Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguayans-pirates http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:34:29 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133728 The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s […]

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By Pavol Stracansky
VIENNA, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues.

The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s government of having a “pirate attitude” for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs."It is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done."

Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President José Mujica, tells IPS that he believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision for his country.

Q. How do you feel about your country being labelled “pirates” by the INCB for legalising the marijuana market?

A. Well, the INCB is just one UN body and it is just one opinion. They have a special mandate and that mandate is not to decide what approach each individual country should follow. We have had a discussion over the correct interpretation of the UN drugs conventions. We believe, and we have the evidence to show this, that our interpretation is correct. We followed the original spirit of the convention and we hope that the step which we have taken is the right one to create better control of the marijuana market in our country.

Prohibition was a big mistake in the last 40 years, so we believe that a strictly regulated marijuana market is the best way to fulfil the spirit of the UN drugs conventions.

Q. Do you get frustrated when you hear people from other countries talking about how what you are doing is wrong, for example from countries which have a much more conservative, hard line approach to drugs?

A. We very much respect every opinion. It’s an open discussion. We do not think that we have the whole truth in our hands. We listen very carefully to the opinions of other countries but we defend our sovereign right to do what we think is right for our own country and our people. And we believe that in terms of our health policies this is the best option for Uruguay.

We don’t want to be a model for other countries over this, we just think that this is the best way for our country and we will defend our right to take this option. But we are open to discussion. We think that prohibition is not the answer and overwhelming evidence has shown that it is a mistake. We don’t want to have this kind of policy. We need to have the right to explore a different approach to drugs.

Q. If you find that after a couple of years things are not going well with the legalisation or that you are not seeing the kind of results you want with regards to public health, would you be prepared to go back to a ban on drugs?

A. I think the question is different. First of all, a few years is not enough. You need at least eight, nine or ten years before you can draw any conclusions. We need to have a lot of evidence over a long time period to really understand what effects this policy is having.

Looking at public health, violence, drug consumption – all the evidence shows us so far that by regulating the market and making visible what has until now been an invisible market means that you can control that market better, and control trafficking and then you have less violence. But I think that if that doesn’t happen in ten years then we will have another debate on this. But I do not think we would go back to banning [marijuana]. We would need to find another answer.

Q. Are you happy when you see other countries doing things which are similar to what you have done? For example states in the U.S. which have legalised commercial marijuana sales.

A. Actually, what they have done in Colorado is much more than what we have done. There you are free to buy and sell what you want. They have a different model to us. But there are 18 states in the U.S. where marijuana can be bought for medical purposes. But that is just an euphemism because we know that the majority of people use marijuana not with a medical purpose but with a medical excuse.

We see that an individual state in the U.S. is operating this way with no federal overrule on it so it is impossible to not accept that there is a big, open debate on this when you have different countries around the world taking different approaches to the problem.

Q. Could you see other countries following your lead and regulating their marijuana markets?

A. I really don’t know and it is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done. We do not want to be a model for any other country. We respect everyone else’s policies but we think that this is the best model for our country.

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Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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U.S. Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:26:56 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133733 An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy. The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.

The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the U.S. government. Onondaga representatives are calling on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights arm of the pan-regional Organisation of American States (OAS), to intervene.“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS, but I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.” -- Onondaga leader Sid Hill

In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a case against New York State, stating the state government had repeatedly violated treaties signed with the Onondaga, resulting in lost land and severe environmental pollution. Yet advocates for the trips say antiquated legal precedents with racist roots have allowed the courts to consistently dismiss the Onondaga’s case.

They are now looking to the IACHR for justice.

“New York State broke the law and now the U.S. government has failed to protect our lands, which they promised to us in treaties,” Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Onondaga people, told IPS.

Hill and others from the Onondaga Nation gathered outside the White House, located near the IACHR’s Washington headquarters, on Tuesday. Hill brought an heirloom belt commissioned for the Onondaga Nation by George Washington, the first U.S. president, to ratify the Treaty of Canandaigua, affirming land rights for the Onondaga and other tribes.

