Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 28 Aug 2014 00:01:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Amid Crisis, Puerto Rico’s Retirees Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:02:49 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136354 Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

A feeling of insecurity has overtaken broad sectors of Puerto Rican society as the economy worsens, public sector debt spirals out of control, and the island’s creditworthiness is put in doubt.

To tackle this economic crisis, the administration of governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla has adopted a number of measures that have been extremely unpopular with civil society and labour unions."Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it's worse because it is a colony of the United States." -- Retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz

Retirees have been particularly affected. In 2013, the government passed Law 160, which drastically changed the retirement system of public employees. It puts an end to the previous retirement system, established by Law 447 of 1951, under which every public sector worker was entitled to a full pension after 30 years of service, regardless of age.

But Law 160 changes that. The size of monthly pension payments is no longer guaranteed, and employees must work more years in order to get full benefits.

“The retirement system has been compromised,” said labour attorney Cesar Rosado-Ramos in a position paper for the Working People’s Party (PPT).

“It is unheard of, abusive and unjust that people with 30 years of service now have to keep working for four, five, 10 or even 15 additional years in order to receive a full pension. This means the working class will have to spend a lifetime working and if you survive you get a miserable retirement plan.”

The PPT was formed in 2009 by current and former members of the Movement Toward Socialism and the Socialist Front. Its first electoral participation was in the 2012 general elections but it did not get enough votes to elect any candidate.

Public school teachers were spared from Law 160. They sued and last April the PR Supreme Court ruled key parts of the law unconstitutional because they violated teachers’ contracts. Thus the teachers’ retirement was saved, but the court ruling upheld other parts of the law that reduce their Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

“The retirement age of public employees has been raised and their [retirement] benefits have been reduced to poverty level,” economist Martha Quiñones told IPS.

Ramón Marrero, an emergency doctor who works in the city of Cayey, was forced to continue working just when he was due for retirement. He was going to retire after 18 years of work, but with the new law he has to stay on for three more years to get a full pension.

“One has life projects for when retirement comes. When all of a sudden the date for retirement is postponed, all of these projects and plans are turned upside down,” said Marrero, who commutes to work from the nearby town of Cidra.

Quiñones, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, pointed out that private sector workers and pensioners are also in for a raw deal. “Many of those private pensions are tied to Puerto Rico government bonds, which have recently been downgraded by Moody’s and Standard and Poor. When the value of these bonds is affected, pensions are reduced.”

Many public sector retirees are politically active, not only defending their benefits and pension plans from the ever present threat of privatisation, but also protesting the government’s neoliberal austerity policies, which affect all of society.

“The local ruling class seeks to reverse the gains and livelihoods of workers to what they used to be in a bygone era,” said labour activist Jose Rivera-Rivera, president of the retirees chapter of the UTIER labour union.

“In order for the neoliberal system to establish its superiority it must erase the last two centuries of labor struggle and solidarity. It’s the new stage of capitalism, they want us to start from zero.”

“Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it’s worse because it is a colony of the United States,” retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz told IPS. “Here the exploiters can experiment in ways they cannot do in a sovereign country.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements.

The Puerto Rico Telephone Company was public until it was privatised by then governor Pedro Rosselló in 1998. Privatisation opponents paralysed the island in a two-day general strike in July of that year, but to no avail.

“For the rich there is no crisis,” said De La Paz. “I mean, we’ve got [billionaire] Henry Paulson urging rich people to come here to avoid taxes.”

Rivera-Rivera believes that in order to get Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis and protect retirement benefits, the government could start by taxing the rich.

“Our government is supposedly in crisis because it cannot pay its debt, but the previous administration [Governor Luis Fortuño, 2009-2012] practically eliminated the fiscal responsibility of major corporations and rich people in its 2009 tax reform. It wasn’t justified, they were already enjoying major tax breaks.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World Bank Urged to Rethink Reforms to Business-Friendliness Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:20:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136361 Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups from several continents are stepping up a campaign urging the World Bank to strengthen a series of changes currently being made to a major annual report on countries’ business-friendliness.

The World Bank is in the final stages of a years-long update to its Doing Business report, one of the Washington-based development institution’s most influential analyses yet one that has also become increasingly controversial. Critics now say the first round of changes, slated to go into effect in October, don’t go far enough."It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.” -- Scott Morris of the Center for Global Development

On Monday, a coalition of 18 development groups, watchdog organisations and trade unions called on the World Bank Group to take “urgent action” to implement “significant changes” to the Doing Business reforms. In particular, they are asking the bank to adhere more closely to detailed recommendations made last year by a bank-commissioned external review panel chaired by Trevor Manuel, a former planning and finance minister for South Africa.

“It looks like the flaws found by the Independent Panel chaired by Trevor Manuel will be ignored and its recommendations are nowhere close to being implemented,” Aldo Caliari, director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Catholic think tank here, told IPS. “This is in spite of a wide chorus of civil society organisations and shareholders that supported them.”

While the World Bank’s mission is to fight global poverty, Caliari and others dispute whether the Doing Business report’s metrics are pertinent to poor communities. Others say they can be outright detrimental.

Both civil society investigations and the Manuel commission have suggested “how little relevance the areas and indicators have to the reforms that matter to small and medium companies in developing countries,” Caliari says. “They seem far more oriented to support operations of large transnationals in those countries.”

Such concerns stem from the outsized influence that the Doing Business report has built up, particularly in the developing world, since it was introduced in 2003. Reportedly, the report is used by some 85 percent of global policymakers.

The core of the report remains a simple aggregated ranking of countries, known as the Ease of Doing Business index. While based on a complex series of business-friendliness metrics, the high profile of the index results has inevitably led governments to compete among one another to raise their country’s ranking and, hopefully, strengthen foreign investment.

Yet a direct effect of this competition, critics say, is governments being pushed to adhere to a uniform set of policy recommendations. These include lowering taxes and wages and weakening overall industry regulation, thus potentially endangering the poor.

“[T]he report’s role is to inform policy, not to outline a normative position, which the rankings do,” the 18 groups wrote to World Bank Group President Jim Kim at the end of July. “Doing Business needs to become better aligned with moves towards greater country-owned and led development and an appreciation of the importance of a country’s circumstances, stage of development and political choices.”

In its report last June, the Manuel commission likewise urged the bank to drop the ranking system entirely, noting that this constituted “the most important decision the Bank faces with regard to the Doing Business report.”

Maintained but reformed

In response, the bank is reforming the methodology behind its ranking calculations. In part, this includes broadening its analysis to use data from two cities in most countries, rather than just one.

More broadly, the new calculations will constitute an effort simultaneously to continue to offer a relative score for each country but also to decrease the importance of the specific ranking.

“This approach will provide users with additional information by showing the relative distances between economies in the ranking tables,” an announcement on the changes stated in April. (The bank was unable to provide additional comment by this story’s deadline.)

“By highlighting where economies’ scores are close, the new approach will reduce the importance of difference in rankings,” the announcement continues. “And by revealing where distances between scores are relatively greater, it will give credit to governments that are reforming but not yet seeing changes in rankings.”

Some development scholars have pushed against the Manuel commission’s recommendations on the index, defending the need for the bank to maintain its aggregate rankings in some form.

“The Doing Business report isn’t a research exercise – it’s a policymaking tool. Because of the rankings it has a unique value, particularly for those countries that have a long way to go on economic reform,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS after the Manuel commission’s report was published.

“Internally, it gives government officials something simple and targeted to latch onto, much more than a 500-page report would do. It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.”

Decent jobs created?

Yet others warn that the rankings themselves continue to be problematic, even in their new form.

The reforms are “not satisfactory, as the rankings will continue to influence the policy agenda of many developing countries despite their methodological flaws,” Tiago Stichelmans, a policy and networking analyst at the European Network on Debt and Development, told IPS in an e-mail.

“The problem of the rankings is the fact that they are based on regulatory measures in a single city (which is due to become two cities) for every country and are therefore irrelevant to many communities. The rankings also have a bias in favour of deregulatory measures that have limited impact on development.”

