Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142165 In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142161 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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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Alternative Destinations Emerge as Cuba Gets Ready for Tourism Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:28:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142127 Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
El ABRA, Cuba, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Along the road to the Viñales valley, travelled by thousands of tourists to Cuba, lies the home of self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios, which he has turned into a sort of museum to show visitors a wooden home typical of this mountainous area in the west of the country.

“It would be a big help if (state tour operators) included this project on the tourist routes,” the 47-year-old painter told IPS in his home, which doubles as a gallery, where he has his studio and has launched the initiative “Remedios del Abra”.

His project and similar initiatives are overcoming hurdles to tap into the tourism boom in this socialist island nation, which has become fashionable since the thaw with the United States.

The U.S. government put new rules in place in January making it easier for people from that country to visit Cuba, expanding the list of categories of authorised travel to 12, including visits for educational, religious, cultural, journalistic, humanitarian or family purposes.

After that, in the first half of the year, 88,900 visitors came from the United States – 54 percent more than in the first half of 2014.

In that period, the number of foreign tourists totaled 1,136,948, which would indicate an increase from last year’s total by year-end, when the number of visitors climbs.

Viñales valley and El Abra, a mountain village in the municipality of La Palma, are places of spectacular scenery in the hills of Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río.

Offering bird-watching, hiking, and striking landscapes of mogotes or tall, dome-like limestone hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley, the province draws part of the three million foreign tourists who visit Cuba every year.

Remedios’ home is a traditional western Cuban wooden house with a palm-frond thatched roof. Above the wide gate hangs an ox yoke. In the main room inside is a long, rustic table lined with benches, a clay pitcher with fresh water, and a woodstove. The bedrooms are furnished with beds with wire mesh.

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Paintings by the artist, who is registered with the government’s Cultural Goods Fund – a requirement to be able to sell his art – hang on the walls, waiting for buyers.

With the sales of his art works, which are painted in a naive style, Remedios fixed up his museum-home, where he was born and grew up, and bought the materials needed to give free painting classes to local children. He began his project in 2013. He accepts small voluntary donations from visitors.

He says that “to revive peasant traditions and promote local painters” he would like to have more support from the local authorities, in order to build a classroom, an exhibition room and a ranchón or open-walled thatch-roofed structure to hold traditional rural fiestas or festive gatherings on weekends.

Alternatives

“The development of tourist attractions other than sun and beach will depend above all on the efforts made by the provinces, and how they use their own resources and capacities,” Professor Ricardo Jorge Machado, who was an adviser on tourism to the Council of Ministers between 1980 and 1993, told IPS.

Challenges posed by Cuba’s unique character

Among Cuba’s limitations as a tourism destination, experts identify the limited nightlife, a lack of culinary variety, stores with limited supplies and a lack of personalised services.

The biggest attractions, on the other hand, are how safe the country is, and the fact that Cuba is an oasis in today’s globalised world, free of the same old stores, chain restaurants and products. There are no Coca Cola or McDonald’s billboards, or fast food restaurants, they note.

The country has begun to improve infrastructure, with new hotels, ports that can serve cruise ships, terminals for the ferries that will begin to arrive from the U.S. state of Florida in September, and the expansion of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The expert advises local governments not to wait for financing from the tourism ministry but to undertake their own initiatives in conjunction with the private sector and with cooperatives, using their own funds made available by the current economic decentralisation process.

In its plan for the period up to 2030, the Tourism Ministry has prioritised 100 sun-and-beach projects and only two ecological tourism initiatives.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-biggest source of revenue, after the export of professional services. In 2014 tourism brought in more than 2.7 billion dollars.

The government’s strategy appears to focus on beach resorts and high-end tourism, with the construction of controversial golf courses and the boom in cruise ship traffic, which has risen nearly two-fold from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.

For the first time, the tourism authorities recognise the country’s growing private businesses and cooperatives as indispensable partners, while they attempt to capture foreign investment.

Up to now, the best-promoted tourism areas are the capital, the beach resort of Varadero, 140 km east of Havana, and the keys to the north of the main island.

The Cuban archipelago consists of the main island and 4,195 small islands and keys, where nature is exuberant.

Even in the capital, Machado estimates that there are 90 strong tourist attractions but says that only 12 are exploited, like the El Floridita bar, where U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a habitué, the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, and the Tropicana cabaret.

“Cuba should do more to vary its tourism products, putting an emphasis on elements of its public image that strengthen credibility: its health system and the safety of the country,” said the analyst. In his view, “more specialised forms of tourism, such as long-stay and health tourism, associated with older adults, should be a priority.”

He pointed out that competitors in the region, like Mexico and Colombia, are getting involved in medical tourism – including doctors trained in Cuba – but this country could offer even lower costs.

One million people from the United States travel abroad for health tourism every year.

Alternatives of this kind could generate opportunities in different parts of Cuba, because there are skilled healthcare professionals throughout the country, he said.

“It’s obvious that more and more visitors are arriving,” said Reina Ramos, a schoolteacher, walking down an avenue in central Havana, who pointed to the large numbers of tourists riding about the city in classic cars or convertibles now painted in bright colours – pink, purple or yellow – and serving as taxis.

