Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Lack of Accountability Fuels Gender-Based Violence in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:32:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136927 Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHIRANG, India, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

On a bright March morning, a 17-year old tribal girl woke as usual, and went to catch fish in the village river in the Chirang district of India’s northeastern Assam state.

Later that evening, villagers found her lifeless body on the riverbank. According to Taburam Pegu, the police officer investigating the case, her assailants had raped her before slitting her throat.

The girl was a member of the Bodo tribe, which has been at loggerheads with Muslims and Santhals – another indigenous group in the region. The tragic story reveals a terrible reality across India, where thousands of girls and women are sexually abused, tortured and murdered in a tide of gender-based violence (GBV) that shows no sign of slowing.

“We have a culture of impunity. Our legal system itself negates the possibility [...] of punishment in cases of violence against women.” -- Anjuman Ara Begum, former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission
Conflict and a lack of accountability, particularly across India’s northern, eastern and central states where armed insurgencies and tribal clashes are a part of daily life for over 40 million women, fuel the fire of sexual violence.

According to a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Secretary-General assessing progress on the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, violence against women is universal, with one in every three women (35 percent) experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Of all the issues related to the ICPD action plan, ending gender-based violence was addressed as a key concern by 88 percent of all governments surveyed. In total, 97 percent of countries worldwide have programmes, policies or strategies to address gender equality, human rights, and the empowerment of women.

Still, multiple forms of violence against women continue to be an hourly occurrence all around the world.

A recent multi-country study on men and violence in the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the United Nations, reported that nearly 50 percent of 10,000 men surveyed admitted to sexually or physically abusing a female partner.

In India, a country that has established a legal framework to address and end sexual violence, 92 women are raped every day, according to the latest records published by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

This is higher than the average daily number of rapes reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which currently stands at 36.

Sexual violence is particularly on the rise in conflict areas, experts say, largely due to a lack of accountability – the very thing the United Nations describes as “key to preventing and responding to gender-based violence.”

According to Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, “There are human rights abuses committed by security forces and human rights violations by the militants. And then there is also violence against women committed by civilians. No matter who is committing the crime […] there has to be accountability – a component completely missing” from the current legal framework.

An example of this is Perry*, a 35-year-old woman from the South Garo Hills district of India’s northeastern Meghalaya state – home to 14 million women and three armed groups – who was killed by militants in June this year.

Members of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), an insurgent group, allegedly tried to rape Perry and, when she resisted, they shot her in the head, blowing it open. The GNLA refused to be held accountable, claiming that the woman was an informant and so “deserved to die”.

Another reason for the high levels of GBV in India is the dismal conviction rate – a mere 26 percent – in cases involving sexual assault and violence.

In 3,860 of the 5,337 rape cases reported in the past 10 years, the culprits were either acquitted or discharged by the courts for lack of ‘proper’ evidence, according to the NCRB.

“We have a culture of impunity,” Anjuman Ara Begum, a Guwahati-based lawyer and former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding, “Our legal system itself negates the possibility or certainty of punishment in cases of violence against women.”

With a declining conviction rate, armed groups have been playing the role of the judiciary to deliver instant justice. In October 2011, a kangaroo court of the armed Maoists in the Palamu district of India’s eastern Jharkhand state cut off the hands of a man accused of rape.

In August 2013, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) – an insurgent group operating in the northeastern state of Manipur – launched an “anti-rape task force”.

Sanakhomba Meitei, the secretary of KCP, told IPS over the phone that his group would deliver fast-track justice for rape victims. “Our intervention [will] instill fear in the [minds of the] rapists,” said Meitei, adding, “We will deliver stringent punishment.”

This is a worrying trend, but inevitable, given the failure of the legal system to deliver justice in these troubled areas, according to A L Sharada, director of Population First – a partner of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in India.

“What we need is a robust legal system, and mob justice hurts that possibility. In fact, such non-judicial justice systems are also very patriarchal in nature and ultimately against women. What we really need are quick convictions [in] every case of gender violence that has been filed,” Sharada stated.