Of course, many would support the idea of tracking country-by-country policies aimed at encouraging industry to help bolster development metrics. But Stichelmans says this would require major changes, including a move away from the report’s current focus on reforms to the business environment.

“A shift from promoting low tax rates and labour deregulation to taxes paid, decent jobs created and [small and medium enterprises] supported would be a step in the right direction,” he says.

Ideas from NGOs have included indicators on corruption and human rights due diligence, Stichelmans continues, “but this must be accompanied by a drastic overhaul.”

For now, some of the newly announced changes are expected to be incorporated into the Doing Business report for 2015, slated to be released in late October. Other reforms, including some yet to be announced, will be introduced in future reports.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Threat of Hydropower Dams Still Looms in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:09:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136360 The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

After its victory in a nearly decade-long struggle against HidroAysén, a project that would have built five large hydroelectric dams on wilderness rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for a new battle: blocking a quiet attempt to build a dam on the Cuervo River.

The dam would be constructed in an unpopulated area near Yulton lake, in Aysén, Chile’s water-rich region in the south. The aim is to ease the energy shortage that has plagued this country for decades and has prompted an accelerated effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the electricity supply.

However, the Cuervo River project is “much less viable than HidroAysén, because of environmental and technical reasons and risks,” Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysén Life Reserve citizen coalition, told Tierramérica, expressing the view widely shared by environmentalists in the region.

The big concern of opponents to the new hydroelectric initiative is that it could be approved as a sort of bargaining chip, after the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled HidroAysén on Jun. 10.

Endorsement of the Cuervo River dam will also be favoured by an Aug. 21 court ruling that gave the project a boost.

The Cuervo Hydroelectric Plant Project is being developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture of the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy. It would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, the capital.

It would generate a total of approximately 640 MW, with the potential to reduce the annual emissions of the Sistema Interconectado Central de Chile (SIC) – the central power grid – by around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable or an aerial submarine power line.

In 2007, the regional commission on the environment rejected an initial environmental impact study presented by the company.

Two years later, Energía Austral introduced a new environmental impact study, for the construction of a hydropower complex that would include two more dams: a 360-MW plant on the Blanco River and a 54-MW plant on Lake Cóndor, to be built after the Cuervo River plant.

“Cuervo appeared when HidroAysén was at its zenith, and the Cuervo River dam was a second priority for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign,” said Hartmann, who is also the regional director of the National Committee for the Defence of Flora and Fauna (CODEFF).

“In the beginning there was diligent monitoring of the project, from the legal sphere, but we ran out of funds and the entire focus shifted to HidroAysén as the top priority, and not Cuervo,” he added.

According to the experts, the Cuervo River plant would pose more than just an environmental risk, because it would be built on the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

For example, a minor eruption of the Hudson volcano in October 2011 prompted a red alert and mass evacuation of the surrounding areas. Mount Hudson is located “right behind the area where the Blanco River plant would be built,” Hartmann said.

“Energía Austral is doing everything possible not to mention the Hudson volcano, because it knows what it’s getting involved in,” he added.

In response to such concerns, the company has insisted that the plant “will be safe with regard to natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.” It adds that “the presence of geological fault lines is not exclusive to the Cuervo River.”

It also argues that in Chile and around the world many plants have been built on geological fault lines or near volcanoes, and have operated normally even after a seismic event.

The national authorities approved the construction of the Cuervo dam in 2013. But shortly afterwards the Supreme Court accepted a plea presented by environmental and citizen organisations to protect the area where it is to be built, and ordered a thorough study of the risks posed by construction of the plant.

However, on Aug. 21 the Court ratified, in a unanimous ruling, the environmental permits that the authorities had granted for construction of the dam. The verdict paves the way for final approval by the government, which would balance out its rejection of HidroAysén.

“The state is not neutral with respect to energy production; we are interested in seeing projects go forward that would help us overcome our infrastructure deficit,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said in June.

And in July he stated that “Chile cannot feel comfortable while hydroelectricity makes up such a small share of our energy mix, given that it is a clean source of energy that is abundant in our country.”

Chile has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW, 74 percent in the SIC central grid, 25 percent in the northern grid – the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande – and less than one percent in the medium-sized grids of the Aysén and Magallanes regions in the south.

According to the Energy Ministry, demand for electricity in Chile will climb to 100,000 MW by 2020. An additional 8,000 MW of installed capacity will be needed to meet that demand.
Chile imports 60 percent of the primary energy that it consumes. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations for the rest.

Currently, 62 percent of the new energy plants under construction are thermal power stations. And 92 percent of those will be coal-fired.

Regional Energy Secretary Juan Antonio Bijit told Tierramérica that independently of Aysén’s enormous hydropower potential, “if we analyse the energy mix, it is highly dependent on thermal power, so the most logical thing would appear to be to increase supply in the area of hydroelectricity.”

He said the Aysén region “currently produces around 40 MW of energy, which only covers domestic consumption.”

But, he said, “we have significant potential” in terms of hydroelectricity as well as wind and solar power.

“The region’s capacity for electricity generation is quite strong,” he said. “However, we have to study how we will generate power, and for what uses.”

Bijit said the region’s contribution of energy to the rest of the country “should be analysed together with the community.”

“We can’t do things behind closed doors; we have to talk to the people,” he said. “That was done in a workshop prior to the decision reached on HidroAysén and now we are doing it with the Energía Austral project and others,” he said.

“The idea is that the people should be participants in what is being done or should be done in the field of energy,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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OPINION: Towards a Global Governance Information Clearing Househttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:26:00 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136355 This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]>

This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.

By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN/ROME, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Inter Press Service News Agency has braved severe political assaults and financial tempests since 1964, when Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini laid its foundation as a unique and challenging information and communication system.

Fifty years on, IPS continues to provide in-depth news and analysis from journalists around the world – primarily from the countries of the South – which is distinct from what the mainstream media offer. Underreported and unreported news constitutes the core of IPS coverage. Opinion articles by experts from think tanks and independent institutions enhance the spectrum and quality offered by IPS.

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

As the social media transforms the communication environment, IPS is determined to consolidate its unique niche and is tailoring its offer to adapt to the changes under way, while remaining true to its original vocation: make a concerted effort to right the systematic imbalance in the flow of information between the South and the North, give a voice to the South and promote South-South understanding and communication. In short, nothing less than turning the world downside up.

The fiftieth anniversary coincides with IPS decision to strengthen coverage not only from the U.N. in New York, but also from Vienna – bridging the U.N. there with the headquarters – as well as from Geneva and Nairobi, the only country in Africa hosting a major U.N. agency, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Turning 50 is also associated with a new phase in IPS life, marked not only by challenges emerging from rapid advance of communication and information technologies, but also by globalisation and the world financial crisis.

The latter is causing deeper social inequalities, and greater imbalances in international relations. These developments have therefore become thematic priorities in IPS coverage.

The consequences of “turbo-capitalism”, which allows finance capital to prevail over every aspect of social and personal life, and has disenfranchised a large number of people in countries around the world constituting the global South, are an important point of focus.

IPS has proven experience in reporting on the issues affecting millions of marginalised human beings – giving a voice to the voiceless – and informing about the deep transitional process which most of the countries of the South and some in the North are undergoing.

This latter day form of capitalism has not only resulted in dismissal of workers and catapulted their families into the throes of misery, but also devastated the environment and aggravated the impact of climate change, which is also playing havoc with traditional communities.

IPS also informs about the critical importance of the culture of peace and points to the perils of all forms of militarism. A Memorandum of Understanding between IPS and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) provides an important framework for seminars aimed at raising the awareness of the media in covering cross-cultural conflicts.

Nuclear weapons that are known to have caused mass destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago, represent one of the worst forms of militarism. IPS provides news and analysis as well as opinions on continuing efforts worldwide to ban the bomb. This thematic emphasis has educed positive reactions from individual readers, experts and institutions dealing with nuclear abolition and disarmament.

As globalisation permeates even the remotest corners of the planet, IPS informs about the need of education for global citizenship and sustainable development, highlighting international efforts such as the United Nations Global Education First Initiative. IPS reports on initiatives aimed at ensuring that education for global citizenship is reflected in intergovernmental policy-making processes such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda.

