Inter Press Service » Conferences http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 04 Dec 2016 16:08:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Latin America to Take the Temperature of Paris Agreement at Climate Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/#comments Sat, 05 Nov 2016 00:34:59 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147641 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/latin-america-to-take-the-temperature-of-paris-agreement-at-climate-summit/feed/ 0 Cities Address a Key Challenge: Infrastructure Needshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147540 One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

“We as mayors have to govern midsize cities as if they were capital cities,” said Héctor Mantilla, city councilor of Floridablanca, the third-largest city in the northern Colombian department of Santander.

He told IPS that “citizens not only demand public services, but also infrastructure; and environmentally and financially sustainable construction works are needed.”

Mantilla, who took office in January, participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III), held Oct. 17-20 in the capital of Ecuador, which produced the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” known as the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

At the summit, organised by U.N. Habitat every 20 years, Mantilla talked about infrastructure needs and management.In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population.

Floridablanca, population 300,000, is part of the Bucaramanga metropolitan area, together with two other municipalities. To address people’s demands, the local administration built two highway interchanges and a paragliding park.

The mayor’s experiences and expectations reflect the concerns of governments, particularly local administrations. In fact, one of the NUA’s major challenges is the environmental and financial sustainability of the infrastructure required to meet the commitments made in Quito with regard to housing, transport, public services and digitalisation.

For Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the priorities are mobility, water and sewage, adequate housing, resilience, renewable energy, promotion of digitalisation and the fight against segregation and inequality.

“There is a lack of infrastructure. It is not sufficiently integrated. We have two scenarios: the United States with high car use rates, or the European, with smaller cities, where the use of private cars is discouraged,” she told IPS.

Bárcena said that “a certain kind of infrastructure and planning is required” in order for cities to be “resilient”, a concept touted in recent years by international organisations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), defined as the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb environmental stress without undergoing fundamental changes.

In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population. The projected proportions are 86 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean; 74 percent in Oceania; 82 percent in Europe; 64 percent in Asia; and 56 percent in Africa.

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The report “Latin America and the Caribbean. Challenges, dilemmas and commitments of a common urban agenda”, released at the Quito summit, observes that, despite the significant expansion in infrastructure in recent decades, the deficit in cities remains one of the main challenges for developing countries in general.

The document, drafted by the Forum of Ministers and High-level Authorities of the Housing and Urban Development Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean (MINURVI), ECLAC and U.N.-Habitat’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that Latin America and the Caribbean have an investment rate of two percent of GDP, compared to eight percent of regional GDP in Southeast Asia.

The overall rate of investment in infrastructure “has declined in the last three decades, blaming a reduction in public investment, a marginal increase in private investment and the retraction of multilateral financing.”

In the developing South, large cities face challenges like pollution, exposure to climate change, chaotic growth, traffic congestion, informal employment and inequality.

There have been different attempts to calculate the scale of infrastructure needs. The IDB’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative estimates a need for 142 billion dollars in priority investments in urban infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA) estimates a global need of 93 trillion dollars in investment in low-carbon climate resilient infrastructure over the next 15 years.

The NUA mentions the word “infrastructure” 33 times, although it outlines no means or goals to develop it.

Money is short

A recurring question is where the funding for infrastructure will come from, given that regions such as Latin America are experiencing an economic downturn, after a decade of growth that made it possible to fight poverty and expand public works.

Andrés Blanco, a Colombian expert on urban development and housing with the IDB, proposes several mechanisms, including “land value capture”: capturing the increases in property values for the state. This refers to a municipality’s ability to benefit from the rise in real estate value generated by infrastructure improvements (access to highways, the paving of roads, public lighting, sewers, etc.) or the implementation of new land-use rules (e.g., from rural to urban).

“The main idea is to use this resource to finance infrastructure. But this has not been done, because there is a cash flow problem. The cost is paid by the government and the communities, but only private property owners benefit,” he told IPS.

In three Brazilian cities, the IDB found that investing one dollar per square metre in drinking water pipes increased the land value by 11 dollars, while three dollars per m2 invested in sewage brought up the value to 8.5 dollars, and 2.58 dollars per m2 invested in paving raised the value by 9.1 dollars. In Quito, the transformation of rural to urban land enhanced the value by 400 percent.

In the Ecuadorean capital, the IDB released the report “Expanding the use of Land Value Capture in Latin America”.

In Floridablanca, the local government recovered 30,000 dollars of a total of 175,000, that the owners of 100 plots of land must pay for having benefited from investment in urban improvements.

“The main challenge facing the New Urban Agenda is how to find funding. We as mayors have to prioritise small-scale projects, but we need major infrastructure in outlying areas,” Mantilla said.

For Bárcena, Habitat III leaves an immense financing task. “Land use could be more profitable. States cannot do it alone. For this reason, there has to be a grand coalition between governments, companies, and organisations to make urban and public space more habitable, and to make cities more connected,” she said.

ECLAC, which is carrying out a study on time use in cities, proposes mechanisms such as: public policies on land value capture, to increase revenue collection and guide the way urban infrastructure is developed; the issue of municipal bonds to raise capital for long-term infrastructure projects; and platforms to draw private investment.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling”, released in Quito, calls for countries to invest at least 20 percent of their transport budget on infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, in order to save lives, curb pollution and reduce carbon emissions.

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Governments and Social Movements Disagree on Future of Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/governments-and-social-movements-disagree-on-future-of-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-and-social-movements-disagree-on-future-of-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/governments-and-social-movements-disagree-on-future-of-cities/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2016 22:12:36 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147475 Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development and the alternative forums held by social organisations ended in the Ecuadorean capital with opposing visions regarding the future of cities and the fulfillment of rights in urban areas.

On Thursday Oct. 20, the representatives of 195 countries taking part in the Habitat III conference adopted the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, after four days of deliberations.

The basis of the declaration, also known as the New Urban Agenda, is the promotion of sustainable urban development, inclusive prosperity, and spatial development planning.“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes.” -- Fernando Carrión

In the 23-page declaration, the states commit themselves to fighting poverty, inequality and discrimination; improving urban planning; and building cities with resilience to climate change.

At the same time, academics and social movements laid out their visions of social development of cities in two alternative social forums held parallel to the Oct. 17-20 summit, criticising Habitat III’s approach to urbanisation and questioning how effectively it can be applied.

“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes,” Fernando Carrión, the Ecuadorean activist who headed the Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 social forum, told IPS.

During this parallel forum, held at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), some 140 speakers from 32 nations and 40 organisations from around the region discussed urban rights; the dialogue with local governments and social movements; housing and spatial justice, a term similar to the right to the city.

Habitat III, the cities summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, drew around 35,000 delegates of governments, non-governmental organisations, international bodies, universities, and companies, and gave rise to the New Urban Agenda, which is to chart the course of political action aimed at sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

After the United States and Europe, Latin America is the most urbanised part of the planet, as 80 percent of the region’s total population of 641 million people live in urban areas.

At least 104 million Latin Americans live in slums; worldwide the number of slum dwellers amounts to 2.5 billion, according to U.N.-Habitat.

This phenomenon poses the challenges of land title regularisation and the provision of basic services, while aggravating problems facing cities like pollution, increasing traffic, urban sprawl and inequality.

“We need to rethink how to organise cities. We have to organise and mobilise ourselves. We’re going to assess compliance by national and local governments, which are key, because many things will depend on their compliance,” Alison Brown, a professor at the University of Cardiff in the UK, told IPS.

 Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI


Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

The Quito Declaration drew criticism on some points. One of the main concerns that arose in the debates was about the “post-Quito” implementation of the commitments assumed by the states and social organisations.

The Habitat III accords “cannot generate the urban reforms that we need, such as integral access to land with services. That can only be achieved through struggle. It is local political participation that makes it possible to press for urban reform,” Isabella Goncalves, an activist with the Brazilian NGO Brigadas Populares, told IPS.

She attended the Oct. 14-20 Resistance to Habitat III social forum, which brought together delegates from about 100 social organisations from 35 nations to address issues such as opposition to evictions, the promotion of social housing, and defending the right to the city.

In its final declaration, the social forum called for strengthening the movements defending the right to land and territory and respect for the universal right to housing, and questioned Habitat III for pushing for urbanisation to the detriment of rural areas and their inhabitants.

The Habitat International Coalition criticised the New Urban Agenda’s “narrow vision”, and lamented that Habitat III had forgotten about protecting people from forced eviction and about the need to fight the shortage of housing and to achieve the right to universal housing.

It also urged countries to “regulate global financial transactions; end or limit opaque speculative financial instruments; steeply tax real-estate speculation; regulate rents; enhance the social tenure, production and financing of housing and habitat; and prevent privatisation of the commons, which is subject to attack under the neoliberal development model.”

Academics and social movements want to avoid a repeat of what happened post-Habitat II, which was held in 1996 in Istanbul, and whose implementation lacked follow-up and evaluation.

For that reason, the organisers of Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 agreed on the creation of an observatory for monitoring the decisions reached, biannual meetings, wide publication of the results of research and follow-up on the progress made by cities.

The Quito Declaration mentions periodic reviews, and urges the U.N. secretary general to assess the progress made and challenges faced in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, in his quadrennial report in 2026.

The decade between the summit in Istanbul and the one held this week in Quito serves as a demonstration of what could happen with the New Urban Agenda.

The Global Urban Futures Project’s Habitat Commitment Index, presented during Habitat III, shows how little has been achieved since 1996.

Between Habitat I, held in 1976 in Vancouver, and Habitat II, the global average score in terms of fulfillment of the commitments assumed was 68.68, according to the Project, a network of academics and activists based at the New School University in New York City, which created the Index based on infrastructure, poverty, employment, sustainability, institutional capacity, and gender indicators.

But since the 1996 conference, the global average only increased by 1.49 points. Latin America and Southeast Asia increased their scores, while North and sub-Saharan Africa showed extremes in both directions, with large increases and decreases in HCI scores.” India made no progress, and China saw a “significant decline” in its score.

With respect to the different dimensions taken into account by the Index, the greatest progress was seen in gender, modest progress was seen in poverty and sustainability, and minimal progress was seen in infrastructure.

“We didn’t manage to get a citizen monitoring mechanism or advisory committee included in the New Urban Agenda,” Luis Bonilla of El Salvador, who is the chief operating officer for TECHO International, told IPS.

“For that reason, we will create a follow-up mechanism. Concrete commitments are needed” within the agenda, he added.

Carrión, a professor at FLACSO and a coordinator of working groups in the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLASCO), said “the attention of many organisations was drawn, and now we will see what can be done from here on out.” For social movements, then, Quito marked the start of a long road ahead.

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U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147428 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/u-n-urban-summit-gives-rise-to-a-mixture-of-optimism-and-criticism/feed/ 0 Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authoritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147070 Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146372 Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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North and South Face Off Over “Right to the City”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 20:38:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145893 Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

The declaration that will be presented for approval at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October has again sparked conflict between the opposing positions taken by the industrial North and the developing South.

The aim of the conference, to be held in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20,  is to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urban development with a “New Urban Agenda,” the outcome strategy of Habitat III.

Developing countries want the declaration to include the right to the city, financing for  the New Urban Agenda that will be agreed at the meeting, and restructuring of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to implement the agreed commitments. “Long term goals must be put in place that will generate management indicators that can be measured by governments and civil society. Experience related to the social production of habitat should be taken into account, (like that of) people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills.” - Juan Duhalde

Another bloc, headed by the United States, Japan and the countries of the European Union, is striving to minimise these issues.

In the view of representatives of civil society organisations, these issues should be incorporated into the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” the draft of which is currently being debated by member states in a several rounds of preparatory meetings.

Juan Duhalde, head of the Social Research Centre at Un Techo para mi País (A Roof for my Country), a Santiago-based international non governmental organisation, told IPS that these are “key” issues and must be included as part of the discussion and be reflected in a concrete action plan.

“They are the general guidelines that will inform national public policies. The only way forward is for these commitments to be translated into long term agreements for the future. Right now discussions are mainly political and may fall short when it comes to bringing about the progress that is required,” said Duhalde.

The Chilean researcher stressed that “the right to the city goes hand in hand with achieving a paradigm shift away from the present situation, which is biased in favour of profitability for an elite rather than collective welfare for all.”

Stark North-South differences were plainly to be seen at the first round of informal intergovernmental talks held May 16-20 in New York. They will continue to fuel the debate at further informal sessions, the first of which will last three days and is due to end on Friday, July 1.

In the run-up to Habitat III, to be hosted by Quito in October, Ecuador and France are co-chairing the preliminary negotiations. The Philippines and Mexico are acting as co- facilitators.

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico lead a bloc promoting the right to the city. Together with defined mechanisms to follow up the declaration, funding for the New Urban Agenda and implementation measures, the right to the city is major irritant at the talks. Among implementation measures is the creation of a fund to strengthen capabilities in developing countries.

The right to the city, a term coined by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) in his 1968 book of the same title, refers to a number of simultaneously exercised rights of urban dwellers, such as the rights to food and housing, migration, health and education, a healthy environment, public spaces, political participation and non discrimination.

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Lorena Zárate, head of the non governmental Habitat International Coalition (HIC) which has regional headquarters in Mexico City, advocates the inclusion of social production of habitat in the declaration. However, it is not explicitly mentioned in the draft declaration.

“We want it to be included, as otherwise it would mean turning a blind eye to half or one-third of what has been constructed in the world. But there is little room to negotiate new additions, because they are afraid of acknowledgeing them, and consensuses have to be built,” said the Argentine-born Zárate, who is participating in the New York meetings.

The concept recognises all those processes that lead to the creation of habitable spaces, urban components and housing, carried out as the initiatives of self-builders and other not-for-profit social agents.

The most recent version of the draft declaration, dated June 18, bases its vision “on the concept of “cities for all” recognises that in some some countries this is “understood as the Right to the City, seeking to ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, are able to inhabit, use, and produce just, inclusive, accessible and sustainable cities, which exist as a common good essential to quality of life.”

States party to the declaration emphasise “the need to carry out the follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda in order to ensure its effective and timely implementation and progressive impact, as well as its inclusiveness, legitimacy and accountability.”

Moreover they stress the importance of strengthening the Agenda and its monitoring process, and invite the U.N. General Assembly to “guarantee stable, adequate and reliable financial resources, and enhance the capability of developing nations” for designing, planning and implementing and sustainably managing urban and other settlements.

They also request that UN-Habitat prepare a periodic progress report on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, to provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of the progress achieved.