According to the NCRB over 50,000 women were abducted across the country in 2013 alone, while over 8,000 were killed in dowry-related crimes. More than 100,000 women faced cruelty at the hands of their husbands or other male relatives, but only 16 percent of those accused were convicted.

*Not her real name

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

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.

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Arms Trade Treaty Gains Momentum with 50th Ratificationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 10:17:50 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136910 State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

With state support moving at an unprecedented pace, the Arms Trade Treaty will enter into force on Dec. 24, 2014, only 18 months after it was opened for signature.

Eight states – Argentina, the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Saint Lucia, Portugal, Senegal and Uruguay – ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at a special event at the United Nations this past Thursday, Sep. 25, pushing the number of states parties up to 53.

As per article 22 of the treaty, the ATT comes into force as a part of international law 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification is deposited.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy." -- Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
According to a statement by the Control Arms coalition, “The ATT is one of the fastest arms agreements to move toward entry into force.”

The speed at which the treaty received 50 ratifications “shows tremendous momentum for the ATT and a lot of significant political commitment and will,” said Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“The challenge now is to translate the political will into action, both in terms of ensuring that States Parties are able to fulfil – and are fulfilling – their obligations under the Treaty,” Holtom told IPS in an email.

So what are the requirements under the ATT?

ATT states parties are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict.

Article 6(3) of the treaty forbids states from authorising transfers if they have the knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Article 7 prohibits transfers if there is an overriding risk of the weapons being used to undermine peace and security or commit a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.

In addition, states parties are required to take a number of measures to prevent diversion of weapons to the illicit market and produce annual reports of their imports and exports of conventional arms.

The treaty applies to eight categories of conventional arms, ranging from battle tanks to small arms and light weapons.

The successful entry into force of the ATT will be a big win for arms control campaigners and NGOs, who have been fighting for the regulation of the arms trade for more than a decade.

When Control Arms launched a global campaign in 2003, “Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia were the only three governments who would publically say that they supported talk of the idea of an arms trade treaty,” Anna MacDonald, director of the Control Arms secretariat, told IPS.

NGO supporters of the treaty often brought up the fact that the global trade in bananas was more regulated than the trade in weapons.

The organisations in the Control Arms coalition supported the ATT process through “a mix of campaigning, advocacy, pressure on governments” and “proving technical expertise on what actually could be done, how a treaty could look, [and] what provisions needed to be in it,” MacDonald said.

All of the legwork has paid off, as the treaty will become operational far earlier than many expected.

Today’s 53rd ratification is just the start. So far, 121 countries have signed the treaty, and 154 voted in favour of its adoption in April 2013 in the General Assembly.

“There’s no reason why we would not expect all of those who voted in favour to sign and ultimately to ratify the treaty,” said MacDonald.

Sceptics contend that the worst human rights abusers will not agree to the treaty. For example, Syria was one of three states that voted against the ATT’s adoption in the General Assembly.

However, MacDonald believes that once enough countries join the ATT, the holdouts will face an enormous amount of political pressure to comply as well.

With a sufficient number of states parties, the ATT will “establish a new global standard for arms transfers, which makes it politically very difficult for even countries that have not signed it to ignore its provisions,” she told IPS.

MacDonald cited the Ottawa Convention, which banned anti-personnel landmines, as an example.

Many of the world’s biggest landmine users and exporters have not joined the Ottawa convention, but the use of landmines has fallen anyway because of the political stigma that developed.

Much work remains to be done in the months before Dec. 24 and in the upcoming years as the ATT system evolves.

States will need to create or update transfer control systems and enforcement mechanisms for regulating exports, imports and brokering as well as minimising diversion, according to Holtom.

“There are a lot of issues to be discussed before the Conference of States Parties and it will take several years before we can really see an impact,” he told IPS. “But we need to now make sure that the ATT can be put into effect and States and other key stakeholders work together towards achieving its object and purpose.”

The first conference of states parties will take place in Mexico in 2015.

Participating countries must provide their first report on arms exports and imports by May 31, 2015 and a report on measures that they have taken to implement the treaty by late 2015, Holtom said.

No matter the challenges to come, the simple fact that arms trade control is on the agenda is quite historic.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy,” said Holtom.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claimed, “Today we can look ahead with satisfaction to the date of this historic new Treaty’s entry into force.”