If the U.S. Congress removes the restrictions on travelling to Cuba in the near future, as lawmakers are currently debating in Washington, the influx of visitors would set new records for the local tourism industry, posing the risk of collapse for the country’s hotels and other services.

In the meantime, villages and towns off the beaten track, with stunning landscapes or colonial-era architecture, have set their sights on tourism, but are facing difficulties creating lodgings, networks of services and even roads that would make it possible for them to share the benefits of the tourism boom.

With its cobblestone streets, spacious plazas and colonial-era houses, the historic centre of the city of Camagüey in central Cuba is drawing up its own plans for increasing the number of visitors.

“The idea is for tourists to come here as part of a circuit of colonial-era cities, similar to the one already offered by the Havana City Historian’s Office,” Camagüey city historian José Rodríguez told IPS.

He said the offices aimed at preserving the country’s heritage are designing a tour that would take visitors to Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Bayamo and Camagüey, whose historic centre was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Camagüey office is developing a list of high-quality tourist offerings, ranging from small charming hotels to a thriving nightlife, with a variety of cultural options for tourists and the 300,000 inhabitants of the country’s third-largest city.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142089 Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Global Web Movements Lift Democratic Decision-Making to a New Levelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:55:09 +0000 Britta Schmitz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142059 The chance to make an impact seems just a few mouse clicks away. Credit: Dorian V./cc by 2.0

The chance to make an impact seems just a few mouse clicks away. Credit: Dorian V./cc by 2.0

By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, online activism platforms have multiplied to the degree that they are starting to have a significant real world impact in areas like environmental protection, human rights and public policy.

The most important decision-making instrument of these platforms is the online petition. In the age of social media, the chance to make an impact seems just a few clicks away.“There are many metrics for success. Victory is the most obvious of metrics, but not all campaigns win and that does not necessarily mean that they are failures." -- Michael Allen Jones of Change.org

One can easily sign existing petitions or launch his or her own petition in an instant. Organisations such as 38 Degrees, Avaaz, Causes, Care2 Petitions, Change.org, ipetitions or MoveOn, just to name a few, have spread across the world and provide the option to start a free petition. Even the White House has launched an official online petition initiative called We The People.

Two big platforms that primarily provide the service of online petitions are Avaaz and Change.org, both eight years old.

“Democratic accountability is hardwired into our model. While the Avaaz team and supporters suggest campaigns, each campaign is polled and tested with a randomized sample of the Avaaz community,” Aften Meltzer, a spokesperson for Avaaz, told IPS.

Transparent monitoring of a campaign’s impact on social change might be the key to gaining more influence and going beyond primarily raising awareness, she said.

Avaaz is a democratic network of over 41 million members which was founded in New York. It has become a global movement within just a few years. Eighteen national teams on six continents launch campaigns all over the world by mobilising individuals to participate in decision-making processes on a local, national or global level.

According to their website, more than 253 million actions have been taken via Avaaz since its launch in 2007. Avaaz solely depends on individual online contributions up to 5,000 dollars.

Change.org is a similar online initiative with over 113 million participants and more than 13,000 successful petitions in 196 countries. It works in the same way by giving people the chance to make a contribution by participating in online petitions. Change.org is a social enterprise and certified B Corporation.

“Our mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see, and we believe the best way to achieve that mission is by combining the vision of a non-profit with the flexibility and innovation of a tech startup,” said Michael Allen Jones, Deputy Managing Director for North America at Change.org.

Some measurable successes

Global online networks attract a lot of international attention. Avaaz has collected online signatures and sent personal messages to Ministers of the European Commission, asking for a European Agenda on Migration.

“450,000 EU members called for urgent action, and the petition was delivered to key EU decision maker,” said Meltzer. “Our members’ voices were heard, and the EU struck a deal to boost its search and rescue budget and offer sanctuary to over 50,000 refugees.”

A one million strong petition organised by Avaaz had an impact on clothing company Benetton’s decision to reimburse the victims of the severe accident in Bangladesh’s garment factory house Rana Plaza in 2013.

Benetton decided to contribute 1.1 million dollars to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund. Besides the online petition, Avaaz put up billboards outside Benetton’s headquarters, initiated various negotiations with the CEO and company executives, and launched awareness campaigns in social media networks.

Change.org also provides information on its online petition highlights: for example, the video game company EA sports will finally include women players in their soccer games starting from September 2016. The online petition which led to this success was initiated three years ago by 13-year-old soccer fan Rebekah Araujo.

Another successful petition is the one conducted on behalf of Jeff Mizanskey, who had spent 20 years in prison. Mizanskey was the only man in Missouri serving a life-sentence without parole for non-violent marijuana offenses. As a result of collecting almost 400,000 signatures for an online petition initiated by Mizanskey’s son, he was granted clemency by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on May 28 this year.

Raising awareness vs. lack of transparency

Given the fact that the signing of online petitions is the most important instrument of these organisations, their networks seem quite loose. All around the world, people who are normally not interconnected can make a one-time contribution and organisations like Avaaz or Change.org have little influence on whether contributors will engage in further campaigns or not. Participants might not necessarily want to learn more about the cause of a petition.

“The network here isn’t as loose as it may seem,” Jones told IPS. “They [the signers] join forces with a petition starter and want to be kept in the loop about a campaign’s narrative and progress.

