Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:07:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 OPINION: Russia’s Friendship University, Educating the Developing World for 55 Yearshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:07:20 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138892

Somar Wijayadasa, a former Representative of UNAIDS, and a former delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly, is a PFUR educated international lawyer.

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR), which celebrates its 55th anniversary on Feb. 5, is known worldwide as a major academic and research centre. During the last five decades, PFUR has educated 80,000 students from 145 countries.

In keeping with its socialist tradition of helping developing countries, Premier Nikita Khrushchev opened the Friendship University, in February 1960, just three years after he opened the former Soviet Union to the world with the 1957 Youth festival in Moscow which was attended by 30,000 foreign guests from 130 countries.The landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

On Feb. 22, 1961, the university was named after Patrice Lumumba – the Congolese independence leader and the first democratically-elected prime minister of the Republic of Congo. In 1992, following a major reorganisation of the university, the Russian government reverted to its original name – People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR).

1960 was ideal time for the Soviet Union not only to show the world its radical transformation of the country that was ravaged by the World War II with a loss of over 20 million of its people, but also to display its many scientific and technological advances including its Space Programme – already ahead of the United States.

But the landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

This mass decolonisation began after World War II when the principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was enshrined in the United Nations Charter (Chapter XI, Articles 73 and 74), and the United Nations began to fight for the liberation of these countries.

In 1945, the U.N. consisted of 51 member states and by 1965, the number had more than doubled to 117, as the newly independent nations joined the organisation.

These newly independent states, having suffered under foreign rule and exploitation for centuries, embarked on the arduous struggle to win economic independence, develop their national economies, raise their cultural levels and identities and achieve social progress.

Thus, the strategy behind opening PFUR was to educate hundreds of young people from developing countries by providing higher education in medicine, engineering and other sciences that was most needed for the development of these nations.

Among its prominent graduates are: Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO; Michel Djotodia, President, Central African Republic; Hifikepunye Pohamba, President, Namibia; Bharrat Jagdeo, Former President of Guyana; Yousuf Saleh Abbas, Former Prime Minister of Chad, many ministers, judges, professors, ambassadors, doctors, and engineers who make a dedicated commitment to the development of their communities.

This magnanimous and unprecedented assistance continued while Western universities gave only a few one-year scholarships such as Rhodes or Fulbright scholarships to a selected few from developing countries. PFUR gave several hundred five-year scholarships including tuition, a stipend, hostel accommodation, plus passage to and from Moscow which was a bonanza for poor students from developing countries.

The biggest beneficiaries of Russian higher education have been graduates from African and Latin American countries. Since their literacy rates in the 1960’s were very low, graduates of PFUR went back to occupy top positions in their countries.

Today, the University is administered by its Rector, Prof Vladimir Filippov (1973 alumni of PFUR), member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Education, who was Russia’s Minister of Education from 1998 to 2004.

In 1960, PFUR had 539 students from 59 countries. Today, it has over 29,000 graduate and post graduate students – including 6,000 international students from 145 countries.

PFUR occupies 125 acres and hosts 27 buildings, enrolls students on fee payment and on scholarship basis, and offers a variety of Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D degrees in 76 disciplines.

While education worldwide is expensive, a four-year Bachelors Degree at PFUR costs about 4,000 dollars a year which is heavily subsidised by the Russian government. Education at PFUR is indubitably a quality higher education at a comparatively affordable price.

An added bonus is the opportunity to obtain fluency in Russian and a double-degree from an affiliated university.

In 2014, a four-year course of undergraduate study in an American University ranged from 18,950 dollars a year in a state university to 42,500 dollars a year in an Ivy league university.

However, both Russian and American universities offer many need-based and merit-based financial aid – making it possible for poor students to obtain a higher education.

Details of PFUR can be found in its website. Interested students from any country should apply directly to the university.

PFUR maintains inter-university cooperation with foreign universities, and is associated with many international educational institutions and organisations such as UNESCO and UNHCR.

In 2009, when PFUR established a joint Master’s Degree Programme on Human Rights with UNHCR, its High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that, “The Friendship University is probably the only place where real multicultural atmosphere exists and human rights are fully respected. The PFUR graduates will for sure occupy the leading positions and it’ll be not only because of the education received, but also because of their life in this multicultural environment.”

According to Rector Filippov, “More than 80,000 graduates, and more than 5,500 doctoral (PhD) holders of the University work in 170 countries worldwide.” They not only obtained a university degree to fulfill their professional ambitions, Filippov said, but also gained invaluable experience in dealing with different cultures, and broaden their social and cultural horizons.

Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

People’s Friendship University has provided higher education to thousands of children from developing countries who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to receive a higher education – especially in a foreign country.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When Ignorance Is Deadly: Pacific Women Dying From Lack of Breast Cancer Awarenesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 04:15:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138872 Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

Women now face a better chance of surviving breast cancer in the Solomon Islands, a developing island state in the southwest Pacific Ocean, following the recent acquisition of the country’s first mammogram machine.

But just a week ahead of World Cancer Day, celebrated globally on Feb. 4, many say that the benefit of having advanced medical technology, in a country where mortality occurs in 59 percent of women diagnosed with cancer, depends on improving the serious knowledge deficit of the disease in the country.

"While cancer is included on the NCD [non-communicable diseases] list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness." -- Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji
“Breast cancer is a health issue that women are concerned about in the Solomon Islands, but adequate awareness of it among women is not really prioritised,” Bernadette Usua, who works for the local non-governmental organisation, Vois Blong Mere (Voice of Women), in the capital, Honiara, told IPS.

Rachel, a young 24-year-old woman living with her two children, aged three and five years, in one of the country’s many rural villages, did not know what breast cancer was when she detected a lump in her breast in August 2013.

But the lump grew larger prompting her to travel to Honiara several months later to see a doctor.