“Now we must work for its efficient implementation and seek its universalisation so that the regulation of armaments – as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations – can become a reality once and for all,” he said in a statement delivered by U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Comprehensive Sex Education: A Pending Task in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:52:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136879 By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

In most Latin American countries schools now provide sex education, but with a focus that is generally restricted to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases – an approach that has not brought about significant modifications in the behaviour of adolescents, especially among the poor.

The international community made the commitment to offer comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“Although some advances have been made in the inclusion of sexual and reproductive education in school curriculums in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have found that not all countries or their different jurisdictions have managed to fully incorporate these concepts in classroom activities,” Elba Núñez, the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

The 2010 CLADEM study ‘Systematisation of sexuality education in Latin America’ reports that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries that have come the closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education, and they are also the countries that have passed legislation in that respect.

Others, like Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, continue to focus on abstinence and birth control methods, while emphasising spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity.

But programmes in the region still generally have problems “with respect to the enjoyment and exercise of this right,” especially among ethnic minorities and rural populations, said Núñez from Paraguay.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have also run into difficulties in implementing sex education programmes outside the main cities.

These shortcomings are part of the reason that Latin America is the region with the second highest teen pregnancy rate – 38 percent of girls and women get pregnant before the age of 20 – after sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a steep school dropout rate.

In Argentina, a law on comprehensive sex education, which created a National Programme of Comprehensive Sex Education, was approved in 2006.

Ana Lía Kornblit, a researcher at the Gino Germani Research Institute, described the programme as “an important achievement because it makes it possible to exercise a right that didn’t previously exist.”

But in some provinces the teaching material, “which is high quality, is not used on the argument that [schools] do not agree with some of the content and they plan to design material in line with local cultural and religious values,” she said.

“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex,” Mabel Bianco, president of the Foundation for the Education and Study of Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“But in the media everything is eroticised, which incites them to engage in sexual behaviour. And the worst thing is they don’t have the tools to resist the pressure from their peers and from society to become sexually active,” she said. “CSE would enable them to say no to sexual relations that they don’t want to have.”“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex.” -- Mabel Bianco

Lourdes Ramírez, 18, just finished her secondary studies at a public school in Mendiolaza in the central Argentine province of Córdoba. She told IPS that in her school, many parents of students in the first years of high school “kick up a fuss” when sex education classes are given “because they say their kids are young and those classes will make them start having sex sooner.”

“It’s absurd that you see everything on TV, programmes with girls in tiny thongs, but then in school they can’t teach how to use a condom or that people should only have sex when they really want to,” Ramírez said.

In her school, the Education Ministry textbooks and materials arrived, but they were not distributed to the students “and were only kept in the library, for people to come and look at.”

Carmen Dueñas, a high school biology teacher in Berazategui, 23 km southeast of Buenos Aires, said it was surprising that even when available birth control methods are explained to the students, “many girls want to get pregnant anyway.”

“They think that when they get pregnant they will have someone to love, that they’ll have a role to play in life if they have a family of their own,” said the teacher, who forms part of a municipal-national CSE project.

“There are conflicts and violence in a significant proportion of families, and teenagers don’t feel they have support; families are torn apart, and there is domestic abuse, violence, alcohol and drug use,” said Marité Gowland, a specialist in preschool education in Florencio Varela, 38 km from the Argentine capital.

“All of this leads to adolescents falling into the same cycle, and it is difficult for them to put into practice what they learn in school,” she said. “Many schools provide the possibility for kids to talk about their problems, but the school alone can’t solve them.”

A project in Berazategui is aimed at breaking the mould. Students are shown a film where a girl gets pregnant when she is sexually abused by her stepfather, but manages to stay in school after talking to her teacher.
“We chose this scenario because sometimes we have clues that there are cases like this in our schools,” Dueñas said.

Through games, the project teaches students how to use condoms. In addition, students can place anonymous questions in a box. “There are girls who comment that although they haven’t even gotten their first period, they have sex, because they have older boyfriends. Then the group discusses the case,” Dueñas said, to illustrate how the project works.