“Sure, the numbers might be big, but we’ve found that petition signers actually crave updates on petitions – they want to see news articles written about the campaign, see photos from a petition delivery that a starter might do, or hear about whether a campaign wins or makes progress. That’s a level of engagement that goes far beyond just signing a petition, and really makes signers part of the story in a petition’s life cycle.”

The impact of online petitions cannot always reliably be monitored. Other groups or individuals work on social issues as well, so it is hard to say who is responsible for a change.

Jones of Change.Org told IPS: “There are many metrics for success. Victory is the most obvious of metrics, but not all campaigns win and that does not necessarily mean that they are failures. Campaigns have the power to influence a narrative on an issue, introduce new thought and emotion into a debate, and of course raise the volume on issues important to marginalised communities.”

When anyone can start a campaign and mobilise a vast number of participants, the rising number of online petitions might lead to a decline in their value. The White House already had to raise the threshold for petitions via We The People from 5,000 to 100,000 signatures, as the platform was flooded with petitions.

Nevertheless, when looking at the outcome of online petitions, they are a perfect example of the strength of weak ties. People can easily and collectively interact on the same social causes. Online petitions raise awareness. They enable immediate action, as they spread through social media. Online campaigns can be started anytime, anywhere and by anyone who has access to the internet.

With their polished web appearances, these organisations continuously expand their communities, especially attracting young web-savvy individuals who want to make a difference in some way.

Besides online petitions, some platforms also conduct on-the-ground campaigns. As long as they continue offering the option to participate in such initiatives and deliver reliable monitoring when it comes to the impact, they have the chance of transforming political decision-making processes in the long-term.

Of course, the end goal is that activism goes beyond the realms of the internet, and mobilises people to get involved in their communities and beyond. Effective and transparent monitoring that shows the impact of an online petition could attract more citizens and transform the online petition into an established instrument of modern democracy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Islamic Declaration Turns Up Heat Ahead of Paris Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:39:07 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142051 Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who has taken a vocal stance on climate change, Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries issued a joint declaration Tuesday underlining the severity of the problem and urging governments to commit to 100 percent renewable energy or a zero emissions strategy.

Notably, it calls on oil-rich, wealthy Muslim countries to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels “no later than the middle of the century.”

The call to action, which draws on Islamic teachings, was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul.

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet,” the Islamic Declaration on Climate statement says.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost…We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.”

The symposium’s goal was to reach “broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration.”

Welcoming the declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

“Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”

Supporters of the Islamic Declaration included the grand muftis of Uganda and Lebanon and government representatives from Turkey and Morocco.

The UNFCCC notes that religious leaders of all faiths have been stepping up the pressure on governments to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the challenges of climate change, with a key international climate treaty set to be negotiated in Paris this December.

In June, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

The Church of England’s General Synod recently urged world leaders to agree on a roadmap to a low carbon future, and is among a number of Christian groups promising to redirect their resources into clean energy.

Hindu leaders will release their own statement later this year, and the Buddhist community plans to step up engagement this year building on a Buddhist Declaration on climate change. Hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.

The Dalai Lama has also frequently spoken of the need for action on climate change, linking it to the need for reforms to the global economic system.

Interfaith groups have been cooperating throughout the year. The Vatican convened a Religions for Peace conference in the Vatican in April, and initiatives such as our Our Voices network are building coalitions in the run-up to Paris.

Reacting to the Islamic Declaration, the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative Head of Low Carbon Frameworks, Tasneem Essop, said, “The message from the Islamic leaders and scholars boosts the moral aspects of the global climate debate and marks another significant display of climate leadership by faith-based groups.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities.”

Edited by Kanya D’ Almeida

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/feed/ 0 Time to Work Out a Plan C for Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 16:14:04 +0000 Pavlos Georgiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142029 Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

By Pavlos Georgiadis
ATHENS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Just over a month ago, Greek citizens were asked to go to the polls for a referendum that posed the country with an unprecedented existential dilemma and challenged the EU with the possibility of its collapse.

The question that shook the world was a choice between a Plan A – more of the same, evidently failed austerity policies that made the country lose 25 percent of its GDP in five years – and a Plan B – a poorly designed Grexit, with unpredictable consequences that could mean the country’s sudden death.Instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

It is an indisputable fact that Greece requires major reforms and Greeks know this better than anyone else. These are related, among others, to major existing legislative gaps, the country’s geography which generates huge transaction costs, a cultural gap between cities and rural areas, and the decision making processes in the country.

Such reforms are of systemic nature, something that no politician in Greece seems able to grasp or advocate. The old guard that still rules the country’s affairs, despite being fully aware of its own failure, is still opting for quick and flaky solutions that hardly address the causes of this crisis.

The same goes for Europe’s leaders, who seem to be more cloistered than ever, limited to their national egos and political clientele. They seem to lack the capacity, both morally and intellectually, but above all the vision to steward Europe’s human face, while addressing this crisis.

A project of “unity in diversity” is threatened by its outdated, largely opaque decision making structures that govern its economics. This explains why European leaders, in the past years, instead of solutions have been offering no more than a narrative based on the worst possible stereotypes.

A top-down approach that plundered Greece into depression and made Greeks, especially the youth, feel like little hamsters in some sort of sick socio-economic experiment.