“She went to the central hospital and was advised to have her left breast removed, but due to the little knowledge that she and her husband had about what it would be like, both were afraid of the surgery,” Bernadette Usua, who is Rachel’s cousin, recounted.

“So they just left the hospital without any medication or other assistance, and went home,” she continued.

Rachel tried traditional medicine available in her village, but the cancer and pain became more aggressive. Usua remembers next seeing her cousin in July of last year.

“She was sitting on her bed night and day with extreme pain, unable to lie down and sleep. But she was still brave as she nursed herself, washed herself and cooked for her children. She cried and prayed until she passed away in September,” Usua recalled.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and in the Solomon Islands, where it accounted for 92 of more than 200 diagnosed cases in 2012. But its incidence in the developing world, where 50 percent of cases and 58 percent of fatalities occur, is rapidly rising.

Low survival rates of around 40 percent in low-income countries, compared to more than 80 percent in North America, are due mainly to late discovery of the disease in patients and limited diagnosis and treatment offered by under-resourced health centres.

Last year Annals of Global Health revealed that of 281 cancer cases identified in women in the Solomon Islands in 2012, 165 did not survive, while in Papua New Guinea and Fiji fatalities occurred in 2,889 of 4,457, and 418 of 795 diagnosed cases, respectively.

Insufficient public knowledge about the disease is an issue across the region.

“Currently public health education and promotion is focussing heavily on the control of NCDs [non-communicable diseases] as a whole. While cancer is included on the NCD list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness,” said Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji, a Pacific Island state home to over 880,000 people.

In the Solomon Islands, mammograms, or x-rays of the breast, will now be free to all female citizens who comprise about 49 percent of the population of more than 550,000. This is after installation of digital mammography equipment, funded by the national First Lady’s Charity, in Honiara’s National Referral Hospital.

Dr. Douglas Pikacha, general surgeon at the hospital, explained that mammograms were vital to early detection of breast disease and the saving of women’s lives through early treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy.

Mammography is considered the most effective form of breast cancer screening by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with some evidence that it can reduce subsequent loss of life by an estimated 20 percent, especially in women aged 50-70 years.

But with more than 80 percent of the population residing in rural areas and spread over more than 900 different islands, Josephine Teakeni, president of Vois Blong Mere, is deeply concerned about the fate of many women who are located far from the main health facilities in the capital. An estimated 73 percent of doctors and all medical specialists in the country are based at the National Referral Hospital.

She says that reliable breast cancer screening and diagnosis is urgently needed in provincial hospitals if the mortality rate is to be reduced. Most patients must travel an average of 240 kilometres to reach the National Referral Hospital, commonly by ferry or motorised canoe, given the prohibitive expense of internal air services.

There is also a critical shortage of health care workers in the country with 0.21 doctors per 1,000 people and Teakeni claims that “while waiting for an operation the delay can result in full advancement of the cancer and death.”

However, there is a further challenge with almost half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer refusing a mastectomy, which involves the partial or entire surgical removal of affected breasts, even though it may result in the patient’s recovery, the Ministry of Health reports.

“Many prefer traditional treatment to mastectomy because they believe it is more womanly to have their breast than to live without it,” Pikacha said.

The high risk of cancer mortality is another factor impacting gender inequality in the Pacific Island state where entrenched cultural attitudes and widespread gender violence, experienced by 64 percent of women and girls, hinders improvement of their social and economic status.

Teakeni believes that an urgent priority is dramatically improving “awareness among women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and even simple tests that women can do themselves, such as checking the breast for lumps while having a shower,” as well as the importance and impact of medical treatment.

Still, the installation of the new mammogram machine gives women on this island something, however small, to celebrate.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Young People in Latin America Face Stigma and Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:43:39 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138864 Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Young people in Latin America now enjoy greater access to education. But in many cases their future is dim due to the lack of opportunities and the siren call of crime in a region where 167 million people are poor, and 71 million live in extreme poverty.

“We are concerned, even alarmed, at the situation facing Latin America’s youth,” Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

“We believe young people should be the central focus of the next regional meetings, but with a different vision this time, not just focusing on drugs and violence,” she added.

According to ECLAC figures, one out of four of the 600 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean is between the ages of 15 and 29.

Despite that, spending on the young is relatively low, especially if you compare the region’s public and private investment on post-secondary education with what is spent in emerging countries of Southeast Asia, or in Europe.“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas.” -- Alicia Bárcena

The report, Social Panorama of Latin America 2014, presented Monday Jan. 26 in the Chilean capital, revealed significant advances in educational coverage among Latin America’s young people, but also found that they continue to suffer from higher unemployment rates and lower levels of social protection than adults.

They are also the main victims of homicides in the region, where seven of the 14 most violent countries in the world are located.

The ECLAC report shows that the progress in reducing poverty has slowed down. Poverty continues to affect 28 percent of the population in the region, while extreme poverty grew from 11.3 to 12 percent, based on the 15 countries that provided up-to-date statistics.

However, inequality has been reduced in nearly every country.

There are some 160 million young people in this region of 600 million. And although the population has begun to age, the young will remain a significant proportion of the population over the next few decades.

The report says that “Despite these major attainments in terms of education coverage and lower inequality, there are still large structural divides in capacity-building opportunities between the region’s young people.”

Bárcena said it’s not just about achieving greater social spending on education, housing or health, but also about things that are less tangible but no less important, such as improving participation by young people in the design of public policies.

“Transparency and information have to go farther than what is happening today,” she said.

Although they have greater access to education, inequality is still a problem for young people in the region.

For example, people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the three lowest income quintiles have unemployment rates between 10 and 20 percent, compared to rates of five to seven percent among young people in the two highest income quintiles.