Another member of CLADEM, Zobeyda Cepeda from the Dominican Republic, said that what prevails in most of the region is a “biological approach, or a religious focus, looking at sexuality only as part of marriage.”

Until the focus shifts to a rights-based approach, experts say, Latin America will not meet its international obligations to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted [...] and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Delivering on the Promises of the Global Partnership for Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:15:45 +0000 Wu Hongbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136877

Wu Hongbo is the under-secretary-general for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)

By Wu Hongbo
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Persistent gaps between the promises made, and actually delivered, by developed countries to developing countries, hold back efforts to improve people’s lives and end poverty.

The poorest countries need more access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies, if we are going to make greater progress on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In 2000, the world’s developed countries committed to help developing countries meet the MDGS by 2015 through what became known as the Global Partnership for Development. The targets for the partnership were combined into the eighth Goal (MDG 8).

The promises under goal 8 included providing developing countries with greater access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies. This was meant to help the world’s poorest countries make progress on the first seven MDGs.

The idea was that if the targets of Goal 8 were achieved, then developing countries would have strengthened their earnings from trade and eased their sovereign debt difficulties so that—coupled with enhanced aid and appropriate access to essential medicines and new technologies—countries would be in a better position to improve the lives of their citizens.

Over 30 U.N. organisations co-led by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been tracking the fulfillment of these promises in the annual MDG Gap Task Force Report.

Today, the global partnership for development is strong and last year recorded the largest level of official development assistance. But much unfinished business remains as we approach the deadline for the MDGs.

Assistance to the poorest countries remains far below what is needed and what was promised

After two consecutive years of falling volumes, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 135 billion dollars in 2013. Seventeen of 28 donor countries increased their development assistance, and five have met the target of disbursing 0.7 percent of their national income to developing countries. Despite this progress, we are still far behind our target.

A 180-billion-dollar gap remains between the aid delivered and the amounts promised by developed countries. In addition, aid continues to be heavily concentrated with the top 20 recipients receiving more than half of all aid.

Despite a 12.3 percent increase in aid to the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) in 2013, bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa fell four percent between 2012 and 2013 to 26.2 billion dollars.

Close the trade gaps

Developed countries must do more to address the negative impacts of non-tariff measures on the ability of developing countries to participate in the global economy. While developed countries continue to lower tariffs and allow the proportion of duty free imports from developing countries to rise, new trade restrictions have been introduced.

We need a final push towards improving market access for developing countries, and continuing efforts to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies, trade-distorting domestic support and protectionist policies that inhibit access to the global economy.

Debt relief promises kept, but new risks arise

Debt relief programmes for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are coming to a conclusion. Under the HIPC initiative, 35 of 39 eligible countries have reached the completion point as of March 2014 and as a result, debt service burdens have been reduced substantially.

It is encouraging that government spending on poverty reduction in these countries has increased considerably. Nonetheless, some of these countries are again at risk of debt distress and the group known as “small States” is particularly at risk because they often do not qualify for debt relief.

Greater access to essential medicines and technologies needed now

Global action and awareness has enhanced access to affordable essential medicines. However, the stock of medicines in many developing countries remains insufficient and unaffordable.

Developing countries also have more access to some new technologies, especially information and communication technologies. Yet, large gaps remain in access to many new technologies, such as broadband Internet because of the high cost.

The work ahead for the international community has been laid out. Now is the time for the world to seize this opportunity to stand by our promises and deliver on our commitments to eradicate poverty, raise people’s living standards and sustain the environment.

As the deadline for achieving the MDGs approaches and Member States of the United Nations prepare to launch a new sustainable development agenda, we must do our utmost to close the remaining gaps. With little more than one year remaining, now is the time to take action.

Let us all work together—governments, international institutions, all citizens of the globe—to commit to concrete accelerated actions in achieving all MDGs, as well as to a renewed global development cooperation, to underpin our development efforts, so that we can usher in a more sustainable future.

 

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Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:54:12 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136865 Eherculano Thomas Rice (left) from Chimoio, Mozambique shows the pigeon pea he uses to improve soil fertility in his field. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
CHIMOIO, Mozambique, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique’s Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent’s food.