IPS reports accentuate the importance of multilateralism within the oft-neglected framework of genuine global governance. It is not surprising therefore that IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape.

This is particularly important because the news agency has come to a fork in the road represented by the financial crunch, which is apparently one of the toughest IPS has ever faced. However, thanks to the unstinting commitment of ‘IPS-ians’, the organisation is showing the necessary resilience to brave the challenge and refute those who see it heading down a blind alley.

At the same time, IPS is positioning itself distinctly as a communication and information channel supporting global governance in all its aspects, privileging the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creating a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development and promoting a new international information order between the South and the North.

IPS has the necessary infrastructure and human resources required for facilitating the organisational architecture of an information clearing house focused on ‘global governance’. Whether it is the culture of peace, citizen empowerment, human rights, gender equality, education and learning, development or environment, all these contribute to societal development, which in turn leads towards global governance.

In order to harness the full potential of communication and information tools, adequate financial support is indispensable. Projects that conform to the mission of IPS – making the voiceless heard by the international community, from local to global level – are one way of securing funds.

But since projects alone do not ensure the sustainability of an organisation, IPS is exploring new sources of funding: encouraging sponsorships through individual readers and institutions, enlightened governments and intergovernmental bodies as well as civil society organisations and corporations observing the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, which enjoy universal consensus.

Ramesh Jaura is IPS Director General and Editorial Coordinator since April 2014.

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

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The Time for Burning Coal Has Passedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 00:38:11 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136333 Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

By Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli
GRABICE, Poland / PROSCHIM, Germany, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

“People have gathered here to tell their politicians that the way in which we used energy and our environment in the 19th and 20th centuries is now over,” says Radek Gawlik, one of Poland’s most experienced environmental activists. “The time for burning coal has passed and the sooner we understand this, the better it is for us.”

Gawlik was one of over 7,500 people who joined an 8-kilometre-long human chain at the weekend linking the German village of Kerkwitz with the Polish village of Grabice to oppose plans to expand lignite mining on both sides of the German-Polish border.“It's high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels" – Anike Peters, Greenpeace Germany

They were inhabitants of local villages whose houses would be destroyed if the plans go ahead, activists from Poland and Germany, and even visitors from other countries who wanted to lend a hand to the anti-coal cause. The human chain – which was organised by Greenpeace and other European environmental NGOs – passed through the Niesse river which marks the border between the two countries, and included people of all ages, from young children to local elders who brought along folding chairs.

At least 6,000 people in the German part of Lusatia region and another 3,000 across the border in south-western Poland stand to be relocated if the expansion plans in the two areas go ahead.

In Germany, it is Swedish state energy giant Vattenfall that plans to expand two of its lignite mines in the German states of Brandenburg and Saxony; state authorities have already approved the company’s plans. In Poland, state energy company PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna) plans an open-cast lignite mine from which it would extract almost two million tonnes of coal per year (more than from the German side).

On the German side

Germany has for a long time been perceived as an example in terms of its energy policy, not in the least because of its famous Energiewende, a strategy to decarbonise Germany’s economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent, reaching a 60 percent renewables share in the energy sector, and increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent, all by 2050.

Today, one-quarter of energy in Germany is produced from renewable sources, and the same for electricity, as a result of policies included in the Energiewende strategy.

Expanding coal mining as would happen in the Lusatia region contradicts Germany’s targets, argue environmentalists. “The expansion of lignite mines and the goals of the Energiewende to decarbonise Germany until 2050 do not fit together at all,” says Gregor Kessler from Greenpeace Germany.  “There have to be severe cuts in coal-burning if Germany wants to reach its own 2020 climate goal (reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent).

“Yet the government so far is afraid of taking the logical next step and announce a coal-phase-out plan,” Kessler continues. “So far both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats keep repeating that coal will still be needed for years and years to provide energy security. However even today a lot of the coal-generated energy is exported abroad as more and more energy comes from renewables.”

Proschim, a town of around 360 people, is one of the villages threatened by Vattenfall’s planned expansion. Already surrounded by lignite mines, this little community has one feature that makes its possible destruction even more controversial: nowadays it produces more electricity from renewable energy than its citizens use for themselves.

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

But Vattenfall’s project to extend two existing open cast mines, namely Nochten and Welzow-Süd, would destroy Proschim along with its solar and wind farm and its biogas plant.

“It is such a paradox, we have so much renewable energy from wind, solar and biogas in Proschim. And this is the town they want to bulldoze,” says former Proschim mayor Erhard Lehmann.

The village is nevertheless split on the issue, with half of its citizens welcoming Vattenfall’s expansion project, including Volker Glaubitz, the deputy mayor of Proschim, and his wife Ingrid, who came from Haidemühl, a neighbouring village that was evacuated to make room for the Welzow-Süd open-cast mine. The place is now known as the “ghost-town”, due to the abandoned buildings that Vattenfall was not allowed to tear down because of property-related controversies.

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Lignite undoubtedly played a major role in Lusatia’s economic development, creating jobs not only in the many open-cast mines spread over the territory, but also through the satellite activities connected to coal processing. Lehmann himself was employed as a mechanic and electrician for the excavators used in the mines. Ingrid Glaubitz was a machinist at ‘Schwarze Pumpe’, one of Vattenfall’s power plants and her son also works for Vattenfall.

“There must be renewable energy in the future, but right now it is too expensive and we need lignite as a bridge technology,” Volker Glaubitz told IPS. “The mines bring many jobs to the region: without the coal, Lusatia would be dead already.”

Johannes Kapelle, a 78-year-old farmer of Sorb origin and at the forefront of the battle against Proschim’s destruction, sees coal in a completely different way: “Coal is already vanishing, it something that belongs to the past.”

His house, right in front of the Glaubitz’s, is covered in solar panels, and from his garden he proudly shows the wind park that provides Proschim with an estimated annual production of 5 GWh.

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

According to Kapelle, lignite extraction has been threatening the Sorb culture, which is spiritually connected to the land, since the beginning of industrialisation over a hundred years ago. “When a Sorb has a house without a garden, and without farmland, without forests and lakes, then he’s not a true Sorb anymore, because he has no holy land.”

On the Polish side

Poland is Europe’s black sheep when it comes to climate, with 90 percent of electricity in Poland currently produced from coal and the country’s national energy strategy envisaging a core role for coal for decades to come. The Polish government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk has over the past years tried to block progress by the European Union in adopting more ambitious climate targets.

For Polish authorities, the over 100,000 jobs in coal mining in the country today are an argument to keep the sector going. Additionally, says the government, coal constitutes a local reserve that can ensure the country’s “energy security” (a hot topic in Europe, especially since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis).

Coal opponents, on the other hand, note that the development of renewables and energy efficiency creates jobs too (according to the United Nations, investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings alone could create up to 3.5 million jobs in the European Union and the United States). Environmentalists further argue that coal is not as cheap as its proponents claim: according to the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, in some years, subsidies for coal mining in Poland have reached as much as 2 percent of GDP.

“In Poland, the coal lobby is very strong,” says Gawlik. “I also have the impression that our politicians have not yet fully understood that renewables and energy efficiency have already become real alternatives and do not come with some mythically high costs.”

The future of coal in Europe

In Europe as a whole, coal has seen a minor resurgence over the past 2-3 years, despite the European Union having the stated goal to decarbonise by 2050 (out of all fossil fuels, lignite produces the most CO2 per unit of energy produced).

Access to cheap coal exports from the United States, relatively high gas prices, plus a low carbon price on the EU’s internal emissions trading market (caused in turn by a decrease in industrial output following the economic crisis) led to a temporary hike in coal usage. Yet experts are certain that coal in Europe is dying a slow death.

“In the longer term the prospects for coal-fired power generation are negative,” according to a July report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Air-quality regulations (in the European Union) will force plant closures, and renewable energy will continue to surge, while in general European energy demand will be weak. The recent mini-boom in coal-burning will prove an aberration.”