And only 27.5 percent of young wage earners between the ages of 15 and 19 are enrolled in the social security system, compared to 67.7 percent of adults aged 30 to 64.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

“The idea is to advance in social policies that take into account the complete cycle of life and the different priorities that arise throughout a person’s life,” Daniela Trucco, social affairs officer with ECLAC’s Social Development Division, told IPS.

She said the assessment and analysis of public policies in the region should take into account the differences between sub-regions, because Latin America is very diverse.

For example, “the Southern Cone countries are much more advanced, with a much more educated young population that has unemployment problems similar to adults,” she said.

By contrast, “in the countries of Central America young people aren’t even finishing secondary school. A large proportion of adolescents and young people are outside the educational system, and that is where we have the worst problems of violence and gangs.”

Trucco said there are key areas to be addressed among the young, such as education and employment. But although these are the most important, they are not the only ones, she added.

“There is a proportion of young people who don’t fall into these areas, but it’s not because they aren’t doing anything; they’re often employed without pay, for example, in domestic or care work in the home, a very important question for young and adult women,” she said.

The Social Panorama reports that 22 percent of people aged 15 to 29 in Latin America were neither studying nor in paid employment in 2012. Of that proportion, a majority were women engaged in unpaid care and domestic work.

Another essential area to be addressed, besides health, is participation, with the aim of involving young people themselves in the formulation of better public policies targeting that segment of the population.

“We have to think about the issue of participation in a modern, up-to-date manner,” Trucco said.

“There is a great deal of interest in political participation, but not the traditional politics linked to political parties. The question of social networks, and digital inclusion, also has to be considered,” she said.

She stressed the work carried out by ECLAC to combat two kinds of stigmas faced by young people: those who neither work nor study, and the question of youth violence.

And although the main victims of homicide are between the ages of 15 and 44, the stigma of youth violence distorts public policy options, the report says.

“We see that adolescents do participate significantly [in the violence], but young adults do too,” said Trucco. “They are young people not incorporated in other forms of social inclusion, or maybe they are, but with different expectations, and caught up in contexts of violence or inclusion in other groups.”

The expert called for “a change in approach to the problem of violence to figure out how society can overcome it and what alternatives can be offered in terms of development and opportunities.”

A prejudiced approach makes people forget that young people are the principal victims of crime, as shown by the fact that on average, 20 percent of young people in the region say they have been the victims of crimes, four percentage points higher than adults.

The proportion of victims who are young people is higher in the countries with the highest crime rates, such as the seven that are on the list of the world’s 14 most violent countries: Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Colombia, in that order.

Mexico is in the process of joining that list of violent countries, Bárcena said in her interview with IPS.

The head of ECLAC said greater comprehension is needed with respect to violence among the young.

“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Developing Nations Write Hopeful New Chapters in a Toxic Legacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:35:56 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138854 Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

The village of Dong Mai in Vietnam’s agricultural heartland had a serious problem.

To boost their meager incomes, its residents – former artisans who once produced and sold bronze casts – had taken to cannibalizing old car and truck lead-acid batteries and smelting them by hand in their own backyards. As a result, the 2,600 people living there had some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded."Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it." -- Stephan Robinson

Dong Mai’s water and soil had become terribly contaminated — 32-36 times higher than the acceptable limits. People were getting sick, including children. One home assessed with an X-ray Florescence (XRF) analyser had lead levels 50 times the higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.

Local government knew of the problem, but the cost of cleaning it up – expected to run into the millions – was daunting. Then, a collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth found ways to remediate the lead for much less: about 20 dollars a person.

Once major remedial work was completed, in February 2014, lead levels in the population fell by nearly a third in six months.

“Political will takes time to build,” Rich Fuller, Blacksmith’s president, told IPS. “Governments need solid data on the scope of problems, and how to solve them. Most governments are just starting to build their teams for pollution, and those NGOs that provide support, rather than criticism, have really been a huge help.”

Together with Green Cross Switzerland and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), the Blacksmith Institute released a report Tuesday highlighting cleanup success stories like Dong Mai’s.

Top Ten Countries Turning the Corner on Toxic Pollution notes that pollution kills more than 8.9 million people around the world each year, most of them children, and the vast majority — 8.4 million — in low- and middle-income countries.

To put that figure in perspective, it is 35 percent more than tobacco-related deaths, almost three times more deaths than malaria and 14 times more deaths than HIV/AIDS.

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

“Contrary to popular belief, many of the worst pollution problems are not caused by multinational companies but by poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining, small industrial estates or abandoned factories,” Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland told IPS.

“However, high-income countries are indirectly contributing by their demand for commodities and consumer goods to the issue as many of these small-scale operations produce the raw or precursor products,” he added. “They thus support many of these smaller industries, adding to the severity of pollution problems in low-income countries.”

Lead, the culprit in Dong Mai, is especially devastating for children. It can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, and in cases of extreme exposure, result in death. Children also tend to have higher exposures because they play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

The economic toll of pollutants on poor and middle income countries is high: the costs of air pollution alone range between six and 12 percent of GDP.

Previous Blacksmith reports had focused on the 10 worst toxic hotspots, but this year, the groups chose to look at practical, replicable solutions that don’t require a vast amount of resources to implement.

“There is so much to do,” Fuller said. “Only a few countries have started down the path. We wanted to give them credit, and have them be examples for expanding work on pollution in other countries.”

In the case of Dong Mai, mobilising the active participation of villagers and local officials was key.

Instead of removing the contamined soil and carting it off to landfills, the backyards were capped with sand, a layer of geotextiles, 20 centimetres of compacted clean soil, bricks, and finally, concrete on top, safely sealing away the lead.

After an educational campaign, 50 villagers took on the task of remediating their own yards in this way. What could have cost about 10 million dollars was accomplished for 60,000.

“GAHP members are encouraged to help their neighbours,” Fuller said. “Often, a success in one country can translate into a project in another.  This is certainly true of lead poisoning and e-waste. The GAHP model is collaborative between international agencies, and between countries, all helping each other work out how to solve these awful problems.”

