and solutions are moving forward with technical committees oriented by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the creation of committees in micro-basins, said Álvaro Aceituno, head of the Department of Water Resources and Watersheds.

There are 38 basins in Guatemala, with numerous sub-basins and micro-basins. For the latter, community-based monitoring has begun, with complaints filed in the Ministry, in the attempt to ensure quality water for the communities, he told IPS.

The country also has a Basin Authority in the existing 38 basins, which works together with the micro-basins committees, establishing a monitoring system in the headwaters. The National Forestry Institute also works to prevent deforestation, requiring permits for logging, and protecting endemic plant species.

Chilean Aldo Palacios, who chairs GWP South America, takes part in the launch of the "Act on SDG 6" campaign by the World Water Partnership (GWP) in Brasilia, in the context of the eighth World Water Forum. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Chilean Aldo Palacios, who chairs GWP South America, takes part in the launch of the “Act on SDG 6” campaign by the World Water Partnership (GWP) in Brasilia, in the context of the eighth World Water Forum. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

“In Guatemala, indigenous culture has considerable weight. In indigenous areas, forests are protected and we know that taking care of them means caring for water,” which favours agriculture, said Aceituno.

In this respect, he noted that there are communities where indigenous pressure benefits the water and the environment, but added that they also generate problems because their communities are independent “and follow their own laws.”

Villarreal and Aceituno consider the campaign beneficial for promoting actions to fulfill SDG 6. “Some countries, including Panama, seek to stand out,” and obtain incentives and support to achieve the goals, said Villarreal.

In South America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Peru are the countries that have shown the greatest progress with regard to SDG 6, said Aldo Palacios, president of GWP South America.

However, there are still major challenges. “There are cities where the drainage systems stopped working four or five decades ago, leading to heavy floods. In Chile, the loss of drinking water is close to 48 percent. We must accelerate management mechanisms, there are ideas but the answers are slow in coming,” he told IPS.

Climate change aggravated everything, with extreme weather events, such as more intense, longer droughts, excessive rainfall in short periods, and water-borne diseases.

“Many are entrenched, irreversible problems, against which reactions or attempts to adapt have fallen short. That is why we propose changing the mindset in our countries and adopting a resilience approach,” said Palacios.

That means ongoing, rather than isolated actions, with a medium to long-term – and preventive if possible – focus, with the aim of recovering or maintaining good living conditions.

As an example, he cited the actions taken by Germany and the Netherlands against the rising ocean level, which coastal cities around the world must undertake before they are flooded due to global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps.

He anticipated that resilience, at the core of IWRM, is a concept that goes beyond risk management, insofar as the risks are permanent. That, as well as the decentralisation of approaches, are ideas that the region intends to take to the GWP, as part of a reflection process.

“We are the region with the most rivers and the greatest water reserves, which is a distinctive factor to enhance, through shared leadership,” Palacios concluded.

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Forest Communities Join Forces to Fight Land Degradation in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/forest-communities-join-forces-fight-land-degradation-mexico/#respond Fri, 09 Mar 2018 07:16:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154720 Forest communities play a fundamental role in Mexico in combating land degradation, but they need more support to that end. The owners of forests can make a contribution in this Latin American country where half of the territory suffers from some degree of soil impoverishment, to reach its goal of 8.5 million hectares rehabilitated by […]

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Women Miners Stake a Claim in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-miners-stake-claim-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-miners-stake-claim-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-miners-stake-claim-zimbabwe/#respond Thu, 08 Mar 2018 12:31:11 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154700 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Dorcas Makaza-Kanyimo (left), acting director of Women and Law in Southern Africa, participates in a workshop on women in the extractives industry in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

Dorcas Makaza-Kanyimo (left), acting director of Women and Law in Southern Africa, participates in a workshop on women in the extractives industry in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Credit: Sally Nyakanyanga/IPS

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Mar 8 2018 (IPS)

Tapiwa Moyo, 40, religiously leaves her home each day when the first cock crows and joins a throng of women who have taken up artisanal mining in her community.