“For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity,” Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

“Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost.”

Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel’s 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique’s GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

“There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge,” Ogang says.

“Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use.”

According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

“Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006,” says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa’s fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent’s production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

“Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes,” Hebebrand tells IPS.

“Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product.”

Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will “kill Africa’s hopes for a food-secure future.”

AGRA’s Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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‘Therapeutic Abortion’ Could Soon Be Legal in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:26:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136835 Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile, one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion, which is expected to be approved this year.

In Chile, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are practiced annually – a scourge that is both cause and effect of many other social problems.

“Abortion in Chile is like the drug trade – surrounded by illegality and precariousness,” 27-year-old Alicia, who had an abortion five years ago, told IPS.

Latin America – stronghold of illegal abortion

In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion is punishable by prison under any circumstance, although in Honduras the medical code of ethics allows it if the mother’s life is at risk.

One illustration that stiff penalties do not reduce abortions but only make them unsafe is the Dominican Republic, where the constitution has guaranteed the right to life from conception since 2010. But 90,000 abortions are year are practiced in that country, which means one out of every four pregnancies is interrupted.

In the rest of the countries in the region – with the exception of Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City – only therapeutic abortion is allowed. Nevertheless, there are 31 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, higher than the global average.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk. In Ecuador and Panama it is also legal in case of rape.

Guatemala exemplifies the effects of clandestine abortions. Of the 65,000 women who undergo an abortion in that country every year, 21,500 are hospitalised as a result. In Argentina and Bolivia the decision is made by a judge. In Argentina abortion is only legal in case of rape or risk to a mother’s life, and in Bolivia in cases of incest as well.

It is estimated that there is one abortion for every two pregnancies that end in birth in Argentina.

In Colombia abortion is legal for the abovementioned reasons as well as severe birth defects, as it is in Brazil – but only in cases where the fetus shows abnormal brain development.

Abortion on demand is only legal in Cuba and Uruguay – in the latter as of 2012, and since then the number of abortions has gone down.

In addition, abortion on demand has been legal in the Mexican capital since 2007. But that triggered a counter-reform in the country, and 17 of the 31 states have now banned abortion under any circumstances.

“A friend told me about a gynecologist, I went to see him and he told me the date, time and place to meet him,” Alicia said. “My mom came with me. A van picked me up on a random street corner in the city and I had no idea where we were going. I still remember my mother’s face, the anxiety of not knowing if I would come back, and in what condition.

“In a house a doctor and a woman, I don’t know if she was a midwife or a nurse, were waiting for me. They doped me up. When I woke up it was done. They put me in the van and took me back to my mother. We never talked about it again,” she said sadly.

The legalisation of abortion is one of the Chilean state’s big debts to women, Carolina Carrera, the president of Corporación Humanas, told IPS.

“Chile’s highly punitive legislation is a violation of the human rights of women because this level of penalisation means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks,” she added.

In addition, smuggling has increased of Misoprostol, also known as RU486 or medication abortion. The medicine is sold at exorbitantly high prices, without clear medical indications, she added.

Claudia, 24, had to go to a house on one of the hills in the port city of Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, to buy the drug to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.

“It was a dangerous place,” she said. “I had to pay more than 600 dollars. I looked around and thought: and if something happens to me, who do I call? An ambulance, the police? No, I’d be put in prison!”

In Latin America, where the Catholic Church still has an enormous influence, abortion is illegal everywhere except Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City. However, most countries allow therapeutic abortion in circumstances suggested by the United Nations: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

Chile is one of only seven countries in the world that ban abortion under any circumstance. Four others are in Latin America – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and two are in Europe – Malta and the Vatican.

Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). None of the democratic administrations that have governed the country since then have touched the issue until now.

Since then, women who undergo an abortion have faced a possible prison sentence of up to five years.

“The frequency of abortion has remained steady in the last 10 years in Chile,” Dr. Ramiro Molina with the Centre on Reproductive Medicine and Integral Development of the Adolescent at the University of Chile told IPS. “The number of cases has not gone down, nor have there been major changes in the ages: the highest rates of abortion are still found among women between the ages of 25 and 34.”

