Inter Press Service » Conferences http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 15 Sep 2014 07:57:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Indigenous Peoples Seek Presence in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 08:14:13 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136485 The Bonda tribe is one of the most ancient indigenous groups in India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The Bonda tribe is one of the most ancient indigenous groups in India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The world’s 370 million indigenous people, who say they were marginalised in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), want to play a key role in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda, which will be finalised next year.

“The world can still benefit from [our] knowledge by including us in the journey for the next 15 years. And we want this to be an equal partnership, we do not want to be beneficiaries,” stated Galina Angarova, the New York representative of Tebtebba Foundation (the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education).

In her speech at the closing session of the three-day conference of NGOs sponsored by the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) last week, she highlighted the need to include marginalised groups in development targets as well as in the on-going negotiations for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the MDGs in 2015.

"A lot of the corporations are eyeing [indigenous peoples'] territories for future profit. This is why free prior and informed consent is key. Because without it, they are just free to go and grab, and develop on those territories." -- Galina Angarova, the New York representative of Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research and Education)
Indigenous peoples continue to fight for their right to self-determination, which is not a reality yet, despite being granted by the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The outcome document of the DPI/NGO conference, drafted and amended through a participative process over the past months, will feed into the discussion about the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs in the General Assembly, the first World Conference on Indigenous People that will be held on Sep. 22-23, and into the Secretary General’s synthesis report to be issued later this autumn.

Although this declaration is not legally binding, it has strong power in terms of accountability and review mechanisms, which are key points in the SDGs.

“The fact that the resource document is based upon officially submitted positions by major U.N. groups and stakeholders gives it quite a strong voice,” Maruxa Cardama, co-chair of the conference declaration drafting committee, told IPS.

“I think that this document can take us very far if we understand the power of soft law and soft policy,” she added.

This year marked the 65th edition of the DPI/NGO conference, which returned to New York after seven years, and registered an unprecedented attendance from civil society: more than 2,000 representatives of international NGOs gathered from more than 100 countries. Among those present, indigenous groups and organisations managed to make a strong case for their inclusion in the development agenda.

According to Angarova, indigenous peoples’ territories cover 24 percent of the land worldwide, and host 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

“A lot of the corporations are eyeing those territories for future profit. This is why free prior and informed consent is key. Because without it they [corporations] are just free to go and grab, and develop on those territories,” she told IPS.

Indigenous people are then thrown into mainstream society without the means to survive.

Instead, advocates and representatives say they should be able to give their consent to any reforms that directly or indirectly impact governance in their community, or development in the lands they inhabit.

“This has to be done at all levels, starting from the sustainable development programmes; and then the national governments should derive the mandate from the U.N. level, from the multilateral level down to national government plans,” Angarova stated.

Harnessing these policies into the development goals of reducing hunger and achieving food security also has great potential.

“Food sovereignty, with the rights and culture-based approach that it encompasses, is a pre-requisite for indigenous peoples’ food security,” Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), told IPS.
Indigenous people have lived in a sustainable way for centuries and passed their knowledge from generation to generation, feeding their people without damaging the natural environment. And this is one of the reasons why protecting their culture is crucial, she added.

Not only must these communities be able to access the natural resources but they also have to ensure the learning curriculum for their children includes traditional education and allows kids to spend time with elders to learn about the cycle of life, nature, harvesting and farming.

Their challenge is now to preserve their knowledge and pass it on.

“The knowledge and understanding that we have is really vital […],” Carmen continued. “Maybe the world will look at indigenous people and ask in a respectful way how to grow corn with no water.”

Myrna Cunningham, president of the Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People in Nicaragua, pointed out that indigenous people are not poor of their own accord, but have been impoverished as a result of the development paradigm that has been imposed on them.

For instance, about 600 indigenous languages have been lost in the past 100 years, roughly one every two weeks. As language is part of the biodiversity indigenous communities preserve, losing language means losing biodiversity. This is necessarily linked to a change in their relationship with the world.

Carmen explained to IPS that there is no translation in indigenous language for words like “intellectual property” or “human rights”, for example. These concepts have to be imported from a different culture.

So things have been literally lost in translation. Paradigms from other languages and cultures have been imposed over a reality that was perceived in a different way for centuries.

Now it is time to revisit this paradigm, as the world prepares for a decade of inclusive and sustainable development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:38:21 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136447 Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water." -- Laisene Nafatali, a resident of Lotofaga Village
“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.

Most people in Lotofaga are subsistence farmers and are unable save a sufficient cash income to purchase a water tank, which costs roughly 2,700 tala (some 1,158 dollars). What little money they do have rapidly disappears in paying for transport to procure a supply from elsewhere.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water,” she continued.

Capturing maximum rainfall is vital to long-term water security in Samoa, where 65 percent of the country’s supply is derived from surface water and 35 percent from groundwater.

The Samoa Water Authority, which services 85 percent of the population, provides water treatment plants for existing water sources in rural areas. About 18 percent of the rural population, or more than 32,000 people in 54 villages, participate in independent water schemes, which are owned and managed at the local level.

Sulutumu Sasa Milo, president of the Independent Water Schemes Association, pointed out that, while infrastructure is 40-50 years old and in need of upgrading, the scheme is vital to sustaining many rural communities.

The scheme’s gravity-fed infrastructure comprises pipes that carry water from a natural source, such as a river or spring, to villages with water tanks provided for storage. Individual households then arrange their own piped connections.

A spokesperson for the Water Resources Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in the capital, Apia, said the country receives an adequate amount of annual rainfall, approximately 8,400 mm3 per year.

The challenge, according to the official, is small and steep water catchments with limited storage capacity, pressures on water resources from increasing development and observed changes in the pattern of the wet season over the past five years.

The wet season has habitually started in October and lasted six months, but now, he said, it tends to commence earlier and lasts half the predicted period, about three months.

“The difference now is that our rainfall is concentrated within a shorter period of time and it is more difficult to capture. In 2011, we received 80 percent of our annual rainfall within three months and this was mostly lost through runoff,” the spokesman stated.

Upolu Island is home to 70 percent of Samoa’s population of 190,372, as well as the capital city, and there are enormous demands for water use as a result of expanding urban development, hydropower stations, agriculture and tourism.

An MNRE environmental report last year identified the issue of forests within watershed areas, which help protect the quantity and quality of fresh water, being largely felled for agriculture, and commercial and residential development on the island. The impact of natural disasters, such as the Samoan earthquake and tsunami in 2009, and Cyclone Evan in 2012, has further degraded catchments and water infrastructure.

When droughts occurred in Samoa in 2011 and 2012, many villages, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, were left with no water as streams and catchments dried up.

Water security varies across the Pacific Islands. Kiribati and Tuvalu in the central Pacific Ocean are without any significant fresh water resources, while Papua New Guinea in the southwest has renewable water resources of 801,000 mm3 per year, in contrast to Samoa with 1,328 mm3 per year.

Common water management challenges in the region include aquatic pollution and procuring the financial, technical and human resources needed for large infrastructure projects and expanding safe water provision to isolated, widely scattered island-based populations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that water resources on Upolu Island are facing ecological stress due to about 85 percent of vegetation being cleared, and waste contamination.

Samoa is on track to achieve three of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but increasing water storage capacity and managing environmental threats are crucial to improving the rate of access to safe drinking water in Samoa, which is currently an estimated 40 percent.

Six of 14 Pacific Island Forum states, namely Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu, are on track to improve access to safe water and sanitation, deemed essential to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development across the region.

*Water, sanitation and waste management are key issues being discussed at the United Nations’ Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hosted in Samoa from Sept. 1-4, 2014.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Civil Society Condemns Immunity for Sitting African Leaders Accused of Serious Crimeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:37:14 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136369 Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Mary Wacu lived in the Rift Valley region for 10 years prior to the 2007/08 post-election violence that rocked Kenya after a disputed general election.

“My husband was shot with a poisoned arrow, and my children hacked to death. Everything was burnt to ashes, I barely escaped with my life,” she tells IPS.

According to human rights organisations, the violence in this East African nation left an estimated 1,500 people dead and resulted in the rape of 3,000 women and the displacement of 300,000 people.

From her shanty in the sprawling Kibera slums, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Wacu follows the proceedings of the cases for crimes against humanity levelled against President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

But here in Kenya, like many who bore the brunt of the unprecedented violence, justice remains beyond Wacu’s reach. It is a scenario that is all too familiar in Africa’s conflict-prone countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Against this backdrop, civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa as well as international ones working on the continent, have opposed the recently-adopted Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights by the African Union (AU) member heads of states in June.

The protocol extends criminal jurisdiction to the African Court, and offers immunity to serving heads of states and all senior government officials during their term of office for serious crimes. The African Court was established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

A source from Malawi attending the just-concluded meeting to promote ratification of AU treaties, which was held in Nairobi by the AU Office of the Legal Counsel on the 25 and 26 of August, explains to IPS that the amendments include an immunity provision for heads of states or governments and certain senior state officials for serious crimes against humanity.

The contentious article 46A categorically states that no charges shall be commenced or continued against any serving AU head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity.

“Lifting immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes committed is an assurance to African leaders that they are above the law,” the source says.

AU officials at the meeting, however, refused to comment to IPS on the protocol.

Malawi has taken the lead in mobilising other CSOs across Africa to tell their governments that the immunity provision is a blatant disrespect for human rights.

The source says that with a number of African leaders already under the radar of the ICC, “an immunity provision is offering African leaders the licence to abuse their people. It will further entrench dictatorship since many leaders will be afraid of being indicted when their term ends.”