The process of report preparation should incorporate the views of national, sub-national and local governments, as well as the United Nations System, including regional commissions, stakeholders from multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, communities, and other groups and non-state actors, the draft declaration says.

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

The outline of the draft declaration report has section headings on sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all; sustainable urban development for social inclusion and the eradication of poverty; environmentally sound and resilient urban development; planning and managing urban spatial development; means of implementation and review.

“It’s (like) a soap opera saga. Right now we are trying to contribute ideas to strengthen the proposal for the right to the city. In the draft, this issue is diluted out; we do not want it to be further diluted,” a Latin American official participating in the negotiations told IPS.

“The United States and China do not want the text to contain references to human rights,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It is expected that the draft declaration will be finalised at the meeting of the Habitat III preparatory committee (PrepCom3) to be held July 25-27 in Indonesia, and be presented for approval by U.N. member states at the full Habitat III conference in Quito.

To avoid a repetition of the sequels to the 1976 Vancouver Habitat I conference and the 1996 Habitat II conference in Istanbul, which were not evaluated afterwards, Duhalde and Zárate both wish to see a comprehensive review and follow-up programme established.

“Long term goals must be included and management indicators must be created that can be measured by governments and social actors. The experience in social production of habitat acquired by people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills must be taken into account,” said Duhalde.

“We are keen to see the generation of evidence and promotion of research into real problems on the ground, in order to generate practical solutions,” he said.

In Zárate’s view, progress cannot be made in debating a new agenda without having evaluated fulfillment of the previous programme goals.

“There must be a means of discerning what is new and what is still ongoing, what has been successfully done and what has not been achieved, why some things were done and why some were not, and what actors have been involved. There have never been clear mechanisms for review monitoring nor for prioritisation,” she said.

“We are adamant that this should not happen again. But they are not going to include goals or indicators, and there is not much clarity about review and monitoring mechanisms,” she said.

The Latin American official consulted by IPS downplayed the likely achievements of the summit. “Habitat III will only be a reference point. There will be no major changes overnight after October 21. National governments will do whatever they intend to do, with their own resources, their own political and social forces, and their own governance,” he predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145610 A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

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“Them” and “Us”, a Metaphor for Urban Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/them-and-us-a-metaphor-for-urban-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=them-and-us-a-metaphor-for-urban-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/them-and-us-a-metaphor-for-urban-inequality/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2016 23:03:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145495 “Bajo Autopista”, a slum in the Villa 61 shantytown wedged under an expressway, just a few blocks from Retiro, one of the most upscale neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. At least 111 million of Latin America’s urban inhabitants live in slums. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Bajo Autopista”, a slum in the Villa 61 shantytown wedged under an expressway, just a few blocks from Retiro, one of the most upscale neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. At least 111 million of Latin America’s urban inhabitants live in slums. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 7 2016 (IPS)

For the inhabitants of “Bajo Autopista” (Under the Freeway), a slum built under an expressway in the Argentine capital, “they” are the people who live in areas with everything that is denied to “us” – a simple definition of social inclusion and a metaphor for urban inequality.

Karina Ríos’ roof is the Illia freeway, one of the main accesses to Buenos Aires. The shantytown is at the edge of Villas 31 and 31 Bis, where some 60,000 people live just a few metres away from El Retiro, one of the poshest neighbourhoods in the capital.

Rios gets light and ventilation through the space between the two halves of the elevated expressway, which is the roof for her two dark, damp rooms with bare brick walls where she lives with one of her daughters.“[I]n the past 20 years, the general tendency seen in Latin America was the growth of urban inequality.” -- Elkin Velásquez

“Ambulances won’t come in here unless the police accompany them. That’s because here, as the police say, a ‘negrito’ (poor, dark-skinned person) who dies is just another negrito. For them, we negritos are nobody,” Ríos told IPS.

That’s how her son Saúl, 19, died last year, when he was stabbed in a fight, defending a friend. The knife perforated his liver and spleen, and he bled to death, she said, because he wasn’t “one of them.”

“If the ambulance hadn’t taken so long to get here, my son would be alive today,” lamented Ríos.

As an activist with the community organisation “Powerful Throat”, Ríos represents her neighbourhood now, demanding better living conditions. The main demand is “urbanisation”.

“We slum-dwellers are stigmatised. And it’s because we’re not urbanised, we don’t have decent streets,” she said.

“When we look for work, we don’t say where we live because if you give an address from here, they won’t hire you. ‘Villeros’ (people who live in ‘villas miseria’, the name for slums in Argentina) are all seen as thieves.”

For Ríos, urbanisation means streets have names and are paved. The streets here, most of which are dirt, are muddy and impassable when it rains.

It also means there are clinics. “There is a health post but the doctors only see five patients (a day) because they aren’t getting paid, and they attend the kids outside. They weigh the babies naked outside in this terrible cold,” she said.

Nor are there basic public services. The list of demands is long: “We need sewers, electric power. Fires happen here because everyone is illegally connected, and short-circuits happen and the houses start to burn,” said Ríos.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, with a total population of 625 million, 472 million people live in cities, including more than 111 million (23.5 percent) who live in slums or shantytowns like this one, according to a regional report by U.N.-Habitat and other organisations.

A muddy unpaved street in Villa 31, a shantytown in the heart of Buenos Aires that is home to some 60,000 people. In the background are seen buildings in one of the poshest districts of the capital, just 200 metres away. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A muddy unpaved street in Villa 31, a shantytown in the heart of Buenos Aires that is home to some 60,000 people. In the background are seen buildings in one of the poshest districts of the capital, just 200 metres away. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The report, “Construction of More Equitable Cities: Public Policies for Inclusion in Latin America”, states that despite the reduction in income inequality in urban areas in the region since the 1990s, the number of slum-dwellers increased in at least one-third of Latin American cities.

“The first thing the report says is that in the past 20 years, the general tendency seen in Latin America was the growth of urban inequality,” said Elkin Velásquez, director of U.N.-Habitat for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This inequality creates cities of the excluded inside large cities, where access to rights is unequal.

“We should understand ‘the right to the city’ as the possibility and the right of each citizen to have access to high-quality public goods and services in cities,” Velásquez told IPS from the regional U.N.-Habitat office in Rio de Janeiro.

It also includes “access to all possible opportunities for personal development, family development, community development, and of course all of the elements that make optimal quality of life in the city possible,” he said.

But this right is not accessible to the people who live in “Bajo Autopista” or other “favelas”, “cantegriles”, “ranchos”, “tugurios”, “callampas” or “pueblos jóvenes”, among the dozens of terms used for slums in Latin America.

“Them” and “us”, again – the divide between two for-now irreconcilable worlds.

The region is hosting the third U.N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) Oct. 17-20 in Quito, Ecuador, which will seek solutions to combat urban inequality.

“This is another world. They are clearly two very different worlds. Here everyone knows each other, everyone is friends, and when you go out there it’s not just that no one knows you, or that it’s not the same way of life, but out there you live with stigma, discrimination,” said computer technician Ariel Pérez Sueldo.

For this resident of Villa 31, the most pressing need is security or safety, in a broader, more inclusive sense.

“Not just from the police, but in terms of the power lines, the sewers, the streets. There are places where people, to get to their homes, have to wade through knee-deep mud. There are places where power lines hang down, and kids can be electrocuted. Safety also in the sense of having a place that fire fighters and ambulances can get to,” he said.