The Birth of a New Solidarity Economy

Some impressive civil society projects are already being implemented at the local grassroots level, piloting a parallel solidarity and needs-based economy and participa-tory governance.

Every day, a community kitchen called “The Οther Ηuman” is supplying free meals to hundreds of Greeks in need, and lately to immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, camping in the parks of Athens.

The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko near the old Athens airport, a 1.2 hectare plot of prime land on the beachfront of Athens, set to be privatised in a scan-dalous low price, is delivering free medicine, health check ups and preventive treat-ments to citizens with no insurance.

Both initiatives have no legal structure nor bank accounts, basing their operations in a currency that survives the capital controls: solidarity and humanity. Speaking of new ways of transaction, a bartering system is making a comeback in response to the closed banks, especially in rural areas.

Open access technologies are driving this transition, as they always do with initiatives promoting public dialogue, knowledge exchange, political participation and account-ability between citizens and politicians.

Politeia 2.0, a grassroots initiative for citizens’ engagement which is pioneering methods for participatory design of a new constitution and Vouliwatch, an independ-ent parliament watchdog, are just two of them.

With such prototypes launched, tested and operating at different levels, the challenge now is to scale and communicate them in every neighbourhood, village and city of the country.

This crisis never had its crisis manager, exposing the EU’s deficiencies and the distance that splits the politicians’ realities with those of citizens. This is not only evident in the way political leaders handle the Greek case, but other challenges too, such as the TTIP, climate change and immigration.

A new political arena is thus emerging within the EU, that has nothing to do with traditional ideological divides of the left or the right. This new political arena struggles to balance top-down versus bottom-up approaches to our ways of making decisions and planning the future.

Based on this recognition, it is clear that besides a “Plan A” (a politically humiliating and financially unsustainable agreement) and a “Plan B” (the risk of a Grexit), Greece is in dire need of working out a “Plan C”.

A roadmap for advancing towards a real transition back to the Commons, based on civil engagement for participatory mapping and collective management of the assets that influence what is currently under attack: the everyday lives of the people.

Greece needs to put in an unprecedented effort in order to overcome an unprecedented challenge, engaging the best actors in key social fields such as health, food, education and social welfare, just to name a few. At this point, this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain social cohesion and explore systemic solutions during the difficult times to come.

The starting point should probably be in the fields, which a recent study by Endeavor Greece identified as the only dynamic sectors that survive the crisis: agriculture, product manufacturing and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The food sector, especially, can pave the way since it is already an integral part of the country’s cultural fabric. With around 13 percent of the Greek workforce engaged in agriculture (the EU average is just over 5 percent), a carefully structured plan for a transition towards agroecology can become an extremely powerful vector of change and a drive for Greece’s new economy.

Community gardens like Per.Ka., located inside an abandoned army camp in Thessaloniki, and peer to peer networks like Peliti -Europe’s largest seed-swap community- are already carving out new food system paradigms.

This new process can only be led by the youth of Greece. Highly skilled, socially networked and internationally educated, many of them are looking back to the land to seek ways out of unemployment.

All these years, these young Greeks have been deprived access to bank loans, while others were transferring 250 billion euros outside the country. Should they be connected with food business incubators, seed funding opportunities and open source technologies, they could catalyse this transition towards a quality, climate-friendly agrifood system which connects the land with health, education, tourism, energy, transport and other services.

Of course, this would require the types of reforms against existing institutional barriers and an outdated legal framework in Greece. Unfortunately, in the last five years, such reforms have never been put on the table by successive Greek governments nor their creditors.

Agrifood is only one example of the few sectors that can generate considerable social, economic and environmental benefits which are necessary towards a more resilient future for the country.

Moreover, it is possibly one of the very few ways to create jobs for the youth, who are challenged by a staggering 52.4 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU. Citizens are in need of new options and new development indicators need to be considered in rebuilding the country’s economy.

This change needs to start at the local level, leveraging the potential of the aforementioned initiatives and many more that are acting at the grassroots.

The conditions are ripe, as the 2014 municipal elections brought staff with fresh ideas into office in Greek local authorities. The cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, home to half of the country’s population, received the Mayors Challenge and 100 Resilient Cities awards respectively.

Each one offers one million euros to their budgets for delegating, implementing and scaling strategies for civic participation and urban regeneration. It remains to be seen whether the tools and opportunities offered by those grants and networks will be used efficiently, and not from obsolete mismanagement attitudes and the nepotism of the past.

The challenge is also huge for the citizens of the rest of Europe, who are largely misinformed by reporters of mainstream media, landing in Athens with a mandate from their editors to mainly report on horror stories and misery icons.

This is the time to change this agenda of shame, and instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

Again, the youth can play a major role in strengthening the vision of a unified Europe, despite the power games that unfold at the political level. After all, we are the first true European generation.

Evidently, Greece was turned into an experiment in suffocating austerity. But what if Greece became the testing ground for visualising, prototyping and scaling a new economic paradigm that is socially inclusive, climate friendly and economically viable?

I am not sure whether the “Plan C” is the right name for this process. It is quite likely that populist politicians in Greece and Europe might abuse the term, like they did with so many others.

But the essence remains: this is a plan of solidarity, collaboration and resilience. And it is time that this dialogue opened all over Europe, if it wants to remain a Union, and maintain its leading role in the world.

