Inter Press Service » Conferences Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:54:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central America Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
MANAGUA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Central America’s toolbox to pull 23 million people – almost half of the population – out of poverty must include three indispensable tools: universal access to water, a sustainable power supply, and adaptation to climate change.

“These are the minimum, basic, necessary preconditions for guaranteeing survival,” Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told IPS.

These three tools are especially important for agriculture, the engine of the regional economy, and particularly in rural areas and indigenous territories, which have the highest levels of poverty.

Campos stressed that this is the minimum foundation for starting to work “towards addressing other issues that we must pay attention to, like education, health, or vulnerable groups; but first these conditions that guarantee minimal survival have to be in place.”

In Central America today, 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And the region is facing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which the international community will launch in September, with the concept of survival very much alive, because every day millions of people in the region struggle for clean water and food.

Everyone agreed on the vulnerability of the region and its people at the Central American meeting “United in Action for the Common Good”, held Aug. 21 in the Nicaraguan capital to assess the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the pillar of the agenda and will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with a 2030 deadline for compliance.

The issues of reliable, sustainable energy, availability and sustainable management of water, and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts are included in the SDGs. But the experts taking part in the gathering in Managua stressed that in this region, the three are interlinked at all levels with the goal of reducing poverty.

“In our countries, our fight against poverty is complex,” Campos said.

This region of 48 million people, where per capita GDP is far below the global average – 3,035 dollars in Central America compared to the global 7,850 dollars – needs to come up with new paths for escaping the spiral of poverty which entraps nearly one out of two inhabitants.

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

According to the 2012 report “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America” by the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “reduction of and instability in the availability of water and of agricultural yields could affect labour markets, supplies and prices of basic goods, and rural migration to urban areas.”

That would have an impact on subsistence crops like maize or beans or traditional export products like coffee, which are essential in the region made up, from south to north, of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. (U.N. agencies also include the Dominican Republic, an island nation, in the region.)

Poverty laid out in the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is divided into two.

The first of the 17 SDGs is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the second is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The sixth is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the seventh is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and the 13th is “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

A key area is the so-called Dry Corridor, an arid strip that runs from Guatemala to Costa Rica, which according to experts has grown.

“We are modifying land use, which is associated with the climate phenomenon, and as a consequence the Dry Corridor is not limited to the Corridor anymore: we are turning the entire country into a kind of dry corridor,” Denis Meléndez, executive secretary of Nicaragua’s National Forum for Risk Management, told IPS.

The “Outlook for Food and Nutritional Security in Central America” report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 says this could hinder compliance with the goal of eliminating hunger in the region.

The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in a global summit in 2000 – now to be replaced by the SDGs – is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, cutting in half the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people by 2015, from 1990 levels.

FAO reported that the countries of Central America have come close to meeting the goal, with the proportion of hungry people being reduced from 24.5 to 13.2 percent of the total, but the percentage is still more than double the Latin American average of 6.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people goes beyond agriculture, access to water, or sustainable energy.

According to ECLAC, two out of three inhabitants of the region live in shantytowns or slums in unsanitary conditions, where climate change will drive up the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, such as malaria and dengue.

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

“Because climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing at the present and in the coming decades, we have to think about adaptation not necessarily as a cross-cutting issue, but in terms of ‘what goes around, comes around’,” Francisco Soto, the head of El Salvador’s Climate Change Forum, told IPS.

This impact has been acknowledged by governments in the region, and in 2010 the Central American Integration System (SICA) described it in its Regional Climate Change Strategy as a phenomenon that would “make social challenges like poverty reduction and governance more difficult to fight.”

Experts like Andrea Rodríguez of Bolivia stressed at the meeting that every government anti-poverty project should take into account the impacts of climate change.

“If this is not taken into consideration, we won’t be able to find an effective solution, because climate change and development are like twins – they go hand in hand and have to be addressed simultaneously in order for aid and cooperation to be effective,” she told IPS.

Rodríguez, a legal adviser to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Climate Change Programme, insisted on the need to jointly plan long-term investment in energy infrastructure and sustainable development.

“The only way to combat climate change and contribute to economic development is by leaving aside fossil fuels and looking for cleaner alternatives,” she said.

Civil society organisations grouped in the Central American Alliance for Energy Sustainability (ACCESE) propose small-scale renewable installations as a solution for meeting the growing demand for energy while at the same time empowering vulnerable communities.

In the region, 15 percent of the population does not have electricity, and up to 50 percent cook with firewood, according to figures provided by ACCESE. This portion of the population is mainly found on islands and in remote mountainous and rural areas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceans Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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IMF Steps Up Lending to Achieve Sustainable Development Mon, 13 Jul 2015 16:45:40 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development opens in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Monday, all eyes are on the United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda, billed as the most ambitious and far-reaching poverty eradication plan in the organisation’s history.

On the eve of the conference, on Jul. 10, some of the world’s leading development banks announced plans to extend 400 billion dollars in financing towards the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over a three-year period.

The African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank Group (referred to as the MDBs), together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have also “vowed to work more closely with private and public sector partners to help mobilize the resources needed to meet the historic challenge of achieving the SDGs”, said a press release issued this past weekend.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, announced here in Washington on Jul. 8 that the Fund has decided to increase developing nations’ access to credit to promote sustainable growth.

The changes, approved by the IMF executive board on Jul. 1, will expand concessional facilities – money-lending mechanisms – to developing countries by 50 percent.

More aid will be targeted at poor and vulnerable countries, and the IMF will maintain a zero-percent interest rate on rapid credit facility loans to fragile states and countries hit by natural disasters

Lagarde referred to three major international conferences – including the financing conference underway in Ethiopia, the U.N. summit slated to take place in New York City in September, and the year-end climate negotiations scheduled to be held in Paris – as “rare windows of opportunities” for the international community, including the IMF, to help developing countries achieve the SDGs.

“These three [meetings] combined can help us change the music,” she said. “We have a chance to collectively take a new approach.”

First laid out in the Rio+20 summit in 2012, the SDGs currently comprise 17 goals, ranging from reducing poverty and inequality to combating climate change. They are expected to form the global blueprint from which member states will derive their national policies over the next 15 years.

The goals come on the heels of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight poverty reduction targets set out in 2000 that will expire by the end of this year.

Many are worried that the SDGs are too broad and may be costly.

A United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing released in August 2014 puts the estimate of eradicating extreme poverty in all countries, one of the goals, at around 66 billion dollars annually.

The cost of investments required to achieve “climate-compatible” scenarios may go up to several trillion dollars per year.

United Nations Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo said in an IMF Survey published on Apr. 18 that achieving the SDGs will cost more than the MDGs.

“In addition to eradicating poverty, this agenda will cover economic, social and environmental issues, so huge amounts of financial resources will be required for its implementation,” he said.