In their petition to the IACHR, the Onondaga quote sections from the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. Signed by George Washington, this law assured the Onondaga that their lands would be safe, and if threatened, that the federal courts would protect their rights.

Yet since then, tribal advocates say, their 2.5 million acres of land has shrunk to just 6,900 acres. And rather than helping the Onondaga, the courts have ignored their case.

“We filed the original case in 2005,” Joe Heath, the attorney for the Onondaga Nation, told IPS.

“We did not sue, did not demand any return for original land. It was more aimed at protecting sacred sites and environmental issues … Our case was dismissed in 2010, so we appealed to the Second Circuit.”

The Second Circuit, and finally the Supreme Court, dismissed the case.

Landmark law

Since 2005, the U.S. courts have designed a new set of rules, called “equitable defence”. This now arms New York with a two-part defence in the Onondaga case. First, officials are able to argue that too much time has passed since the 1794 treaty was signed to when the case was filed, in 2005.

Second, equitable defence also states that the court is able to determine on its own whether the Onondaga people have been disturbed on their land.

“The legal ground on which [the Onondaga] claims rest has undergone profound change since the Nation initiated its action,” the District Court concluded. “The law today forecloses this Court from permitting these claims to proceed.”

The Onondaga Nation and other Native American nations are now fighting to change Native American land laws.

Current legal precedents go back to the 1400s, when Pope Alexander VI issued a papal decree that gave European monarchs sovereignty over “lands occupied by non-Christian ‘barbarous nations’”. In a case in 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court applied this principle to uphold the possession of indigenous lands in favour of colonial or post-colonial governments.

The Supreme Court again revived this doctrine as recent as 2005, when another New York tribe, the Oneida Nation, refused to pay taxes to the United States, citing its status as a sovereign nation.

“Under the Doctrine of Discovery … fee title to the land occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005 decision.

This doctrine still underpins Indian land law and the dismissal of the Onondaga Nation’s case.

“This is the Plessy v. Ferguson of Indian law,” Heath told IPS, referring to a notorious landmark judicial decision that, for a time, upheld racial segregation in the United States.

Most polluted lake

Heath and others say the goal in “correcting” the U.S. legal system would be to provide the Onondaga Nation and other tribes more say in environmental decisions. Front and centre in this argument is the travesty they say has been visited on Onondaga Lake.

“Onondaga Lake, a sacred lake, has been turned into the most polluted lake in the country,” Heath says. “Allied Corp. dumped mercury in the lake every day from 1946 to 1970.”

In 1999, Allied Corp., a major chemicals company, purchased Honeywell, a company popularly associated with thermostats, and adopted its name, to try and shed its association with pollution. However, this merger has made it more difficult for the Onondaga Nation to get the company to clean up the lake.

“Before the Europeans got here, we had a very healthy lifestyle,” Heath said.

“All the water was clean and drinkable … With the loss of land, pollution of water, and loss of access to water, health has been impacted negatively.”

Another problem is salt mining.

“Only one body of water flows through the territory, Onondaga Creek, and this creek is now severely polluted as a result of salt mining upstream,” Heath says. “The salt mining was done over a century, and so recklessly that it severely damaged the hydrogeology in the valley.”

Heath says elder members of the Onondaga community can remember clear waters that supported trout fishing.

“Now you can’t see two inches into the water, it looks like yesterday’s coffee,” he says.

The Onondaga Nation is now waiting to see whether IACHR will hear the case.

This normally takes several years, however. And even if the court hears the case, it has no formal enforcement mechanisms, but can only make recommendations to the United States.

“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS,” Onondaga leader Hill said. “But I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.”

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

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

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

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Globalised supply chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor is slavery an issue that affects only developing countries.