“Additional coal mines would not only be catastrophic for people, nature and climate – it would also be highly tragic, as beyond 2030, when existing coal mines will be exhausted, renewable energies will have made coal redundant,” says Anike Peters, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.

“It’s high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels.”

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report in Germany

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Conference Set to Bypass Climate Change Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 21:56:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136329 A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas.

“It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS."It's clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad." -- Kristin Casper of Greenpeace

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added.

Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees.

“Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added.

The world’s first-ever “climate change refugee” claimant, a national of Kiribati, lost his asylum appeal in a New Zealand courtroom last May on the ground that international refugee law does not recognise global warming and rising sea levels as a valid basis for asylum status.

Ioane Teitiota, a 37-year-old native of the Pacific island nation, claimed his island home was sinking – and that he was seeking greener and safer pastures overseas.

But the New Zealand court ruled that the 1951 international convention on refugees, which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change, permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

The U.N.’s electronic newsletter, U.N. Daily News, quoted Francois Crepeau, the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as saying, “We don’t have, in international law, or any kind of mechanisms to allow people to enter a State against the will of the State, unless they are refugees.”

And even then, he said, they don’t technically have the right to enter, but cannot be punished for entering.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates, “It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

He said small island states have expressed their “profound disappointment” at the lack of tangible action at U.N. climate change talks.

Developed countries, he said, should shoulder their moral, ethical and historical responsibilities for emitting high levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“It is those actions which have put the planet in jeopardy and compromised the well-being of present and future generations,” he said.

Kristin Casper, legal counsel for campaigns and actions at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “It’s a scandal that low-lying coastal and small island developing states stand to lose their territory by the end of this century due to sea level rise.”

She said climate-driven migration will increase, “therefore we salute all efforts by Pacific Small Island Developing States, other governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to call for urgent action to allow the world to fairly deal with climate-forced migration.

“It’s clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad,” Casper said.

The Samoa conference is officially titled the Third International Conference on SIDS, the last two conferences being held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

The 52 SIDS include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Fiji, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Addressing reporters last week, the Secretary-General of the Samoa conference Wu Hongbo told reporters he expects over 700 participants, including world political leaders, 21 heads of U.N agencies and over 100 NGOs.

The outcome document, he said, has several recommendations for action on how to move forward. But these goals, he stressed, cannot be achieved by governments alone.

“All of us are affected by climate change,” he said, pointing out that there was a broad agreement among member states on the challenges ahead.

FoEI’s Shaw told IPS millions of people around the world are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in other countries because of hunger or conflict. Many of these crises are being directly exacerbated by climate change as resources such as fresh water become scarcer and conflicts arise.

“The impacts of climate change, which include increased sea-level rise, droughts, and more frequent extreme weather events, will lead to a growing number of climate refugees around the world,” she warned.

Friends of the Earth would welcome climate refugees being recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection, she said.

“However we remain doubtful that these refugees would ever receive a warm welcome from the rich countries whose climate polluting actions forced them from their homes.”

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of climate refugees like those escaping conflict or persecution will end up in other poor countries, whilst rich countries build ever greater walls and fences to keep out those seeking a safer life for their families,
Shaw said.

According to the United Nations, SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact.

SIDS face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general.

These include challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: This Flower Is Right Herehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-this-flower-is-right-here/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-this-flower-is-right-here http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-this-flower-is-right-here/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:10:03 +0000 Ernest Corea http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136325 This is the second in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]>

This is the second in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.

By Ernest Corea
WASHINGTON, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Where have all the flowers gone? Yes, of course, those are the opening words of a beautiful song made famous by such illustrious singers as Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Vera Lynn and the Kingston Trio, among others. It was a great number made greater by the different styles in which singers of different musical temperaments belted it out.

But what has that got to do with a news and feature service – Inter Press Service — which has survived in a relentlessly competitive field and become internationally known as the voice of the underdog?IPS not only reflects (in its coverage) the realities of the “other.” It is actually part of the other.

The flowers in the song whose first few verses were written by Pete Seeger have gone to their graveyards. Similarly, non-traditional news services, news magazines, features services, and other innovative and non-traditional purveyors of information and opinion have sprouted like seasonal flora only to disappear – presumably on their way to that great big information graveyard in the skies.

Numerous efforts have been made by information entrepreneurs, journalists, publishers, and others to create a lasting and relevant instrument of communication different from those already well established, but most have failed. Some have frayed, withered and died faster than one can say Rabindranath Tagore.

That is an exaggeration, of course. (It’s early in the morning as I write, when exaggerations come faster than ideas.) In more prosaic terms, many such efforts, launched with great enthusiasm and hope, have faltered and flopped.

A few have survived, demonstrating that given the right circumstances and resources, alternative forms of dissemination can survive and flourish. Prominent among them is Inter Press Service, much better known by its shortened form, IPS.

The story goes that several years ago a messenger in a South Asian capital entered the office of a newspaper publisher to announce that “a gentleman from IPS is waiting to see you.” The publisher, already overloaded with tasks, each of them potentially a crisis, growled in reply: “Why would I want to meet somebody from the Indian Postal Service. Those buggers can’t even deliver a letter to the address clearly written on the front of an envelope.”

Courtesy of Ernest Corea

Courtesy of Ernest Corea

Doggedly the messenger, pejoratively known as a “peon,” the imported term bestowed on messengers by sahibs representing His/Her (unemployed) Britannic Majesty, says: “Not postman. Pressman.”

Irritated by now to a point dangerously close to incipient apoplexy, the publisher looks as if he is going to burst like an over-inflated balloon when the peon announces:. “Sir, he is from Inter Press Service.”

Calm is restored. The danger of an apoplectic outburst passes on like a potential monsoonal shower that turns out to be not even a drizzle. The publisher composes himself and wears his welcoming look. The peon is instructed to let the visitor in and also order up some tea for him.

The representative of Inter Press Service (now internationally known and recognised as IPS) comes in and is welcomed in a businesslike fashion, but with obvious warmth. And well he should be, for IPS was and continues to be like a breath of fresh air entering a room whose windows have rarely been opened.

For many years, representatives of developing country media (this writer among them) complained bitterly at regional and international conferences that circumstances compelled them to publish or broadcast news and views about their own countries, towns and villages, and people – people, for goodness sake – written by strangers in far-off lands, many of whom had never visited the countries they were writing about.

They had no hesitation in writing, broadcasting or publishing advice on how such countries should be organised and governed.

Several efforts were made to correct this imbalance but nobody seemed able to design the appropriate model. Gemini news service? Gone. Lankapuvath? Reduced to the level of a government gazette. Depth News? Up there with the dodo. Pan Asia News? Difficult to locate even through the internet. Then,  IPS came along.

The founders of IPS dealt with reality, as IPS does even today, not with slogans. Politicians and political journalists could play around all they wanted with  a “new international information order” or whatever their pet formulation might be.

IPS would, instead, attempt to service media outlets, print and electronic, with material written by journalists mainly from the South writing about the South from the South. Authenticity, thus, is a key IPS strength.

Even in its U.N. Bureau which is not country specific but, in effect, covers the world,  the rich flavour of internationalism is seamlessly combined with national concerns of small and powerless countries. whose interests are insouciantly ignored by the  maharajahs of international news dissemination.

IPS is different. It is authentic, as already pointed out. It is also down-to-earth and makes a strenuous effort to cover events, processes and trends emanating from developing countries and intertwined with the interests of those countries – and their peoples.

Contemporary history has demonstrated that failure to identify those interests and meet them leads to societal disequilibrium, dysfunctional politics, and disjointed economic development.

Thus, IPS not only reflects (in its coverage) the realities of the “other.” It is actually part of the other, bringing to the attention of audiences, readerships, and so on, activities – or lack of opportunities for activities – that go to the very heart of human development.

IPS is capable of functioning as both a catalyst and monitor of development. Other efforts to create and nurture such an institution have failed, mainly because they lacked high professional standards as well as funding.

The standards side has now been well established and IPS is not merely “recognised” but has won prestigious awards for the style, content, and relevance of its coverage. Often, it covers the stories that should be covered but are ignored by media maharajahs.