Moyo spends the better part of her day tramping to and fro, carrying sacks on her back packed with river sand that she sifts through in hope of finding flecks of gold. Working with their limbs in muddy water up to the knees, the women see small-scale mining as a path to improve their livelihoods and bolster scanty family incomes.“As a country, it’s imperative that we have a mining policy that is responsive to women’s needs in the sector." --Dorcas Makaza-Kanyimo

“As an unemployed single mother, I’m left with no choice but to find means to fend for my five children who are of school-going age. I have no one to cover my back, as such I joined other women in artisanal mining for a living,” says Moyo.

Mining in Zimbabwe has been largely a men’s affair, but women are slowly making inroads in the sector. Despite the rudimentary methods still used in artisanal mining, women are now wielding picks and shovels alongside men as they scavenge for valuable minerals.

But Dorcas Makaza-Kanyimo, the acting director for Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), Zimbabwe, says more must be done to pave the way for real gender equality in the sector.

“There is need for reduction of costs of mining claims, provision of suitable loan facilities for women to be able to access capital to start mining thereby enabling them to purchase the needed mechanized equipment for their mining operations,” Makaza-Kanyimo told IPS.

Women comprise 11-15 percent of the estimated 50,000 small-scalers miners in the country. A 2017 report entitled Women’s Economic Empowerment in SSB – Recommendations for the Mining Sector, reveals that though the mining sector remains a key driver to economic growth and transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa, rarely has it delivered benefits in reducing poverty and improving livelihoods for the majority of the population.

“Women in particular have struggled to avail themselves of the benefits and opportunities of large-scale mining operations and often disproportionately suffer from the negative impacts of the industry,” the study says.

Dorcas Makaza-Kanyimo agrees. “The Ministry of Mines should run programs that promote women in mining in terms of allocating machines, and allow women to access these loans with minimum requirements in terms of collateral as women don’t have the collateral required by banks,” she told IPS.

WLSA Zimbabwe provides education and outreach to ensure women in the extractives industry understand the legal framework.

“We have been supporting these women on how one can get a legal mining claim, as we know most women are mining illegally as artisanal miners and operating in an unregulated environment. This makes women vulnerable as a lot of things happen in that environment – women can experience violence, rape, be elbowed out by men and cheated by gold buyers when they try to sell their gold,” says Makaza-Kanyimo.

Currently, Zimbabwe is still governed by the 1961 Mines and Mineral Act, which was enacted during the colonial era. Calls are now mounting to ensure the new mining statutes are more gender responsive.

The country is going through a reform process called the Mines and Mineral Bill, which is now in parliament and will be up for its second reading on March 12. However, groups such as WLSA Zimbabwe say it should explicitly provide for women to get an equal share of mining claims.

“As women miners, we need a friendly environment, particularly revising the costs of owning a mining claim. We are unable to own these mining claims because we don’t have the means – that’s why you find many women in [unregulated] artisanal mining,” says Moyo.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day under the theme “The Time is Now – Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives,” gender-responsive policies for women in the extractives industry could play an important role in their economic empowerment and development.

In Africa, where most countries are endowed with rich mineral resources, women remain largely impoverished and their participation in the extractives sector is marginal. Though no countries have a fully gender-balanced approach, South Africa has been praised as a progressive example – and one Zimbabwe should examine as it creates its own comprehensive policy.

“Issues of gender are very much included in the South Africa mining charter, although they still have their challenges on implementation of certain aspects in terms of their mining law, but they have made great strides in terms of achieving gender equality,” Makaza-Kanyimo added.

The majority of women in engage in small-scale artisanal mining, and WLSA Zimbabwe notes that South Africa’s law provides for mining syndicates and consortiums so groups can buy mining claims together.

As such, women miners like the Mtandazo Women Miners Association in Gwanda, Matebeleland North have recorded some success stories. Sithembile Ndhlovu, the founder, has since bought three mining claims of her own. These women have also been encouraging each other by forming savings and loan groups in order to raise money to buy mining claims.

“I was seeing them (men) managing to drive their own cars and feeding their families. I was going to work every day, but could see that the money was not sustaining me and my family,” says Ndhlovu.