The civil society community says that the African Court was moving in the right direction, until now.

Edigah Kavulavu, of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, tells IPS that the adopted protocol is the first legal instrument to extend a regional court’s authority to criminal jurisdiction “regional courts often deal with human rights issues, which are matters of a civil nature.”

He says that the African Court can now try cases of a criminal nature, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

He points out that the main bone of contention with the protocol is the immunity provision. Article 46A, Kavulavu says, is in breach of the principles that govern human rights.

“Through ICC and other regional courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, these courts complement each other so that they can bridge the impunity gap,” he explains.

James Gondi of the Kenyans For Peace With Truth and Justice, a coalition of over 30 Kenyan and East African legal, human rights, and governance organisations, tells IPS that international criminal law and international justice demand that “those bearing greatest responsibility are often head of states, heads of military and high level elites who plan, finance and coordinate criminal acts [be held to account]. The amendment is meant to serve the interests of these three categories of people.”

The human rights lawyer further says that immunity negates the principles of transparency and accountability, respect for the rule of law and for humanity.

He says that the immunity provision is a display that African leaders are immune to the criminal justice system.

Gondi says that the objective of the criminal justice of which the African Court now has mandate is and should be to “deter future atrocities and to end impunity.”

The lawyer says that the regime of law has developed such that immunity for heads of state is lifted in many national and international laws where crimes committed are so heinous that the law cannot turn a blind eye.

African countries with national laws that rule out immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes include Benin, Kenya, Burkina Faso the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Gondi says that while the general principle of the law is that “we cannot give immunity for crimes against humanity because they are so grave. The law is an issue of politics and politics are defined by impunity and political will.”

Moving forward, Gondi says that there must be a concerted international and regional effort to end impunity and the political will to drive these efforts, “citizens must also demand for accountability from their leaders.”

The Malawi source urged CSOs to lobby, protest and campaign to have their governments reject the adoption and continue with sustained campaigns.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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East Africa Breaks the Silence on Menstruation to Keep Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:30:18 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136145 Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When Peninah Mamayi got her period last January, she was scared, confused and embarrassed. But like thousands of other girls in the developing world who experience menarche having no idea what menstruation is, Mamayi, who lives with her sister-in-law in a village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, kept quiet.

“When I went to the toilet I had blood on my knickers,” she told IPS. “I was wondering what was coming out and I was so scared I ran inside the house and stayed there crying.

“I just used rags. I feared telling anybody.”For girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks” -- Dennis Ntale, 18, a student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, Uganda

Not having access to or being able to afford disposable sanitary pads or tampons like millions of their Western counterparts, desperate Ugandan girls will resort to using the local ebikokooma leaves, paper, old clothes and other materials as substitutes or even, as a health minister told a menstrual hygiene management conference this week, sitting in the sand until that time of the month is over.

“We always try to give them something to use at school, just at school,” Lydia Nabazzine, a teacher at Mulago Private Primary School in Kampala, where about 300 out of 500 students are female, told IPS.

“When they go home we don’t know how they go about it, because we cannot afford funding up to home level.”

But the 2012 Study on menstrual management in Uganda, conducted by the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and IRC International Wash and Sanitation Centre in seven Ugandan districts, found that over 50 percent of senior female teachers confirmed there was no provision for menstrual pads for schoolgirls.

When some girls have their period, they may miss up to 20 percent of their total school year due to the humiliation of not having protection, according to separate research from the World Bank. This profoundly affects their academic potential.

“Those days when I was menstruating I could be absent for up to five days a month until menstruation had stopped,” recalled Mayami.

It’s a continent-wide problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund says one in 10 African girls skipped school during menstruation. Some drop out entirely because they lack access to effective sanitary products.

A number of recent initiatives have, however, tried to address this.

On May 28 this year, the world marked the first Menstrual Hygiene Day to help “break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.”

On Aug. 14 – 15, East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference, which has the theme “breaking the silence on menstruation, keep girls in school,” has been taking place in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

At least 100 schoolteachers, schoolgirls – and boys – NGOs, including Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) Uganda, civil society members and others are taking part in the two-day event. They’re calling on the government to put in place a menstrual hygiene management school policy. They also want the government to provide free sanitary pads to girls in schools, like neighbouring Kenya has done.

Despite keeping silent about the horrors of menstruation for months, Mamayi shared with the conference attendees the solution she found to that time of the month.

The student, now 13, had been walking home from school when some older pupils told her, “madam [the teacher] said menstruation is a normal thing for every girl.”

“So I asked them about it,” she told IPS.

“Now I’m using AFRIPads.”

Invented by the eponymous Uganda-based social business, AFRIPads are washable cloth sanitary towels designed to provide effective and hygienic menstrual protection for up to a year.

One Ugandan, Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kampala’s Makerere University, has also invented the environmentally-friendly MakaPads, from papyrus reeds and waste paper. MakaPads are said to be the only trademarked biodegradable sanitary pads made in Africa.

Mamayi said the re-useable pads work out to be 5,500 Ugandan shillings (2.11 dollars) a year, compared to the 30,000 shillings (11.49 dollars) that disposable pads would have set her back.

“Now when I go somewhere [when I have my period] I sit and am comfortable,” said Mamayi. “I’m not bothered by anything. I don’t worry whether I’ve got anything on my skirt. I don’t miss school.”

She added: “I’m going to tell my friends that menstruation is a normal thing in girls.

“I want my friend also to be free, to tell their parents to buy for them pads. Let them not fear.”

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Courtesy: Amy Fallon

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Breaking the culture of silence around menstruation is the aim of a new book, Understanding and Managing Menstruation, launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at the conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys.

Maggie Kasiko, a gender technical advisor at the Ministry of Education and Sports, told IPS that the government hoped the book would reach as many students, teachers and parents across the country as possible.

“Not many girls have the opportunities to have their mothers and aunties around, so they start their menstruation without knowing,” she said, adding many parents and relatives were busy trying to earn a living for their families.

Dennis Ntale, 18, a senior five student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, said he didn’t know what menstruation was when he encountered a fellow student with her period in class earlier this year, and tried to comfort her. It was only sometime later when he relayed the incident to his male friends and they told him she was “undergoing her MP [menstrual period].”

“They’re [teachers] not teaching this to the boys in schools,” Ntale told IPS.

“I believe boys should be informed about this because there are many of them out there who have no idea about this.”

He said for girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks”.

“If you don’t have that pad she won’t be able to do a thing,” Ntale said. “[We should] make sure she has what will keep her in school.”

Kasiko said the Ministry of Education and Sports was continuing to ensure schools had separate facilities for boys and girls, with the girls having washrooms and changing rooms where they could bathe and change, had access to clean water, extra pads and Panadol.

But she said she didn’t see the government providing free pads to girls “in the short-term or the long-term”.

“Starting to distribute sanitary towels to each and every girl, every month, is quite a cost for the ministry when you look at all the other areas that the ministry needs to take care of,” she said.

“That, our guidelines for Universal Primary Education (UPE) is very clear, is a role of parents. It’s sanitary wear. Just like you buy a panty for your child, you should be responsible for buying a sanitary towel for your child.

Kasiko added: “But we’ll support the parents and work together with the parents to give them knowledge to ensure the environment is clean and girls stay in school.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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‘Zero Tolerance’ the Call for Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:43:04 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135698 Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

By A. D. McKenzie
LONDON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

Heightening their campaign to eradicate violence against women and girls, United Nations agencies and civil groups have called for increased action to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

At the first Girl Summit in London Wednesday, hosted by the U.K. government and UNICEF, delegates said they wanted to send a strong message that there should be “zero tolerance” for these practices.

“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices,” Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, told IPS.“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices” – Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection

“FGM is an excruciatingly painful and terrifying ordeal for young girls. The physical effects can last a lifetime, resulting in horrific infections, difficulty passing urine, infertility and even death.”

Bissell said that when a young girl is married “it tends to mark the end of her education and she’s more likely to have children when she’s still a child herself – with a much higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth”.

“Without firm and accelerated action now, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer permanent damage,” she added in an e-mail interview.

At the summit, the United Kingdom announced an FGM prevention programme, launched by the government’s Department of Health and the National Health Service (NHS) England. Backed by 1.4 million pounds, the programme is designed to improve the way in which the NHS tackles female genital mutilation and “clarify the role of health professionals which is to ‘care, protect, prevent’,” the government said.

According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, some 130,000 people are affected by FGM in the United Kingdom, with “60,000 girls under the age of 15 potentially at risk”, even though the practice is outlawed in the country.

The prevention programme will now make it mandatory for all “acute hospitals” to report the number of patients with FGM to the Department of Health on a monthly basis, as of September of this year.

U.N. officials said that the Girl Summit was a significant development because it marked the importance of the issues addressed.

“International leaders came together in one place and said enough is enough,” Bissell said.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of intensified campaigns on the reductions in child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting over the past few years, the United Nations and other organisations have noted that the numbers of girls affected are in fact decreasing.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 has dropped by about half, from 34 percent to 18 percent over the last three decades, UNICEF says.

In South Asia, the decline has been especially marked for marriages involving girls under age 15, dropping from 32 percent to 17 percent.

“The marriage of girls under age 18, however, is still commonplace,” Bissell told IPS.

“In Indonesia and Morocco, the risk of marrying before age 18 is less than half of what it was three decades ago. In Ethiopia, women aged 20 to 24 are marrying about three years later than their counterparts three decades ago,” she added.