He said there are only records of some 33,500 women a year who are treated for abortion-related complications – a figure he described as “very misleading” because it only takes into account those who go to a public health centre for emergency treatment.

Molina explained that the real total is estimated by multiplying that number by 10, which would indicate that 335,000 women a year undergo illegal abortions in Chile.

In the Latin American countries with the strictest legislation, abortions are practiced in conditions that pose a high risk to women, making it a public health problem as well as a reflection of inequality.

“Abortion is a socioeconomic indicator of poverty,” Molina said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place worldwide in 2008. The estimated annual total in Latin America is 4.4 million, 95 percent of which are clandestine. And 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region are the result of unsafe abortion.

Molina, one of the region’s leading experts in his field, said that while progress has been made in the last two decades, it has been very slow because “a religious-based philosophical vision” continues to prevail and stands in the way of further advances.

In Chile, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March, is preparing to launch a debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

She has stated on several occasions that abortion will be decriminalised this year in Chile.

During her first term (2006-2010), Bachelet authorised the free distribution of Levonorgestrel, better known as the morning after pill, by government health centres to all girls and women over the age of 14 who requested it. But its actual distribution still depends on the ideology of mayors, who are responsible for public health centres in their jurisdictions.

The morning after pill came too late for Francisco and Daniela. When she enrolled in the university, “we got pregnant,” she told IPS. The couple thought about it long and hard, but they lived with her parents and Francisco only worked part-time.

“I felt like it was cutting her life short, her dreams, her prospects,” said Francisco, who somehow managed to scrape together the 600 dollars for the abortion.

Now, at the age of 35, they have a little girl. But they remember it as a traumatic incident, “because it was clandestine, unsafe and unjust.”

Although the legalisation of therapeutic abortion was one of Bachelet’s campaign pledges, abortion remains a taboo subject in Chile. Many are afraid of the political consequences in this country of 17.8 million people, where more than 65 percent of the population is Catholic.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate-Smart Agriculture is Corporate Green-Washing, Warn NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:01:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136836 Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

On the sidelines of the U.N.’s heavily hyped Climate Summit, the newly-launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture announced plans to protect some 500 million farmers worldwide from climate change and “help achieve sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes.”

But the announcement by the Global Alliance, which includes more than 20 governments, 30 organisations and corporations, including Fortune 500 companies McDonald’s and Kelloggs, was greeted with apprehension by a coalition of over 100 civil society organisations (CSOs)."These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries." -- Meenakshi Raman of Third World Network

It is a backhanded gesture, warned the coalition, which “rejected” the announcement as “a deceptive and deeply contradictory initiative.”

“The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will not deliver the solutions that we so urgently need. Instead, climate-smart agriculture provides a dangerous platform for corporations to implement the very activities we oppose,” the coalition said.

“By endorsing the activities of the planet’s worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture, the Alliance will undermine the very objectives that it claims to aim for.”

The 107 CSOs include ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth International, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, the Third World Network, the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change, Biofuel Watch and the National Network on Right to Food.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who gave his blessing to the Global Alliance, said: “I am glad to see action that will increase agricultural productivity, build resilience for farmers and reduce carbon emissions.”

These efforts, he said, will improve food and nutrition security for billions of people.

With demand for food set to increase 60 per cent by 2050, agricultural practices are transforming to meet the challenge of food security for the world’s 9.0 billion people while reducing emissions, he asserted.

But the coalition said: “Although some organisations have constructively engaged in good faith for several months with the Global Alliance to express serious concerns, these concerns have been ignored.”

Instead, the Alliance “is clearly being structured to serve big business interests, not to address the climate crisis,” the coalition said.

The coalition also pointed out that companies with activities resulting in dire social impacts on farmers and communities, such as those driving land grabbing or promoting genetically modified (GM) seeds, already claim they are climate-smart.

Yara (the world’s largest fertiliser manufacturer), Syngenta (GM seeds), McDonald’s, and Walmart are all at the climate-smart table,
it added. “Climate-smart agriculture will serve as a new promotional space for the planet’s worst social and environmental offenders in agriculture.