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

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

California model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whales Find Good Company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whales-find-good-company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 06:51:40 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133634 Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S. […]

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Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S.

A picture of a whale appears on the poster, together with the name of the website where those interested can find more information.“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers."

The groups decided to focus on Boston because the launch of the campaign mid-March coincided with the opening of the North American Seafood Expo at the Boston Convention Centre.  Supporters picketed the stall of HB Grandi, one of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, asking onlookers to stop trading with the company because of its links with whaling.

The expo is the largest seafood trade event in North America.

At the start of the protest, fish consumers were requested to ask their local food retailers and restaurants to verify that their seafood products did not come from a source linked to Icelandic whaling.

“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers, and asking for their help,” says Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the organisations behind the Whales Need Us campaign.

On Mar. 18, the last day of the three-day expo, Canadian-U.S. seafood company High Liner Foods (HLF) announced it would discontinue trading with HB Grandi because of its whaling connections. It had been trading with the Icelandic company since October 2013.

Since the end of the expo, U.S. companies Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have severed ties with Rhode Island-based Legacy Seafoods, another company that imports substantial quantities of fish from HB Grandi.

HLF say they do not have any existing contracts outstanding with HB Grandi, and are committed not to enter into any new contracts with them until they have fully divested their involvement and interest in whaling.

“Even though HLF’s policy is strict on not doing business with suppliers directly involved in whaling, it has nothing to do with individuals or shareholders of HB Grandi. We have no control over the ownership of privately or publicly owned companies in HLF’s supplier base,” Elvar Einarsson from High Liner’s procurement division tells IPS.

At the end of 2011, High Liner bought Icelandic Group’s U.S. and Asian operations. Icelandic Group also agreed to a seven-year licensing agreement with HLF for the use of the Icelandic Seafood brand in North American countries until 2018.

“For HLF the marketing and sales of seafood from Iceland under the brand Icelandic Seafood is an important part of our business. There will be no change on HLF’s procurement from its other Icelandic suppliers and hopefully HB Grandi’s circumstances will change so they will be able to become one of HLF’s suppliers again,” says Einarsson.

Last September, Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur increased his family’s shares in HB Grandi from 10.2 percent to 14.9 percent. On the HB Grandi website, Loftsson is listed as chairman of the board.

At the time, there was obviously some concern over the repercussions that this could have. The fishing website Undercurrent reported “an Icelandic industry player” as saying: “Hvalur is Iceland’s only whaling company, and it’s increasingly a controversial activity. It’s obviously a risk to a company selling wild fish that their ownership is closely connected to whaling.”

Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson, CEO for HB Grandi, has stated publicly that he will not speak to the press on the company’s trade with High Liner Foods. In a short press release issued by his company, he is quoted as saying: “We agree with the government’s policy on sensible utilisation of natural resources and have nothing to do with what operations individual shareholders choose to practise or not practise.”

But Millward emphasises that they are not trying to attack Icelandic fisheries as such. “The campaign is in no way meant as an attack on Iceland’s economy and is geared only at those companies linked to the Hvalur whaling company,” she says.

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued diplomatic sanctions on Iceland as part of the Pelly Amendment. The Whales Need Us coalition has once again made use of this.

“The campaign has also urged the public to contact President Obama, and ask that he take targeted action against Icelandic companies connected to whaling by invoking the Pelly Amendment, a tool promulgated by the U.S. Congress as a means of compelling compliance with international conservation treaties,” Millward told IPS.

To an extent, this policy worked. Obama has said that he would invoke the Pelly Amendment and instigate a number of measures aimed at Iceland. But once again, these measures appear to be diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, although they are more extensive than before.

Coincidentally, Icelandic Social Democratic MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir has just put forward a parliamentary proposal that calls for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

“The investigation will take into account both minke whales and fin whales,” she told IPS. “Are we prepared to sacrifice more for less, when there is growing opposition to whaling and Iceland is catching more whales than are deemed sustainable by the IWC [International Whaling Commission]?”