Other than international aid, the report calls for the use of private resources, partnerships and innovative mechanisms to finance implementation of the SDGs.

But international aid is still crucial for many least developed countries, especially nations on the African continent and landlocked developing states.

In 1970, a target was set for developed countries to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) as Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries. However, only five developed countries from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have reached the target so far.

ODA is the measure of resource flows to developing countries for economic development and welfare.

Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. said in a blog post on Jul. 7 that aid flows alone could not float the multi-trillion-dollar price tag of the SDGs.

“The truth is that development is no longer mostly about aid,” he said.

He referred to remittances from migrants living overseas, foreign direct investment and private lending to developing countries as well as domestic government revenues as other lucrative sources of financing.

The IMF has contributed to the goals by providing advice, assistance and lending to the countries.

Lagarde said that the IMF will focus on mobilising domestic revenue, especially through increasing the tax ratios in developing countries. She said that tax ratios in developing countries are below 15 percent in comparison to the OECD average of 34 percent.

“Money raised in that simple, fair and broad-based system and well spent on the right policies can be a game changer,” she said.

Eliminating inefficiency by combating corruption and untargeted subsidies was another IMF goal. Around 30 percent of public spending is lost due to inefficiencies in the public investment process, she said.

“They [developing countries] can’t do it by themselves,” Lagarde said. “If the international community participates in that effort, it will go a lot further.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Social Safety Net Not Wide Enough to Protect World’s Poor Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:50:50 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-five percent of the world’s poor still have limited protection from hunger and economic, social or political crises despite expansion of social safety programmes in developing countries in recent years.

According to a report released by the World Bank on Jul. 7, most of the poor without a social safety net system are in lower-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s poor reside.

In these countries, safety schemes like cash transfers and school feeding programmes only cover 25 percent of the extreme poor, compared to 64-percent coverage in upper-middle-income countries.

Existing social welfare mechanisms are insufficient to close the poverty gap, leaving approximately 773 million people struggling to survive, experts say.

The report, the second in a series, was released following the World Bank Group and International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) announcement of their goals to provide universal social protection within the next 15 years.

A joint statement released by the two organisations on Jun.30 cited universal coverage and access to social protection as twin goals by 2030.

“The World Bank Group and the ILO share a vision of social protection for all, a world where anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time,” according to the joint statement by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, and Guy Ryder, executive director of the ILO.

“The new development agenda that is being defined by the world community – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – provides an unparalleled opportunity for our two institutions to join forces to make universal social protection a reality, for everyone, everywhere.”

The report comes just ahead of the United Nations’ third Financing for Development (FfD) conference scheduled to take place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next week, where world leaders will discuss plans for funding the post-2015 development agenda, due to be launched in September.

The issue of providing universal social protection is slated to be at the centre of the agenda.

The five largest social safety programmes in the world are in China, India, South Africa and Ethiopia, where regular assistance reaches a combined total of 526 million people.

According to the report, all countries have at least one type of social security scheme, while the average developing country has about 20 such programmes. Globally, approximately 1.9 billion people benefit from these mechanisms.

On average, low-middle-income countries devote 1.6 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to these mechanisms, while richer countries devote 1.9 percent of their earnings to social programmes.

The World Bank reports that poor policy choices lie at the heart of inefficiencies in adequately providing for the poor. Fuel and electricity subsidies, for instance, reduce the portion of government spending allocated to social spending. These regressive subsidies disproportionately benefit the rich.

For example, Yemen spends nine percent of its GDP on energy and electricity subsidies, compared to the three percent it spends on social security net programs. The country, engulfed in political turmoil for the past few years, is already one of the poorest countries in the Arab World with up to 54.5 percent of its population living in poverty.

As developed countries like the United States and the European Union grapple with the balance between providing social security and maintaining economic growth in the slumping economy, developing countries have expanded their safety nets in a bid to reduce poverty.

Cash transfer programmes, recommended by the report as the most effective method, has “positive spillover effects on the local economy.” For each dollar transferred, the total income of the beneficiary increases from 1.08 dollars to 2.52 dollars.

“There is a strong body of evidence that these programmes ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s senior director for social protection and labour.

“Going forward, more can be done to close the coverage gap and reach the world’s poorest by improving the effectiveness of these programmes underpinned by enhanced targeting, improved policy coherence, better administrative integration, and application of technologies.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Black Women in the Americas Launch Decade of Struggle Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:03:04 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

They say they are tired of waiting for justice after centuries of neglect and contempt due to the color of their skin. Black women leaders from 22 countries of the Americas have decided to create a political platform that set a 10-year target for empowering women of African descent and overcoming discrimination.

“We’re going to fight with all of our strength to break the chains of racism and racially-motivated violence,” Shary García from Colombia told IPS at the end of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas, which drew 270 delegates to Managua Jun. 26-28.

García said the three days of debates in the Nicaraguan capital gave rise to the Political Declaration of Managua, whose 17 demands and central themes are aimed at eradicating discrimination based on a combination of racial and gender reasons in the Americas.

“It wasn’t easy to sum up in 17 ideas the complaints and demands of 270 women and their families, who have experienced discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights all their lives. But each and every one of us who came here knows that this is how the beginning of the end of discrimination starts.”

Altagracia Balcácer from the Dominican Republic told IPS that the 17 main themes are cross-cut by concepts like fighting racism, demanding a decent life and anti-poverty policies, demanding the right to make decisions about the future, and freedom of choice regarding sexual and reproductive rights.

“The demands include halting violence towards black women, giving the population of African descent visibility in the national statistics and census, protecting black children and adolescents, and offering opportunities to youngsters in this population group,” she said.

Other concerns, she said, are “protecting the environment, expanding access to natural and economic resources, and guaranteeing food security and sovereignty.”

In addition, the delegates called for “protection and decent treatment of immigrants, salvaging and acknowledging our cultural heritage, respect from the media, the non-stigmatisation of black people, expanding access to justice and guaranteeing safety for women and their communities.”

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS that the document does not demand the recognition of rights, but the enforcement of all treaties, laws and international conventions referring to black women that have been signed since the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

The Political Declaration of Managua “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognise and give their rightful place to the black populations on the continent,” said Wilson, from Nicaragua.

“With this platform, our aim is to move towards compliance with all of our rights in the context of the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent,” added the head of the Managua-based RMAAD, which is active in 24 countries.

In January the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, to promote respect for their rights and freedoms and greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and cultures.

According to the U.N., some 200 million people in the Americas identify themselves as being of African descent.

Wilson explained that over the next decade, black women in Latin America will document, with clear, reliable indicators, the real situation of people of African descent. They also hope to see poverty levels drop.