Follow Pavlos Georgiadis on  Twitter: @geopavlos

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Egypt’s Terror Law Violates “Fundamental Freedoms”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 20:31:26 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142022 Grafitti in Cairo showing police brutality. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Egyptian authorities are already holding a record number of journalists behind bars, and a draconian new anti-terror law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday will further broaden the crackdown on dissent, press freedom groups warn.

It imposes heavy penalties on journalists who publish “false news,” including fines of up to 64,000 dollars for stories that contradict official reports on terrorist attacks. Critics say this will create a chilling effect on independent reporting, particularly on smaller presses.

On Monday, Said Benarbia, Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Middle East and North Africa Programme, said, “The promulgation of the Counter-Terrorism Law by President el-Sisi expands the list of repressive laws and decrees that aim to stifle dissent and the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

“Egypt’s authorities must ensure the law is not used as a tool of repression and, to this end, comprehensively revise it so that it fully complies with international human rights law and standards,” he added.

Mahmoud Sultan, chief editor of the pro-Islamist newspaper Al-Misriyun, Tweeted that, “The anti-terrorism law signed by Sisi clearly tells journalists and the media and anyone with an opinion: Very dark days ahead.”

The ICJ said the law also gives state officials broad immunity from criminal responsibility for the use of force in the course of their duties, including the use of lethal force when it is not strictly necessary to protect lives.

“[The new law] grants sweeping surveillance and detention powers to prosecutors, entrenches terrorism circuits within the court system (which have in the past frequently involved fair trial violations), and grants the President far-reaching, discretionary powers to ‘take the necessary measures’ to maintain public security, where there is a ‘danger of terrorist crimes.'”

Press freedom groups have strongly criticised the law since it first appeared in draft form, with an earlier incarnation (since softened, following international outcry) threatening to jail journalists who printed information that contradicted the official line.

In a letter to al-Sisi last month, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted that “your government arbitrarily imprisons journalists using national security and anti-terror laws. In a prison census conducted on June 1, CPJ found that Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in jail in relation to their work, the highest since CPJ began keeping records.”

Most of the imprisoned journalists are accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt, he noted. At least five other journalists have been arrested since then.

According to Al Jazeera, financing “terrorist groups” will also carry a penalty of life in prison, which in Egypt is 25 years. Inciting violence, which includes “promoting ideas that call for violence”, brings between five and seven years in jail, as does creating or using websites that spread such ideas.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142018 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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Kashmir: Where a Pilgrimage Threatens a Delicate Ecosystemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 15:52:30 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142013 Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
PAHALGAM, India, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

As he struggled to find a section of the stream clean enough to rinse off his muddy shoes, Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir, gazed with despair over the filth that lay thick on the landscape.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth." -- Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Kashmir
What should have been a well-maintained track leading to one of the world’s most visited religious sites was instead clogged with human excrement and plastic waste, much of it contaminating the stream that runs alongside the path.

Standing at over 3,800 metres above sea level, the 40-metre-high Amarnath cave houses a stalagmite that is believed to be a representation of the god Shiva. For two months each year, between July and August, over half-a-million devotees make the perilous five-day trek, known as the Amarnath Yatra, to pay homage to one of the supreme deities of the Hindu pantheon.

But in their rush to reach sacred ground the devotees leave behind a sorry sight: piles of trash that blot the scenic views of the foothills and valleys of Jammu and Kashmir, a mountainous Himalayan state of exceptional natural beauty.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth along the track,” Kumar told IPS. “I have come for a spiritual journey, but what I see along the way disgusts me. If this vandalism continues for another few years, it will mean an end to the pilgrimage.”

Ten metric tons of trash a day

He is not the only one with strong concerns about the future of this delicate ecosystem.

A steep rise in the number of visitors to the shrine in recent years also has environmental experts and public health officials on edge: government data indicate that the number of worshippers has sharply increased from 4,500 in 1950 to 650,000 in 2012, while tourist arrivals shot up from 15,000 in 1950 to two million in 2012.

The logistics involved in the yatra place a huge burden on the authorities. For the duration of the pilgrimage, which lasts 60 days, 7,000 security personnel are deployed on the mountain, along with 1,500 ponies and as many men for carrying worshippers and their belongings.

“Based on these numbers our modest estimates suggest that [at an average] a minimum of 10,000 people visit the Amarnath cave every day,” an official of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) of Srinagar told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

“An average person generates about a kilogram of waste everyday; this means that 10 metric tons of waste are left behind every day for 60 days.”

Despite a government ban on polythene use in the state, much of the debris left behind by the pilgrims, or yatris as they are called, comprises plastic bags and bottles.

Furthermore, according to Riyaz Ahmed Lone, an environmentalist who heads the Pahalgam Peoples’ Welfare Organisation (PPWO), the garbage disposal and sanitation facilities provided by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) are inadequate to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of devotees, who are forced to defecate in the open on the mountainside.

Added to the mix of plastic and human feces is gotka (chewing tobacco) and the excrement of ponies and donkeys, all of which eventually gets washed away into nearby streams that feed into the Lidder and Sindh rivers.

Other PCB officials who did not wish to be named told IPS that at least half a dozen fully functional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) need to be set up to facilitate the proper functioning of several hundred toilets that serve the tourists and worshippers.