The IWC says that the annual sustainable catch for fin whales in the North Atlantic is 46, whereas Iceland has set a quota of 154.

Meanwhile, Loftsson and other Hvalur employees are becoming increasingly sensitive to outside criticism and have now removed the company phone numbers from ja.is, the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, particularly in mid-December after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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Government, Opposition in Televised Group Therapy in Venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/government-opposition-televised-group-therapy-venezuela/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:22:26 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133623 Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests. The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested […]

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By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Government and opposition leaders in Venezuela held a nationally televised debate as a first step to working towards solutions for the economic, social and political crisis marked by over two months of protests.

The demonstrations and the crackdown have cost 41 lives, including those of seven police officers, and left 600 injured and 2,300 arrested – with 100 still behind bars – and 70 reports of torture.

Foreign ministers Luiz Figueiredo of Brazil, María Ángela Holguín of Colombia, and Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, and the Vatican apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, brokered the six-hour talks hosted by President Nicolás Maduro Thursday night.

The president issued a call “to acknowledge each other and reject the pressure from those who want to impose extreme ways, of violence.” He also called on his adversaries “not for a pact or negotiations, but for a willingness for peace. We want a model of coexistence, of tolerance.”

The leaders of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD – Roundtable of Democratic Unity), a multicolour coalition of opposition parties ranking from the right wing to former leftist guerrillas, met with Maduro and his closest associates in the Miraflores presidential palace.

The main political instigators of the protests, including the jailed Leopoldo López, boycotted the talks.

The university students who started the protests in the capital and dozens of cities around the country did not take part in the meeting. Their main leader, Juan Requesens of the Central University in Caracas, warned that “we will continue our peaceful protests, because there are many reasons to protest.”

“The uncertainty and scepticism surrounding this first meeting will continue while people wait for the government, above all, to send out concrete signals of change in its measures and policies,” Carlos Romero, a graduate studies professor of political science, told IPS.

The protests broke out on Feb. 4 in the southwest city of San Cristóbal and spread to Caracas on Feb. 12, driven by university students who complained about crime on their campus.

The demonstrations grew as the hardline opposition began to demand an end to Maduro’s government, and marches and roadblocks often turned into violent clashes with the military and police and government supporters.

The protests, in which mainly middle-class demonstrators are backing the students, are happening against a backdrop of economic difficulties such as a nearly 60 percent annual inflation rate, scarcity of some food and other basic items, and long, exhausting queues of people waiting to buy products sold under a rationing system.

The high crime rates – more than 24,000 homicides were committed in 2013 – and the poor functioning of services like electricity, water and public hospitals, especially outside of Caracas, are also fuelling the protests.

On Thursday Apr. 10, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a preliminary report that Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world, with 53.7 homicides per 100,000 population.

Maduro, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and leaders of the armed forces say they managed to block a plan backed by Washington to subvert the constitutional order and overthrow the government, with the help of the protests.

The president won the Apr. 14, 2013 elections after Hugo Chávez, who governed the country since 1999, died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Like a snowball effect, the initial reasons for the protests gave way to others, such as the demand that the deaths of people killed – mainly shot – at the roadblocks be investigated, that those responsible for human rights violations be held to account, and that the detainees be released.

The people still in jail include López and two opposition mayors, from San Cristóbal and from a city in the central state of Carabobo, who the Supreme Court removed from office in what was described by some as a summary trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring orders to remove the roadblocks set up by protesters in their municipalities.

The release and restitution of the mayors was another demand set forth by the opposition in the meeting that ended in the early hours of Friday morning.

The opposition is also demanding that armed irregular civilian groups de disarmed.

In the talks, the government and MUD leaders outlined their conflicting visions of the country, the economy and democracy, with each side sounding a litany of complaints about the conduct of the other over the past 15 years.