To include these “excluded cities”, a new appreciation of them is necessary, said Alicia Ziccardi at the Institute for Social Research of the Autonomous National University of Mexico, who is also an expert in social and urban issues in the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO).

“In the case of Mexico City, for example, the ‘colonias populares’ (a term used for slums) are vital spaces full of life where people have managed to have a habitat that is much better, sometimes, than the ones they are given with homes produced by housing policies that force them to live in distant outlying areas without services,” she told IPS.

“I think what is needed now is a new appreciation of self-production,” said Ziccardi, the editor of the book “Processes of urbanization of poverty and new forms of social exclusion; the challenges facing social policies in Latin American cities in the 21st century”, published by Clacso.

In Ziccardi’s view, “the social production of housing means governments have the capacity to make a public version of these neighbourhoods created by the people, because the results will surely be better than when popular housing is turned into a commodity.”

It’s as simple, according to Pérez Sueldo, as “having what everyone has: an address where they can install public services. Just be able to live normally.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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When the UN Comes Under Heavy Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 13:25:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145352 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

When heads of government and foreign ministers make their annual pilgrimage to the United Nations in September, it is rare to hear hard-hitting, headline-grabbing political statements from the podium.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

The speeches before the General Assembly, and the UN press briefings that follow, are mostly dull and boringly monotonous. The exceptions, however, are rare. The former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad was one of the few world leaders who was predictably outspoken at every turn.

When the UN celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995, virtually every single head of state visiting New York for the General Assembly sessions decided to stay behind to participate in celebrations later that week.

But Mahathir, who was known to relentlessly accuse the big powers of manipulating the organization to their advantage, decided to skip the high-level event where world leaders were allocated five minutes to speak about the political virtues and the inglorious successes of the UN – even as the world body was mired in failures in three hotspots: Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda.

Asked why he was missing the much-ballyhooed event, Mahathir told reporters rather sarcastically: “In five minutes, you only have time to say how good things are. I am not good at saying how good things are, when things are bad.”

Mahathir, who called for the resignation of then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan for failing to assert himself during the crisis that led to the US invasion of Iraq, told the General Assembly that the UN’s organs have been “cut out, dissected and reshaped so they may perform the way the puppet masters want.”

“And this august institution in which we had pinned so much hope, despite the safeguards supposed to be provided by the permanent five (UK,US, France, China and Russia), this organization is today collapsing on its clay feet, helpless to protect the weak and the poor,” he said.

thalif-logoBut more than 20 years later, the political situation is no better– as the UN remains helpless unable to resolve ongoing military conflicts and domestic insurgencies raging across South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The primary reason for the monumental failure is the continued deadlock in the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, where the five veto wielding powers are intent in protecting their own national interests and their military proxies in the battle fields in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, was equally critical of the UN arguing that its officials and its development agencies had no legitimate right to interfere in the domestic problems of a sovereign nation. A onetime Director of the Asia and Pacific Bureau of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Lakshman knew first-hand the upper and lower limits of the political and administrative structure of the UN.

When I interviewed Lakshman at the UN Plaza Hotel back in September 1999, he famously said that UN officials “should be more concerned with malaria and mosquitoes – not domestic political issues of member states.”

“With the exception of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees –involved in issues relating to humanitarian aid and refugees – other UN agencies have mandates only to be involved in social and economic development of a country,” he pointed out.

globecartoonLakshman was furious about statements made by unnamed UN officials in Colombo expressing “deep concern” over the “extensive civilian killings in two separate incidents” in Sri Lanka at that time. The mandate of most UN agencies operating in the field is confined primarily to development, he told me. “But yet some of them are trying to expand their mandates,” he said.

Over the years, the most virulent attacks against the UN have come largely from US politicians. The late Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republican Senator from the state of North Carolina, was a consistent UN-basher. Providing funds for the UN, he said, was like pouring money into a rat hole.

Helms wanted to see the organization shipped out of New York – for good. “I have long called for our country’s departure from this organization – and vice versa,” said Helms, one of the influential legislators of his generation.

Cast in the same political mould was John Bolton, the abrasive U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who was dubbed by one New York newspaper as “a human wrecking ball.” At one time, he threatened U.N. member states, specifically the 132 developing nations, that if they don’t play ball with the United States, Washington may look elsewhere to settle international problems.

Never short of headline grabbing quotes, Bolton once admitted he did not have a cordial relationship with the UN. Perhaps he was best known for two irreconcilable statements. First, in a 1994 speech, he said that “there is no such thing as the United Nations.”

Later, he was more specific, when the politician in him, remarked: “If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a difference.” And that prompted one critic to describe Bolton as more qualified to be an urban planner in charge of building construction than a cautious diplomat.

And then there was the firebrand President of Venezuela, the late Hugo Chavez, who used the General Assembly to launch an attack on then US President George W. Bush. In a rare personal attack from the podium, Chavez said: “The devil came here yesterday, right here. It still smells of sulphur today. Yesterday on this rostrum the President of the United States, whom I refer to as the devil, talked as if he owned the world.”

It would be appropriate, said Chavez, to have a psychiatrist analyse the address by the President of the United States. “As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his prescriptions for preserving the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I would even propose a title: “The devil’s recipe,” said Chavez, as delegates, conscious of political decorum, remained stunned in their seats.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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When Emergencies Last for Decadeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-emergencies-last-for-decades http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 21:34:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145217 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/feed/ 0 Climate Change Compounds Humanitarian Crises in Global Southhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 06:20:41 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145197 Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 20 2016 (IPS)

As the Global South works to overcome a history of weak institutions, armed conflict and poverty-driven forced exodus, key causes of its humanitarian crises, developing countries now have to also fight to keep global warming from compounding their problems.

“Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaption in fragile and conflict-affected states in the Global South have long been overlooked, as it is often perceived as too challenging or a lower priority,” Janani Vivekananda, an expert in security and climate change, told IPS.

Vivekananda, the head of Environment, Climate Change and Security in International Alert, a London-based non-governmental organisation working to prevent and end violent conflict around the globe, cited her country, Sri Lanka, as an example of problems shared by developing countries.

“Given the fragile political situation since 25 years of violent conflict ended in May 2009, ensuring that climate impacts do not fuel latent conflict dynamics is critical,” she said from London.

A politically unstable developing island nation like Sri Lanka, and many other countries in the South, will see their problems multiply in a warmer planet with higher sea levels, she said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” says “A New Climate for Peace”, an independent report commissioned in 2015 by members of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations.

This is the challenge faced by the governments and organisations that will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul. The conference was convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action.”

At the summit, the delegates will search for ways to integrate the traditional conception of humanitarian emergencies with new crises, such as those caused by climate change, which this year caused record high temperatures.

“This is why the World Humanitarian Summit’s initiative to remake the humanitarian system is so timely and so important,” said Vivekananda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in the absence of policies that effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100.

And even if the world were to reach the “safe limit” for global warming – a rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C, the target agreed in the Paris Agreement in December – the effects would still be felt around the planet, warns the IPCC, which decided in April to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The landmark climate deal is one of the key elements that the national delegations will have when they reach Istanbul, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in September, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, agreed in March 2015.

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

“Explicit recognition of the linkages between different types of risks and vulnerabilities is still missing,” said Vivekanada, with regard to the not yet formalised connection between these two agreements and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forming part of the 2030 Agenda are essential for understanding the relationship between climate change and humanitarian assistance.