Regarding female genital mutilation/cutting, Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to one-third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation, while in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence of FGM has dropped by as much as half, Bissell said.

However, officials stressed that with population growth, it is possible that progress in reducing child marriage will remain flat unless the commitments made at the Girl Summit are acted upon. Flat progress “isn’t good enough”, Bissell told IPS.

Recently released U.N. figures show that, despite the declines, child marriage is widespread, with more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. UNICEF says that some 250 million women were married before the age of 15.

The highest percentage of these women can be found in South Asia, followed by East Asia and the Pacific which is home to 25 percent of girls and women married before the age of 18, UNICEF says.

Statistics also indicate that girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. In addition, teenage mothers are more at risk from complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; some 70,000 adolescent girls die every year because of such complications, according to the United Nations.

The statistics on female genital mutilation are also cause for international concern, with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saying that about 125 million girls and women have been subjected to the practice, which can lead to haemorrhage, infection, physical dysfunction, obstructed labour and death.

According to UNFPA, female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage are human rights violations that both help to perpetuate girls’ low status by impairing their health and long-term development.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin told IPS that a number of states have adopted legislation against female genital mutilation/cutting but that some perpetrators are still operating with “impunity”.

Participating in the London summit, Osotimehin said that certain governments were facing challenges within their own countries because of long-held cultural beliefs, but like Bissell, he said that the picture is not completely bleak, because civil society and grassroots organisations are amplifying their campaigns.

“Our message for girls who are affected by these practices is that they have support – moral, psychological, physical and emotional support,” he told IPS. “We also want to send a message that those who are affected should advocate to try and stop these practices.”

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said it was significant that the summit saw commitment from the African Union and the deputy prime Minister of Ethiopia, as well as from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID). The Government of Canada and several other financial supporters also made commitments.

For the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the pledges show support for the message of “zero tolerance” of child marriage and FGM that her organisation wishes to send. They are also a strong signal that the practices can be ended in a generation, she told IPS.

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Indigenous Communities Say Education, Funding Key to Fighting HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135655 Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Marama Pala, hailing from Waikanae on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, was diagnosed with HIV at 22. The news of her diagnosis spread like wildfire in her tight-knit Maori community.

That was in 1993 but even today, she says, there is a “shame and blame” attitude surrounding HIV, which disproportionately impacts the region’s indigenous population.

“If you are HIV positive, you are seen as ‘dirty’, as someone who must be a drug user or a prostitute. Our people are not seeking help because of this stigma, discrimination and criminalisation – the fear of being charged, hunted down, ostracised or put in jail,” says Pala, who, together with her Pacific Islander HIV-positive husband, runs the INA (Maori, Indigenous, South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation. The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People." -- Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
The Foundation takes a cultural approach to HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention and intervention.

“In the past five years the number of new infections has […] increased in the Pacific Island community living in New Zealand and especially among the Maoris because we are late testers. People who [engage] in risky behaviour [seldom] get tested until they are very, very sick,” Pala, a mother of two, tells IPS.

“Our women are dying because they are afraid to go on medication, partly because they are afraid of the stigma and discrimination. Antiretroviral drugs are widely available in our country and they should not be dying in this time and age,” says Pala, who is a member of the board of directors for the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO).

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programmes designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say.

Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV.

“There are 130 aboriginal women who are living with HIV in Australia, but apart from myself there is only one other woman who speaks openly about living with HIV,” says Michelle Tobin, who contracted the disease at the age of 21.

She began dating a man who told her that he had HIV but “I was naïve and just believed that it wouldn’t happen to me,” she admits. “Within six months I was diagnosed with HIV. I had a baby so I focused all my attention on her.”

“In the early 1990s in Melbourne we weren’t offered treatments when we were first diagnosed. In those days we lost a lot of people in the early stage of the disease, including my late husband,” Tobin, who belongs to the Yorta Yorta Nation, tells IPS.

As a descendant of the Stolen Generation and an aboriginal woman living with HIV and now AIDS, she has experienced stigma and discrimination, especially from within her own family, who disowned her.

Some in her community still think she is contagious and don’t want to be near her, but her struggle has made Tobin a passionate and vocal advocate for indigenous women living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Tobin, chair of the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and a committee member of PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network), “Aboriginal women are a minority within the minority of the HIV epidemic. We need more resources and funding [to] enable women to speak out about prevention, treatments, isolation, confidentiality, housing and the whole spectrum of issues that impact us.”

In addition to endorsing targets set out in the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Australia has also adopted the Eora Action Plan on HIV 2014, which sets strategic targets to bring greater attention to HIV prevention, including best clinical care for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with HIV.

The recent International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS hosted by the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) in partnership with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organising Committee (AATSIOC), held in Sydney on Jul. 17-19, was themed ‘Our story, Our Time, Our Future.’

It highlighted the need for increased epidemiological data with a focus on indigenous ethnicity. Lack of data about the level of treatment take-up amongst indigenous people living with HIV is posing a challenge for Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategies.

“We have evidence in Canada that aboriginal people are getting HIV three-and-a-half times faster than the rate of the general population,” Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), tells IPS.

“We believe those trends exist all over the world, but we don’t have the epidemiological data. We are advocating for epidemiological evidence as that is what we need for the dominant cultures to recognise us as a key population at greater risk of HIV and AIDS along with gay men and sex workers, so governments can free up the money for us and we can create our own solutions,” he asserts.

Forty-nine-year-old Stratton, a citizen of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Ontario, with mixed English and Ojibwe heritage, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

He believes that indigenous people are particularly vulnerable due to “colonisation, neo-colonialism, resource extraction, and assimilation amongst other similar issues” that push them down on social determinants of health and put them at higher risk of all poor health outcomes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was substantially greater than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.5 compared with 0.4 per 100,000 population).

Between 2004 and 2014, 231 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with HIV. In 2013, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was greater in the indigenous population (5.4 per 100,000) compared to the Australian-born non-indigenous population (3.9 per 100,000).

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation,” Stratton says. “The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to be able to leverage international human rights mechanisms so countries can be held accountable.

“We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, which talks of how to engage indigenous people,” he concludes.

IIWGHA has been working at increasing knowledge and addressing the entrenched stigma of HIV and AIDS within indigenous communities and supporting indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives.

Its mandate and strategic plan are based on the 2006 ‘Toronto Charter: Indigenous People’s Action Plan’ that acknowledges the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy, social justice and human rights.

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, has been working with women living way below the poverty line, some of whom had their children taken away when they were diagnosed with HIV.

Diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44 while actively using drugs in Toronto, Peltier believes systemic issues – such as the fear of losing one’s child to the authorities – act as barriers preventing people from discussing their condition.

“A social system that is supposed to be there to support women is actually the one that is putting barriers up for the women,” Peltier tells IPS.

When she decided to go home and reconnect with her family and her First Nations community in Wikwemikong, Ontario, some supported her but others remained reluctant to embrace her.

People wouldn’t let her use their dishes and asked her to clean the toilet after use.

“Soon rumours began to circulate and one of the words being used to talk about me was ‘Wiinaapineh’ (dirty disease). I stood my ground and became better with medication, and my family’s support and encouragement,” Peltier says.

“People have to know that there is help available, there is treatment and prevention and that they can have a good quality life,” concludes Peltier, who is today a great-grandmother.

For her, one of the key responses to high rates impacting indigenous women is to empower them to tap into their inner strength and resilience, and break the code of silence to speak up about HIV/AIDS

(END)

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Fragility of WTO’s Bali Package Exposedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:19:23 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135658 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

The “fragility” of the World Trade Organization’s ‘Bali package’ was brought into the open at the weekend meeting in Sydney, Australia, of trade ministers from the world’s 20 major economies (G20).

The Bali package is a trade agreement resulting from the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December last year, and forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.

The G20 group of countries includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.“… the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues ... That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing” – South African trade minister Rob Davies

During the Sydney meeting, India and South Africa challenged the industrialised countries present to come clean on implementation of the issues concerning the poor countries in agriculture and development, according to participants present at the two-day meeting.

Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid-November, Sydney hosted the trade ministerial meeting to discuss implementation of the Bali package, particularly the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). The TFA has been at the heart of the industrialised countries’ trade agenda since 1996.

More importantly, Australia, as host of the November meeting, has decided to prepare the ground for pursuing the new trade agenda based on global value chains in which trade facilitation and services related to finance, information, telecommunications, and logistics play a main role.

“I said the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues,” South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies told IPS Monday. “That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing.”

Davies said that “the issue is that while South Africa doesn’t need any assistance, many developing and poor countries have to make investments and implement new procedures [because of the TFA]. What was there in the [TF] agreement is a series of best endeavour provisions in terms of technical and financial support together with best endeavour undertakings in terms of issues pertaining to least developed countries in agriculture and so on.”

Over the last few months, several industrialised countries, including the United States, have said that they can address issues in the Bali package concerning the poor countries as part of the Doha Single Undertaking, which implies that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The specific issues that concern the interests of the least-developed countries include elimination of cotton subsidies and unimpeded market access for cotton exported by the African countries, preferential rules of origin for the poorest countries to export industrial products to the rich countries, and preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, among others.

“Even if there is an early harvest there has to be an outcome on other issues in the Bali package,” the South African minister argued.

There is lot of concern at the G20 meeting that if the trade facilitation protocol is not implemented by the end of this month, the WTO would be undermined.

“What we said from South Africa is to commit on the delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package,” Davies told IPS. “And a number of developing countries present at the meeting agreed with our formulation that there has to be substantial delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package.”