“We say ‘reliable’ because we don’t exist in the existing statistics, we’re invisible,” said Wilson. “Another of the summit’s achievements is that in each country in the Americas we will set up an observatory to follow up on the demands set forth here.”

To that end, they have technical and institutional support from U.N. agencies, European donor countries, non-governmental organisations, and defenders of human rights and gender rights.

They will also try to get their list of demands accepted by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The idea, said Wilson, is to press countries to design public policies targeting women and people of African descent, and to create follow-up mechanisms to make it possible to gauge the progress made by the time the next summit is held five years from now.

The head of RMAAD said the women who took part in the summit made it clear that there is a perception that police brutality and violence in general against black people are on the rise, especially in the United States and Brazil, two of the countries that were represented in the summit.

“Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” Wilson said. “But because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”

As a panelist in the forum on human rights, Nilza Iriaci said that “in my country, Brazil, hate crimes happen every day, but there is no sense of scandal.” Brazil is the Latin American country with the largest black population.

A 2010 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Afrodescendant Population of Latin America”, which was updated two years later, found that despite the creation of new legal frameworks and institutions to protect the rights of people of African descent in the region, most of the black population lived in poverty and suffered from discrimination.

Vicenta Camusso, a representative of black women in Uruguay, said things had not changed since the study was carried out. “It’s the same as always – our rights and the poverty we suffer have not improved one bit,” she told IPS.

She said that although every country in the region has legal frameworks protecting the rights of women and blacks, no specific budget funds are allotted.

“Partly because of this, most black women continue to live in inferior living conditions compared to women of other races, and young black people experience the same exclusion and violence as the older generations did,” she said.

“Since Durban, little to nothing has changed for women of African descent in the Americas,” 7she complained. “More than 80 percent of black people in the region live in a state of poverty and social inequality, with few opportunities for improvement, because of ethnic-racial reasons.”

Camusso pointed out that the 2001 global conference emerged from official efforts by the international community to design actions aimed at fighting racism, racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and associated violence.

In the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community, U.N. agencies, development aid institutions, private organisations and society in general pledged “to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boom Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philibert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

The icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction – But Still No Debt Relief Fri, 26 Jun 2015 03:08:06 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

A major donor conference in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, “The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives.”

“This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future,” he said.

“This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient.”

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world’s 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF’s new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

“According to the most recent World Bank numbers,” said Jubilee USA in a statement, “Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake.”

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

“This is troubling news,” said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. “Given the devastation in Nepal, it’s hard to believe that the criteria was not met.”

“This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference,” said LeCompte.‎ “Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal’s debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Donor Conference to Tackle Nepal Reconstruction Wed, 17 Jun 2015 22:32:09 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal in April, and the numerous aftershocks that followed, left the country with losses amounting to a third of its economy.

As this South Asian nation of 27 million people struggles to get back on its feet, a major donor conference scheduled for Jun. 25 promises to bring some relief, but the extent of the disaster means that Nepal will be dealing with the fallout from the quake for a long time to come.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed." -- Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank
The country’s post-disaster needs assessment reported damages of 5.15 billion dollars, losses of 1.9 billion dollars and recovery needs of 6.6 billion dollars. The housing sector bore the brunt of the disaster, accounting for three-fifths of the damages and half of the country’s most pressing needs.

Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has called this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history. Over 8,000 lives were lost, 22,000 people were injured and over 1,000 health facilities were destroyed, according to government data.

“One in three Nepali people have been affected by the earthquakes. One in 10 has been rendered homeless,” the foreign minister said. “Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers.”

An additional three percent of the population, which amounts to roughly a million people, has been pushed into poverty because of this disaster, according to the World Bank.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on its website that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support and 1.9 million require food assistance.

Only 129 million dollars of the 422-million-dollar humanitarian appeal by United Nations have been raised.

Nepal, a developing country saddled with debts up to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and dependent on external aid, had nonetheless been making developmental and economic gains before the disaster struck.

For instance, government data indicate that the percentage of people living in poverty fell from 42 percent to 23.8 percent within the last 20 years.

“The disaster has dealt a severe blow to our aspirations,” Mahat said.

The donor conference later this month, to be held in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is expected to tackle strategies for reconstruction and the provision of financial support.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed,” said Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank.

“The country needs resources to pay for the recovery that can be channeled through credible programmes to make itself more resilient to the next natural disaster and ensure that those most in need receive the help they deserve.”

The conference will be jointly conducted by the Nepal government, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the government of India, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the United Nations and the World Bank.

More challenges lie ahead for Nepal as the annual monsoon season approaches, potentially displacing thousands more people. Charity groups such as CARE are scrambling to provide iron sheeting to households and those in temporary shelters to keep them dry, according to the group’s recent update.

“Our biggest priority now is to make sure we get people through the monsoon safe and dry,” said CARE shelter expert Tom Newby in the Jun. 5 release. “Families want to know how to rebuild their homes safer and better and our job is to help them do this.”

Orla Fagan, public information officer at OCHA’s Asia Pacific regional office, said in an email to IPS that providing shelter is a key concern.

“There were around 500,000 families affected and left without homes after the two earthquakes,” Fagan said, adding that greater relief efforts are needed before the country can move on to reconstruction.

Rupa Joshi, communications manager for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal, is concerned about the country’s fragile hillsides.

“The monsoon is already upon us,” Joshi said in an email to IPS. “We feel when the rain comes in, or pour like it did last week in eastern Nepal, our mountains will see numerous large landslides.”

Agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working to help children return to school, provide safe birth-centers and deliver food to people in Nepal’s hard-to-reach mountainous areas.

Meanwhile, groups like Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based NGOs and 400 faith communities, are fighting to help Nepal obtain debt relief from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which Nepal owes about 54 million dollars.

“The country pays 600,000 dollars a day [to its creditors],” Eric LeCompte, executive director of the coalition, told IPS. “It is a significant amount that can be freed up for relief efforts.”

Nepal could also qualify for assistance under the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR), which aims to relieve debt burdens of low-income countries like Nepal.

To qualify for the trust, Nepal will have to demonstrate that the natural disaster has directly affected at least one third of its population and destroyed more than a quarter of its productive capacity.

Jubilee USA Network has succeeded in securing similar debt-relief schemes for several Ebola-stricken countries by applying pressure on the IMF.

LeCompte said the Jun. 25 conference is crucial for Nepal.

“The Nepal government is expected to ask for debt relief at the conference,” LeCompte said. “It will push the decision-making process onto the banks.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goals Mon, 25 May 2015 20:35:44 +0000 Neena Bhandari An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

"We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody." -- Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin America’s Social Policies Have Given Women a Boost Fri, 08 May 2015 23:41:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Although they do not specifically target women, social policies like family allowances and pensions have improved the lives of women in Latin America, the region that has made the biggest strides so far this century in terms of gender equality, although there is still a long way to go.