The report commissioned by the G7 says the poorest countries with the most fragile political systems, like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Haiti face the greatest risks and difficulties adapting to climate change.

Climate pressure could hurt food production or require extra aid for local governments overwhelmed by the situation. In extreme circumstances, these phenomena can lead to forced migration.

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more people were displaced in 2015 by hydrometeorological disasters (14.7 million) than by conflicts or violence (8.5 million).

The report also stressed the impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENOS) meteorological phenomenon and said that for the people most exposed and vulnerable to extreme rainfall and temperatures, the effects have been devastating and have caused displacement.

For example, El Niño caused intense drought along Central America’s Pacific coast and in particular in the so-called Dry Corridor, a long, arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is predominant and rainfall shrank by 40 to 60 percent in the 2014 rainy season.

“Hundreds of people were forced to leave Nicaragua because of the drought,” Juan Carlos Méndez, with Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Management (CNE), told IPS.

As a CNE official, Méndez is also an adviser to the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental process to address the challenges of cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

“This is where we see the biggest political and technical challenges. You can clearly associate displacement with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, but now we have to link it to climate change issues,” the expert said.

Partly for that reason, Costa Rica and another 17 countries launched the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action in February 2015, a voluntary initiative to get human rights issues included in the climate talks.

In the final version of the Paris Agreement, the concept was incorporated as one of the principles that will guide its implementation.

The simultaneous inclusion of climate change and its humanitarian impacts in international summits is not new, but is growing.

The backdrop to the climate talks at the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2013 in Warsaw was the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia, and in the Philippines in particular.

The human impact of the typhoon, which claimed 6,300 lives, intensified the talks in the Polish capital and prompted the creation of a mechanism to address climate change-related damage and losses.

A scientific study published in January this year found that the Philippines would experience the highest sea level rise in the world, up to 14.7 mm a year – nearly five times the global average.

“Which is why it is very urgent for the Philippines to beef up efforts on disaster preparedness, particularly in the communities with high risk for disasters and high poverty incidence,” Ivy Marian Panganiban, an activist with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), told IPS.

Along with six other Filipino institutions, CODE-NGO is calling for locally-based humanitarian emergency response, with an emphasis on local leadership, and hopes Istanbul will provide guidelines in that sense.

NGOS “should really be capacitated and involved in the governance process since they are the ones that are in the forefront – people who are actually affected by disasters,” she said from Manila.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Latin American Humanitarian Emergency Invisible to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 23:42:43 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145171 In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, referring to the generalised violence in Mexico and in Honduras and other countries of Central America, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and is a product of transnational crime, but is invisible to the international community.

Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered on Mar. 2, is in Mexico after visiting several European cities to ask for help clarifying her mother’s murder and to call for a cancellation of the financing for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, to which the Lenca indigenous people are opposed.

In an interview with IPS she admitted that despite the death threats and the murders of other activists, she didn’t believe they would dare kill her mother, who was so well-known at an international level.“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency).” -- Rubén Figueroa

She herself and her siblings had fled to Mexico due to the threats against members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres 23 years ago. She had been studying in Mexico for a month when her mother was killed.

Now she wants to tell the world about communities that are displaced and forced off their land because of a “neoliberal, racist and patriarchal” system.

The victims, she said, are not only the Lenca Indians. Also affected are the Garifunas, mixed-race descendants of native people and African slaves, who have been displaced by the construction of tourist resorts in their coastal territory.

To that is added abuse by the police and other agents of the state, since the 2009 coup d’etat that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, mixed with criminal violence that has forced thousands of people to seek refuge outside of Honduras.

Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which has organised 11 caravans of Central American mothers searching for their children who have gone missing in Mexico, concurs with Zúñiga Cáceres.

“The situation in the entire Northern Triangle region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) is a humanitarian crisis,” the migrants’ rights activist told IPS.

“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency),” he said.

Figures from an invisible crisis

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of internally displaced people forced from their homes by armed conflict and violence rose to a record 40.8 million in 2015.

Of that total, at least 7.3 million were in Latin America, most of them in Colombia, because of its decades-long armed conflict.

But the report dedicates a special analysis to the growing new phenomenon of displacement caused by criminal violence, in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

These four countries accounted for a total of one million internally displaced persons – nearly double the number reported in the 2014 edition of the report. They are mainly victims of criminal violence, principally associated with drug trafficking and gangs.

The IDMC stresses that these are incomplete figures, to which must be added the number of people who are forced to leave the country by criminal violence.

It describes those displaced by criminal violence as “unseen and in displacement limbo”.

Human rights activists in Mexico blame this generalised violence on the war between organised crime groups, as well as on violence by the states against opponents to mining and energy projects.

“What we are experiencing is not a war on drug trafficking, but a war by the state against the general population,” María Herrera, an activist with the group of relatives searching for family members forcibly disappeared in Mexico, who number in the thousands, told IPS.

Also part of this new kind of humanitarian emergency, arising from transnational crime, are civilian victims of the growing militarisation in countries of Central America and Mexico, according to those interviewed by IPS, who complain that the issue is not on the agenda for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

Figueroa said a series of regional policies, such as Mexico’s Southern Border Plan and the Alliance for Progress in Central America, were partly to blame for the crisis.

“Approximately five years ago we began to notice that displacement is caused by more direct violence. We have seen young people who come to the shelters with bullets in their bodies. People who have returned to their countries and have been killed,” the activist said.

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

“Migration has always existed, but now people are being displaced by drug trafficking and gang warfare, and there is also the question of persecution and harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Honduras. It’s become structural violence,” he said.

Mexico between a rock and a hard place

The Central American diaspora triggered by violence, along with the deportation of thousands of migrants by the United States, has turned Mexico into a sort of sandwich. And this is causing a growing phenomenon, which has not been addressed either: Central Americans who are choosing to stay in Mexico rather than head north to the United States.

More than two million people were deported during U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term – 2009-2012 – alone.

The governmental Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) reports that 2,000 Central Americans requested refugee status in 2014, and only one-fifth were granted it.

Mexico, meanwhile, has its own humanitarian emergency. The Mexican Commission of Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) documented 281,400 cases of forced displacement caused by generalised violence between 2011 and February 2015.

One-third of these displaced persons fled their communities in 141 mass displacements in 14 states.

Mass displacement is defined as an event simultaneously affecting more than 50 people or 10 families. Between January 2014 and February 2015, the CMDPDH registered 23 mass displacements.

One-fifth of these happened in Guerrero, a state that doubled its record and became the leader in forced displacement due to violence in Mexico in the last year.

“People who have been internally displaced do not have mechanisms or institutions for their protection or assistance,” says the report Forced Displacement in Mexico, released by the CMDPDH, a government agency, in 2015.

But there are other cases, like that of Myrna Lazcano, a Mexican woman who, after marrying and having two daughters in the United States, decided to return to Mexico in 2008.

However, the violence against women in her home state of Puebla and in Veracruz, where she found work, forced her to send her daughters back, first, and then return herself to the United States, where she has requested asylum.

Like her, another 9,200 Mexicans applied for asylum in the United States in 2012 – three times the number of requests filed there by Mexicans in 2008.

“This is an emergency that no one wants to address,” said Figueroa. “It is influenced by the position, especially on the part of the United States, with regard to the situation in Central America, because they would be forced to offer refuge if they recognised it.”