At the Sydney meeting, the industrialised countries pushed hard for a common stand on the protocol for implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement by July 31. The TF protocol is a prerequisite for implementing the trade facilitation agreement by the end of July 2015.

The United States also cautioned that if there is no outcome by the end of this month, the post-Bali package would face problems. “Talking about post-Bali agenda while failing to implement the TFA isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, it’s slaughtering the horse,” U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman tweeted from Sydney.

The industrialised countries offered assurances that they would address the other issues in the Bali package, including public distribution programmes for food security, raised by developing countries. But they were not prepared to wait for any delay in the implementation of the TF agreement.

Over the last four months, the developing and poorest countries have realised that their issues in the Bali package are being given short shrift while all the energies are singularly focused on implementing the trade facilitation agreement.

The African countries are the first to point out the glaring mismatch between implementation of the TFA on the one hand and lack of any concerted effort to address other issues in the Bali package on the other. The African Union has suggested implementing the TFA on a provisional basis until all other issues in the Doha Development Agenda are implemented.

The industrialised countries mounted unprecedented pressure and issued dire threats to the African countries to back off from their stand on the provisional agreement. At the AU leaders meeting in Malibu, Equatorial Guinea, last month, African countries were forces to retract from their position on the provisional agreement.

However, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda insisted on a clear linkage between the TFA and the Doha agenda.

India is fighting hard, along with other developing countries in the G33 coalition of developing countries on trade and economic issues, for a permanent solution to exempt public distribution programmes for food security from WTO rules in agriculture.

New Delhi has found out over the last six months that the industrialised countries are not only creating hurdles for finding a simple and effective solution for public distribution programmes but continue to raise extraneous issues that are well outside the purview of the mandate to arrive at an agreement on food security.

India announced on July 2 that it will not join consensus unless all issues concerning agriculture and development are addressed along with the TF protocol.

India’s new trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman, along with South Africa, made it clear in Sydney that they could only join consensus on the protocol once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package are fully addressed.

Against this backdrop, the G20 trade ministers on Saturday failed to bridge their differences arising from their colliding trade agendas.

The developing countries, particularly India, want firm commitment that there is a permanent solution on public distribution programmes for food security along with all other issues concerning development, an Indian official told IPS.

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Child Migrants – A “Torn Artery” in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 22:39:35 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135637 At the conclusion of the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, civil society organisations called for migrants to be seen as human beings rather than just statistics in official files. Credit: Casa Presidencial de Honduras

At the conclusion of the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, civil society organisations called for migrants to be seen as human beings rather than just statistics in official files. Credit: Casa Presidencial de Honduras

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

The migration crisis involving thousands of Central American children detained in the United States represents the loss of a generation of young people fleeing poverty, violence and insecurity in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America where violence is rife.

Some 200 experts and officials from several countries and bodies met in Tegucigalpa to promote solutions to the humanitarian emergency July 16-17 at an International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, convened by the Honduran government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The conference ended with a call to establish ways and means for the countries involved to implement a plan of action with sufficient resources for effective border control and the elimination of “blind spots” used as migrant routes.

They also called for the rapid establishment of a regional initiative to address this humanitarian crisis jointly and definitively, in recognition of the shared responsibility to bring peace, security, welfare and justice to the peoples of Central America.“It is like someone has torn open an artery in Honduras and other Central American countries. Fear, grinding poverty and no future mean we are losing our lifeblood – our young people. If this continues to happen, the hearts of our nations will stop beating” – Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras

But the declaration “Hoja de Ruta: Una Invitación a la Acción” (Roadmap: An Invitation to Action) does not go beyond generalisations and lacks specific commitments to address a crisis of unprecedented dimensions.

The U.S. government says that border patrols have caught 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States this year. They are confined in overcrowded shelters awaiting deportation.

José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), told the conference that in 2011 there were 4,059 unaccompanied minors who attempted to enter the United States. But this figure rose to 21,537 in 2013 and 47,017 so far in 2014.

“These huge numbers of children are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. According to the data, 29 percent of the minors detained are Hondurans, 24 percent are Guatemalans, 23 percent are Salvadorans, and 22 percent are Mexicans,” said Insulza, who called for the migrants not to be criminalised.

Images of hundreds of children, on their own or accompanied by relatives or strangers, climbing on to the Mexican freight train known as “The Beast” on their way to the U.S. border, finally aroused the concern of regional governments.

The U.S. administration’s announcement that it would begin mass deportations of children apprehended in the past few months was also a factor. Honduran minors began to be deported on July 14.

The Tegucigalpa conference brought together officials and experts from countries receiving and sending migrants. According to analyses by participants, in Guatemala migration is motivated by poverty, while in El Salvador and Honduras people are fleeing citizen insecurity and criminal violence.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said these migrants were “displaced by war” and that an emergency “has now erupted among us.”

Out of every nine unaccompanied minors who cross the border into the United States, seven are Hondurans from what are known as the “hot territories” of insecurity and violence, the president said.

Ricardo Puerta, an expert on migration, told IPS that the Central American region is losing its next generation. “This is hitting hard, especially in countries like Honduras where people are fleeing violence and migrants are aged between 12 and 30.

“We are losing many new and good hands and brains, and in general they will not return. If they do come back it will be as tourists, but not permanently,” he said.

Laura García is a cleaner. She earns an average of 12 dollars for each house or office she cleans, but she can barely get by. She wants to emigrate, and does not care about the risks or what she hears about the hardening of U.S. migration policies, whose officials endlessly repeat that Central American migrants are “not welcome”.

“I hear all that, but there is no work here. Some days I clean two houses, some days only one and sometimes none. And as I am over 35, no one wants to give me a job because of my age. I struggle and struggle, but I want to try up in the North, they say they pay well for looking after people,” she told IPS in a faltering voice.

She lives in the poor and conflict-ridden shanty town of San Cristóbal, in the north of Tegucigalpa, which is controlled by gangs. After 18.00, they impose their own law: no one goes in or out without permission from the crime lords.

“They say that a lot can happen on the way (migrant route), attacks, kidnappings, rapes, they say a lot of things, but with the situation as it is here, it’s the same thing to die on the way than right here at the hands of the ‘maras’ (gangs), where you can be shot dead at any time,” Garcia said.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington on July 7, Honduran cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga spoke about the despair experienced in Honduras and the rest of Central America.

“It is like someone has torn open an artery in Honduras and other Central American countries. Fear, grinding poverty and no future mean we are losing our lifeblood – our young people. If this continues to happen, the hearts of our nations will stop beating,” said the cardinal in a speech that has not yet been disseminated in Honduras.

Rodríguez Maradiaga criticised the mass deportations of Honduran children who have started to arrive from Mexico and the United States. “Can you imagine starting your adult life being treated as a criminal? Where would you go from there?” he asked.

The Catholic Church in Honduras has insisted that fear and extreme poverty, together with unemployment and violence, lead parents to take the desperate measure of sending their children off on the dangerous journey of migration in order to save their lives. The Church is demanding inclusive public policies to prevent the flight of a generation.

Violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is considered to have grown as a result of the displacement of drug trafficking cartels from Mexico and Colombia, due to the war on drugs waged by the governments of those countries.

In 2013, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 69.2 per 100,000 people, in Guatemala 30 per 100,000 and in Honduras 79.7 per 100,000, according to official figures.

At present over one million Hondurans are estimated to reside in the United States, out of a total population of 8.4 million. In 2013 remittances to Honduras from this migrant population amounted to 3.1 billion dollars, according to the Honduran Association of Banking Institutions.

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International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 21:39:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135613 Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
FORTALEZA, Brazil, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The creation of BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) own financial institutions was “a disappointment” for activists from the five countries, meeting in this northeastern Brazilian city after the group’s leaders concluded their sixth annual summit here.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), launched Tuesday Jul. 15 at the summit in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, represent progress “from United States unilateralism to multilateralism,” said Graciela Rodriguez, of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP).

But “the opportunity for real reform was lost,” she complained to IPS at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held in this city Wednesday and Thursday Jul. 16-17 as a forum for civil society organisations in parallel to the sixth summit.

The format announced for the NDB “does not meet our needs,” she said.

The NDB will promote “a new kind of development" only if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals. -- Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry
The bank’s goal is to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the BRICS and other countries of the developing South, with an initial capital investment of 50 billion dollars, to be expanded through the acquisition of additional resources.

“We want an international system that serves the majority, not just the seven most powerful countries (the Group of Seven),” that does not depend on the dollar and that has an international arbitration tribunal for financial controversies, said Oscar Ugarteche, an economics researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“It is unacceptable that a district court judge in New York should put a country at risk,” he told IPS, referring to the June ruling of the U.S. justice system in favour of holdouts (“vulture funds”) in their dispute with Argentina, which could force another suspension of payments.

“We need international financial law,” similar to existing trade law, and an end to the dominance of the dollar in exchange transactions, which enables serious injustice against nations and persons, like embargoes on payments and income in the United States, he said.

“Existing international institutions do not work,” and the proof of this is that they have still not overcome the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, said the Mexican researcher.

Major powers like the United States and Japan have unsustainable debt and fiscal deficits, yet are not harassed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in contrast to the treatment meted out to less powerful nations, particularly in the developing South.

During the seminar, organised by REBRIP and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, oft-repeated demands were for civil society participation, transparency, environmental standards and consultation with the populations affected by projects financed by the NDB.