The other success stories in the report were led by Ghana, Senegal, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, the Former Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal, lead battery recycling was replaced with profitable hydroponic gardens.

In Mexico City, a contaminated oil refinery was turned into an urban park with one million visitors a year.

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, informal e-waste recycling by burning electronic scrap that released toxins is now performed safely by machines.

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

“We worked hard to find solutions that would work for the local recyclers,” Kira Traore, Blacksmith’s programme director for Africa, says in the report. “Simply banning burning wouldn’t help them earn an income. Rather, forbidding burning in Agbogbloshie might push the practice elsewhere, thus expanding the pollution and the number of people affected by it.”

Experts note that local sources of pollution – particularly heavy metals like mercury and arsenic – are often very mobile and can have health impacts thousands of kilometres away.

“Mercury from unsafe artisanal gold mining and coal plants travels the globe and is found in our fish which, e.g., we eat as sushi in London,” Robinson said. “DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is found in the body fat of the inhabitants of Greenland, though there was never agriculture in Greenland.

“Contaminated air from China and elsewhere can be measured in other countries. Radionuclides from nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, have reached other countries in most of Europe,” he noted.

In essence, rich countries have not only a moral obligation but a vested interest in helping poorer nations address pollution.

“Western nations have had success in cleaning up their toxic and legacy pollution over the last 40 years and can transfer technology and know-how to low- and middle-income countries today. Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it,” he said.

“Pollution problems can only be solved by organisations joining forces and bringing in what they are best at…These are stories proving we are on the right track, and moving forward. But we need to do more with industrialisation in full swing around the world.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Aboriginal Businesses Stimulate Positive Change in Australiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:51:12 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138815 Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
MOSSMAN, Queensland, Australia, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, would watch thousands of tourists and vehicles trampling his pristine land while working on the sugarcane fields in Far North Queensland. His people were suffering and their culture was being eroded. The native wildlife was disappearing. He dreamt of turning this around.

It took 20 years to bring his vision to fruition, but today the Mossman Gorge Centre is a successful indigenous ecotourism business in the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people.
With more people travelling the world and seeking authentic experiences, tourism has acted as a catalyst for preserving indigenous culture, providing employment, education and training opportunities and protecting the environment – especially in remote locations such as the Mossman Gorge, the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people in the southern tip of the Daintree National Park.

Roy and the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community worked in collaboration with the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), to build the Centre, which has a 90-percent indigenous workforce – 61 employees and 21 trainees.

Roberta Stanley, 18, who joined the Centre as a trainee along with her twin sibling, says, “Every morning, when I step out of home in my work uniform, I can’t stop smiling. It has helped me reconnect with our history, legends, languages, music and the arts. I feel a sense of immense pride and have the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an artist and dancer.”

This was something young people like her couldn’t do before the Centre began providing accredited skills training in tourism, hospitality, retail and administration. Both her parents also work at the Centre. With four members of the Stanley family employed, it has made life easier.

In 2011, an estimated 207,600 indigenous people were in the labour force. About two in five (42 percent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed, compared with about three in five non-indigenous people (61 percent).

With limited employment opportunities, pursuing their dreams is not something every native Australian is free to do.

Pamela Salt, 41, used to be a cleaner and paint in colours representing the rainforest and sea during her spare time. Since she began working at the Mossman Gorge Centre, she feels a sense of ownership with the place.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, it has given our people the confidence that we can do it. One of my daughters is also employed here,” Pamela told IPS. A self-taught artist with no formal training, today her work is on display in the Centre’s gallery and bought by national and international visitors.

Since July last year, 250,000 tourists, 40 percent of them international, have visited the Centre. As Mossman Gorge Centre’s General Manager Greg Erwin told IPS, “Indigenous tourism is gaining momentum. It will add a cultural depth to the experiences that visitors have in any destination. The Kuku Yalanji people, like other Aboriginal communities, have been nurturing and looking after the environment for thousands of years. It is their supermarket and their pharmacy.”

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

In the next 10 to 15 years, the business will be totally owned by the aboriginal people of the Gorge – a long way from the ‘Stolen Generation’: the tens of thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1900 and 1970 under Australian government assimilation policies to “breed out” their Aborigine blood and supposedly give them a better life.

Roy, 58, who also belongs to the ‘Stolen Generation’, doesn’t want his people to ever experience that psychological trauma again.

“This Centre is a role model for our younger generation dreaming of a better life.” He, along with other indigenous guides, takes visitors on “dreamtime walks” highlighting the nuances of the world’s oldest rainforest, relating stories spun around creation, food sources, flora and fauna, the caves and Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), a mountain with spiritual significance for the indigenous people.

“Now we are able to protect our ecosystem and at the same time provide visitors an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the Kuku Yalanji people and their connection to the natural environment. Our emphasis is on sustainability,” Roy told IPS.

Stimulating positive change

Sustainable indigenous businesses like the Mossman Gorge Centre are not only helping protect and preserve the ecosystem, but lifting out of poverty some of the most disadvantaged communities that suffer from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, chronic diseases, unemployment and high suicide rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians; about half of the young people in juvenile detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Meanwhile, indigenous women are hospitalised for family violence-related assaults at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women, according to the 2014 Social Justice and Native Title Report.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people. The remoteness of places where many indigenous people reside plays a large part in this.

Still, Tourism Research Australia’s 2014 figures show 14 percent of international visitors enjoy an indigenous experience and these visitors spent 5.2 billion dollars in Australia, highlighting a huge demand for authentic experiences in out-of-the-way locations.

ILC subsidiary, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, offers unique experiences in iconic locations around Australia. Besides the Mossman Gorge Centre, it manages the Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory, Home Valley Station in The Kimberley in Western Australia.