This effort has continued for 50 years. Can IPS continue to survive and thrive? It could and should – but only if it has the resources required.  Even the most exquisite bloom cannot survive unless it receives the tender loving care it deserves.

IPS is too critically important a media institution to be allowed to languish for want of resources. Moolah should not trump media relevance.

Ernest Corea is a former editor of the Ceylon Daily News, and more recently, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States.

The first article in this series can be read here.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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New York’s Homeless Pushed Deeper into the Shadowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-yorks-homeless-pushed-deeper-into-the-shadows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-yorks-homeless-pushed-deeper-into-the-shadows http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-yorks-homeless-pushed-deeper-into-the-shadows/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 11:48:28 +0000 Zafirah Mohamed Zein http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136309 Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

By Zafirah Mohamed Zein
NEW YORK, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Joe sits on newspapers spread on the sidewalk by the entrance to midtown’s Grand Central Station. His head rests in his hands, only looking up when coins from passersby clink into his paper cup.

“A shelter is like a prison without guards,” he says, when asked why he was out on the street. “I’m done with them.”“A few things happened after the war. The government just forgot about me. Not only just me but a lot of others too." -- Don, a Vietnam veteran

The 36-year-old says “people who just got out of jail” steal from others in the bathroom and violence is rampant, as shelter staff members turn a blind eye. Throughout the conversation, Joe holds tight to his backpack, making sure it stays close.

While accurate figures for New York’s unsheltered homeless are hard to come by, the thousands sleeping on the streets are in addition to the 53,615 people – a record-breaking figure not seen since the Great Depression – who enrolled in the city’s shelter system in January this year. Yankee Stadium would not be able to seat all of them.

The Callahan v. Carey consent decree of 1981 established the right to shelter in New York and put into place certain minimum standards for shelters. However, many are still plagued by overcrowding, deplorable sanitary conditions and poor infrastructure.

“While there is that right to shelter, many individuals, maybe because of bad experiences, choose not to go there and prefer to be on the streets,” said Gabriela Sandoval, a policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless.

“Some shelters do feel very much like prison and many just don’t feel like going to that environment,” she told IPS.

Most shelters have sets of rules that include a smoking and alcohol ban, as well as a 10 p.m. curfew. Punitive policies such as sanctions, which were put in place by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, can be used against those who engage in certain behaviours or if they repeatedly fail to meet with a case manager.

“There is a lot of stress in your life if you’re homeless. You have no place of your own and you are not at your 100 percent full capacity level,” said Sandoval. “Sometimes staff members in shelters don’t see it that way. They have a different perception of the problem and tend to believe that the homeless want to be homeless.”

Even for those who have secured a place in the shelter system, a way out of poverty is difficult and chronic homelessness haunts the lives of those in New York’s underclass.

Melvin gets free food from the Coalition for the Homeless on Bowery and wants the world to know the good work they do to help men like him every day. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Melvin gets free food from the Coalition for the Homeless on Bowery and wants the world to know the good work they do to help men like him every day. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Sandoval attributes the rise in homelessness to the lack of affordable housing and the high unemployment rate in the aftermath of the economic recession. Some families with one or two working parents still find themselves unable to afford rent in what is known as one of the greatest cities in the world.

Outside the Bryant Park subway stop, a man and his pregnant wife are slumped behind a cardboard sign similar to Joe’s, with urgent pleas – “need money, need food, need clothes.” The couple said they were staying in the city’s shelter system and had a roof over their heads every night, but had little for anything else.

Homelessness grew under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when permanent housing assistance for homeless families was terminated and they had to rely on short-term “band-aid” policies.

The city’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, has committed to the creation of 30,000 supportive units over the next 10 years. New York has also recently undertaken a plan to move families out of shelters and into their own apartments with two new rent subsidy programmes. Altogether, the administration’s plan will cost almost 140 million dollars.

For individuals on the street with mental or emotional problems, Mary, a volunteer with the Coalition’s Food Van Program, said, “Lots of times they’re mentally incompetent to even make their way to the services available. If they get in such a bad way, they get picked up, taken to the hospital and treated but they’re sent out as quickly as they can back out on the streets.”

Sandoval acknowledges a common problem regarding the assessment of homeless individuals, especially those with mental health issues. “It’s really hard to tell if someone has a mental health problem unless there is a psychological evaluation done.”

Due to the lack of resources, such evaluations are rarely carried out.

“A few things happened after the war. The government just forgot about me. Not only just me but a lot of others too, you’ll be surprised by how many stand in this line,” said Don, a Vietnam War veteran in line for the Coalition food van parked under the FDR Drive on Manhattan’s east side.

“We’re not all bums who do drugs and drink or whatever. A lot of people here got educations and everything.”

Joe agrees. He says he stays away from drugs and alcohol. The coins he collects go toward daily trips on the subway, or a night’s sleep on someone’s couch. He can make up to 80 dollars on a good day, and even more on Christmas.

He does his own laundry, he said, lifting his bright white shirt off his chest. He claims to be saving for the future and says he does not sit on the street when he can help it. Speaking with a confidence and tough hope born out of experience, Joe appears to have a system going.

Estranged from his mother upon his father’s death when he was 16, Joe had to work from a young age to support himself, mostly construction work. A fall down a flight of stairs led to medical problems, and he ended up on the streets. He does not keep in touch with his siblings, one of which is “in a bad state” and the other in prison.

“I’ve been in worse places in my life before, believe it or not. I’m just waiting for this disability to come through, so I can get a proper place. I’m halfway there, halfway there,” he said.

Homeless individuals like Joe and Don are the men of New York City’s margins, navigating their way through shelters and streets, increasingly less trusting of a city that has abandoned them in the shadows.

“I don’t think enough services are available for the homeless community,” said Jeffrey Collete, co-founder of New York City Homeless Advocates. “There is a lot not being done and it’s sad because this city is so rich, with such rich tourists.”

Caleb, another volunteer with the Coalition, says the issue of homelessness has never been a political priority.

“When it becomes a sanitary issue, then it becomes an issue. It’s a simple matter of them not having anything to do with elections. No politician ever won an election because he helped homeless people.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: International Relations, the U.N. and Inter Press Servicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:37:48 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136282 This is the first in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]> IPS's then Director-General Roberto Savio honours the director-general of the International Labour Organisation, Juan Somavía of Chile, Oct. 29, 1999. Credit: UN Photo/Susan Markisz

IPS's then Director-General Roberto Savio honours the director-general of the International Labour Organisation, Juan Somavía of Chile, Oct. 29, 1999. Credit: UN Photo/Susan Markisz

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

In 1979, I had a debate at the United Nations with the late Stan Swinton, then the very powerful and brilliant director of Associated Press (AP). At one point, I furnished the following figures (which had been slow to change), as an example of Western bias in the media:

In 1964, four transnational news agencies – AP, United Press International (UPI), Agence France Presse (AFP) and Reuters – handled 92 percent of world information flow. The other agencies from industrialised countries, including the Soviet news agency TASS, handled a further 7 percent. That left the rest of the world with a mere 1 percent.In a world where we need to create new alliances, the commitment of IPS is to continue its work for better information, at the service of peace and cooperation.

Why, I asked, was the entire world obliged to receive information from the likes of AP in which the United States was always the main actor? Swinton’s reply was brief and to the point: “Roberto, the U.S. media account for 99 percent of our revenues. Do you think they are more interested in our secretary of state, or in an African minister?”

This structural reality is what lay behind the creation of Inter Press Service (IPS) in 1964, the same year in which the Group of 77 (G77) coalition of developing countries saw the light. I found it unacceptable that information was not really democratic and that – for whatever reason, political or economic – it was leaving out two-thirds of humankind.

We set up an international, non-profit cooperative of journalists, in which – by statute – every working journalist had one share and in which those like me from the North could not account for more than 20 percent of the membership.

As importantly, we stipulated that nobody from the North could report from the South. We set ourselves the challenge of providing journalists from developing countries with the opportunity to refute Northern claims that professional quality was inferior in the South.