Luiza Carvalho of Brazil, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that can be seen in each report by her agency.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Carvalho said in an interview with IPS during the global conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015”, held in the Argentine capital from Wednesday May 6 to Friday May 8.

The advances made in Latin America, Carvalho said, “were not so much a result of economic policies; on the contrary, they were the result of social policies, which although not necessarily specifically aimed at women, ended up benefiting them a great deal, directly and indirectly.”“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality. -- Luiza Carvalho

Latin America’s successful cash transfer programmes include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance, Ecuador’s Human Development Bonus and Mexico’s Prospera.

Other measures that have had a positive impact were the improvement of the minimum wage, which did not include a gender perspective but benefited women, who are disproportionately paid low wages. That bolstered their purchasing power and as a result their decision-making capacity and “their control over some domestic matters,” Carvalho said.

The same was true of initiatives aimed at protecting informal sector workers, and the creation of non-contributory pensions, among which Carvalho mentioned those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

As a result of the various cash transfer programmes, “there is no doubt that extreme poverty was reduced throughout Latin America,” she said. “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”

But she argued that these programmes have a handicap: they put an emphasis on the responsibility of women as mothers.

“The conditions set are for women,” she said. “Women have to help children stay in school, women have to get their children vaccinated. And those conditions do not reinforce a more responsible role for men in child-rearing.”

“If we want to go beyond these achievements, policies should be focalised,” said Jessica Faieta, the U.N. Development Programme’s regional director, referring to what she called “second-generation social policies.”

“These should be policies directly targeting the inclusion of women in development gains, which have not reached everyone,” Faieta told IPS.

She said women – especially rural, indigenous and black women – stood out among the “excluded groups”.

Faieta stressed that inclusion of women has a positive impact on poverty eradication.

For her part, Carvalho described it as a “virtuous circle” of development.

Faieta said: “It has been proven that including women brings broader returns. Employing more women and paying them more equal wages has benefits that go beyond women, to their families.”

“Latin America understands that clearly. So much that we are seeing the expansion of these programmes in Africa and their introduction in Asia, which are replicating Latin America’s positive experiences,” said Carvalho. To shore up that process, the UNDP and Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) are currently working on systematising the regional initiatives.

“There is a very significant possibility of South-South cooperation,” Faieta said.

Prominent participants at the opening day of the global conference in Buenos Aires included U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark of New Zealand.

The meeting organised by the UNDP, U.N. Women and the Argentine government drew delegates from different regions, to reflect on persistent and new challenges facing girls and women living in poverty around the world, 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Among the challenges seen at a regional level, Carvalho mentioned the still-high maternal mortality rates, violence against women, and its most serious expression: femicide or misogynist or gender-related murders.

“Of the 28 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in our region,” she pointed out.

She attributed that phenomenon to “the failure of governments to respond with prevention measures, an entrenched ‘machista’ culture, a view of women as property or as part of a man’s private collection, and legal questions that block women’s access to land or credit.”

“Economic empowerment of women” is another pending challenge in Latin America, Faieta said. Despite the advances made in the region, “women still suffer the most from unemployment. And women are still paid less for the same work,” she pointed out.

Nevertheless, the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”, launched Apr. 27 by U.N. Women, reflects the progress made, stating that between 1990 and 2013, the biggest increase in women’s participation in the labour market occurred in Latin America.

During that period, their participation rose from 40 to 54 percent – although it remained far below men’s participation, which stood at 80 percent.

With respect to the persistent gender pay gap: the report adds that while women earn on average 24 percent less than men globally, in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 19 percent.

And in all Latin American countries that carry out time use surveys, women dedicate two to five times as much time as men to unremunerated work.

Other achievements were the political inclusion of women, in the region with the largest number of female heads of state and government.

Eleven countries passed laws establishing quotas for women’s political participation; 26.4 percent of lawmakers are women; and on average 22.4 percent of government ministers are women – the highest proportion of all regions, although still not high enough for an inclusive democracy, Faieta said.

“It is clear that conditional cash transfers won’t fix everything,” Carvalho clarified. “For that reason other policies must also be implemented.”

That includes specific gender policies as well as macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies.

Carvalho criticised cuts in social programmes “that affect society as a whole but especially women because they undermine education and health policies, and others that increase their domestic burden.”

“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s minister of social development, Alicia Kirchner, during the conference opening ceremony.

Clark, the UNDP chief, said that in the global Post-2015 development agenda, to be defined in December, it is essential to guarantee that all policies contain a gender perspective.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development” Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free World Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cuts Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:28:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year.

Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting emissions are largely responsible for holding up the process.

By Mar. 31, the first deadline for registering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), only Mexico had done this. In the rest of the world, Switzerland, the European Union as a bloc, Norway, the United States, Gabon and Russia, in that order, had also filed their plans.

“The time taken by international negotiations and the debate over who is responsible for climate change should not be an excuse” for Latin American countries “not to make progress with risk prevention” in regard to climate change, said María Marta di Paola, a researcher with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

Di Paola criticised the “marginal role” assigned to climate change by public policies in Argentina, which are merely “reactive in nature,” kicking in only when flooding or droughts occur as a result of the phenomenon, she told Tierramérica.

Brazil , the region’s foremost producer of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, emits nearly 1.5 billion tonnes a year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Mexico follows, with 608 million tonnes a year, and then Venezuela with 401 million tonnes.

Argentina emits 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, Colombia 75 million tonnes and Chile 72 million tonnes.

The main sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the region are deforestation due to change of land use, farming, energy generation and fuel use.

The region’s position at international forums is that responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated, and Latin America is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon, experiencing intense storms, devastating drought, wide temperature oscillations, a rise in sea levels and the melting of Andean glaciers, with high human, social and economic costs.

In Mexico’s INDC the country committed itself to a 25 percent reduction in total emissions by 2030, compared to its 2013 emissions as the baseline. It proposes to do this by achieving a 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 51 percent reduction in black carbon (inorganic carbon in soot) produced from diesel-fuelled transport vehicles and fuel oil fired electricity generation.

The climate action plan includes having carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2026. According to the document, it would be possible to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 if additional finance and technology transfer were made available as part of a global agreement.

The main sectors involved are energy, industrial processes and final fuel consumption, agriculture, waste products, land use change and forests, but no details are given and there is no road map for the fulfilment of the targets.
“The key to their achievement lies in concrete mechanisms: where the funding will come from, inter-governmental coordination, and overcoming the lack of local technical capabilities,” said Javier Garduño of the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO.

For instance, he told Tierramérica, “in transport, there is no legal framework to align mobility with sustainability.”