Currently there are only two STPs, which, environmental activists say, do not function properly, allowing effluent to flow untreated into larger water bodies.

These rivers subsequently provide water to roughly two million people throughout Kashmir, explained Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University.

Kashmir’s Public Health Engineering (PHE) Chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat added that 85 percent of the state’s drinking water needs are met by surface water sources in the mountains.

“But, it is a common knowledge that we have no healthy arrangements for sanitation here,” he told IPS.

“Not only the waste from open defecation areas, but also the sewer systems [from tourist hotels] are connecting with our rivers and contaminating our water bodies,” Bhat stressed.

An official at his office added that if people could see “what kind of water we treat at our treatment plants, they would not drink even a drop of it.”

According to India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), Jammu & Kashmir ranks 23rd rank on a list of 30 states surveyed, with only 41.7 percent sanitation coverage as per the 2011 census.

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Limiting arrivals and beefing up logistics

Lone told IPS that activists and experts “want the organizers to ensure environmental protection and proper regulation of the pilgrimage, by reducing the number of pilgrims to the permissible limit as per the carrying capacity of the fragile mountain ecology on a single day.”

Until the late 1990s, official data reveals, the pilgrimage had never crossed the 100,000 mark. Noted Indian human rights activist Gautam Navlakha says that the numbers started multiplying only after the establishment of the SASB in 2002 – an all-Hindu body with no representation from the majority Muslim population.

A few years after its formation, Navlakha says, the SASB extended the pilgrimage from 30 to 60 days, a move that is still mired in controversy, with environmental activists arguing strongly against the longer duration.

Pointing to tough restrictions on the number of pilgrims allowed into ecologically fragile zones like Mansarovar in Tibet and Gomukh – the snout of the Gangotri Glacier that forms the source of the Ganges River – in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, Navlakha has called for similar rules to govern the Amarnath Yatra.

Quoting the landmark 1996 Nitish Sengupta Committee report, he told IPS, “Along with the regulation of the total number of pilgrims to about 100,000, we could lay down a ceiling of 3,000 pilgrims permitted to travel in a single day.”

Nearly two decades after the report was released, these recommendations have been wantonly disregarded. Figures on the 2015 Yatra available on the SASB website indicate that the daily average between Jul. 2 and Aug. 13 far exceeded 3,000, with Jul. 6 alone witnessing over 20,000 worshippers on the mountains.

A May 2015 study on sustainable tourism in Kashmir published in the journal Elsevier revealed that the tourist flow in July for Pahalgam alone was almost fourfold the Tourism Carrying Capacity (TCC) of the mountain.

Shakil Qalandar, a member of the Kashmir Centre for Development and Social Studies (KCDS), said that civil society would continue to press for necessary restrictions on the number of pilgrims to better reflect the area’s carrying capacity until their demands are met.

“We have formally presented this demand to the government saying we are in full support of an ecologically-friendly pilgrimage for our Hindu brethren,” Qalandar told IPS.

The environmental implications of not dealing with the situation are enormous.

Hindu religious scholar and social activist Swami Agnivesh has even suggested that the growing number of pilgrims might have been the catalyst for the devastating floods that swept Kashmir in September 2014, resulting in a death toll of 600 and incurring economic losses of some 18 billion dollars.

According to an assessment report prepared by Kashmir’s Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) after the September 2014 floods, ecological degradation across the state is a major catalyst of natural disasters.

The study revealed that since 1992 Kashmir has lost 10 percent of its forest cover as tourism infrastructure encroached into wooded areas. It added that in the last century, the state’s total extent of water bodies plummeted from 356 square km in 1911 to just 158 square km in 2011.

Dealing with the challenges of sustainable religious tourism has been a concern all over the globe with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimating that 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year.

Kashmir is in a unique position to set a global example, but it will have to overcome numerous political hurdles and religious sensitivities in order to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nuclear Deal Could Offer Glimmer of Hope for Jailed Journalist in Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 17:22:40 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141998 Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

As Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian awaits his verdict, human rights advocates and press freedom groups continue to condemn the trial and call for his immediate release.

It has been over a year since the Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief, Jason Rezaian, was jailed on charges including espionage for the United States and anti-Iranian propaganda. On Monday, Rezaian spoke in his own defence at a final closed-door hearing. His verdict is expected to be announced next week.“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced." -- Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed

Following a midnight raid on July 22, 2014, Rezaian and his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, were detained along with two American photojournalists. Unlike his wife and the two journalists, who were released after a short time, Rezaian remained in custody at Tehran’s Evin Prison where he was “subjected to months of interrogation, isolation, and threats”, his brother Ali Rezaian told The Atlantic.

In a previous article on Jason Rezaian’s incarceration, Ali Rezaian told IPS about his brother’s endeavour to show his readers a different side of Iran and encourage people to visit the country.

Indeed, Jason Rezaian, who is also a former IPS correspondent for Iran, used to move beyond the typical coverage of the most critical topics such as the Iranian nuclear programme, focusing instead on social and cultural issues. This is why his detention was all the more met with astonishment and dismay.

Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was herself detained by Iranian security authorities in 2007, told IPS: “I truly cannot understand why they went after Rezaian because he avoided critical issues and kept to social issues. But as a foreign journalist in Iran, he must have been under surveillance and they were following him.