Two other significant factors differentiated IPS from the transnational news agencies.

First, IPS was created to cover international affairs, unlike AP, UPI, AFP and Reuters, where international coverage was in addition to the main task of covering national events.

Second, IPS was dedicated to the long-term process and not just to events. By doing this, we would be giving a voice to those who were absent in the traditional flow of information – not only the countries  of the South, but also neglected actors such as women, indigenous peoples and the grassroots, as well as issues such as human rights, environment, multiculturalism,  international social justice and the search for global governance…

Of course, all this was not easily understood or accepted.

We decided to support the creation of national news agencies and radio and TV stations in the countries of the South because we saw these as steps towards the pluralism of information. In fact, we helped to set up 22 of these national news agencies.

That created distrust on both sides of the fence. Many ministers of information in the South looked on us with suspicion because, while we were engaging in a useful and legitimate battle, we refused to accept any form of state control. In the North, the traditional and private media looked on us as a “spokesperson” for the Third World.

In 1973, the Press Agencies Pool of the Non-Aligned Movement agreed to use IPS, which was growing everywhere, as its international carrier. At the same time, in the United Nations, the call was ringing for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and was approved by the General Assembly with the full support of the Security Council.

It looked like global governance was on its way, based on the ideas of international economic justice, participation and development as the cornerstone values for the world economic order.

In 1981 all this came to an end. Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom decided to destroy multilateralism and, with it, the very concept of social justice.

One of the first actions taken was to ask all countries working with IPS to cut any relation with us, and dismantle their national systems of information. Within a few years, the large majority of national news agencies, and radio and TV stations disappeared.  From now on, information was to be a market, not a policy.

The United States and the United Kingdom (along with Singapore) withdrew from the U.N. Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organisation (UNESCO) over moves to establish a New International Information Order (NIIO) as a corollary to NIEO, and the policy of establishing national systems of information disappeared. The world changed direction, and the United Nations has never recovered from that change.

IPS was not funded by countries, it was an independent organisation, and even if we lost all our clients from the world of national systems of information, we had many private media as clients. So we survived, but we decided to look for new alliances, with those who were continuing the quest for world governance based on participation and justice, with people interested in global issues, like human rights, the environment and so on.

It is worth noting that the United Nations was moving along a parallel path. In the 1990s, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth U.N. secretary-general, launched a series of world conferences on global issues, with the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – also widely known as the ‘Earth Summit’ – the first in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

For the first time, not only we of IPS – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) recognised by the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – but any NGO interested in and concerned with environmental issues could attend.

Actually, we really had two conferences, albeit separated by 36 kilometres: one, the inter-governmental conference with 15,000 participants, and the other the NGO Forum, the civil society conference with over 20,000 participants. And it was clear that the civil society forum was pushing for the success of the Earth Summit much more than many delegates!

To create a communication space for the two different gatherings, IPS conceived and produced a daily newspaper – TerraViva – to be distributed widely in order to create a sense of communality. We continued to do so at the other U.N.-organised global conferences in the 1990s (on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, on Population in Cairo in 1994, on Women in Beijing in 1995, and the Social Summit in Copenhagen, also in 1995).

We then decided to maintain it as a daily publication, to be distributed throughout the United Nation system: this is the TerraViva that reaches you daily, and is the link between IPS and members of the U.N. family.

Against this backdrop, it is sad to note that the world suddenly took a turn for the worse with the end of the Cold War at the end of the 1980s, when an endless number of unresolved fault lines that had been frozen during the period of East-West hostility came to light.

This year, for example, the number of persons displaced by conflict has reached the same figures as at the end of the Second World War.

Social injustice, not only at national but also at the international level, is growing at an unprecedented speed. The 50 richest men (no women) in the world accrued their wealth in 2013 by the equivalent of the national budgets of Brazil and Canada.

According to Oxfam, at the present pace, by the year 2030 the United Kingdom will have the same level of social inequality as during the reign of Queen Victoria, a period in which an unknown philosopher by the name of Karl Marx was working in the library of the British Museum on his studies of the exploitation of children in the new industrial revolution.

Fifty years after the creation of IPS, I believe more than ever that the world is unsustainable without some kind of global governance. History has shown us that this cannot come from military superiority … and events are now becoming history fast.

During my life I have seen a country of 600 million people in 1956, trying to make iron from scraps in schools, factories and hospitals, turn into a country of 1.2 billion today and well on the road towards becoming the world’s most industrialised country.

The world had 3.5 billion people in 1964, and now has over 7.0 billion, and will be over 9.0 billion in 20 years’ time.

In 1954, sub-Saharan Africa had 275 million inhabitants and now has around 800 million, soon to become one billion in the next decade, well more than the combined population of the United States and Europe.

To repeat what Reagan and Thatcher did in 1981 is therefore impossible – and, anyhow, the real problem for everybody is that there is no progress on any central issue, from the environment to nuclear disarmament.

Finance has taken a life of its own, different from that of economic production and beyond the reach of governments. The two engines of globalisation, finance and trade, are not part of U.N. discourse. Development means to ‘be more’, while globalisation has come to mean to ‘have more’ – two very different paradigms.

In just 50 years, the world of information has changed also beyond imagination. The internet has given voice to social media and the traditional media are in decline. We have gone, for the first time in history, from a world of information to a world of communication. International relations now go well beyond the inter-governmental relations, and the ‘net’ has created new demands for accountability and transparency, the bases for democracy.

And, unlike 50 years ago, there is a growing divide between citizens and public institutions. The issue of corruption, which 50 years ago was a hushed-up affair, is now one of the issues that begs for a renewal of politics. And all this, like it or not, is basically an issue of values.

IPS was created on a platform of values, to make information more democratic and participatory, and to give the voice to those who did not have one. Over the last 50 years, through their work and support, hundreds and hundreds of people have shared the hope of contributing to a better world. A wide-ranging tapestry of their commitment is offered in The Journalists Who Turned the World Upside Down, a book written by over 100 personalities and practising journalists.

It is evident that those values continue to be very current today, and that information continues to be an irreplaceable tool for creating awareness and democracy, even if it is becoming more and more a commodity, event-oriented and market-oriented.

But, in my view, there is no doubt that all the data show us clearly that we must find some global governance, based on participation, social justice and international law, or else we will enter a new period of dramatic confrontation and social unrest.

In a world where we need to create new alliances, the commitment of IPS is to continue its work for better information, at the service of peace and cooperation … and to support those who share the same dream.

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS and President Emeritus.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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No Hope for AIDS-Free Generation in Uganda as Controversial HIV Bill is Signed into Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:43:19 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136256 Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

HIV/AIDS activists are adamant Uganda will not achieve an “AIDS-free generation” now a “backwards” HIV/AIDS Bill criminalising the “wilful and intentional” transmission of the disease has been signed into law.

The act, they say, will lead to people shunning testing and treatment, but will particularly drive sex workers and gay men underground, and make women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

News that the controversial law, adopted unanimously by Parliament on May 13, and assented to by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Jul 31, broke on social media only this week on Aug. 19.

The bill also allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent and prescribes mandatory testing for pregnant women, their partners, and victims of sexual offences.

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005.

But Museveni went against earlier promises to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) executive director and campaigners that he wouldn’t back the punitive law.

“This is a populist act,” Kikonyongo Kivumbi of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA-Uganda) told IPS.

“He knows what he’s doing is not the right thing in addressing the general public health concerns in this country.”

Kivumbi pointed out that according to the 2014 UNAIDS Global Progress report, Uganda was now the third country in the world contributing to sustaining the pandemic.

Other campaigners are “heartbroken” and “outraged” after the president approved the HIV Prevention and Control Bill.

The news broke as CSOs were still waiting for an audience with Museveni over the controversial bill, which has been slammed by Uganda’s own AIDS Commission and the AIDS Control programme of the Ministry of Health (MoH).

“Some bad news from Uganda. Please pray for us,” Jacquelyne Alesi, director or programmes at Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV & AIDS (UNYPA), said in an email to IPS.