At the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC, held in Warsaw in 2013, it was decided that each state party would have until October 2015 to submit their INDC, which will be analysed at COP 21, due to be held in Paris in December.

Ahead of the climate conference, the UNFCCC will write a report on the voluntary commitments undertaken, calculate whether they will be sufficient to reduce emissions to the levels proposed by climate experts, and suggest how to incorporate them into a new binding global treaty on climate change, to be approved in Paris for entry into force in 2020.

Research from the NewClimate Institute for Climate Policy and Global Sustainability, based in Germany, for the UNFCCC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that of the 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries accounted for in the results, 33 percent have initiated a national discussion, the first stage of preparing their INDC.

Another 25 percent of countries have proceeded to the technical design of their plans and 17 percent are conducting political debate, while nearly 17 percent have not yet begun to prepare the measures and eight percent have completed internal debates.

Latin American countries identified, among the challenges they face in the preparation of their INDC, limited expertise for the assessment of technical options, lack of certainty on what to include, and the short timeframe available for the process.

They also reported lack of coordination and of understanding (e.g. between ministries); lack of agreement on priority mitigation options; difficulty with engaging relevant stakeholders; lack of internal agreement on desired ambition level; and conflict with other political priorities.

Except for Chile and Mexico, countries repeatedly complained of lack of consultation and of inclusion of civil society in the plans.

“Colombia’s actions should be transparent, inclusive and participatory,” Milena Bernal, a researcher with the Colombian NGO Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Environment and Society Association), told Tierramérica.

This is particularly necessary, in her view, “when determining specific contributions from the forestry sector, land use, energy generation, and management of financial resources that may be received by the country.”

Most Latin American countries have legislation on climate change, or related to it. Mexico passed laws in 2012 stipulating emissions reduction of 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050, as well as creating the Special Programme on Climate Change.

Argentina is preparing its Third Communication on Climate Change, an inventory of emissions to present to UNFCCC, and since 2011 the National Strategy on Climate Change.

Chile has had a national plan for adaptation to climate change since December, with specific policies for the forestry, agriculture and livestock sector; biodiversity; fisheries and aquaculture; health; infrastructure; cities; tourism; energy; and water resources.

Colombia is drawing up its National Climate Change Policy, which is likely to include its INDC, according to experts.

“In Argentina there are laws linked to the subject, such as the laws on native forests, glaciers and renewable energy, but they are poorly enforced and the budgets for the different programmes are declining,” di Paola said.

In Bernal’s view, mechanisms need to be defined for the achievement of the INDC commitments made this year.

“It is to be hoped that ambitious contributions will be put forward, in the sense of defining not only the percentages of emissions reductions, but also the actions to be taken with the resources available, and additional actions that could be taken if there is a greater flow of finance from international funding sources,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Rural Women in Latin America Define Their Own Kind of Feminism Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet 1 Latin America Heralds New Era with United States Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:51:43 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Latin America presented its own recipes for development in the new era of relations with the United States in the Seventh Summit of the Americas, where Cuba took part for the first time and the U.S. said it would close the chapter of “medd[ling] with impunity” in its neighbours to the south.

“We must understand that the Americas to the north and to the south of the Rio Grande are different. And we must converse as blocs,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Saturday Apr. 11 on the closing day of the summit, where the leaders of all 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere met for the first time.

With references to history, anti-imperialistic declarations, proposals for solutions and suggested development goals, the leaders who gathered in Panama City expressed a diversity of political positions and priorities, under the summit’s slogan: “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

The two-day meeting was historic due to the presence of Cuba, suspended from the Organisation of American States (OAS) between 1962 and 2009. “It was time for me to speak here in the name of Cuba,” said President Raúl Castro in his speech during the summit’s plenary session.

Cuba’s participation was preceded by another historic development: the restoration of diplomatic ties announced Dec. 17 by Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Without exception, the heads of state and government who addressed the plenary in the Atlapa Convention Centre celebrated the socialist island nation’s participation in the Americas-wide meeting, which many of them saw as representing the end of the Cold War and burying a period of ideological clashes between the left and right.

At the summit, Obama and Castro put 56 years of bitter conflict further behind them with a handshake and small talk during the opening ceremonies, points in common in their speeches, exchanges of praise and a bilateral meeting where they confirmed their earlier decision to normalise relations without renouncing their differences.

The region “no longer permits unilateral, isolationist policies,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in her address. “Today we have gathered together in a different context.”

Cuba’s full insertion and the advanced talks held since 2012 between the Colombian government and leftwing guerrillas to end the last armed conflict in the region, which has dragged on for over half a century, means Latin America can soon declare itself a region of peace, as sought by the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

In Rousseff’s view, “the consolidation of democracy and new political paradigms in each one of our countries led to a shift, and public polices now put a priority on sustainable development with social justice.”

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

The leader of Latin America’s powerhouse, who has a history of trade unionism and activism against Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, said “Latin America today has less poverty, hunger, illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality than in previous decades,” even though it remains the most unequal region in the world.

Rousseff called for sustained economic growth, unified development targets, the reduction of vulnerabilities in security, education, migration, climate change, guaranteed rights, cooperation, decent work and disaster prevention, as southeast Brazil is suffering the worst drought in 80 years.

After fielding criticism from Correa regarding human rights and respect for sovereignty, Obama said “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past — we’re looking to the future.”

He said he had fulfilled his earlier pledge “to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades,” he said. He added that “We still have work to do to harmonise regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.”

Castro, who was applauded at the start and end of the summit, discussed at length the history of relations between Cuba and the United States. He thanked Obama for trying to end the economic embargo in place against his country since 1962, which “affects the interests of all states” because of its extraterritorial reach.

He urged the hemisphere to strengthen cooperation in fighting climate change and improving education and healthcare, and cited the joint efforts by Latin America and North America in combating the ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

He said that currently 65,000 Cubans are working in 89 countries, as part of the country’s cooperation in the areas of education and health.

And he added that the hemisphere could do a great deal, because Cuba, “with very limited resources,” has helped trained 68,000 professionals and technical workers from 157 countries.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández invited more investment in the countries of Latin America to curb migration to the United States or Canada.

Meanwhile, Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, reiterated the need for the region to diversify production, which is based on commodities, and mentioned technology transfer.

The main point of friction at the summit was the Mar. 9 executive order signed by Obama, in which he called Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said 33 of the 35 countries meeting in Panama City had called for the repeal of the decree.

Although there was no official confirmation, the issue was reportedly the main cause for the fact that for the third time since these summits began, in 1994, the highest-level inter-American meeting ended without a final declaration, which was to be titled “Mandates for Action”.

Alternative or parallel forums

But the participants in the Fifth Summit of Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (the Americas) did agree on a final statement, “Defending our nations”, which some 300 native leaders delivered to the convention centre where the presidential summit was taking place, decked out in traditional dress complete with feathers and other ceremonial adornments.