“When the judiciary decided to arrest him, it was a way for hardliners to do harm to the government who was negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. So my understanding is that Jason’s detention is due to domestic issues rather than to Jason having done something outrageous.”

In a recent New York Times article, Esfandiari considered Rezaian’s detention in the context of negotiations between the Iranian government and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) on the Iranian nuclear programme “a ploy to weaken Rouhani”.

A moderate reformer, President Hassan Rouhani has sought to improve American-Iranian relations and facilitate the reintegration of Iran into the international community, she explained. However, since Rouhani’s election, hardliners including Iran’s intelligence services, the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been critical of Rouhani’s reforms and – regarding the nuclear programme – have been pushing for confrontation with Western governments instead of concessions, she added.

Esfandiari told IPS: “The detention of Rezaian probably came as much of a surprise to Rouhani and his cabinet members as to all of us and I’m sure that behind the scenes, his government tries to pressure the judiciary to release Rezaian.”

The Washington Post editorial board also evoked the context of the nuclear negotiations as a major reason for Rezaian’s custody, but rather considers Rezaian a means of pressure for the regime: “It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is being used as a human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.”

Hopes have been expressed that the Iran nuclear deal could prove helpful in achieving Rezaian’s release as Iran’s image abroad would be even more at stake and the supposed reasons for Rezaian’s arrest no longer relevant.

Yet, despite the international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme achieved last month and currently awaiting approval by the U.S. Congress, Rezaian has remained in prison.

All eyes are now on the verdict which might be delivered as early as next week, according to Rezaian’s lawyer Leila Ahsan. Iranian law provides for verdicts to be announced within one week of the last hearing. However, no official date for the verdict has been released yet.

Esfandiari mentioned three possible outcomes. The luckiest scenario would be for Jason Rezaian to get sentenced to time served, meaning he will be freed immediately either on bail or on his own recognizance. Other possibilities involve a sentence of 15 or 16 months, meaning two additional months in prison or, in the worst case, a much longer sentence which he will be able to appeal.

Human rights advocates and press freedom groups condemn not only the unjustified and politically motivated incarceration itself but also the entire conduct of the trial and especially the delays in the judicial proceedings.

Sherif Mansour, MENA Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS, “According to Iranian law, no person may be detained at an Iranian prison for more than a year, unless charged with murder. This means Rezaian should have been released by July 22, 2015. This did not happen. We continue to condemn the trial and call for Rezaian’s unconditional release.”

Last month, The Washington Post formally appealed to the U.N. for urgent action in the Rezaian case by filing a petition with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. The petition denounces the unlawful trial, including Rezaian’s solitary confinement, strenuous interrogations and insufficient medical treatment.

Earlier this year, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, along with other high-profile human rights experts, also expressed serious concerns about the trial.

“In May… [we] recalled that Mr. Rezaian’s trial on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic’ began behind closed doors following his detainment for nearly 10 months without formal charges, and following a number of months in solitary confinement.”

“Concerns, therefore, about fair trial standards in this case persist, and I continue to hope that the arbitrary nature of Mr. Rezaian’s detention and charges will be confirmed by the court,” Shaheed told IPS.

According to Shaheed, the human rights situation in Iran, especially regarding freedom of expression, continues to be worrisome.

“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced.

“Journalists, writers, netizens, and human rights defenders continued to be interrogated and arrested by government agencies during the first half of 2015, and the Judiciary reportedly continues to impose heavy prison sentences on individuals for the legitimate exercise of expression. Thirty of those currently detained are charged with ‘propaganda against the system,’ 25 with ‘insulting’ either a political leader or religious concept, and 12 are charged with harming ‘national security’,” he said.

“The human rights situation in Iran remains quite concerning. Despite small steps forward in some areas of concern, the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by the international human rights mechanisms for the past three decades persist. This includes issues with the independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s judiciary and its legal community.”

“Of particular alarm is the surge in executions, which amounted to 694 hangings as of early last months, a rate unseen in 25 years. The majority of these executions were for offense not considered capital crimes under international human rights laws.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clan Wars Increase Displacement, Hinder Development in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:27:46 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141993 Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The charred foundations are all that is left of the homes that made up Kenemote village in the mountainous Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

For the past four and a half months a tribal war has raged between four clans of the Kintex tribe who are armed with high-powered guns, as well as bows and arrows. Nine people are dead, including a small boy, and most dwellings have been burned to the ground, while women and children are traumatised.

“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety.” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote
“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety,” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote, told IPS.

Fighting erupted at the beginning of April after one clan accused another of using poison or sorcery to cause a death in the community. The victorious clan, still brandishing their weapons, are encamped among the ruins. The other three clans, numbering three quarters of Kenemote’s population of 1,500, have fled and are staying in squatter settlements in the nearby town of Goroka or with relatives scattered in other villages.

“We want peace when we see the houses burning and properties destroyed, but the other clans’ people continue to come and provoke us. It will take years to recover the loss we have gone through, so we want peace, but we don’t know who can bring this peace,” Chief Lim Nareo declared to IPS on Jul. 30.

A police mediation team and the Eastern Highlands branch of the Red Cross are attempting to broker a ceasefire. But until that happens, Chief Nareo’s people won’t leave the area because of the risk of further attacks, and those displaced are unable to return.