The legislation prescribes a maximum 10 years in jail, a fine of about five million Ugandan shillings (1,980 dollars) or both for anyone who “willfully and intentionally transmitting HIV/AIDS to another person”.

Another provision of the law, drafted in 2008, provides for a fine or a maximum five years in jail for those convicted of “attempted transmission”.

According to the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey, overall HIV prevalence is higher among women (8.3 percent) than among men (6.1 percent).

“Usually HIV bears the face of a woman,” Dorcas Amoding, policy, advocacy and networking officer for Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA-U), told IPS.

“So if she has tested positive and perhaps the husband becomes aware of it…he might treat this as a very negative result as well and she can be attacked.”

Amoding added, “it even brings about a very huge burden in terms of women inheriting property, because some people still think HIV is a death sentence.”

“So if I say ‘I want to have my husband’s property for the children’, people are going to say ‘you’ll die tomorrow, you’re HIV positive.’”

Most LGBT people with HIV/AIDS already “die silently” and many were no longer going for services in the after the passing of the Anti-Homosexual Act, Bernard Ssembatya, from Vinacef Uganda, a sexual health and reproductive NGO focusing on HIV, told IPS. The anti-gay law was, however, declared “null and void” by the constitutional court on a legality earlier this month.

“Some of them are wary of going to health services, some health providers are also scared of delivering services,” Ssembatya said.

There will be “an increase in deaths from HIV, more infections” as a result of the HIV/AIDS law, he warned.

According to AIDS Free World, over 60 countries criminalise the transmission of HIV or the failure to disclose one’s HIV status to sex partners, or both. Global Commission on HIV and the Law members have highlighted Guinea, Senegal and Togo, which they say in recent years have revised existing, or adopted new laws which limit HIV transmission to exceptional cases of wilful transmission.

Guyana also rejected a criminalisation law. In the U.S, 34 states still have HIV specific criminal statutes, however, in May Iowa approved a law revising a HIV specific statute.

Kivumbi pointed out that criminalisation was an “agenda of the U.S. republican right”, who he accused of influencing political and public health appointments in Uganda.

“We need to tell U.S. republican extremists and evangelical Christians to leave managing the HIV pandemic to ourselves,” he said.

“Just because the U.S. gives us money it does not mean [they] can impose their extremist agenda on us.”

Uganda had deliberately chosen to “moralise the pandemic and response, emphasising abstinence at the expense of condom use and other scientifically proven interventions,” Kivumbi said.

“We have had cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and other people at senior government level saying that people who are HIV positive are morally bankrupt,” the activist said.

Kivumbi said there was an “element of politicking” on Museveni’s part in inking his signature on the bill. Uganda will be submitting a “concept note” to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Oct. 15, and wanted to get access to a 90-million-dollar loan from the World Bank that was suspended, he said.

One clause of the HIV/AIDS Bill seeks to set up an AIDS Trust Fund managed by the MoH, with money coming from foreign governments and international agencies, among other means.

Ironically, that loan was put on hold in February, just days after the president approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“I think that the president thought that by signing this law, which [sets up] the AIDS Trust Fund, the World Bank would give him money and the Global Fund would contribute,” said Kivumbi.

“Let the Global Fund and the World Bank not be fooled.

”This law tramples upon basic civil liberties and cannot be acceptable in a free and democratic society that Uganda aspires to be.”

Dianah Nanjeho, a communications consultant at Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), which works with a coalition of 40 organisations, told IPS the activists wanted the contentious clauses in the bill to be amended.

“The act in itself is a good act we don’t condemn it, we just want those one, two three things sorted out.”

She said the positive parts of the law were state obligations to provide care and treatment and the establishment of the AIDS Trust Fund.

Nanjeho said CSOs, who are still hoping to meet Museveni, hadn’t ruled out challenging the law in court, and would make a decision on this in the next few days.

“For now we are all weighing all options,” she said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136255 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialise these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tonnes of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favour of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Despite Current Debate, Police Militarisation Goes Beyond U.S. Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136197 "Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in the southern United States earlier this month has led to widespread public outrage around issues of race, class and police brutality.

In particular, a flurry of policy discussions is focusing on the startling level of force and military-style weaponry used by local police in responding to public demonstrations following the death Aug. 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.“We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.” -- WOLA's Maureen Meyer

The situation has galvanised support from both liberal and conservative members of Congress for potential changes to a law that, since the 1990s, has provided local U.S. police forces with surplus military equipment. The initiative, overseen by the Department of Defence and known as the “1033 programme”, originally came about in order to support law-enforcement personnel in the fight against drug gangs.

“We need to de-militarise this situation,” Claire McCaskill, one of Missouri’s two senators, said last week. “[T]his kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

In a widely read article titled “We Must Demilitarize the Police”, conservative Senator Rand Paul likewise noted that “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response” in law enforcement.

During attempts to contain public protests in the aftermath of the shooting, police in Ferguson used high-powered weapons, teargas, body armour and even armoured vehicles of types commonly used by the U.S. military during wartime situations. Now, it appears the 1033 programme will likely come under heavy scrutiny in coming months.

“Congress established this programme out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Carl Levin, chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday.

“[W]e will review this programme to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Drugs and terrorism

Despite this unusual bipartisan agreement over the dangers of a militarised police force, there appears to be no extension of this concern to rising U.S. support for militarised law enforcement in other countries.

While a 2011 law requires annual reporting on U.S. assistance to foreign police, that data is not yet available. However, during 2009, the most recent data available, Washington provided more than 3.5 billion dollars in foreign assistance for police activities, particularly in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories.

According to an official report from 2011, “the United States has increased its emphasis on training and equipping foreign police as a means of supporting a wide range of U.S. foreign-policy goals,” particularly in the context of the wars on drugs and terrorism.

In the anti-terror fight, African countries are perhaps the most significant recipients of new U.S. security aid. Yet a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the dangers of this approach, focusing on the U.S.-supported Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Kenya.

The report, released Monday, builds on previous allegations against the ATPU of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Yet neither the Kenyan authorities nor the ATPU’s main donors – the United States and United Kingdom – have seriously investigated these longstanding allegations, HRW says.

Washington’s support for the ATPU has been significant, amounting to 19 million dollars in 2012 alone. Yet while U.S. law mandates a halting of aid pending investigation of credible reports of rights abuse, HRW says Washington “has not scaled down its assistance to the unit”.

“The goals of supporting the police in general are laudable and in line with concerns over rule of law,” Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher with HRW’s Africa division, told IPS.

“The problem here is it’s clear that, notwithstanding the goals of the assistance, it’s serving to undermine rule of law because the ATPU is taking matters into its own hands. So, our call is for donors to be smarter about providing this kind of assistance.”

Unseen since the 1980s

Meanwhile, Mexico and Latin American countries have been seeing an uptick in U.S. assistance for security forces as part of efforts to crack down on the drug trade.

“Currently the Central American governments are relying more and on their militaries to address the recent surge in violence,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here.

“While the U.S. is saying it’s not providing any assistance to these forces, there is significant assistance being provided through the Department of Defence for counter-narcotics, which is channelled through the militaries of these countries.”

According to a new paper from Alexander Main, a senior associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a think tank here, U.S. security assistance to the region began strengthening again during the latter years of President George W. Bush’s time in office.

“Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s,” Main writes, noting that a “key model” for bilateral assistance has been Colombia. Since 1999, an eight-billion-dollar programme in that country has seen “the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups”.

Yet last year, nearly 150 NGOs warned that U.S. policies of this type, which “promote militarization to address organized crime”, had been ineffective. Further, the groups said, such an approach had resulted in “a dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”

Mexico has been a particularly prominent recipient of U.S. security aid around the war on drugs.

“From the 1990s onward, the trend has been to encourage the Mexican government to involve the military in drug operations – and, over the past two years, also in public security,” Maureen Meyer, a senior associate on Mexico for WOLA, told IPS.

In the process, she says, civilian forces, too, have increasingly received military training, leading to concerns over human rights violations and excessive use of force, as well as a lack of knowledge over how to deal with local protests – concerns startlingly similar to those now coming out of Ferguson, Missouri.