“The prospects for reaching an agreement on the underlying questions are still remote, because of the conflicting visions, at the end of a first meeting which seemed more like group therapy than a dialogue or negotiations,” political science professor José Vicente Carrasquero commented to IPS.

The foreign minister of Ecuador, Patiño, said that “despite the difficulties, the meeting was positive; a catharsis was necessary; they needed to meet face to face.”

MUD coordinator Ramón Aveledo, a Christian Democratic politician, proposed dates for further talks, starting with a meeting between the government and the students.

MUD called again for respect for the 1999 constitution, the separation of powers, measures against crime, and an amnesty law.

The opposition’s proposed amnesty would involve the release of those in prison for the current protests and others serving lengthy terms for involvement in the violent demonstrations that led to a short-lived coup that toppled Chávez for 48 hours. Thursday was the 12th anniversary of the coup.

Maduro designated a government commission to evaluate the issues and the next meetings. One of the members, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, said “the president has the mandate of the people and can’t just do what MUD wants.”

The governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the leader of the moderate opposition who was Maduro’s rival in last year’s elections, also took part in the debate. “Things have to change, or this will burst,” he said at the end of his address in the meeting.

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

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Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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New Treatments May Defuse Viral Time Bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 08:10:04 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133530 Mohamed Ibrahim first learned he had hepatitis C when he tried to donate blood. Weeks later he received a letter from the blood clinic telling him he carried antibodies of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He most likely acquired the disease from a blood transfusion he received during surgery when he was a child. “I […]

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Egyptian HCV carriers will soon have cost-effective alternatives to interferon therapy. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

Egyptian HCV carriers will soon have cost-effective alternatives to interferon therapy. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Mohamed Ibrahim first learned he had hepatitis C when he tried to donate blood. Weeks later he received a letter from the blood clinic telling him he carried antibodies of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He most likely acquired the disease from a blood transfusion he received during surgery when he was a child.

“I needed a lot of blood, and this was at a time before they screened it,” Ibrahim recalls.Even with new drugs showing promise in reversing cirrhosis, it may already be too late for late-stage HCV patients.

Now, at 24, Ibrahim is living with the blood-borne virus, knowing it is slowly eroding his liver. Unless treated, by the time he reaches his forties the disease will likely advance to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

While Ibrahim has been undergoing treatment since he first learned of his infection, the medication is costly and yet ineffective.

“Nothing has worked, and the side effects of the medicine are as bad as the disease,” he says. “I can’t work in [other places such as) Dubai or Saudi Arabia, because they require a clean blood test before issuing a work permit.”

Ibrahim is one of an estimated eight to 10 million Egyptians living with hepatitis C.

Egypt is said officially to have the highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world, with 10 to 14 percent of its 85 million people infected, and about two million in dire need of treatment. HCV-related liver failure is one of the country’s leading causes of death, taking over 40,000 lives a year.

But Egyptians infected with HCV now have fresh hope in novel treatments.

The Egyptian government recently struck a deal with U.S. pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences to purchase its new hepatitis C pill Sovaldi at a fraction of its American price.

Under the agreement, Gilead will supply a 12-week regimen of Sovaldi to Egypt for 900 dollars, instead of the 84,000 dollars the medicine costs in the United States. Egypt’s health ministry is expected to make the drug available at specialised government clinics in the second half of 2014, once local drug registration procedures are completed.

Studies have shown that Sovaldi is up to 97 percent effective in curing HCV type-4, the most common strain of hepatitis C among Egyptians. The pill is seen as a significant improvement over the traditional HCV treatment in Egypt, which is a 48-week course of the anti-viral drug interferon taken in combination with ribavirin tablets.

The existing treatment costs up to 7,000 dollars using pegylated interferon supplied by multinational pharmaceutical firms Roche and Merck, and is only about 60 percent effective. Many patients also report severe side effects such as anaemia and chronic depression.