For the past two years, the Red Cross has devoted enormous quantities of resources to helping people caught up in ongoing fighting in at least four of the province’s eight districts, providing temporary shelter, access to medical care, water and food supplies.

Meanwhile, in a province of about 579,000 people, the local police say they are trying to address at least 30 separate conflicts.

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Age-old conflicts bring new challenges

The human toll and suffering due to tribal fighting has escalated in the last 20-30 years with greater access to modern high-powered weapons. Today international and local gun smuggling networks provide villagers with a supply of M-16s, AK-47s, 0.22 rifles and grenades.

Many highlanders claim that guns are needed for their personal security and that of their businesses and communities because of lack of reach of the state, particularly law enforcement, in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s population live.

However, guns have also become a major symbol of status and power for men and youth.

The consequences are increasingly tragic, Robin Kukuni of the Eastern Highlands Red Cross said, because most villagers “haven’t had any firearms training, so they just fire their guns indiscriminately and a lot of women and children are dying.”

Traditional warfare has existed in Papua New Guinea, home to a population of 7.3 million and an estimated 1,000 different ethnic and linguistic groups, for thousands of years.

Hostilities can be triggered by disputes over land, pigs (the most prized livestock animal), or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed by one clan against another.

Even after 40 years of modern statehood, most citizens are still bound by clan allegiances, and customary ways of dealing with disputes remain paramount, particularly in rural communities.

But today conflicts are also complicated by grievances over access to royalties, benefits and compensation associated with resource extraction projects in the country, whether mining, gas extraction or logging. And the ritualised nature of traditional combat, which included rules such as a ban on violating women and children, has given way to guerrilla tactics with worsening atrocities fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

The long-term impacts include protracted internal displacement, in many cases for up to 10 years.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates there are about 22,500 people displaced within Papua New Guinea as a result of tribal warfare and natural disasters. But the International Committee of the Red Cross believes the true figure could be more than five times that estimate, or more than 110,000 people.

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women peacemakers take on warring tribes

Lilly Be’Soer, leader of Voice for Change, a women-led non-governmental human rights and sustainable livelihoods organisation involved in conflict resolution in nearby Jiwaka Province, emphasises that the process of peace mediation, reconciliation, resettlement and integration is a very long one.

In 2012, Voice for Change brokered a peace agreement in the province between two clans of the Kondika tribe who had been warring since 2009 when a clansman was killed during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Be’Soer says that a number of strategies contributed to the success of their peace negotiations following four previous attempts by other parties, which failed.

But a significant breakthrough was made when the organisation brought together and mentored women from the displaced communities, so that they could speak in public to gatherings of the men, village chiefs and police about their hardships, such as increasing poverty and insecurity.

Ultimately they “told the men [who had been fighting] that this situation has happened and you have caused this problem […]. This was one of the strategies we used that impacted and moved the men, who then said they would move forward [and support peace],” Be’Soer recounted.

But resettlement of the 500 people who were displaced due to hostilities is an ongoing challenge.

“When we were interviewing the [displaced] women, the bottom line was that they wanted to go back to their husbands’ traditional land, because when you are on your husband’s land you have a certain status and security. And the women felt that if they continued to live on other people’s land, the land might not be available for their sons,” she continued.

After lengthy consultations between all the stakeholders, an agreement between the displaced people and those occupying their land was reached. The resettlement plan entailed a set of conditions to be adhered to by both clans, such as vacation of the occupied territory within six months and a ban on either clan being derogatory toward the other.

But “the conditions were not honoured and then law enforcement [of the conditions] didn’t work,” Be’Soer said.

The suffering is now prolonged for the displaced families.

According to Be’Soer, “Children are very [badly] affected; they don’t have proper meals and are unable to go to school. The women cannot walk around freely and it is very difficult for them to access money and food.”

And there are heightened risks of sexual violence against women, a grim reality in a country that is ranked 135 out of 187 nations for gender inequality.

“The men in the host communities are the main perpetrators; or the man who is taking care of the family, he might want the daughter and you don’t have security,” Be’Soer said.

A second attempt at returning the families will be made within the next month, but, even if that succeeds, there are further cultural obligations to be met before the process is complete.

“In the final stage compensation has to be paid for the people who have been killed. Once this has been done in about four or five years, then the clans will have to find enough pigs to slaughter to give to the people they stayed with when they were displaced. So it takes a long time, another four, five, or even ten years,” Be’Soer told IPS.

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be'Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be’Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Small-scale wars incur large costs

The cumulative cost of both the destruction and displacement from dozens of small-scale clan wars occurring across the country includes the undermining of human development and entrenchment of hardship and inequality in rural families and communities.

In Eastern Highlands, life expectancy is about 55 years and the under-five mortality rate is 73 per 1,000 births, compared to the capital, Port Moresby, where life expectancy is estimated at 59 years and there are some 27 deaths of under-five infants per 1,000 births.

Looking to the future, Kukuni at the Red Cross believes there is a need to prevent the escalation of violence in the first place, adding, “The village courts and community leaders could do more to stop a conflict in the early stages before it grows bigger.”

Voice for Change also emphasises the importance of aiming for generational change by educating the country’s youth to fully understand the long-term impacts of violence on their lives and empowering them with the ability to intervene and implement alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141986 Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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