But in his view, “another element is the stance taken by Mexico and the countries of origin (of the migrants), because they would be forced to admit that they are failing, as is the international community.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Industrial-Level Aid Logistics in Colombia’s Decades-Long Humanitarian Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/industrial-level-aid-logistics-in-colombias-decades-long-humanitarian-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=industrial-level-aid-logistics-in-colombias-decades-long-humanitarian-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/industrial-level-aid-logistics-in-colombias-decades-long-humanitarian-disaster/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 22:23:54 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145142 Social actors and government representatives sign a social and political pact for reparations and peace in Colombia on Apr. 11, the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Conflict. Credit: UARIV

Social actors and government representatives sign a social and political pact for reparations and peace in Colombia on Apr. 11, the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Conflict. Credit: UARIV

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, May 16 2016 (IPS)

“If you’re going to talk about Colombia and the peace process, do it somewhere else,” was heard at a regional preparatory meeting for the World Humanitarian Summit, according to Ramón Rodríguez, with the Colombian government’s Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation for Victims (UARIV).

“Cuba’s representative, for example, stated: ‘This is a World Humanitarian Summit, we’re going to talk about humanitarian questions in general, and not specific cases,” the official said with respect to the preparations for the first gathering of its kind, to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

“For the organisers of the World Humanitarian Summit, disasters are the main issue. They practically fobbed us off,” added Rodríguez, UARIV’s director of social and humanitarian questions, in an interview with IPS in his Bogotá office.

This is true even though United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when he called the summit, declared that “We must ensure no-one in conflict, no-one in chronic poverty, and no-one living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels is left behind.”

"Truth is the true reparations”

On May 11, journalist Jineth Bedoya refused an indemnification payment of 8,250 dollars, which she had originally accepted two years ago when the government established May 25 as the National Day for Dignity for Women Victims of Sexual Violence. May 25 was the day she was kidnapped and raped by paramilitaries because of her reporting work, in 2000.

When she received the indemnification, Bedoya said it could not be seen as reparations. Nevertheless, UARIV assistant director Iris Marín presented the indemnification for Bedoya as a case of effective reparations, at a public hearing in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a month ago.

“Truth is the true reparations,” Bedoya said in a press conference. El Tiempo, the newspaper where she works, wrote “The state claims its agents did not participate in what happened, even though there is proof that state agents took part in the kidnapping, torture and sexual violence against the reporter.” The Freedom of the Press Foundation hopes the IACHR will refer Bedoya’s case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

In any case, “the issue (of the Colombian armed conflict) draws a lot of attention, although it is very limited,” said Rodríguez, an industrial engineer who organised and directs the world’s biggest humanitarian aid logistics system, in terms of percentage of a national budget that goes to citizens of the country itself.

Colombia is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean where a humanitarian crisis has been declared due to internal armed conflict.

In nearly seventy years of civil war in different shapes and formats, the counting of and attention to victims has undergone major changes. Today there is basically industrial-level aid, adapted to a lengthy, calculated disaster.

“We, the government, are the main humanitarian actor in Colombia,” said Rodríguez. “We have an emergency response team. We work with humanitarian organisations through local humanitarian teams.”

Perhaps the main lesson that the Colombian government learned was that it had to count the number of victims and people affected by the conflict, in order to address the humanitarian crisis in its true magnitude. Until 2004, getting the government to admit the number of victims was a tug-of-war.

In 1962, a study on Violence in Colombia (by Guzmán, Fals and Umaña) estimated that 200,000 people were killed between 1948 and 1962.

The victims of forced displacement began to be counted in 1985 by the Catholic Church, at the time the only non-governmental institution with the capacity to carry out a national census of displaced persons.

In 1994, the government put the number of displaced persons at 600,000; however, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) counted 900,000.

But it was a 2004 Constitutional Court sentence that ordered the government to – gradually – acknowledge the real number of displaced persons, thus recognising the effects of the war.

The Court has been able to verify compliance with the ruling thanks to the support of a non-governmental alliance of academics and researchers: the Follow-up Commission on Public Policies on Forced Displacement.

Finally, in 2011, on the initiative of the government of current President Juan Manuel Santos, whose term began in 2010, the Victims and Land Restitution Law was approved. Among the many measures it involved, it created the UARIV.

At the time, the government recognised 4.5 million people affected by the war in a country of 48 million.

The UARIV opened a Single Registry of Victims, which up to Apr. 1, 2016 had counted a total of 8,040,748 victims since 1985.

Victims registered with the state 1985-2015

Forced displacement: 84.2%
Homicide: 3.5%
Death threats: 3.4%
Forced disappearance: 2.1%
Loss of belongings, housing or land: 1.3%
Terrorist act/Attack/Combat/Harassment : 1.1%
Kidnapping: 0.5%
Land mines/Unexploded ordnance/Explosive device: 0.2%
Crimes against liberty and sexual integrity: 0.2%
Torture: 0.1%
Abandonment or forced eviction from land: 0.1%
Recruiting children or adolescents: 0.1%
No information: 3.2%

Source: UARIV

Apart from the debate on whether the victims were undercounted, or the number of victims grew, or what grew was the number counted by the state, today UARIV knows that 84.2 percent of the registered victims are displaced persons, and that 45.4 percent come from the geostrategic, resource-rich and dynamic department of Antioquia in northwest Colombia.

It also reports that when the threats peak, this coincides with a peak in forced displacement of people from their land, which intensified between 1995 and 2007, while kidnappings (which account for 0.5 percent of victims) peaked in 2002 and are now becoming a thing of the past.

The UARIV also recognises that the worst years of the war were between 2000 and 2008, and that 2015 has been the most peaceful year since 1985.

In addition, the unit reports that among the victims there are slightly more women than men, while children are the single largest group. And it says one-fourth of the victims are black or indigenous people.

Rodríguez has kept up his monitoring as the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas continue in Havana.

“I asked for a report for the Jan. 1-Apr. 30 period,” he said. “In the same period last year we had 15 mass displacements. In 2016 we had 16. In 2015 1,425 families were affected, 5,721 people. So far this year we have 1,200 more people. Which means that there was an increase in the number of people affected between 2015 and 2016.”

The increase is attributed to criminal bands made up of former far-right paramilitaries, and to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller left-wing rebel group, with which the government recently announced the start of talks.

Colombia is now on the verge of a peace deal. But Rodríguez said it will take “three to five years to achieve peace. There will be an upsurge in violence,” not only because of former paramilitaries but also guerrillas who refuse to lay down their arms.

“Something that should be shown at the World Humanitarian Summit is the rise in violence that is going to occur when the peace agreement is signed. The question of control territory is of great importance to the armed actors, and converges with economic aspects,” said the official.

For Rodríguez, the “victim response, assistance and reparations model” that Colombia has come up with is another key element that would be useful to share at the Istanbul summit.

The model has two phases. The first, immediate humanitarian aid, operates within 48 hours after acts of violence, and comes in two forms: funds, through the municipalities, and in kind, through operators who are subcontracted, who were paid a combined total of more than five million dollars in 2015 for providing services.