Interferon is available without a prescription at pharmacies in Egypt, but at 150 dollars per weekly injection, the 48-week regimen is well beyond the reach of most Egyptians. Reiferon Retard, a locally manufactured interferon, costs a third of that price, but critics claim it is less than 50 percent effective.

Since 2006, the Egyptian government has treated more than 250,000 HCV patients at specialised units affiliated to the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis, a government body formed to tackle the disease. Interferon injections are provided at reduced cost or free to uninsured Egyptians, but as many as half of the patients treated suffer a relapse within six months.

A 2010 study by the U.S.-based National Academy of Sciences estimates that more than 500,000 new cases of HCV infection occur in Egypt each year. Researchers attributed the spread of the disease to the high background prevalence of HCV in Egypt – about 20 times higher than the global average – and to poor medical hygiene practices, including the use of unsterilised medical equipment and unscreened blood.

Egypt’s government claims the figures are highly exaggerated, and that the high prevalence is the clinical outcome of infections decades earlier.

Many HCV carriers were infected during a national campaign in the 1960s and 1970s to stamp out the water-borne disease schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia. Health authorities administered repeated injections of the bilharzia treatment to Egyptians in rural areas using unsterilised needles, inadvertently spreading hepatitis C among the population.

“Doctors at that time were unaware of HCV, which was only identified in 1987, and were using glass syringes instead of the plastic disposable syringes that is current practice,” explains Dr. Refaat Kamel, a surgeon and specialist in tropical diseases. “Once a needle got infected, the disease spread quickly.”

Kamel says a better understanding of the structure and reproductive mechanism of HCV has allowed scientists to devise more effective treatments.

Gilead’s Sovaldi received the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2013 after clinical trials demonstrated its effectiveness in curing HCV without significant adverse effects. The drug, one of a new line of direct-acting antiviral agents, combats the disease by targeting infected liver cells and inhibiting the enzymes that allow the virus to replicate.

The FDA has also approved Janssen Therapeutics’ Olysio, a direct-acting antiviral agent that is about 25 percent cheaper than Gilead’s pill. Pharmaceutical firms AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and others are all hustling to develop their own oral therapies.

Sovaldi’s effectiveness on HCV type-4 is proven only when used with interferon and ribavirin. Further testing will establish whether the drug can be taken without weekly interferon injections, or as a combined therapy with other direct-acting antiviral agents.

“Trials here of six months of Sovaldi without interferon but with ribavirin showed similar success rates, higher than 96 percent (cured),” says Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hamid, director of the government-run Viral Hepatitis Research Lab (VHRL). “The drug might also be effective taken for three months without interferon. We just don’t know yet.”

He says that apart from the reduced cost and greater efficacy of Sovaldi, oral medication could reduce the manifold problems associated with long-term intravenous interferon therapy.

“Obviously, over 48 weeks there is a lot more that can go wrong,” Abdel Hamid tells IPS. “Adherence is a problem as patients must visit the treatment centre at the same time every week to receive the injection. There are also problems keeping the interferon cold, and the medication has many side effects.”

But he cautions that even with new drugs showing promise in reversing cirrhosis, it may already be too late for late-stage HCV patients. With a limited healthcare budget, Egypt is expected to prioritise treatment for those in whom the disease has not yet manifested.

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U.S.-Colombia Labour Rights Plan Falls Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 00:18:23 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133528 Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries. Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, […]

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Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries.

Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, U.S. lawmakers and union leaders here are calling on President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to do much more to ensure that the LPA achieves its aims.“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees... companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity." -- Richard Trumka

“(V)iolence against trade unionists continues; in the three years since the Labour Action Plan was signed, 73 more trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. That alone is reason enough to say the Labour Action Plan has failed,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the biggest U.S. union confederation, the AFL-CIO, Monday in response to a new report by the Colombia’s National Labour School (ENS).

“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees, and hundreds of new labour inspectors not a single company fined by the Ministry of Labour for violating the law and workers’ rights has paid up, and companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity,” he added.