These demands have not yet been included in the NDB but may be discussed during its operational design over the next few years, while the group’s parliaments ratify its approval, said Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry, in a dialogue with activists.

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cosendey said that a disadvantage of the multilateral bank was the need for its regulations not to be confused with infringement of national sovereignty of member states. The political, cultural, legal and ethnic differences between the five countries could pose a major obstacle to the adoption of common criteria, he said.

The NDB can be constructive “if it integrates human rights” into its principles and presents solutions for the social impacts of the projects it finances, said Nondumiso Nsibande, of ActionAid South Africa, an NGO.

“We need roads, other infrastructure and jobs, as well as education, health and housing,” but big projects tend to harm poor communities in the places where they are carried out, she told IPS. It is still not known what levels of transparency and social concern the bank will have, she said.

In the view of Chankrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the NDB will alleviate India’s great needs for infrastructure, energy, long distance transport and ports. However, he does not expect it to make large investments in one key service for Indians: sanitation.

Having an Indian as the bank’s first president, as the five leaders have decided, will help attract more investments, but he said people’s access to water must remain a priority.

Cosenday said the NDB will promote “a new kind of development.”

But Chalapurath told IPS that this will only happen if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as human rights and other best practices.

Adopting democratic processes within the bank will facilitate dialogue with social movements, parliaments and society in general, he said.

Incorporating environmental issues and gender parity is also essential, said Ugarteche and Rodriguez, who regards this as necessary in order to make progress towards “environmental justice.”

Not only roads and ports need to be built; even more important is the “social infrastructure” that includes sanitation, water, health and education, said Rodriguez, the coordinator of the REBRIP working group on International Economic Architecture.

Mobilising resistance to large projects that affect local populations in the places they are constructed will be part of the response to the probable priority placed by the NDB on financing physical infrastructure projects, she announced.

The social organisations gathered in Fortaleza, with representatives from Brazil, India, China, South Africa and other countries that are not members of the group, are preparing to coordinate actions to influence the way the bank and its policies are designed, and to monitor its operations and the actions of the BRICS group itself.

Brazilian economist Ademar Mineiro, also of REBRIP, said there was potential for national societies to influence the format and policies of the NDB, and time for them to organise and mobilise. “It is an unprecedented opportunity,” he told IPS.

Russia did not originally support the BRICS bank, preferring private funding. But Mineiro said its position changed after the United States and the European Union involved multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank in sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea, a part of Ukraine.

BRICS evolved “from the economic to the political,” with its members demanding more power in the international system. The alliance is one of the pillars of the Chinese strategy to conquer greater influence, including in the West, said Cui Shoujun, a professor at the School of International Studies of Renmin University in China.

“The BRICS need China more than the other way round,” he told IPS, adding that the Chinese economy is 20 times larger than South Africa’s and four times larger than those of India and Russia.

As well as seeking natural resources from other countries, among the reasons why China has joined and supports BRICS is strengthening the legitimacy in power of the Communist Party through internal stability and prosperity, the academic said.

(END)

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If You Cut One, Plant Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=135576 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:18:44 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135576 Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Olga Mugisa, 11-years-old, takes to the microphone in front of her peers, the Ugandan flag proudly draped behind her and green plants framing the stage. She has an important message to share with her fellow students: “If you cut one, plant two.”

“I tell all of you here you to plant trees at school, at home, everywhere,” she says in a loud and confident voice to participants at Africa’s first International Children’s Climate Change Conference held in the Ugandan capital at the weekend.

“If you plant those trees you will get air that you breathe in and (you) will breathe in oxygen as you produce carbon dioxide,” adds the Primary 5 student at Mirembe Junior, an international school in Namuwongo, traditionally a slum area of Kampala.“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them” – Joseph Masembe, founder of Uganda’s Little Green Hands

Joining forces with Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Uganda’s Little Green Hands NGO organised the International Children’s Climate Change Conference, which brought together about 280 “child delegates”, aged between five and 12, from 23 schools in four Ugandan districts, at Kampala’s GEMS Cambridge International School. There were also students representing 35 countries including Spain, France and the United States.

Students performed skits, sang and recited poems, as well as posing questions and giving PowerPoint presentations in their own style. Everything revolved around the causes and effects of, and solutions for, climate change.

Children can bring hope, especially when it comes to climate change, says lawyer turned social entrepreneur, environmentalist and founder of Little Green Hands, Joseph Masembe. He is showcasing a “new form of environmental stewardship” in Uganda involving young people.

According to The State of Uganda’s Population Report, released in February 2013, the east African nation has the world’s youngest population, with over 78 percent aged under 30.

“A wise man once told me a child’s mind is like wet cement -when you write on it, it’s permanent,” Masembe tells IPS. “So involving children at such a tender age in environment conservation means the future is ensured and it’s guaranteed.

“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them.

“But if we get these children to start planting trees at a tender age, by the time they grow up they will have sentimental value attached to these trees, so they won’t chop them down,” Masembe explains.

It’s getting thumbs green that was the focus of the Little Hands Go Green Festival, an annual eventcreated by Masembe in 2012. In December that year, more than 16,000 children flocked to Kampala’s Kololo Airstrip, where they were given seedlings to take home and plant fruit trees. Masembe says “Africa’s only green festival” was even “gate-crashed” by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, after he heard about the large gathering of children. Out of it, sprang the ICCCC.

As highlighted in the The State of Uganda’s Population Report2013, Uganda has been identified as one of the world’s least prepared and most vulnerable countries when it comes to the climate change. The study stressed that Global Climate Change models project the nation will experience an increase in average temperatures up by up to 1.5 oC in the next 20 years.

Hot days are increasing, cold days decreasing; glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains are continuing to melt and almost all regions of the country are experiencing “intense, frequent and prolonged droughts,” the report said.

“You find that now the rains do not come as they used to come, the seasons are changing and it’s a lot hotter,” Masembe tells IPS. “The dry season takes a lot longer. Farmers are telling you their crops are being affected a lot. You have mudslides in Bududa (eastern Uganda) almost every other year.”

Despite her age, Olga is all too aware of the impact of climate change on her country, which she notes is called the “Pearl of Africa” but which, because of climate change, “will no longer be the Pearl of Africa. Lake Victoria and (Lake) Albert will dry up… climate (change) is something that can destroy a country.”

“The ozone layer is the layer that protects from the direct sunshine, so when it’s spoilt we shall get the direct sunshine and the plants will dry up, drought will be there,” she adds.

As she plants a tree at the end of the ICCCC, Olga says that she will encourage her mother, father and two siblings to do the same. “I’ll keep encouraging people to plant trees … They have a responsibility.”

Olga is fortunate that she attends an international school where the study of climate change is on the curriculum. “In the international schools they teach it, in the local schools, which is the majority, they don’t,” says Masembe. “So we have to find other ways to sneak it in, through extracurricular activities for instance.”

“The Green Festival (to be held on August 24) is one opportunity. And this conference, which will become annual, will become part of the way whereby children can use their voices and hopefully adults can start to listen.”

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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The Silent Power of Boycotts and Blockadeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 17:18:21 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135425 Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
CAPE TOWN, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Peruse a few reports on global military expenditure and you will not be able to shake the image of the planet as one massive army camp, patrolled by heavily weaponised guards in a plethora of uniforms.

Last year, the world spent about 1.76 trillion dollars on military activity according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The year before, arms sales among SIPRI’s ‘Top 100’ companies touched 410 billion dollars. It is estimated that 1,000 people die from gun violence every single day.

The newly founded Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding is the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.
But scattered amongst the barracks of this planetary war zone are scores of white flags, wielded daily by the many millions of people engaged in nonviolent resistance to the forces that threaten their existence.

Nearly 120 of these peace activists are currently assembled in Cape Town’s City Hall, for the quadrennial meeting of the 93-year-old War Resister’s International (WRI), a global network of activists from far-flung regions fighting on every imaginable front, from anti-trafficking in Australia to peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Returning to the very pulpit from where he led the historic 1989 March for Peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the forum’s participants Saturday night by invoking memories of the long and bloody struggle against apartheid.

“Take our thanks back to your countries,” he told the audience, “even the poorest of which stood ready to receive South African exiles and refugees.” Drawing on the conference’s theme ‘Small Actions – Big Movements: the continuum of nonviolence’, he urged greater collaboration between disparate movements, in order to find strength in unity.

“The U.S. Command in Africa (AFRICOM) has now expanded to approximately 2,000 troops on the continent, covering 38 countries,” WRI Conference Coordinator Matt Meyer told IPS.

“With almost no money but a lot of passion and an understanding of the need for unity in the face of militarism, violence, and a re-colonisation of the land, we brought together people from every continent and 33 African countries to say: ‘We will continue to resist. We will build a beautiful new tomorrow.’”

Running from Jul. 4-8, the gathering offers a bird’s eye view of the life-affirming campaigns that often get pushed off front pages in favour of headlines proclaiming death and war.

While not often on the news, the efficacy of the peace movement is being documented elsewhere. Analysing a century’s worth of data, the World Peace Foundation found that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent movements had a 53-percent success rate, compared to a 22-percent success rate for violent movements.

Other tangible successes include the long list of victories recently secured by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, according to Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

With three basic demands (ending the occupation as defined by the 1967 borders; ending Israel’s system of legal discrimination against Palestinians; and enforcing the right of return for Palestinian refugees), the civil society initiative calls for the same global solidarity that erupted during the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and urges companies to withdraw their investments from firms that directly profit from the occupation of Palestine.