Several months later, the victims are registered in the Single Registry of Victims, and emergency and transition aid (for housing and food) begins. The last phase is reparations, which includes indemnification of different kinds.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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MSF Withdrawal Part of Ongoing Debate Over Humanitarian Aidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/msf-withdrawal-part-of-ongoing-debate-over-humanitarian-aid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=msf-withdrawal-part-of-ongoing-debate-over-humanitarian-aid http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/msf-withdrawal-part-of-ongoing-debate-over-humanitarian-aid/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 05:00:48 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145027 Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MŽedecins Sans Frontires, and Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speak following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on healthcare in armed conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MŽedecins Sans Frontires, and Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speak following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on healthcare in armed conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 9 2016 (IPS)

Aid organisations have differing views about the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, after Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) pulled out last week some still hope the Summit will help bring about much needed change.

There is little doubt that the world’s humanitarian system is over-burdened as a result of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The ongoing crisis prompted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which will take place in Istanbul on May 23-24.

Although MSF are concerned the summit will not adequately address weaknesses in humanitarian action, other aid organisations are more hopeful that the summit’s approach could help bring about a more coordinated approach to humanitarian and development assistance. Currently humanitarian aid, which focuses on disasters, is delivered by a largely separate system to development aid, which focuses on addressing systemic poverty.

MSF, which was significantly involved in preparations for the summit, announced last week that they “no longer have any hope” that the meeting will improve emergency response and reinforce the role of impartial humanitarian aid.

“Right now what you’re seeing is people using emergency funding for decades of aid which isn’t the right way to go about it." -- Christina Bennett, ODI.

The summit’s focus on doing “aid differently” and “end(ing) need” threaten to “dissolve humanitarian assistance into wider development, peace-building and political agendas,” the organisation said in a statement.

MSF also stated that the WHS has become a “fig-leaf of good intentions” which does not make states accountable or responsible.

“By putting states on the same level as nongovernmental organisations and UN agencies, which have no such powers or obligations, the Summit will minimize the responsibility of states,” MSF said.

UN Secretary-General Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed his disappointment in the move, noting that MSF is a “strong and influential voice” in the field.

MSF’s decision to withdraw announced last Thursday has contributed to an ongoing international debate over what is required to create “better aid.”

Care International’s Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator Gareth Price-Jones told IPS the WHS needs to ensure faster and more “principled” aid that is still based on the humanitarian doctrine of impartiality and neutrality.

Where Care International differs from MSF is the importance of addressing why there are such needs in the first place, he said.

“[MSF] feels that humanitarian aid should be strictly reactive…although having that reactive response is critical, what we also need is to address the demand side,” said Price-Jones.

He noted that a nexus between humanitarian and development aid would help to implement much needed measures for prevention and mitigation especially in cases of conflict, natural disasters and climate change.

“When the fire service was set up, the logic was to charge in and protect fires,” he said. “But if you look at what modern fire services do nowadays is mostly fire prevention because everyone knows it is obviously far better to prevent a fire than to put it out after it has happened.”

However focusing on prevention does not necessarily mean that humanitarian aid will become politicized, he added.

Similarly, Senior Research Fellow of the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group  wrote in a report that the collaboration of humanitarian and development actors can contribute to making communities more resilient to future crises.

Bennett told IPS that addressing humanitarian and development aid together could more effectively address complex, long-term crises.

“Right now what you’re seeing is people using emergency funding for decades of aid which isn’t the right way to go about it,” she said.

Though Bennett acknowledges the important role of neutral and independent humanitarian assistance and stressed the need for caution, she said aid should not operate in such separate “silos” in some cases.

“Just call it need and combine forces to understand how we can address that need,” she told IPS. With a “larger pot of funding,” actors can address both short and long-term needs, she added.

She cited the refugee crisis in the Middle East as a case that requires a more long-term, comprehensive aid approach.

“The problem is not going to go away…its not that they are going to leave their home for nine months and then go back and rebuild their house and live there again, that’s not really what happens anymore,” she stated.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the average length of displacement is now 17 years. Already, refugee-hosting countries such as Jordan have found their economic resources exhausted.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Country Director for Jordan Petr Kostohryz told IPS that the focus on immediate needs in the refugee crisis’ early stages created a degree of “aid dependency” instead of contributing to long-term solutions. This is partly due to the nature of humanitarian assistance, he added.

According to a UN and World Bank study, 90 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon live under the national poverty line. Many families are unable to legally earn income and many children still lack access to education.

“We are at risk (of) losing a whole generation of Syrian refugee children,” he said.

Approximately 40 percent of all Syrian children in Jordan are out of school.

Though different stages of displacement calls for different needs, such protracted displacement often calls for early strategies beyond short-term immediate assistance in order to build resilience against future shocks, Kostohryz stated.

Bennett echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating that a long-term view that combines short-term and long-term assistance is necessary to help provide education resources, create jobs, and give refugee families a more permanent living situation where “they feel they can actually start a life.”

When asked if he believes that the WHS will result in such tangible outcomes, Kostohryz told IPS that “we have no choice.”

“Although we may live in a time where agreeing on a common outcome or vision is the most difficult in decades, we need changes and new strategies that all key actors gather around and support,” he continued.

Kostohryz said that the solutions are ultimately political and that he hopes the WHS will lead to a confirmed commitment to the protection of civilians including education for all and a reaffirmation of principled humanitarian action.

Price-Jones also expressed similar optimistic hopes for the WHS, underscoring the need for states to make and strengthen such commitments to minimize humanitarian consequences.

“There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. They are an outcome of a political failure either to plan for a natural disaster or to prevent and mitigate a conflict,” he told IPS.

Humanitarian reform is therefore in the hands of the world’s governments, a view that MSF shares.

Bennett added that along with governments, institutions such as the UN and large international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) must also address systemic issues in order to improve the humanitarian system including aid delivery and its outcomes.

More skeptical about the potential success of WHS, Bennett hopes that the meeting will at least provide a roadmap to “start” this conversation.

The WHS will bring together approximately 6,000 representatives from governments, businesses, aid organisations and affected communities. This includes 80 member states of the UN’s 193 members.

With the diversity in perspectives of what “humanitarian” means and should look like, it is still unclear what outcomes or actions the summit intends to produce, observers note.

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“Together, Civil Society Has Power”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-civil-society-has-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 22:53:55 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144908 Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

When Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan transgender opposition legislator, spoke at a panel on inclusion during the last session of the International Civil Society Week held in Bogotá, 12 Latin American women stood up and stormed out of the room.

Adrián was talking about corruption in Venezuela, governed by “Chavista” (for the late Hugo Chávez) President Nicolás Maduro, and the blockade against reforms sought by the opposition, which now holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

The speaker who preceded her, from the global watchdog Transparency International, referred to corruption among left-wing governments in South America.

Outside the auditorium in the Plaza de Artesanos, a square surrounded by parks on the west side of Bogotá, the women, who represented social movements, argued that, by stressing corruption on the left, the right forgot about cases like that of Fernando Collor (1990-1992), a right-wing Brazilian president impeached for corruption.“Together, civil society has power…If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.” -- Raaida Manaa

“Why don’t they mention those who have staged coups in Latin America and who have been corrupt?” asked veteran Salvadoran activist Marta Benavides.

Benavides told IPS she was not against everyone expressing their opinions, “but they should at least show respect. We don’t all agree with what they’re saying: that Latin America is corrupt. It’s a global phenomenon, and here we have to tell the truth.”

That truth, according to her, is that “Latin America is going through a very difficult situation, with different kinds of coups d’etat.”

She clarified that her statement wasn’t meant to defend President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the budget, or the governing left-wing Workers’ Party.