“You can see how disturbing this trend is in the United States, and we are concerned about a similar trend towards militarised police forces in Latin American countries,” Meyer notes. “We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Militarism Should be Suppressed Like Hanging and Flogginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:42:34 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136173

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that, in the face of growing militarism, civil society should take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

I once asked Dan Berrigan, the great American anti-war activist, for some advice to me in my life as a peace activist. He replied “Pray and Resist”.But I would like to ask how serious we are about resistance? What is our vision? And how does resistance fit into this? What do we need to resist? How can we resist effectively? And what methods are allowed? In resisting, what are our aims and objectives?

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

I would like to propose that the world’s peace movement adopt a vision of the total abolition of militarism. Such a vision would empower us to know where we are going. It would inspire and energise each of us to pursue our different projects, be it the fight against the arms trade, nuclear abolition, non-killing/non-violence, the culture of peace, the abolition of arms and drone warfare, human rights and environmental rights.

We will know, as we work towards this vision of a demilitarised, disarmed world, that we are part of an ever-growing new ‘consciousness’ of men and women, choosing to uphold human life, the right to individual conscience, loving our enemies, human rights and international law, and solving our problems without killing each other.

Why resist militarism? We are witnessing the growing militarism of Europe, and its role as a driving force for armaments, and its dangerous path, under the leadership of the United States/NATO towards a new ‘cold war’ and military aggression.

The European Union and many of its countries, which used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflicts, particularly allegedly peaceful countries like Norway and Sweden, are now among the most important U.S./NATO war assets.“The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war”

The European Union is a threat to the survival of neutrality, as countries are being asked to join NATO, and forced to end their neutrality and choose (unnecessarily) between West and East.

Many nations have been drawn into complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on, Germany, the third largest exporter of military hardware in the world, continues to increase its military budget and is complicit with NATO, facilitating U.S. bases, from which drones leave to carry out illegal extrajudicial killings on the order of the U.S. president, in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Germany has also provided Israel with its nuclear submarine and continues to be complicit under the Geneva Convention in Israeli war crimes against Gaza and in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

We need to abolish NATO and increase our task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, through non-violent and civil resistance.

The means of resistance are very important. As a pacifist deeply committed to non-killing/non-violence as a way to bring about social/cultural/political change, I believe that we need to use means consistent with the end, and it is wrong to use violence.

Our message that militarism and war do not solve our problem of violence challenges us to use new ways and that is why we need to teach the science of peace at every level of society.

We are all aware there are forces at work which are determined to continue their agenda of the militarisation of our societies and there are governments/corporate/media attempts to make violence and war acceptable.

The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

We can take hope from the fact that most people want peace not war. However, we are facing a civilisation problem. We are facing a political/ideological challenge with the growth of what president Ike Eisenhower warned the U.S. people against ­– the military/industrial complex. He warned that it would destroy the United States.

We know now that a small group made up of the world’s military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite – whose agenda is profit, arms, war and
valuable resources – now holds power and has a stronghold on our elected governments. We see this in the gun and Israeli lobbies, among others, which hold great power over U.S. politics.

We have witnessed this in ongoing wars, invasions, occupations and proxy war, all allegedly in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention and democracy’. However, in reality, they are causing great suffering, especially to the poor, through their policies of arms, war, domination and control of other countries and their resources.

Unmasking this agenda of war and demanding the implementation of human rights and international law is the work of the peace movement. We can turn away from this path of destruction by spelling out a clear vision of what kind of a world we want to live in, demanding an end to the military-industrial complex, and insisting that our governments adopt policies of peace.

We, the Peace Movement, are the alternative to militarism and war, and because we want a different world, we must be part of building it. We must not be satisfied with improvements to and reform of militarism but rather offer an alternative.

Militarism is an aberration and a system of dysfunction. Militarism should be outdated and disappear – like hanging and flogging! (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Trauma Kits and Body Bags Now Fill Aleppo Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 17:44:11 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136168 A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

Volunteer civil defence units operating here in Syria’s largest city careen through crater-pocked routes of precariously hanging, pancaked concrete where barrel bombs have struck.

Greyish dust blankets the dead, the alive and the twisted steel jutting out.  The panicked confusion immortalised in innumerable photos – with bloodied survivors raking desperately through the rubble for loved ones – is granted a modicum of order by the arrival of the rescue teams, in their distinctive white hard hats and black knee pads and boots.

When IPS arrived on the scene a few moments after the explosion of one such barrel bomb in early August, the men were already there, looking for survivors amid the rubble. One stood ready ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers.One [rescue worker] stood ready, ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers

The Hanano civil defence centre in eastern Aleppo is a repurposed school, its corridors dusty and empty except for a few firemen’s boots airing out, a broom, and a few morale-boosting posters of the civil defence men in uniform.

Body bags and trauma kits sit alongside fuel for Bobcat excavating and rubble-clearing equipment, pickaxes with USAID logos on them, drills and boxes of firemen’s suits, propped up against chalkboards still bearing the marks of lessons once taught in them.

Many of the men are in their twenties, clean-shaven, former university students. Khaled Hijjo, a former law student in his mid-twenties and head of the centre, told IPS that the rescue and fire teams work in two shifts: 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

At the moment there is only one medical specialist at the centre, he said, so this specialist is on call 24 hours a day. The man, who did not give his name, said he had worked for the Syrian Red Crescent even prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent violence, but that he had no time to train the other men in basic first aid.

Correct carry and extraction procedures prevent aggravating injuries, including paralysing spinal injuries, and the heavy equipment received has proven vital to remove rubble and save those trapped underneath.

For the past four months, the rescue workers have been receiving a salary from the government-in-exile and courses from a number of foreign bodies and governments.

Entry-level first responders are given a salary of 175 dollars, while the heads of the various centres instead receive 200, civil defence chief and former English teacher Ammar Salmo told IPS, adding that 21 members of the team had been killed by barrel bombs while on duty.

When the bombs bring down entire buildings, ‘’many are trapped and nothing can be done. There are five still alive in one area that we know of, but there is no way to get them out’’, one local media activist told IPS, saying he felt helpless, and that taking pictures of the dead and wounded had ceased to make him feel useful

Though many of the local media activists have been given expensive cameras and satellite equipment and attended training programmes funded by Western nations in southern Turkey, virtually none of them seem to have had any basic first aid training.

Given the extremely severe shortage of trained medical staff left in Aleppo after the repeated attacking of medical facilities by the regime, the civil defence teams play an even more vital role in saving lives.

Ambulances donated from abroad and brought in through the sole supply road still under rebel control into the city go with the first responder team in central Aleppo, while those injured in the surrounding countryside are taken in cars to the nearest first aid centre. Communication is possible only via walkie-talkie, because there is no mobile phone reception.

A training centre was recently established inside Syrian territory but outside of the city, where team members were attending 20-day training sessions a few at a time, said Salmo.

He added that more civil defence centres were currently being set up in the Idlib region further to the west, and that it was proving easier to manage them than those in Aleppo, because many of the men ‘’were regime defectors and are more familiar with how institutions work.’’

He said the deputy chief of civil defence was a former regime general, and that four other former generals are currently working with them.

Of the instructors at the training centre, Salmo told IPS,  ‘’five are defectors from Assad’s forces, including a general teaching how to deal with barrel bombs and fire, and two doctors serve as medical experts to train the men in first aid.’’

The group has experienced some minor problems with some of the armed groups. One team member also told IPS that some of the heavy equipment had been ‘’borrowed’’ for a day by a Free Syrian Army group a few weeks earlier, but that they had promised that they would return it soon.

‘’We’re trying to solve the matter through dialogue,’’ he said.

When asked whether the group had had problems with the more extremist groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, he scoffed, saying ‘’Jabhat Al-Nusra doesn’t need our things. They already have enough money.’’

No fire engines or other emergency vehicles could be seen in the immediate vicinity of a civil defence centre near a front line where IPS spoke to Salmo, who said that the teams had to be careful.

‘’Once you are seen as more organised,’’ he noted, ‘’you’re also seen as more of a danger to the regime.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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