The Mtandazo Women Miners Association is made up of 32 small-scale miners and its members have received training on the fundamentals of mining from the Zimbabwe School of Mines. Women miners are strongly encouraged to register and regularise their mining operations, which enables them to have access to loans and possibly equipment that opens up new opportunities.

“As a country, it’s imperative that we have a mining policy that is responsive to women’s needs in the sector. We should stand in solidarity with women who are organizing against destructive extractivism. Women have realized that they are mostly impacted in the extractive industry,” Makaza-Kanyimo added.

Tapuwa O’bren Nhachi, research coordinator at the Center for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), says the Mines and Minerals Bill needs to recognize artisanal mining as an activity which contributes to the economy.

“We need to decriminalize it so women can operate in a free environment without being harassed,” Nhachi told IPS.

Nhachi added his organization has since trained 27 women artisanal miners who are now operating in syndicates and have their own claims.

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Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Women Lead the Fight for Housing in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-lead-fight-housing-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-lead-fight-housing-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-lead-fight-housing-brazil/#respond Wed, 07 Mar 2018 18:24:35 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154687 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8, which this year has as a theme: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives.”

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Cheila Patricia Souza, who participated in the São João 588 Occupation of an old hotel converted into housing for 80 families, stands in front of a collage of photos of the protagonists of the struggle for a home of their own, in the centre of São Paulo, Brazil. As in similar battles, most of the people involved were women. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Cheila Patricia Souza, who participated in the São João 588 Occupation of an old hotel converted into housing for 80 families, stands in front of a collage of photos of the protagonists of the struggle for a home of their own, in the centre of São Paulo, Brazil. As in similar battles, most of the people involved were women. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO/SÃO PAULO, Mar 7 2018 (IPS)

“Here we empower women and we do not tolerate domestic violence, which we treat as our own, not as an intra-family, issue,” says Lurdinha Lopes, a leader of the squatting movement in Brazil.

She emphasises the rules of the Charter of Principles governing the Manoel Congo Occupation, through which decent housing was secured for 42 poor families, in the heart of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Other rules encourage children to stay in school and prohibit drugs and alcoholic beverages in the hallways and common areas of the 10-story occupied building, she told IPS at the site. The more than 120 residents include 27 children.

Women make up the immense majority and “about 90 percent of the owners” of the apartments in the building, which was a squat when it was occupied in 2007 by the National Housing Struggle Movement (MNLM).

“Some of the women were escaping abuse from their ex-partners,” others have gone back to school, said Lopes, ahead of International Women’s Day, on Mar. 8, given the theme this year by UN Women: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.”

The squatting movement in Rio de Janeiro is less well-known than the one in São Paulo. They occupy abandoned buildings, arguing that the Brazilian constitution of 1988 stipulates that all property must fulfill a social function.

“Rio de Janeiro has a tradition of squatting, but the occupations are not very visible because they occur outside the city centre,” said Lopes, local coordinator of the MNLM, most of whose activists are women.

The Manoel Congo Occupation, named in honour of the leader of a black slave rebellion in 1838, is a milestone for its success in settling poor families in a key central part of the city. The building is right next to the city council, and just 30 metres from Cinelândia, the popular name of a major public square where the largest political demonstrations are held in the centre of Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a miracle to win a place in the capital’s central corridor,” said Elizete Napoleão, a member of the MNLM’s national leadership and one of the heads of the movement in Rio.

The building originally belonged to the National Social Security Institute (INSS).

The 42 apartments have been renovated and have all the necessary amenities. All that remains is to rebuild the ground floor, which Lopes believes will be ready “in a month or a month and a half.”

 Elizete Napoleão (L) and Lurdinha Lopes, coordinators of the National Housing Struggle Movement (MNLM), lead the Manoel Congo Occupation, which provided a home for 42 poor families in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS


Elizete Napoleão (L) and Lurdinha Lopes, coordinators of the National Housing Struggle Movement (MNLM), lead the Manoel Congo Occupation, which provided a home for 42 poor families in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

It is the result of a long battle that included numerous street marches, invasions of the Caixa Econômica Federal – a state bank that is an agent of federal government social policy – and occupations of the INSS offices.

After occupying the property, resisting pressure and eviction orders, and winning ownership for social housing purposes, the movement finally obtained financing to reform the building and adapt it for housing.