While the ILC is focused on acquiring land and assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders manage that land to provide sustainable benefits, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is a commercially focused organisation providing sustainable economic development opportunities for indigenous Australians.

As IBA’s CEO Chris Fry said, “Our Business Development and Assistance Programme (BDAP) assists indigenous entrepreneurs to start and grow their own enterprises, and indigenous-owned businesses to be strong employers of indigenous peoples.”

Jo Donovan, a beneficiary of the programme, turned her hobby into a business after attending IBA’s BDAP. She formed Bandu Catering with her son Aaron Devine and daughter Jessica, both chefs. Bandu (‘food’ in the Dhanggati language) provides quality food, blending native ingredients and flavours with innovative, contemporary Australian cuisine.

The BDAP, which has partnered with the banking sector, has provided over 90 loans valued at 55 million dollars during the last financial year.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners currently hold more than 68 million dollars in equity across a range of commercial businesses and assets through IBA’s Equity and Investment Programme and the IBA purchased over 2.4 million dollars [of] goods and services from approximately 30 indigenous businesses,” Fry told IPS.

IBA also has a scholarship programme for mature-age, full-time indigenous students to complete tertiary qualifications in business, financial, commercial or economic management disciplines.

As the international community prepares for a new era of development, one that puts sustainability at the heart of poverty-eradication, initiatives like these can provide a blueprint for inclusive and equal growth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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After Nine Years of Foot-Dragging, U.N. Ready for Talks on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 16:43:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138808 Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

After four days of intense negotiations – preceded by nine years of dilly-dallying – the United Nations has agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final decision was taken in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the United Nations was fast asleep.

The open-ended Ad Hoc informal Working Group, which negotiated the deal, has been dragging its collective feet since it was initially convened back in 2006.

The High Seas Alliance, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Karen Sack, senior director of international oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the coalition, told IPS a Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), comprising of all 193 member states, will start next year.

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

“As part of reaching consensus, however, there was no deadline set for finalising the treaty,” she said.

Asked if negotiations on the treaty would be difficult, she said, “Negotiations are always tough but a lot of discussion has happened over almost a decade on the issues under consideration and there are definitely certain issues where swift progress could be made.”

The Prep Com will report to the General Assembly with substantive recommendations in 2017 on convening an intergovernmental conference for the purpose of elaborating an internationally legally binding instrument.

The four-day discussions faced initial resistance from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, and to some extent Iceland, according to one of the participants at the meeting.

But eventually they joined the large majority of states in favour of the development of a high seas agreement.

Still they resisted the adoption of a time-bound negotiating process, and “setting a start and end date was for them a step too far,” he added.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS: “Regarding the United States in particular, we are very pleased to see them finally show flexibility and hope that moving forward they find a way to support a more ambitious timeline.”

In a statement released Saturday, the High Seas Alliance said progress came despite pressure from a small group of governments that questioned the need for a new legal framework.

“That minority blocked agreement on a faster timeline reflecting the clear scientific imperative for action, but all countries agreed on the need to act,” it added.

The members of the High Seas Alliance applauded the decision to move forward.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council said many states have shown great efforts to protect the half of the planet that is the high seas.

“We know that these states will continue to champion the urgent need for more protection in the process before us,” she added.

Daniela Diz of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Saturday’s decision was a decisive step forward for ocean conservation. “We can now look to a future in which we bring conservation for the benefit of all humankind to these vital global commons.”

Mission Blue‘s Dr Sylvia Earle said, “Armed with new knowledge, we are taking our first steps to safeguard the high seas and keep the world safe for our children.”

The outcome of the meeting will now have to be approved by the General Assembly by September 2015, which is considered a formality.

The high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the Alliance.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas ‑ and therefore the entire global ocean ‑ from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:51:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138792 One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the U.N. Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (U.N.) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the U.N. Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the U.N. Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Three Minutes Away from Doomsdayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-minutes-away-from-doomsday http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:29:53 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138784 Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation." -- Alyn Ware

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

“The question gets much more complicated than someone with their finger on the button,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of BAS.

Another major problem is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, said BAS.

Climate change and nuclear tensions were placed on equal footing in this year’s warning.

“And while fossil-fuel burning technologies may seem like a less kind of abrupt way to ruin the world, they’re doing it in slow motion,” said Benedict.

Citizen’s potential

“Negotiators on the international treaty of climate change or any international treaty are working within the fairly narrow latitude afforded them by their governments. And the governments themselves are working within the latitudes afforded them by their constituencies,” said BAS member of the Science and Security Board Sivan Kartha, senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Real cooperation on the international front, he said, “will rely on there being a demand for that, a mandate for that, from constituencies within countries,” also noting “today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action”.

President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff described a series of global existential challenges that could accelerate the arrival of doomsday, including the stability of the climate, the acidity of the oceans, and biodiversity, as well as widespread goals of strategic stability and the pursuit of dominance.

“Remember we are extinguishing species at up to one thousand times faster than what would be the normal evolutionary base rate,” he told IPS. “The backdrop of these challenges arising from science, technology, and social organisation is the immature relationship between states in their pursuit of security through the application of the threat or use of force. The most dangerous tool of the pursuit of security through force are the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“…On the other hand, a growing consensus within informed members of global governance and civil society is rapidly coming to understand that no nation can be secure in an insecure world. And the business community has rapidly integrated in such a fashion that they have demonstrated the capacity of cooperation, if driven by recognised self-interests,” he said.

“I am reminded that in the 17th Century, the world moved from the predominance of the city-state into the modern world of the nation state. Such a phenomena required national identity. National identity occurred largely because of national grammar and language, which rested on the technological innovations of the printing press.

“Today, the technology that will allow us to have global cultural grammar and identity is being provided by the Internet. And thus, the tools, to move from the dis-functionality of posing national interest against the global common good has the potential to be overcome.”