In the last three years alone, many major pension funds in Europe have divested from Israeli banks, including the 200-billion-dollar financial giant PGGM, the second-largest pension manager in the Netherlands.

Gender and Militarism

With women and children disproportionately impacted by conflict and militarisation, the Women Peacemaker’s Program (WPP) played a major role in the conference, releasing its annual May 24 report here just days before the WRI gathering.

Organising their work under the larger umbrella of what WPP Program Officer Sophie Schellens called “gender sensitive active nonviolence”, the organisation is comprised of a network of some 50 partners based on every continent.

“This is a politically sensitive topic, since we are analysing militarism and the military from a gender perspective,” Schellens told IPS.

“For instance, an indigenous Manipur-based woman activist in our network, Sumshot Khular, connects the links between militarism, development and politics, and the specific effects of this alliance on women.”

An article by Khular in WPP’s report, ‘Gender and Militarism: Analyzing the Links to Strategize for Peace,’ notes that South Asia is home to more than 160 million indigenous people, yet few governments formally recognise their rights, leaving many at the mercy of developers carrying out coal and uranium mining, and oil and gas exploration.

“The aggressive development models associated with intensive militarisation have been ravaging not only our land and resources, but also our people – especially women and girls,” Khular writes.

According to Schellens, these affected women are now coming together in large numbers to “defy these militarised structures.”
In addition, the 810-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund of Norway decided this year to pull investments from Israeli firms operating in the West Bank; the Luxembourg Pension Fund followed suit, citing ethical concerns over the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In addition, said Barghouti, “Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, recently divested from the British-Danish-owned G4S, one of the largest private security companies in the world; the United Methodist Church – one of the richest in the U.S. – pulled its 18-billion-dollar fund out of companies operating on occupied Palestinian land; and the Presbyterian church has divested from companies like Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions because of their involvement in the occupation.”

With its 15-billion-dollar defense budget, the Israeli government is not taking this lightly, and has identified the BDS movement as a strategic, rather than societal, threat.

“Israel recently shifted overall responsibility for fighting BDS from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of strategic affairs,” Barghouti said Monday, “the same ministry that deals with the Iranian threat, and Israel’s relationship with the U.S.”

Elsewhere, too, authoritarian regimes are recognising the legitimate power of nonviolent resistance. A South Sudanese activist, wishing to be identified only as Karbash A M, told IPS that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has issued a blanket ban on NGOs conducting nonviolence trainings among refugee communities.

But in the face of a political crisis that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Marmoun said, a handful of organisations continue to train hundreds of community leaders and youth activists in the tactics of nonviolence, even as a wave of arms and ammunition threatens to drown the country.

Documenting over 14 case studies of peaceful resistance, the second edition of WRI’s Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns, released here Sunday, offers a tip-of-the-iceberg analysis of the proliferation of nonviolent movements around the world, from protests against the Indonesian military in West Papua, to the diaspora solidarity movement for Eritrea.

Recognising a continuum between the moral commitment to nonviolence adopted by Gandhi, the strategic decision to exercise nonviolence in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and a “willingness to use nonviolent methods […] but no commitment to avoid low-level physical violence,” the Handbook offers practical advice to activists and organisers from Colombia to South Korea and beyond.

Another major development here this week was the founding of the Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding, the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.

“I am delighted we have been able to give birth to this network here in Cape Town,” Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, executive director of the South Africa-based organisation Embrace Dignity – which fights to end sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of women – told IPS.

“At the last count, 33 African countries are represented in the network, with a 16-member steering committee, each from a different country.

“We are also making an effort to ensure representation from island states like Mauritius and the Canary Islands,” she stated, adding that the network will play a crucial role in elevating the voices of civil society on issues of governance, development and corruption.

Experts here say such a network could be hugely important in combating the U.S.’ increased military presence in Africa, such as plans to construct a 220-million-dollar Special Operations compound at the base of the U.S.’ Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

The actions may be small, but their impacts are felt at the highest level.

“We can now call ourselves the ‘three percent people’,” Anand Mazgaonkar, a representative of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) in Gujarat, India, said at a plenary session Monday, “because a recent intelligence report in India has named all of us involved in movements as collectively responsible for a three percent damage to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).”

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Rights Experts Urge Action on Gender Equality in Taiwanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 19:48:03 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135335 Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Prominent international human rights experts are calling on the Taiwan government to quickly enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination act, revamp the law on citizenship and take a wide range of other actions to curb gender discrimination.

A five-member commission issued 35 recommendations after an intense review of Taiwan’s second national report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The commission members from Kenya, Malaysia the Philippines, South Korea and the United States met at the Civil Service Training Center in Taipei City June 23-26.

"It is...commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW..." -- Mary Shanthi Dairiam, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce
More than 230 government officials and some 100 representatives of non-governmental organizations joined in the review. The event consisted of discussions with the 55 civil society organizations, as well as a day-long questioning session with Taiwan government officials on issues raised by NGOs in nearly 30 “parallel reports.”

Zoe Ye of the Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association, reminded the committee of the case of Tsai Ya-ting, a trans-woman whose application for a national identity card was rejected in 2002. She committed suicide the following year.

“The government has not learned from this lesson and has ignored the urgent desire of transgender persons to adopt a legal gender status in accord with their self-identity,” according to Ye.

The Taiwan government currently requires applicants for gender change to undergo psychological examinations and the surgical removal of reproductive organs before changes in official registration are approved, a requirement which Ye stressed violates five UN human rights conventions, including CEDAW.

Other NGO representatives stressed infringements on women’s land rights, faulting the government for failure to conduct gender impact-assessments for many of its development plans that involve large-scale land expropriations.

These “threaten the right to adequate housing for rural women and all aspects of their lives,” said Lu Shih-wei of Taiwan Rural Front and Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association.

Non-member committed to CEDAW

Taiwan ratified CEDAW in 2007 under the previous centrist Democratic Progressive Party government of then president Chen Shui-bian, but the United Nations Secretariat rejected the ratified treaty for deposit since Taiwan is not a UN member state.

Instead, CEDAW was directly incorporated into Taiwan’s domestic law through an “enforcement act” effective January 1, 2012.

“It is almost unique, and commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW and other human rights treaties,” Mary Shanthi Dairiam, a member of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce, told IPS.

Still, “the defensiveness of government officials here is the same as elsewhere,” according to Shanthi, who is a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms Discrimination against Women (CEFDW).

Speaking to IPS, Democratic Progressive Party legislator Yu Mei-nu said that  the realization of CEDAW objectives may be hampered by “martial law mentalities” of certain government officials. But the convention has “provided a platform for citizens and civil society organizations to link with international society and fight for human rights at home,” according to Yu.

Main recommendations 

Chief among the 35 recommendations were calls to set a deadline to enact “comprehensive legislation covering all fields of gender discrimination” as soon as possible; establish an independent national human rights institution; prompt revision of laws on nationality, domestic violence, human trafficking and marriage equality; and passage of long-denied bills to protect domestic workers, along with ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

The committee further stressed the need for “gender impact assessments” for government policies and development plans.

It called for abolishing the surgical requirement for trans women, as well as the mandatory HIV testing requirement for entry, stay and residence of women living with HIV/AIDS.

The panel was led by Shin Heisoo, representative of the Korea Center for UN Human Rights Policy and a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Shin previously participated in the review of CEDAW state reports from 2001 to 2008.

“I hope the government of Taiwan is contemplating how to implement these recommendations…” Shin concluded, “Especially since we have heard that there has been a deterioration of civil and political and economic human rights.”

UNDP’s Shanti echoed the need for action. “The government officials said they have revised over 33,000 laws and regulations. But what the world community wants to know is not what the state says it is doing, but what is actually being achieved in terms of real improvement in gender equality.”

 

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Inequality Blocks Path to “Gold” in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/carving-the-path-to-gold-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carving-the-path-to-gold-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/carving-the-path-to-gold-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:45:26 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135319 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

Inequality, poor infrastructure and declining trade are some of the problems that Latin America needs to overcome if the region truly wishes to achieve a “golden age”, according to Peru’s President Ollanta Humala.

“We haven’t found the gold yet,” said Humala, a keynote speaker at the 6th International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean held this week in Paris. “We need to build a more modern and efficient state that offers services to everyone … We cannot overlook poor or vulnerable populations.”“Erasing inequality is absolutely fundamental because equality itself is a very important human right … At the same time, it’s a key to economic and social development. No country can reach high levels of development with huge levels of inequality” – Danilo Astori, Vice President of Uruguay

The conference, titled ‘Beyond the Golden Decade? Logistics and infrastructure, pillars of regional integration and global trade opportunities’, brought together policy-makers, economists, private-sector representatives and other experts from across Latin America, exploring measures to achieve inclusive growth and structural transformation in the region. Specific Caribbean issues seemed absent from the agenda, however.

The main mantra, repeated by many participants, was that inequality is a huge barrier to Latin America fulfilling its development potential.

“Erasing inequality is absolutely fundamental because equality itself is a very important human right,” the Vice President of Uruguay, Danilo Astori, told IPS. “At the same time, it’s a key to economic and social development. No country can reach high levels of development with huge levels of inequality.”

Income gaps between groups, whether based on ethnicity or gender, are not just “moral issues, they’re also macro issues”, said Julie Katzman, Executive Vice President of the Inter-American Development Bank, a co-organiser of the conference along with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and France’s Ministry for the Economy and Finance.

Katzman said that 70 percent of those excluded from the financial system are women and that there was an 86 billion dollar financing gap for women-owners of small and medium-sized enterprises.