In 2007, the political scenario was favourable. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the leftist Workers’ Party, was beginning his second consecutive term and two years later he would launch the “My House My Life” programme, a new attempt to reduce the housing deficit in Brazil, currently estimated at six million units.

Finding alternatives in vacant buildings in the centre or central neighborhoods of large cities is the approach taken by the MNLM and similar movements.

“In the port area and the centre of Rio de Janeiro there are two or three hundred unoccupied buildings,” Napoleão told IPS.

In the city centre there is access to services, schools, hospitals, jobs and the best places for working as street vendors, said Lopes.

Meanwhile, neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where the poor are generally forced to move, are controlled by drug traffickers and militias – armed bands led by former police officers who control services and demand monthly “protection” payments by merchants.

Women also lead the struggle for housing in São Paulo

Repopulating the centre helps to revitalise run-down historic districts in the big cities of Brazil, said Antonia Ferreira Nascimento, a coordinator of the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) in São Paulo.

Her group occupied the old Columbia Hotel in 2010, on Avenida São João, a key reference point in Brazil’s largest city. Of the 80 families living in the hotel, “70 percent are headed by women,” estimated Ferreira, a married mother of three who has been involved in the struggle for housing for homeless families for 24 years.

“Our goal is not just housing itself, but to denounce the housing deficit, demand public policies, ensure rights, health and education for everyone,” she told IPS during a visit to the building, explaining her organisation’s struggle for urban reform.

The facade of the building occupied by 42 homeless families since 2007 in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to low-cost housing, its residents celebrate having escaped from the poor outlying neighbourhoods that are at the mercy of the violence of drug trafficking and vigilante gangs of former or off-duty police. Now they have access to public services, schools and better jobs. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The facade of the building occupied by 42 homeless families since 2007 in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to low-cost housing, its residents celebrate having escaped from the poor outlying neighbourhoods that are at the mercy of the violence of drug trafficking and vigilante gangs of former or off-duty police. Now they have access to public services, schools and better jobs. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

She estimates that the centre of São Paulo has 20,000 available housing units that have been empty for years and can thus be expropriated by the public authorities to serve “the social interest” of offering housing to those who need it.

Nazaré Brasil, a painter, promotes cultural life in the new community. Her unit is an example of how to adapt a simple hotel room into a comfortable apartment where she and her elderly mother live.

At her initiative, the squat receives artists and activists who stay for a few weeks to learn about the experience and, eventually, reflect it in art or articles.

A larger-scale and more complicated case is the so-called Mauá Occupation, in a hotel near the Luz railway station, where 237 families lived for 10 years under threat of eviction, until they were finally granted permission to live there in November 2017.

The city government agreed with the former owner to purchase the six-story building which has three U-shaped wings, for the families squatting there. The struggle was headed by Ivanete Araujo, of the Movement for Housing in the Struggle for Justice (MMLJ).

There are dozens of activist groups in São Paulo, a good part of them assembled in the Front for Housing Struggles (FLM), which launched an offensive in October 2017, when 620 homeless families occupied eight buildings in and around São Paulo.

Many of the leaders at the forefront of the movement are women, who are the main victims of the housing deficit and the main interested parties in public sector housing policies.

Felicia Mendes, an activist for 40 years, coordinates the FLM on the south side of São Paulo.

She is currently leading the struggle to obtain land to settle 868 families living in precarious conditions in the so-called Parque do Engenho Occupation, actually a wooden shack camp in Capão Redondo, a neighbourhood of almost 300,000 people at the southern end of the city of São Paulo.

Mendes obtained housing in a previous occupation, of Chácara do Conde, also in the south, but closer to the city centre than Capão Redondo.

“In addition to housing, people need to be offered a livelihood,” said the activist who “ran away from home at age 17,” lived in several Brazilian states, had “the privilege of studying theatre” and lost her husband because of her dedication to the struggle for housing, but remains committed to the cause of the homeless.

The post Women Lead the Fight for Housing in Brazil appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8, which this year has as a theme: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives.”

The post Women Lead the Fight for Housing in Brazil appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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