In light of his analysis, the clock’s minute hand can be influenced for the better or for the worse, and 2015 will present opportunities for progress to be made.

The simple truth

Alyn Ware is a member of the World Future Council and the coordinator of Global Wave 2015, an initiative on “Global Action to Wave Goodbye to Nukes”.

Ware spoke to IPS ahead of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars that’s wasted on nuclear weapons is needed in order to shift our economy from a carbon-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy,” he told IPS, also explaining that “the competition and the confrontation and conflicts that are perpetuated by nuclear weapons prevent the type of cooperation that’s required for addressing climate change.

“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation. Threatening to annihilate cities, innocent people, future generations, is not consistent with humanity,” Ware told IPS.

“And then there’s also a simple truth with climate change,” he added. “The simple truth is we have to move from a carbon-based economy to one that’s focused more on renewable energies.”

He also acknowledged the nuances surrounding the implementation of these simple truths.

“At the moment, we don’t have sufficient political commitment to either of them,” he said, addressing vested interests preventing that kind of action, including corporations making nuclear weapons or selling oil, coal or gas.

“What we’re looking at is empowering people,” he said.

For that reason, he thinks the Doomsday Clock is very good. “Because it’s simple, it’s really understandable, and it gives the idea that, hey, we can all be involved in this.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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Fighting Extremism with Schools, Not Gunshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:23:15 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138760 The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

As a wave of outrage, crossing Pakistan’s national borders, continues a month after the Dec. 16 attack on a school in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some citizens are turning away from collective expressions of anger, and beginning the hard work of building grassroots alternatives to terrorism and militancy.

While many millions of people are lashing out at the Taliban for going on a bloody rampage in a school in the province’s capital, Peshawar, killing 141 people including 132 uniformed children in what is being billed as the group’s single deadliest attack to date, The Citizens Foundation (TFC), a local non-profit, has reacted quite differently.

"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani." -- Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)
Rather than join the chorus calling for stiff penalties for the attackers, it busied itself with a pledge to build 141 Schools for Peace, one in the name of each person who lost their life on that terrible day.

“We dedicate this effort to the children of Pakistan, their right to education and their dreams of a peaceful future,” Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of TCF, said in an email launching the campaign.

“With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani,” he added.

In their war against western, secular education, which the group has denounced as “un-Islamic”, the Pakistan Taliban have destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012, claimed responsibility for the near-fatal shooting of teenaged education advocate Malala Yousafzai and issued numerous edicts against the right of women and girls to receive proper schooling.

In their latest assault on education, nine militants went on an eight-hour-long killing spree, throwing hand grenades into the teeming school premises and firing indiscriminately at any moving target. They claim the attack was a response to the military operation aimed at rooting out the Taliban currently underway in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

While armed groups and government forces answer violence with more of the same, the active citizens who comprise TCF want to shift focus away from bloodshed and onto longer-term solutions for the future of this deeply troubled country.

The charity, which began in 1995, has completed 1,000 school ‘units’, typically a primary or secondary institution capable of accommodating up to 180 pupils, all built from scratch in the most impoverished areas of some 100 towns and cities across Pakistan.

The 7,700 teachers employed by the NGO go through a rigorous training programme before placement, and the organisation maintains a strict 50:50 male-female ratio for the 145,000 students who are now benefitting from a free education, according to TCF Vice President Zia Akhter Abbas.

In a country where 25.02 million school-aged children – of which 13.7 million (55 percent) are girls – do not receive any form of education, experts say TCF’s initiative may well act as a game changer in the years to come, especially given that the government spends just 2.1 percent of its GDP on education.

“Our job is to ensure that wherever we have our schools, there are no out-of-school children, especially girls,” Abbas told IPS. “We believe the change in society will come automatically once these educated and enlightened children grow up into responsible adults.”

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

He added that the schools are designed to “serve as a beacon of light restricting the advance of extremism in our society.”

The project has received widespread support from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Twenty-four-year-old Usman Riaz, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston who recently donated the proceeds of his jam-packed concerts in Karachi to TCF’s efforts, says the Schools for Peace are a “wonderful way to honor the innocent victims”.

But it will take more than one-off charitable donations to make the scheme a reality. It costs about 15 million rupees (148,000 dollars) to build and equip each new school, so the total bill for all 141 institutions stands at some 21 million dollars.

With a track record of building 40-50 schools a year, however, the NGO is confident that it will honor its pledge within three years.

Combating extremism

Besides immortalizing the victims of the Taliban’s attack, experts here say that shifting the focus away from terrorism and onto education will help combat a growing pulse of religious extremism.

The prominent Pakistani educationist and rights activist A.H. Nayyar told IPS that it is crucial for the country to begin educating children who would otherwise be turned into “fodder for extremists”.

In fact, part of the government’s 20-point National Action Plan – agreed upon by all political parties dedicated to completely eradicating terrorism – includes plans to register and regulate all seminaries, known here as madrassas, in a bid to combat extremism at its root.

With thousands of such religious institutions springing up across the country to fill a void in the school systems, policy-makers are concerned about the indoctrination of children at a young age, with distorted interpretations of religious texts and the teaching of intolerance playing a major role in these schools.

Some sources say that between two and three million students are enrolled at the nearly 20,000 madrassas spread across Pakistan; others say this is a conservative estimate.

While there is some talk about bringing these institutions under the umbrella of the public school system, experts like Nayyar believe this will do little to combat the “forcible teaching of […] false and distorted history, excessive emphasis on Islamic teachings to the extent of including them in textbooks of all the subjects, explicit teaching of jihad and militancy, hate material against other nations, peoples of other faiths, etc, [and] excessive glorification of the military and wars.”

Nayyar and other independent scholars have been at the forefront of calling for an overhaul of the public school curriculum, which they believe is at odds with the goals of a modern, progressive nation.