She told IPS that if this gap were closed by 2020, gross domestic product in Latin America would be 12 percent higher by 2030.

“The private sector has a big role to play,” she added. “When you combine financial inclusion and better infrastructure, then you can begin to address the issues being discussed.”

Danilo Astori, Vice President of Uruguay. Credit: Alecia McKenzie/IPS

Danilo Astori, Vice President of Uruguay. Credit: Alecia McKenzie/IPS

She and other participants emphasised the need for better infrastructure as an “instrument of development”, the main subject of the conference. Roberto Zurli Machado, Director of Infrastructure and Basic Petrochemicals for Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (BNDES), said that the region had to modernise to bring its infrastructure to the desired level.

According to the OECD, logistic costs in the region account for between 18 and 35 percent of the value of products, compared with around 8 percent in OECD countries. Meanwhile, the quality of the road system in Latin America is below the level for middle-income countries, the organisation says.

Studies also indicate that improvements in logistics could increase labour productivity in the region by about 35 percent.

“All this affects the competitiveness of exports and the potential for integration,” said Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Paris-based OECD.

Peru’s President Ollanta Humala (left) meets France's Economics Minister Arnaud Montebourg (centre) with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria (right). Credit: Alecia McKenzie/IPS

Peru’s President Ollanta Humala (left) meets France’s Economics Minister Arnaud Montebourg (centre) with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria (right). Credit: Alecia McKenzie/IPS

He said that developing an integrated logistics policy and improving the efficiency of customs procedures, through technology, could bring significant benefits in a short time span.

Such measures would also have an impact on inequality, Gurría said. “We need to raise awareness and to strengthen cooperation,” he told IPS, reiterating that “Latin America is not the poorest region but the most unequal.”

The conference, which brings together some 400 experts annually, is one way to address the region’s challenges, Gurría added. This year’s discussions are seen as particularly important because after a decade of relatively strong growth, “Latin America’s economic prospects are becoming more convoluted,” as the OECD puts it.

The region has been affected by the weakness of the euro zone and has experienced “declining trade, moderation of commodity prices and increasing reservation surrounding external monetary and financing conditions,” the organisation says.

It stresses that the rise in the prices of commodity exports “has led Latin American economies to substitute locally manufactured goods with imports, and contributed to a certain decrease in the region’s productive capacities.”

Achieving “improved logistics performance” would help bolster structural change in the region and “represent an opportunity for the insertion of the continent into the global trade,” according to the OECD.

Humala, the president of Peru, said that the region has great potential but faces many challenges, including the impact of climate change [the United Nations climate change conference – COP 20 – is scheduled to be held in Peru in December].

He said that Latin America would truly achieve a “golden age” when it solves its productivity problems and becomes more egalitarian. “The golden era is coming … hard times force us to look at opportunities,” he added.

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Looking to Africa’s LDCs to Learn How to Save the Lives of Millions of Mothers and their Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 20:27:42 +0000 Nqabomzi Bikitsha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135289 Bosena, 25, sits on the side of a busy road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, with a baby in her arms. Ethiopia is among the countries listed as having made significant progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Credit: Jacey Fortin/IPS

Bosena, 25, sits on the side of a busy road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, with a baby in her arms. Ethiopia is among the countries listed as having made significant progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Credit: Jacey Fortin/IPS

By Nqabomzi Bikitsha
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

Every year, three million newborn babies and almost 6.6 million children under five die globally, but if the rest of the world looked towards the examples of two of Africa’s least-developed countries (LDCs), Rwanda and Ethiopia, they would perhaps be able to save these children.

At the 2014 Partners’ Forum being held in Johannesburg, South Africa from Jun. 30 to Jul. 2 – hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), the South African government and other partners - significant commitments in finance, service delivery and policy were announced that could put an end to these deaths. In total, there were 40 commitments from stakeholders, governments and the private sector who are committed to ending child and maternal mortality were revealed at the forum today.

It was noted that while remarkable progress has been made in reducing maternal and child mortality rates globally, over the last two decades the reduction in the rates of newborn deaths has lagged behind considerably.

Africa’s Fast-Track Countries That Have Made Significant Progress in Saving Women and Children

ETHIOPIA
•Reduced under-five mortality by 47 percent between 2000 and 2011 to from 166 to 88 per 1,000 live births
•Although Ethiopia still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Africa it has reduced by 22 percent from 871 in 2000 to 676 per 100,000 live births in 2011
•Expanded community-based primary care for women and children through the deployment of close to 40,000 Health Extension Workers
•Achieved near parity in school attendance by 2008/09: at 90.7 percent for girls and 96.7 percent for boys from 20.4 percent and 31.7 percent respectively in 1994/1995

RWANDA
•Achieved under-five mortality reduction of 50 percent between 1992 and 2010 from 151 to 76 per 1,000 live births
•Reduced maternal mortality by 22 percent from 611 to 476 per 100,000 births between 1992 and 2010 (and by 55 percent from 2000 to 2010 from an increase to 1,071 to 476 per 100,000 live births)
•Increased coverage of skilled birth attendance from 31 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2010
•In 2013, women constituted 64 percent of parliamentarians, the highest percent in the world
*Sources for all statistics are official national data, and international data, as agreed at country multistakeholder policy reviews.

However, Rwanda and Ethiopia were among 10 countries across the globe listed as having made significant  progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates, according to a new global action plan launched at the forum.

The Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) provides evidence on the effective interventions needed to end preventable stillbirths and newborn deaths. It also outlines a strategy to prevent 2,9 million newborn deaths and 2,6 million stillbirths annually.

These countries invested in high-impact health interventions, including immunisation, family planning, education and good governance.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, told IPS that multi-sectoral investments, and not just direct investments in the health sector, would help reduce maternal and child mortality.

“If we don’t invest in agriculture, water and sanitation as well as the health sector then any gains we make in reducing child and maternal mortality will be futile.

“Community-based health care workers helped reduced Ethiopia’s mortality rates for mothers and children.”

According to the ENAP, newborn deaths account for 44 percent of all under five deaths worldwide, and investments in quality care at birth could save the lives of three million women and children each year.

“Now is the time to focus on action and implementation, to ensure more lives are saved,” said Graça Machel, co-chair of the PMNCH.

“Other countries have made progress and others have not, we need to learn from them, so we keep momentum.”

Accompanying the launch of the ENAP, was the launch of Countdown to 2015 report titled “Fulfilling the Health Agenda for Women and Children”, which serves as a scorecard of gains made in maternal and child health.

According to the report, which studied the progress of 75 countries in child and maternal mortality efforts, substantial inequities still persist.

“The theme of the Countdown report is ‘unfinished business,’” said Machel. “Too many women and children are dying when simple  treatment exists.”

Over 71 percent of newborn deaths could be avoided without intensive care, and are usually a result of three preventable conditions; prematurity, birth complications and severe infections.

Dr. Mariame Sylla, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional health specialist, told IPS that countries needed to learn from one another.

“Community-based approaches, where governments bring health services to the people and people to the services, have shown to be effective,” she told IPS.

“Monitoring of results is also very important to ensure accountability in the health sector.”

Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Minister of Health, said “having professional midwives would also help new mothers understand motherhood better and help reduce mortality rates among women and children.”

However,  Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that “these  efforts are are simple but often hard to deliver.”

“Least-developed countries like Ethiopia were able to make strides in curbing child and maternal mortality through their political will,” Dr. Janet Kayita, health specialist for maternal, newborn and child health for UNICEF, told IPS.

But she pointed out that “Ethiopia’s key to success, was not just about the leadership making the decision to reduce child and maternal mortality rates, but also organising at community level.”

“Ethiopia is one of the few LDC’s to institutionalise quality improvement in the health sector, using the mechanism of rewarding good quality health services and holding accountable those not performing.”

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Community Resilience Tops U.N.’s Disaster Relief Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/community-resilience-tops-u-n-s-disaster-relief-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-resilience-tops-u-n-s-disaster-relief-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/community-resilience-tops-u-n-s-disaster-relief-agenda/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 14:07:25 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135200 A women-led village council prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

The Bangkok Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia and the Pacific adopted at the close of the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) here today emphasised community-based solutions, and reflects a growing global desire to focus more on grassroots actions in the face of catastrophic climate change.

Organised annually in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), this year’s conference – hosted by the Thai government – marks the last time stakeholders from the region will meet before a global summit in Japan next year brings governments together to draft post-2015 plans.

Margareta Wahlstrom, special representative of the U.N. secretary general for disaster risk reduction, said in her opening remarks to the conference that an inclusive and participatory model is needed, which allows grassroots communities and local government authorities to work together as central players in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts.

“The more growth we have, the more problems we create. As Asia grows we need policy coherence, accountability and transparency.” -- Bangladeshi Parliamentarian Saber Chowdhrey
Her words found echo with Harjeet Singh, international coordinator of ActionAid’s disaster risk reduction and climatic adaptation project.

“We should not be developing solutions in boardrooms and conferences like this,” he told IPS. “We should rather work with communities, that know much better how they are effected. Most of the time they have solutions that work best for them.”

Speaking at a media conference later, Wahlstrom pointed out that East Asia serves as a model for the rest of the world, as its DRR policies over the last 20 years have led to significant reductions in fatalities as a result of natural hazards.

She said the conference is addressing the fundamental question of how to bring grassroots communities, who are already doing the hard work of mitigation and adaptation, into conversation with national policy makers in order to influence the development agenda.