“If all voices are not represented, prosperity with equity is impossible,” Hokabeq Solano, a leader of the Kuna people of Panama, told IPS.

“There was very little representation of our communities in the summit and the parallel forums,” another representative of the hemisphere’s 55 million indigenous people complained.

The indigenous gathering was independent of the Fifth People’s Summit, where more than 3,000 representatives of social movements participated. Since 2005, this meeting has been the alternative conference to the official summits.

In their declaration, the indigenous leaders demanded constitutional reforms that include native peoples, protection of sacred sites, and a roadmap for the unification of indigenous peoples. They also rejected development projects that entail forced displacement of communities.

Some 800 participants in the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors, another parallel meeting, also delivered to the president a document with proposals on health, education, security, energy, environment, citizen participation and democratic governance.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Economic Slowdown Threatens Progress Towards Equality in Latin America Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:22:59 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

Predictions of a sharp slowdown in Latin America’s economic growth this year make it even more necessary for the region’s leaders to make commitments to boost prosperity with equality during the Seventh Summit of the Americas, currently taking place in the Panamanian capital.

In several of the summit’s forums, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said the regional economy was expected to grow a mere one percent in 2015, after GDP growth amounted to just 1.1 percent in 2014.

The two-day inter-American summit that opened Friday Apr. 10 has once again brought together high-level representatives of the governments of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere, with the novel inclusion of Cuban President Raúl Castro making it a historic meeting.

The heads of state and government, and parallel civil society, academic, youth and business forums, are meeting in Panama City to debate the central theme “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff put an emphasis on a key issue of the economic slowdown: the serious social impact it could have in the world’s most unequal region.

In a panel in the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, also attended by the U.S., Mexican and Panamanian presidents, Rousseff said the region should work hard to keep the large numbers of people pulled up into the middle class by social policies in recent years from falling back into poverty.

According to ECLAC, South America will show the worst economic performance – close to zero growth – compared to 3.2 percent growth in Central America and Mexico and 1.9 percent in the Caribbean.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, also warned that the governments must take measures to prevent the economic stagnation from undoing the great achievement of the last decade, when poverty in the region dropped from around 50 percent 15 years ago to less than 30 percent today.

In the panel, U.S. President Barack Obama called on governments in the region to cooperate to create mechanisms towards lifelong education, in order for the hemisphere to continue to grow.

“We have to replace the dynamic of extractivism with a culture of sustainability,” Bárcena said in another panel. In her view, the drop in the rate of growth should drive new social pacts in the region, in order to keep up the efforts to curb inequality.

“Without equitable distribution of wealth, there will be neither growth nor development,” Erick Graell, secretary of Panama’s Central Nacional de Trabajadores trade union confederation, told IPS. He participated in the alternative People’s Summit.

Behind barriers at the University of Panama, 3,000 members of social and labour movements from the Americas are meeting Thursday Apr. 9 to Saturday Apr. 11 in the alternative meeting to the official summit organised by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

At the People’s Summit, women and men in colourful traditional indigenous dress walk around the university assembly hall, where social protest chants can be heard and the walls are festooned with posters and phrases of legendary Argentine-Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and other historic leaders of Latin America’s left.

Participants from Canada and the United States mingle with the predominant racially and culturally diverse South American, Central American and Caribbean crowd at the People’s Summit, attended Friday by Bolivian President Evo Morales, and which expected the participation of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Cuba’s Raúl Castro.

“It has become a tradition that every time the presidents get together in their elite summits, ignoring the country’s development, social movements hold this alternative meeting,” said Graell, with the People’s Summit organising committee.

“We are going to express our concerns about poverty and inequality in the recommendations we send the presidents,” the trade unionist said with respect to the citizen gathering whose first edition was held parallel to the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005.

The alternative forum, whose slogan this year is “A homeland for all, with peace, solidarity, and social justice,” is discussing issues such as human, economic, social and cultural rights, democracy and sovereignty, trade union freedom, migration, indigenous communities, education, social security and pensions.

Investing more in education is key to leaving behind dependence on commodities and to strengthening the knowledge sector and technology, which would guarantee economic and social sustainability, said ECLAC’s Bárcena. At the same time, she said, it is a challenge for governments, given the economic slowdown.

Latin America and the Caribbean must close structural gaps in terms of production, education and income levels to advance towards inclusive and sustainable development, because inequality conspires against the stability of democracies, Bárcena said.

“There is a lack of coordination at the government level to reduce regional disparities,” said Jorge Valdivieso, executive secretary of the Central Obrera Boliviana trade union confederation. “One example of this is that there are borders between our countries and visa requirements. Latin America is one single country,” he told IPS at the People’s Summit.

Salvadoran nurse Idalia Reyes, who is taking part in the alternative summit in representation of the trade union of workers of El Salvador’s social security institute, told IPS that “cooperation can help improve the quality of life of local communities.”

She stressed that several countries, including Brazil, Cuba or Venezuela, have regional cooperation programmes in areas such as scientific research, productivity, post-disaster recovery, health and education, despite their internal limitations.

But she lamented that in the case of the United States, support for countries in the region “comes with so many conditions attached.”

“It has a lot to offer but it should stop always asking for something in exchange,” said the activist who lives in a region – Central America – marked by high levels of violent crime and migration to the United States.

In an attempt to reduce the exodus by bolstering economic growth and security, in November 2014 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras presented the plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, which the United States is supporting with one billion dollars. It will be added to efforts towards customs and trade integration.

The activist brought to the alternative summit the demand to avoid the privatisation of the pensions of the working class – a phenomenon she said was a growing problem in Central America. “We want mixed, secure pensions, to which the government and workers throughout their working years contribute,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Challenging the Power of the One Percent Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:06:32 +0000 Lydia Alpizar Duran

Lydia Alpízar Durán is executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

By Lydia Alpízar Durán
SAO PAULO, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

When you are faced with the task of moving an object but find it is too heavy to lift, what is your immediate and most natural response? You ask someone to help you lift it. And it makes all the difference.

And so in the face of unprecedented economic, ecological and human rights crises, we should not hunker down in our silos, but rather join together and use our collective power to overcome the challenges.

The recent World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis, showed that ‘Another World Is Possible’ if we work collectively to address the structural causes of inequality.

It is for this reason that the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has pledged to work together with ActionAid, Civicus, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

The gathering of approximately 70,000 activists in Tunis, the various workshops held on alternate economic models – including an AWID-led session on ‘Feminist Imaginations for a Just Economy’ – the protests against shrinking spaces for dissent and the calls for social justice are critical in a world where the economic, ecological and human rights crises are interconnected and getting worse.