But until policy-makers and politicians jump on the bandwagon, independent efforts like the work of TCF will lead the way.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Final Push to Launch U.N. Negotiations on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:39:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138751 A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations will make its third – and perhaps final – attempt at reaching an agreement to launch negotiations for an international biodiversity treaty governing the high seas.

A four-day meeting of a U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group is expected to take a decision by Friday against a September 2015 deadline to begin negotiations on the proposed treaty.“The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.” -- Lisa Speer of NRDC

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “This is the last scheduled meeting where we hope to see the decision to launch negotiations materialise.”

Asked about the timeline for the final treaty itself, she said “it really depends on the issues that will come up during the negotiations.”

In a statement released Monday, the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, said the high seas is a vast area that makes up nearly two-thirds of the ocean and about 50 percent of the planet’s surface, and currently falls outside of any country’s national jurisdiction.

“This means it’s the largest unprotected and lawless region on Earth,” the Alliance noted.

The lack of governance on the high seas is widely accepted as one of the major factors contributing to ocean degradation from human activities.

The issues to be discussed include marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources, capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

At the same time, the growing threat from human activities, including pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering, and climate change, have made an international agreement to protect these waters more critical than ever, says the High Seas Alliance.

Lisa Speer, international oceans programme director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, says “The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.”

Kristina M. Gjerde, senior high seas policy advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told IPS U.N. member states have the historic opportunity to launch negotiations for a new global agreement to better protect, conserve and sustain the nearly 50 percent of the planet that is found beyond national boundaries.

The U.N. process, initiated at the 2012 Rio+20 summit in Brazil, has extensively explored the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she added.

“It is clear that by now the vast majority of States are overwhelmingly in support,” Gjerde said.

Though some outstanding issues remain, IUCN is confident that once negotiations are launched, rapid progress can be made toward achieving an effective and equitable agreement, she added.

“With good luck, good will and good faith, negotiations, including a preparatory stage, could be accomplished in as little as two to three years,” Gjerde declared.

At the Rio+20 meeting, member states pledged to launch negotiations for the new treaty by the end of the 69th U.N. General Assembly in September 2015.

In a briefing paper released Monday, Greenpeace called on the 193-member General Assembly to take a “historic decision to develop an agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond the jurisdiction of States.”

Unfortunately a few countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Iceland, have expressed opposition to an agreement going forward. But this could change, it added.

Norway – previously unconvinced – has now become supportive and calls for the launch of a meaningful implementing agreement for biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

For the United States in particular, said Greenpeace, standing against progress towards a U.N. agreement that would provide the framework for establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries would be at odds with the U.S.’s leadership on ocean issues such as the establishment of marine reserves in EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zones) as well as the Arctic, Antarctic and fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The environmental groups say there is overwhelming support for an UNCLOS implementing agreement from countries and regional country groupings across the world, from Southeast Asian nations, to African governments, European and Latin American countries and Small Island Developing States.

Among them are Australia, New Zealand, the African Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Group of 77 developing nations plus China, the 28-member European Union, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico, Benin, Pakistan, Uruguay, Uganda and many more.

Karen Sack, senior director of The Pew Charitable Trusts international oceans work, said the upcoming decision could signal a new era of international cooperation on the high seas.

“If countries can commit to work together on legal protections for biodiversity on the high seas, we can close existing management gaps and secure a path toward sustainable development and ecosystem recovery,” she added.

According to the environmental group, the high seas is defined as the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, says the coalition, would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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From Bullets to Ballots: The Face of Sri Lanka’s Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:17:06 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138736 Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka , Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

In four months’ time, Sri Lanka will mark the sixth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil conflict. Ever since government armed forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009, the country has savored peace after a generation of war.

Suffocating security measures have given way to a sense of normalcy in most parts of the country, while steady growth has replaced patchy economic progress – averaging above six percent since 2009.

But these changes have largely eluded the area where the war was at its worst: the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the Northern Province that the LTTE ruled as a de facto state, together with the Jaffna Peninsular, for over a quarter of a century.

Home to over a million people, one-fourth of whom are war returnees, the Vanni has been in the doldrums since ballots replaced bullets.

“Peace should mean prosperity, but that is what we don’t have. What we have is a struggle to survive from one day to another,” Kajitha Shanmugadasan, an 18-year-old girl from the northern town of Pooneryn, told IPS.

She said youth her age were frustrated that multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects have failed to deliver decent jobs. “Look around, we have new highways, new railway lines, but no jobs, for five years people have been suffering, and it should not be [so] when there is peace,” she asserted.

Youth from the Northern Province have historically performed well at national exams, even during conflict times. That trend has held true: at the 2013 university entrance exam, 63.8 percent of those who sat their papers gained the scores required to enter the country’s top universities, a national high.

But with unemployment also at record levels here, and hardly any jobs for university graduates, those like Shanmugadasan are either staying out of universities or leaving the province in search of better prospects.

A new government, the result of presidential elections just a week into the New Year, and the Papal visit to the heart of the former battle zone on Jan. 14, have given rise to new hopes in the Vanni that life will improve for the ordinary people, who suffered during the war and have had little respite since the guns fell silent.

The 72-percent voter turnout in the Northern Province at the Jan. 8 presidential poll – an all-time high for the region – is a reminder to the new regime how desperate the people here are for real change.

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caribbean Youth Ready to Lead on Climate Issueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:21:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138726 Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

At 24 years old, Stefan Knights has never been on the side of those who are sceptical about the reality and severity of climate change.

A Guyana native who moved to Trinidad in September 2013 to pursue his law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Knights told IPS that his first-hand experience of extreme weather has strengthened his resolve to educate his peers about climate change “so that they do certain things that would reduce emissions.”“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people." -- Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran

Knights recalled his first week in Trinidad, when he returned to his apartment to find “the television was floating, the refrigerator was floating and all my clothes were soaked” after intense rainfall which did not last more than an hour.