For years Colombia has been considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists, more than 3,000 of whom have been killed since the mid-1980s.

While Colombia has long been given preferential trade treatment by Washington as part of its broader “war against drugs” in the Andean region, the administration of President George W. Bush negotiated a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in 2006.

But the deal was strongly opposed by the AFL-CIO, labour and human rights-groups, and their allies in Congress who refused to ratify the FTA without provisions designed to substantially improve the country’s labour rights performance.

The pact was essentially put on ice until Obama and Santos signed what is formally known as the United States–Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement in April 2011 to which the Labor Action Plan (LAP) was attached.

The LAP — which, among other provisions, required the Colombian government to protect union leaders; enact legislation to ensure that workers could become direct employees instead of subcontractors; establish a new ministry of labour; and prosecute companies that prevent workers from organising — aimed to bring Colombia’s labour practices up to international standards.

While the original intention was to delay the FTA’s implementation until after the LAP’s conditions had been met, Congress approved the FTA in October 2011.

The activists insisted this week that the approval was premature in that it relieved the pressure on the Santos government to fully carry out the LAP.

“The approval of the FTA by the United States Congress, without verifying full compliance with the LAP, significantly reduced the political will behind the plan and contributed to decisively in turning the LAP into a new frustration for Colombian workers,” according to a joint statement issued Monday by Trumka and the leaders of two of Colombia’s trade union movements, the Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC) and the Union of Colombian Workers (CUT).

The statement, which also called for a “serious review” of the FTA’s impact on Colombia’s agricultural and industrial sectors and on its exports to the U.S., was also signed by more than a dozen other trade-union and human rights groups in the U.S. and Colombia.

For its part, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which oversees the implementation of both the LAP and the FTA, gave the record of the past three years a more positive spin in its own report released Monday.

“Three years ago, the Colombian Labor Action Plan gave the United States and Colombia an important new framework, tools and processes to improve safety for union members and protections for labor rights. We have made meaningful progress to date, but this is a long-term effort and there is still work to be done,” USTR Michael Froman said.

The department’s report noted that 671 union members have been placed in a protection programme, which in 2013 had a nearly 200 million dollar budget; that more than 250 vehicles had been assigned assigned to union leaders and labour activists for full-time protection; and that the prosecutor general has assigned over 20 prosecutors to devote full-time to crimes against union members and activists, among other achievements.

It also noted that the number of union members who have been murdered for their organising activities has been reduced to an average of 26 per year since the LAP took effect from an annual average of nearly 100 in the decade before it.

“The action plan has been a good effort, and I know the government [in Bogota] has been taking it seriously,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a hemispheric think tank.

“Of course, the activist groups are right to press harder for compliance and to hold both the U.S. and the Colombian governments to account on this, but the fact is that there has been progress and there should be more,” Shifter, a specialist on the Andean countries, told IPS.

In its report, the ENS concluded that the LAP had overall failed to produce meaningful results in protecting worker rights, including the right to be free from threats and violence or in prosecuting recent and past murders of trade union leaders.

“We would like to emphasize that thousands of workers and their trade union organizations have tried to make use of the new legal provisions that protect them against labor abuses, but mmost have found themselves more vulnerable since judges, prosecutors, and labor inspectors almost always refuse to provide the protection available under the new legal framework,” the ENS report concluded.

In many cases, it said, efforts to gain protection had “only backfired on workers,” particularly those working in ports and palm plantations.

ENS’s conclusions echoed those of a report released last October by U.S. Reps. George Miller and James McGovern, both of whom serve on the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia.

“The ENS report reminds us that we have a very long way to go in successfully implementing the LAP and ensuring that workers can safely and freely exercise their fundamental rights,” the Group said, adding that the new U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, make LAP’s implementation a priority and highlight illegal forms of hiring, the use of collective pacts by companies to thwart union organising, and the problem of impunity for anti-union activity.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

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Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

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