This is the power of the World Social Forum (WSF). This 13th edition, held for the second time in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, is a reminder, and a call to action that it is people power that will change the world.

Changing the world, especially where women’s rights and gender justice is concerned, means recognising and bringing visibility to the interrelatedness of issues.

While in the past 20 years there have been notable achievements for women’s rights and gender justice, there is still so much more to be done.

At the centre of the current global crisis is massive economic inequality that has become the global status quo. Some 1.2 billion impoverished people account for only one percent of world consumption while the million richest consume 72 percent.

The levels of consumption in the global North cannot be sustained on this planet by its peoples or the Earth itself. They are disappearing whole ecosystems and displacing people and communities.

The challenges are not only increasing, but also deepening. Many women and girls, trans and intersex people continue to experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and vulnerability throughout their lives.

These include the disproportionate impact of poverty, religious fundamentalisms and violence on women, growing criminal networks and the increasing power of transnational corporations over lands and territories, deepening conflicts and militarisation, widespread gender-based violence, and environmental destruction.

Women have been caretakers of the environment and food producers for centuries, and are now at the forefront of its defense against habitat destruction and resource extraction by corporations.

Violence against women who defend the earth occurs with impunity, at precisely the moment when ‘women and girls’ are also receiving the attention of various corporate philanthropic actors as drivers for development.

Government and institutional commitments to address inequalities for the most part have been weak. And while people’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial, in all regions of the world the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being closed off by decision-making elites.

This year’s Political Declaration from the United Nations’ 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) is just the latest example.

Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration – the most progressive ‘blueprint’ for women’s rights of its time and the result of 30,000 activists from around the globe putting pressure on 189 participating government representatives – women’s rights and feminist groups were shut out of the CSW ‘negotiations’ with the result that the Declaration is weak and does not go far enough towards the kind of transformative change necessary to truly achieve the promises made in Beijing.

The forces of justice, freedom and equity are being relentlessly pushed back. There is an urgent need to strengthen our collective voices and power, to further expand our shared analyses and build interconnected agendas for action.

The WSF contributes to doing just that. At this year’s WSF, there was a diversity of feminist activists in attendance and the systemic causes of global inequalities were addressed in intersectional ways linking new relationships to land, and land use to patriarchy, food sovereignty, decolonisation and corporate power.

These connections make the struggle seem huge but also make possible solidarity between movements.

As a global network of feminist and women’s rights activists, organisations and movements, AWID has been working for over 30 years to transform dominant structures of power and decision-making and advance human rights, gender justice and environmental sustainability. In all that we do, collaboration is at the core.

I strongly believe that we cannot achieve meaningful transformation unless we join together in all of our diversity. So for AWID, joining with the struggles for environmental sustainability, just economies and human rights, is another step in a long trajectory of working with and for other movements.

Together we can take bolder steps, push each other further, and draw upon our combined knowledge and collective power to amplify our voices. Working together is the only way to reverse inequality, and to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N.’s Next Stop: Humanitarian Summit to Resolve Exploding Refugee Crisis Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:14:16 +0000 Thalif Deen Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response." -- Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
The flow of millions of refugees is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5 million refugees coming to Germany and 88 million arriving in the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the 8.4 billion-dollar target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 billion more than last year’s appeal.”

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

Amanda Pitt, chief, media relations and spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS the requirements for the Syria crisis are 8.4 billion dollars for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region).

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge 3.8 billion dollars,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the United Nations said it didn’t expect the target of 8.4 billion dollars to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, U.N. deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as 3.8 billion dollars.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to 8.4 billion, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised 2.4 billion dollars.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9 million people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Millions of Dollars for Climate Financing but Barely One Cent for Women Thu, 02 Apr 2015 20:24:58 +0000 Amantha Perera Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The statistics tell the story: in some parts of the world, four times as many women as men die during floods; in some instances women are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters than men.

A study by Oxfam in 2006 found that four times as many women as men perished in the deadly 2004 Asian tsunami. In Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 died or went missing, two thirds were women, Oxfam research found.

“Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now." -- Aleta Baun Indonesian activist and winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize
According to a World Bank assessment, two-thirds of the close to 150,000 people killed in Myanmar in 2008 due to Cyclone Nargis were women.

The aftermath of environmental disasters, too, is particularly hard on women as they struggle to deal with sanitation, privacy and childcare concerns. Women displaced by climate-related events are also more vulnerable to violence and abuse – a fact that was documented by Plan International during the 2010 drought in Ethiopia when women and girls walking long hours in search of water were subject to sexual attacks.

In post-disaster situations, the burden of feeding the family often falls to women, and many are forced to become breadwinners when men migrate out of disaster zones in search of work.

The pattern repeats itself in environmental crises around the world, every day.

A report published last month by the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and the Alliance of Funds found that “women throughout the world are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by a changing climate” – yet they are the least likely to receive proper funding to recover from, adapt to or protect against the dangers of disasters.

Produced after the August 2014 Summit on Women and Climate held in the Indonesian island province of Bali, which brought together over 100 grassroots activists and experts, the report revealed that “only 0.01 percent of all worldwide grant dollars support projects that address both climate change and women’s rights.”

Experts say this represents a critical funding gap, at a time when the international community is stepping up its efforts to deal with a global climate threat that is becoming more urgent every year; research by the non-profit Germanwatch found that between 1994 and 2013, “More than 530,000 people died as a direct result of approximately 15,000 extreme weather events, and losses during [the same time period] amounted to nearly 2.2 trillion dollars.”

Connecting funders with grassroots communities

The recent GGF report, ‘Climate Justice and Women’s Rights’, concluded, “Most funders lack adequate programmes or systems to support grassroots women and their climate change solutions. Men receive far greater resources for climate-related initiatives because [donors] tend to wage larger-scale, more public efforts, whereas women’s advocacy is typically locally based and less visible […].”

The problem is not a lack of funds; experts say the real issue is ignorance or unwillingness on the part of donors or supporting organisations to funnel limited financial resources into the most effective projects and initiatives.

“The new report is a guide to funders on how to identify and prioritise projects so that women can get out of this dangerous situation,” GGF Executive Director and CEO Terry Odendahl told IPS.

In a bid to connect funders directly with women on the ground working within their own communities, the Bali summit last year brought together activists with organisations that distribute some 3,000 grants annually in 125 countries to the tune of 45 million dollars.

The goal of the summit – carried forward in the report – was to enable the experiences and ideas of grassroots women’s groups to shape donor agendas.

Among the many priorities on the table is the need to increase women’s participation in policymaking at local, national and international levels; address the most urgent climate-related threats on rural women’s lives and livelihoods; and recognise the inherent ability of women – particularly indigenous women and those engaged in agricultural labour – to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Aleta Baun, an activist from the Indonesian island of West Timor who won the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to organise local villagers in peaceful ‘weaving’ protests at marble mining sites in protected forest areas on Mutis Mountain, told IPS, “Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now.”