In preparation for the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Japan in March 2015, the Bangkok Declaration calls upon governments and stakeholders to enhance resilience at local levels by institutionalising integrated community approaches into local development.

In addition, it recommended the inclusion of volunteer and community-based networks and strengthening the role of women as a force in local level resilience building.

The document also stressed the need for strong accountability measures in partnerships between the community and local governments.

Thailand also managed to incorporate King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s philosophy of Sufficiency Economics into the document, highlighting the importance of a people-centered development model that could “reduce the impact of uncertainties and increase the self-immunity of local communities.”

Sufficiency economics, based on the Buddhist principles of moderation, self-sufficiency and sustainability, promotes a grassroots-oriented economic model that rejects greed, overexploitation and waste.

In the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) adopted here as the blueprint for the region’s input to the Japan conference next year, building community resilience to disaster risk management was given top priority.

In the consultation process for HFA2 from March 2012 to May 2013 the emphasis has shifted from reducing vulnerabilities to building resilience. This would involve devolution of authority from a central to a local government level and the use of multi-stakeholder platforms.

This is particularly relevant in the Asia-Pacific region, where – according to a background paper produced for the Bangkok meeting by UNISDR – the number of people exposed to annual flooding has increased from 29.5 to 63.8 million in the past four years, while the number of people living in cyclone-prone areas has grown from 71.8 to 120.7 million.

Invariably, poor people and low-income communities who live in areas most vulnerable to climate change – informal housing settlements and coastal areas, for instance – have been disproportionately impacted.

“We need to be innovative and think out of the box to reform governance [at the] community level,” Bangladeshi Parliamentarian Saber Chowdhrey said at the conference.

He argued that 2015 is poised to be a watershed year with three major international conferences addressing the post-2015 development agenda.

“The more growth we have, the more problems we create,” he noted. “As Asia grows we need policy coherence, accountability and transparency.”

Stefan Kohler, with the sustainable infrastructure group of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) told IPS a key component to the whole process is community consultation.

“They are the ones who will be involved in using the (DRR) infrastructure created for them and [we] need to understand their requirements, so that [we] can feed it to the design process.”

Nepal, for instance, has been ranked by the U.N. Development Programme as the fourth most vulnerable nation to the impacts of climatic change.

While the country has been developing national action plans on disaster management since 1996, it is only recently that the government enhanced the role of local-level participation.

Addressing a workshop here, Gopi Khanal, Nepal’s joint-secretary of the ministry of federal affairs and local development, explained that the government has shifted responsibility for DRR management to the community level.

Through Ward Citizens Forums and 3,625 Village Development Councils operating under local government structures, the national government has created an information sharing system from national through district to village levels.

“Mainstreaming of risk management requires coordination between various levels of governance, and the sharing of financial resources,” he explained.

Becky-Jay Harrington of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who is based in Nepal, told IPS that this pilot scheme – currently implemented in seven of the country’s 75 districts – has channeled a considerable amount of state financial resources to community-based action on disaster risk management.

The project’s total budget is 2.5 million dollars.

Another example can be seen in the Maldives, a country seriously threatened by rising sea levels as a result of global warming.

Mohamed Zuhair, the country’s national disaster management minister, told the meeting that the central government has given a lot of freedom to communities from far-flung atolls and islands to steer DRR activities, which in turn has influenced national policy.

He also believes that high-risk communities like his need to be innovative if they wish to survive.

“We have a private-public collaboration with the tourist industry to introduce green energy and collaborate in risk management,” he pointed out, adding, “While the Maldives has taken the initiative, bigger countries with more funds need to take responsibility and contribute to these initiatives.

Experts say the shift towards civil society must be encouraged and built upon, as the world prepares for a decade of disasters.

(END)

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When Faith Meets Disaster Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-faith-meets-disaster-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:09:15 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135176 An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

A consortium of faith-based organisations (FBOs) made a declaration at a side event Wednesday at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), to let the United Nations know that they stand ready to commit themselves to building resilient communities across Asia in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Hosted this year by the Thai government, the conference is an annual collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with the aim of bringing regional stakeholders together to discuss the specific challenges facing Asia in an era of rapid climate change.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers." -- Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India
A report prepared for the Bangkok conference by UNISDR points out that in the past three years Asia has encountered a wide range of disasters, from cyclones in the Philippines and major flooding in China, India and Thailand, to severe earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan.

In 2011 alone, global economic losses from extreme weather events touched 366 billion dollars, of which 80 percent were recorded in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the region accounts for 39 percent of the planet’s land area and hosts 60 percent of the world’s population, it only holds 29 percent of global wealth, posing major challenges for governments in terms of disaster preparedness and emergency response.

FBOs believe they can fill this gap by giving people hope during times of suffering.

“It’s not about the goods we bring or the big houses we build,” argued Jessica Dator Bercilla, a Filipina from Christian Aid, adding that the most important contribution religious organisations can make is to convince people they are not alone on the long road towards rebuilding their lives after a disaster.

The FBO consortium that drafted the statement – including Caritas Asia, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the ACT Alliance – held a pre-conference consultative meeting here on Jun. 22nd during which some 50 participants from various faiths discussed the many hurdles FBOs must clear in order to deliver disaster relief and assist affected populations.

The final FBO Statement on Disaster Risk Reduction drew attention to faith organisations’ unique ability to work closely with local communities to facilitate resilience and peace building.

Overcoming Hidden Agendas

One challenge to including FBOs in national DRR frameworks is the prevailing fear that religious organisations will use their position as providers of aid and development services to push their own religious agendas.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, for instance, Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as Muslim communities in Indonesia, complained that FBOs tried to impose their beliefs on the survivors.

When IPS raised this question during the pre-conference consultation, it triggered much debate among the participants.

Many feel the fear is unfounded, as FBOs are driven by the desire to give value to human life, rather than a desire to convert non-believers or followers of different faiths.

“If beliefs hinder development we must challenge those values,” asserted a participant from Myanmar who gave his name only as Munir.

Vincentia Widyasan Karina from Caritas Indonesia agreed, adding that in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Caritas worked among Muslim communities to rebuild the northern Indonesian region of Aceh, and “supported the Islamic community’s need to have prayer centres.”

Organisations like SGI go one step further by following methods like the Lotus Sutra for the realisation of happiness in all beings simultaneously.

“This principle expounds that Buddha’s nature is inherent in every individual, and this helps lead many other people towards happiness and enlightenment,” argued Asai, adding that in countries where Buddhists are a minority they work with other stakeholders. “If we form a network it is easier to work,” he added.
Given that an estimated one in eight people in the world identify with some form of organised religion, and that faith-based organisations comprise the largest service delivery network in the world, FBOs stand out as natural partners in the field of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

A declaration enshrined in the statement also urged the United Nations to recognise FBOs as a unique stakeholder in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2) to be presented to the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in 2015.

It also wants national and local governments to include FBOs when they organise regular consultations on DRR with relevant stakeholders, as FBOs are the ones who often sustain development programmes in the absence of international NGOs.

For example, since 2012 Caritas Indonesia has been working with a coastal community that has lost 200 metres of its coastal land in the past 22 years, in the Fata Hamlet of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggar Province, to build community resilience to rising seawaters.

The agency helped community members form the Fata Environment Lover Group, which now uses natural building methods to allow seawater to pass through bamboo structures before reaching the coast, so that wave heights are reduced and mangroves are protected.

Collectively, the three partners to the declaration cover a lot of ground in the region.

Caritas Asia is one of seven regional offices that comprise Caritas International, a Catholic relief agency that operates in 200 countries. SGI is a Japanese lay Buddhist movement with a network of organisations in 192 countries, while ACT is a coalition of Christian churches and affiliated organistaions working in over 140 countries.

All three are renowned for their contributions to the field of development and disaster relief. Caritas International, for instance, annually allocates over a million euros (1.3 million dollars) to humanitarian coordination, capacity building and HIV/AIDS programmes around the world.

“We would like to be one of the main players in the introduction of the DRR policy,” Takeshi Komino, head of emergencies for the ACT Alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, told IPS. “We are saying we are ready to engage.”

“What our joint statement points out is that our commitment is based on faith and that is strong. We can be engaged in relief and recovery activity for a long time,” added Nobuyuki Asai, programme coordinator of peace affairs for SGI.

Experts say Asia is an excellent testing ground for the efficacy of faith-based organisations in contributing to disaster risk reduction.

According to a survey by the independent Pew Research Centre, the Asia-Pacific region is home to 99 percent of the world’s Buddhists, 99 percent of the world’s Hindus and 62 percent of the world’s Muslims.

The region has also seen a steady increase in the number of Catholics, from 14 million a century ago to 131 million in 2013.

Forming links between these communities is easier said than done, with religious and communal conflicts plaguing the region, including a wave of Buddhist extremism in countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a strong anti-Christian movement across Pakistan and attacks on religious minorities in China and India.

Some experts, however, say that the threat of natural catastrophe draws communities together.

According to Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India, “When there is a disaster people forget their differences.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers,” he told IPS, citing such cooperation during major floods recently in the northern Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Loy Rego, a Myanmar-based disaster relief consultant, told IPS that the statement released today represents a very important landmark in disaster risk reduction.

“FBOs need to be more visible as an organised constituency in the roll-out of future frameworks,” he stated.

Rego believes that the biggest contribution FBOs could make to disaster risk management is to promote peaceful living among different communities.

“Respecting other religions need not be done in a secular way,” he said. “It only happens when they work with other FBOs in an inter-faith setting.”

(END)

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