“When we have the floods, the droughts or even the hurricanes, water supply is affected, people lose jobs, people lose their houses and the corollary of that is that the right to water is affected, the right to housing, the right to employment and even sometimes the right to life,” Knights told IPS.

“I am a big advocate where human rights are concerned and I see climate change as having a significant impact on Caribbean people where human rights are concerned,” he said.

Knights laments that young people from the Caribbean and Latin America are not given adequate opportunities to participate in the major international meetings, several of which are held each year, to deal with climate change.

“These people are affected more than anybody else but when such meetings are held, in terms of youth representation, you find very few young people from these areas,” he said.

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Also, the countries that are not independent within Latin America and the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico which is still a territory of the United States, Montserrat, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the voices of those people are not heard in those rooms because they are still colonies.”

Knights, who is also an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), said young people are ready to lead.

“They are taking the lead around the world in providing solutions to challenges in the field of sustainable development,” he explained.

“For instance, CYEN has been conducting research and educating society on integrated water resources management, focusing particularly on the linkages between climate change, biodiversity loss and unregulated waste disposal.”

CYEN has been formally recognised by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as one of its Most Outstanding Partners in the Caribbean.

As recently as December 2014, several members of CYEN from across the Caribbean participated in a Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) Media Workshop on Water Security and Climate Resilience held here.

CYEN has been actively involved in policy meetings on water resources management and has conducted practical community-based activities in collaboration with local authorities.

CYEN National Coordinator Rianna Gonzales told IPS that one way in which young people in Trinidad and Tobago are getting involved in helping to combat climate change and build resilience is through the Adopt a River (AAR) Programme, administered by the National Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“This is an initiative to involve the community and corporate entities in the improvement of watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable, holistic and coordinated manner,” Gonzales said.

“The aim of the AAR programme is to build awareness on local watershed issues and to facilitate the participation of public and private sector entities in sustainable and holistic projects aimed at improving the status of rivers and watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water supply (60 per cent) comes from surface water sources such as rivers and streams, and total water demand is expected to almost double between 1997 and 2025.

With climate change predictions indicating that Trinidad and Tobago will become hotter and drier, in 2010, the estimated water availability for the country was 1477 m3 per year, which is a decrease of 1000 m3 per year from 1998.

Deforestation for housing, agriculture, quarrying and road-building has also increased the incidence of siltation of rivers and severe flooding.

“The challenge of water in Trinidad and Tobago is one of both quality and quantity,” Gonzales said.

“Our vital water supply is being threatened by industrial, agricultural and residential activities. Indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into waterways, over-pumping of groundwater sources and pollution of rivers by domestic and commercial waste are adversely affecting the sustainability of our water resources.

“There is therefore an urgent need for a more coordinated approach to protecting and managing our most critical and finite resource – water,” she added.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said there is an urgent need to protect human dignity and alleviate the sufferings of people because of climate change.

“We know that the urgency is now. Business as usual is not enough. We are not on track to meet our agreed 2.0 or 1.5 degree Celsius objective for limiting the increase in average global temperatures, so urgent and ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is absolutely necessary,” he told IPS.

Dookeran added that “there is no excuse not to act” since economically viable and technologically feasible options already exist to significantly enhance efforts to address climate change.

“Even with a less than two degrees increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, small island states like Trinidad and Tobago are already experiencing more frequent and more intense weather events as a result of climate change,” Dookeran said.

The foreign affairs minister said residents can look forward to even more mitigation measures that will take place in the first quarter of this year with respect to the intended nationally determined contributions for mitigation.

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people,” he said.

“Trinidad and Tobago has made important inroads in dealing with the problem as we attempt to ensure that climate change is central to our development. As we prepare our economy for the transition to low carbon development and as we commit ourselves to carbon neutrality, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is working assiduously towards expanding the use of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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CORRECTION/Sustainable Energy Starts With the Sunhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 16:38:24 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138722 Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
BARODA, India, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

It began with an experiment to install photovoltaic cells over an irrigation canal that forms part of the Sardar Sarovar canal network – a massive hydel power project across the River Narmada that irrigates some 1.8 million hectares of arable land in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

After a successful pilot project, the Government of Gujarat has now invested some 18.3 million dollars replicating the scheme over a 3.6-km stretch of the irrigation canal in the hopes of generating 10 MW of power.

The project received endorsement from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 11, as it represents global efforts to move towards a new poverty-eradication framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year, putting sustainability at the heart of the global development agenda.

Given that no extra land had to be acquired for installation of the solar power panels, its uniqueness was lauded by the U.N. secretary-general.

“Looking out at the plant, I saw more than glittering panels—I saw the future of India and the future of our world,” Ban said, addressing the media at the site on Jan. 11.

With some 21,600 solar panels running over a length of the Vadodara branch of the canal, experts say the installation could generate power to the tune of 16.2 million units per annum, since the canal runs right over the Tropic of Cancer and receives bright sunlight for eight months out of the year.

Sceptics worry that without planning, the surplus power could be siphoned off by commercial enterprises unless there are concerted efforts to combine the sustainable energy initiative with poverty eradication.

All across India, stakeholders are taking stock of progress on the MDGs, keeping their eyes on the new era of sustainable development. Many gaps remain in the country’s efforts to improve the lives of millions, with water scarcity, lack of sanitation, and sprawling slums pointing to a need for better management of India’s human, economic and natural resources.

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Experts are hopeful that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will succeed where the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and habitats of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and livelihoods of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. A solar power project recently inaugurated by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon promises to improve water and sanitation access for communities in the western state of Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. As the U.N. gears up to implement a new sustainable development agenda, hopes are running high that gaps in the MDGs will now be filled. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

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

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

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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