Her tireless activism over many decades has won her recognition but also exposed her to danger. She recalled an incident over 10 years ago when she received death threats but had no support network – neither local nor international – to turn to for help.

The same holds true in India, where research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that although rural women spend, on average, 30 percent of their day searching for water, very few resources exist to support them, or study the impact of this grueling task on their families and health.

Experts like Odendahl contend that funders need to get out of the silo mentality and concentrate on the overall impact of climate change, environmental degradation, commercial exploitation of resources and even dangers faced by women activists as parts of one big puzzle.

Protecting women activists

Tools like the recently released report can be used to bridge the gap and connect actors and organisations that have hitherto operated alone.

INWF Executive Director Emilienne De Leon Aulina told IPS, “It is a slow process. We have now began the work; what we need to do is to keep building awareness among decision makers and results will follow.”

One such example is a potential project between the Urgent Action Fund and the Indonesian Samadhana Institute on mapping the impact of threats faced by female environmental activists, which have witnessed a disturbing rise in the past decade.

A study by Global Witness entitled ‘Deadly Environment’, which analyses attacks on land rights defenders and environmental activists, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed – a number comparable to the death toll of journalists during that same period.

Because women environmental activists tend to focus on local and community-based issues, the dangers they face go largely undocumented.

For a person like Baun, who has faced multiple death threats and at least one threat of a gang rape, both awareness and funding have been slow in coming.

“I have been facing these issues for over 15 years, and it is only now that people have started to take note. But at least it is happening – it is much better than the silence.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Curbing Tobacco Use – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:30:13 +0000 Diana Mendoza According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
ABU DHABI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The numbers are in, and there’s not much to celebrate: every year, about six million people die as a result of tobacco use, including 600,000 who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke.

Whether consumed by smoking or through other means, tobacco is a deadly business, and while usage statistics vary drastically across countries, time periods and age-groups, one thing is plain to policy makers all over the world: tobacco is going to be a huge development challenge in the coming decade.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace." -- Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.” Smoking in particular, and other forms of tobacco use to a lesser degree, has been found to increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including chronic respiratory conditions, cardiovascular illnesses, and cancers of all stripes.

Already the global burden of NCDs is tremendous, accounting for the most number of deaths worldwide. Some 36 million die annually from NCDs, representing 63 percent of global deaths. Of these, more than 14 million people die prematurely, before the age of 70.

In a bid to stem this rampant loss of life, governments all over the world have signed numerous treaties and protocols, including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which presently boasts 180 states parties covering 90 percent of the world’s population.

One of the convention’s goals is to achieve a 30-percent reduction in tobacco use among people aged 15 years and older by 2025.

By some calculations, the international community is moving slowly but surely towards this target. For instance, a new WHO study released last month found that in 2010 there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member states (or 78 percent of the population of 5.1 billion people over the age of 15).

The number of non-smokers is projected to rise to five billion (or 81 percent of the projected population of 6.1 billion people aged 15 and up) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, the report said.

According to a study published last month by the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, the prevalence of tobacco smoking among men fell in 125 out of 173 countries surveyed, and the smoking rate among women fell in 156 countries out of 178, in the 2000-2010 period.

But while these trends are positive, a closer look at the data shows that at current levels of progress, only 37 countries worldwide, or just 21 percent of all member states, stand ready to meet the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.

In fact, according to the WHO, there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025, representing a potential health crisis of severe proportions.

Catching them young – killing them young?

Last month some 3,000 tobacco control advocates closed the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH) here in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with appeals to world leaders to crack down on the tobacco industry’s campaign to lure young people into the habit.

Among other demands, activists and experts pressed governments to enforce bans on massive advertising campaigns, which many see as a gateway to what could become a lifetime of smoking.

In 2008, the WHO reported that 30 percent of young teens worldwide aged 13 to 16 smoke cigarettes, with between 80,000 and 100,000 children taking up the habit each day.

The organisation estimates that half of those who start smoking in their adolescent years will continue smoking for the next 15 to 20 years of their life, lending credibility to the widely held fear that when tobacco use starts young, life might also end young.

From the music and fashion industries to food and sports, the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry is finding marketing and advertising opportunities to attract scores of potential young consumers, since their curiosity and tendency to experiment have long marked them as a key ‘target’ group.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading US-based tobacco control campaign organisation.

In a statement released back in January, Myers alleged, “The tobacco industry spends 8.8 billion dollars a year – one million dollars an hour – on marketing, much of it in ways that make these products appealing and accessible to children.”

“They also use all means – legal and illegal – to sell their deadly products, deceive the public and policy makers by attempting to appear credible and trustworthy, and use lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms to undermine good government and the will of the people,” Myers said during the WCOTH last month.

From rock concerts to sporting events and from cafes to nightclubs, where young people of a higher income bracket typically socialise, cigarettes are readily available, making it difficult to avoid the pull of peer pressure.

Experts say young women, especially those who are economically independent, also fall into the category of an emerging market for the tobacco industry, as they seek fresh outlets for expressing their newfound freedom.

Myers cited Russia, where 25 percent of young women between 18 and 30 years old have taken up the habit, and China, where the equating of cigarette smoking with high fashion is evident in the country’s major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Neither Russia nor China is expected to meet the smoking component of the global NCD target by 2025.

Although Russia could witness a decrease in the number of smokers from 46.9 million in 2010 to 36.6 million in 2025, and China is slated to slash its smokers from 303.9 million in 2010 to 291 million in 2025, the rate of decrease in both countries is too low.

The situation is particularly dire in China, where an estimated 740 million suffer from exposure to second-hand smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.3 million die here each year from lung cancer, accounting for one-third of lung cancer-related deaths globally.

Judith Mackay, senior adviser of the World Lung Foundation, said Asian women in particular are being targeted by the industry because of the number of developing countries and fast-growing economies in the region with large young female populations.

“For developing countries in this region, the style of advertising in the 50s has come back – portraying smoking among young women as cool and sexy,” she said during a press conference in Abu Dhabi.

A 2010 report by the George Institute of Global Health stated that Asia and the Pacific were home to 30 percent of all smokers in the world, with India and China contributing hugely to these numbers.

In a bid to help member countries meet the smoking component of the NCD target, the WHO introduced a set of measures called MPOWER, encapsulating efforts to monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to those seeking to quit the habit, warn about the dangers of tobacco use, enforce bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products.

Such measures will not be easily implemented but as WHO Director-General Margaret Chan pointed out, “It’s going to be a tough fight but we should not give up until […] the tobacco industry goes out of business.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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