“I want people to talk about the real corruption,” she said. “In Brazil those who staged the 1964 coup (which ushered in a dictatorship until 1985) want to return to power to continue destroying everything; but this will affect everyone, and not just Brazil, its people and its resources.”

In Benavides’ view, all of the panelists “were telling lies” and no divergent views were expressed.

But when the women indignantly left the room, they missed the talk given on the same panel by Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who complained that all of the governments in the Americas – right-wing, left-wing, north and south – financially strangled the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

He warned that “An economic crisis is about to break out in the Inter-American human rights system,” which consists of the IACHR and the Court, two autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies.

“In the regular financing of the OAS, the IACHR is a six percent priority, and the Inter-American Court, three percent,” said Álvarez-Icaza.

“They say budgets are a clear reflection of priorities. We are a nine percent priority,” he said, referring to these two legal bodies that hold states to account and protect human rights activists and community organisers by means of precautionary measures.

He described as “unacceptable and shameful” that the system “has been maintained with donations from Europe or other actors.”

There were multiple voices in this disparate assembly gathered in the Colombian capital since Sunday Apr. 24. The meeting organised by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which carried the hashtag ICSW2016 on the social networks, drew some 900 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The ICSW2016 ended Friday Apr. 29 with the election of a new CIVICUS board of directors.

Tutu Alicante, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, is considered an “enemy of the state” and lives in exile in the United States. He told IPS that “we are very isolated from the rest of Africa. We need Latin America’s help to present our cases at a global level.”

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang has been in power for 37 years. On Sunday Apr. 24 he was reelected for another seven years with over 93 percent of the vote, in elections boycotted by the opposition. His son is vice president and has been groomed to replace him.

“Because of the U.S. and British interests in our oil and gas, we believe that will happen,” Alicante stated.

He said the most interesting aspect of the ICSW2016 was the people he met, representatives of “global civil society working to build a world that is more equitable and fair.”

He added, however, that “indigenous and afro communities were missing.”

“We’re in Colombia, where there is an important afro community that is not here at the assembly,” Alicante said. “But there is a sense that we are growing and a spirit of including more people.”

He was saying this just when one of the most important women in Colombia’s indigenous movement, Leonor Zalabata, came up. A leader of the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, she has led protests demanding culturally appropriate education and healthcare, and indigenous autonomy, while organising women in her community.

She was a keynote speaker at the closing ceremony Thursday evening.

A woman with an Arab name and appearance, Raaida Manaa, approached by IPS, turned out to be a Colombian journalist of Lebanese descent who lives in Barranquilla, the main city in this country’s Caribbean region.

She works with the Washington-based International Association for Volunteer Effort.

“The most important” aspect of the ICSW2016 is that it is being held just at this moment in Colombia, whose government is involved in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. This, she said, underlines the need to set out on the path to peace “in a responsible manner, with a strategy and plan to do things right.”

The title she would use for an article on the ICSW2016 is: “Together, civil society has power.” And the lead would be: “If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.”

In Colombia there is a large Arab community. Around 1994, the biggest Palestinian population outside the Middle East was living in Colombia, although many fled when the civil war here intensified.

“The peaceful struggle should be the only one,” 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, who took part in the ICSW2016, said Friday morning.

But, he added, “you can’t have a lasting peace if the Palestinian problem is not solved.” Since global pressure managed to put an end to South Africa’s apartheid, the next big task is Palestine, he said.

Zeddini expressed strong support for the Nobel peace prize nomination of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why we need to stand united against governments cracking down on dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:33:35 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144877 Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Last month, after receiving threats for opposing a hydroelectric project, Berta Caceres, a Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, was murdered. A former winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, Berta was shot dead in her own home.

In the same month, South African anti-mining activist, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Radebe, leader of a fiercely fought campaign to protect a pristine stretch of the Pondoland Wild Coast, was also shot dead.

Across the world, civic activists are being detained, tortured and killed. The space for citizens to organise and mobilise is being shut down; dissenting voices are being shut up. In 2015, at least 156 human rights activists were murdered. 156 that we know of.

The scale of the threat cannot be underestimated. The most recent analysis by my CIVICUS colleagues shows that, in 2015, significant violations of civic space were recorded in over 100 countries, up from 96 in 2014. People living in these countries account for roughly 86% of the world’s population. This means that 6 out of 7 people live in states where their basic rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression are being curtailed or denied. No single region stands out; truly, this is a worldwide trend, a global clampdown.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists. But perhaps more worrying is the demonisation of civil society in mainstream political discourse. A recent bill in Israel, touted by its supporters as the ‘Transparency Bill’, places rigorous new disclosure demands on any Israeli non-profit organisation that receives more than 50% of its funding from “Foreign Political Entities’, in other words from foreign governments, the EU or UN. Following an escalating global trend, the bill seeks to cast Israeli CSOs as disloyal ‘foreign agents’, demanding that their public communications state the source of their funding and calling for their employees to wear distinctive tags.

In the UK recent government efforts to restrict the lobbying activities of civil society organisations prompted over 140 charities to express their concern. A proposed new grant agreement clause seeks to prevent UK charities from using their funds to enter into any dialogue with parliament, government or a political party. In India, Prime Minister Modi has cautioned his judiciary against being influenced by what he called, ‘five star activists’. Insinuating that the civil society sector is elitist and out of touch with realities on the ground, the comments lent renewed impetus to the country’s ongoing crackdown on critical civil rights activists and NGOs.

The recent proliferation of counter-terrorism measures has also served to further stigmatise and stifle the sector. By suggesting that non-profit organisations are particularly vulnerable to abuse or exploitation by terrorist groups, governments have justified new laws and regulatory restrictions on their legitimate activities and the political space they inhabit. Freedom of speech is being silenced, funding sources cut off; the effect has been debilitating.

State surveillance of online activities is also on the rise as authorities note the power of the internet and social media as a tool for citizen mobilization. Governments have woken up to the power of civil society. The deepest fear of repressive regimes is no longer necessarily the rise of new political opposition parties; it is 100,000 of their citizens taking to the streets in the pursuit of change. And so a concerted push-back has begun, an effort to tame civil society, to smother its ability to catalyse social transformation.

We need to push back on these incursions on civic space, urgently and across the world. We need to be challenging our governments over rights violations, about the murder of activists, about their progress in fighting poverty, climate change and inequality.

There is much cause for hope. Last year, a coalition of Tunisian civil society organisations won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in bringing a country back from the brink of civil war and laying the foundations of a pluralistic democracy. The latest innovations in protest and movement building, in technologies that can liberate and mobilise citizens, in citizen-generated data that can empower campaigners and increase transparency around the monitoring of our global goals: all of these signal a new era of dynamic civic activism. Over the last few days more than 500 leading activists and thinkers gathered at International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogota, Colombia to plot civil society’s global fight-back. It is fitting that this meeting took place against a backdrop of the peace negotiations that Colombian civil society has played such a key role in making possible.

Our gathering has the potential to be a defining moment for the future of democratic struggles. There will be more setbacks, low points and sacrifices to come but the demands for change won’t go away. Nor will civil society’s ability to affect it. A new, radically different vision for the future of civic action is being formulated. And those of us who believe in a healthy, independent civil society have more responsibility than ever before to keep on making our case. Knowing the threats she faced, Berta Caceres said, ‘We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no spare or replacement planet. We have only this one and we have to take action’. She was right.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is the Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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