“The proposed Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture seems to be yet another strategy by powerful players to prop up industrial agriculture, which undermines the basic human right to food. It is nothing new, nothing innovative, and not what we need,” the coalition declared.

Meenakshi Raman, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS the world seed, agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies.

She said these companies have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon intensive and depend on external inputs.

“These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries,” she said.

It is vital that such oligopoly practices are disallowed and regulated, said Raman. “Hence the need for radical overhaul of the current unfair systems in place with real reform at the international level.”

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said the world’s foremost agriculture experts have determined that preventing climate change from damaging food production and destabilising some of the world’s most volatile regions will require reaching out to at least half a billion farmers, fishers, pastoralists, livestock keepers and foresters.

The goal is to help them learn farming techniques and obtain farming technologies that will allow them to adapt to more stressful production conditions and also reduce their own contributions to climate change, said CGIAR.

These researchers are already working with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to refine new climate-oriented technologies and techniques via what are essentially outdoor laboratories for innovations called climate-smart villages.

The villages’ approach to crafting climate change solutions is proving extremely popular with all involved, and now the Indian state of Maharashtra (population 112.3 million) plans to set up 1,000 climate smart villages, CGIAR said.

Asked for specifics, Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), told IPS countries in the tropics will be particularly impacted, especially those that are already under-developed because such countries don’t have the resources to adapt and respond to extreme weather conditions.

These include many countries in the Sahel region, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, plus countries in Latin America.

Asked if these countries are succeeding in coping with the impending crisis, he said there are good cases of isolated successes, but in general they are not coping.

For example, one success is in Niger where five million trees have been planted, that help both adaptation and mitigation, but an enormous number of other activities are needed, he added.

Raman told IPS there are many rules in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agriculture agreement that threaten small-scale agriculture and agroecology farming systems in the developing world.

She said developed countries are allowed to provide billions of dollars in subsidies to their agricultural producers whose products are then exported and dumped on developing countries, whose farming systems are then displaced or threatened with artificially cheap products.

Many developing countries, she pointed out, were also forced to remove the protection they had or have for their domestic agriculture, either through the WTO, the World Bank policies under structural adjustment and free trade agreements.

“These policies do not allow developing country governments to protect small farmers and their domestic agriculture,” she said.

Such rules and policies are unfair and unethical and should not be allowed as they undermine small farmers and agroecology systems,
Raman declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Water: A Defining Issue for Post-2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:25:23 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136832 A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
STOCKHOLM, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A gift of nature, or a valuable commodity? A human right, or a luxury for the privileged few? Will the agricultural sector or industrial sector be the main consumer of this precious resource? Whatever the answers to these and many more questions, one thing is clear: that water will be one of the defining issues of the coming decade.

Some estimates say that 768 million people still have no access to fresh water. Other research puts the number higher, suggesting that up to 3.5 billion people are denied the right to an improved source of this basic necessity.

As United Nations agencies and member states inch closer to agreeing on a new set of development targets to replace the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the need to include water in post-2015 development planning is more urgent than ever.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us." -- Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
The latest World Water Development Report (WWDR) suggests, “Global water demand (in terms of water withdrawals) is projected to increase by some 55 percent by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing (400 percent), thermal electricity generation (140 percent) and domestic use (130 percent).”

In addition, a steady rise in urbanisation is likely to result in a ‘planet of cities’ where 40 percent of the world’s population will reside in areas of severe water stress through 2050.

Groundwater supplies are diminishing; some 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are facing over-exploitation, and degradation of wetlands is affecting the capacity of ecosystems to purify water supplies.

WWDR findings also indicate that climbing global energy demand – slated to rise by one-third by 2030 – will further exhaust limited water sources; electricity demand alone is poised to shoot up by 70 percent by 2035, with China and India accounting for over 50 percent of that growth.

Against this backdrop, water experts around the world told IPS that management of this invaluable resource will occupy a prominent place among the yet-to-be finalised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the hopes of fending off crises provoked by severe shortages.

“We are discussing the goals, and most member [states] agree that water needs better coordination and management,” Amina Mohammed, the United Nations secretary-general’s special advisor on post-2015 development planning told IPS on the sidelines of the annual Stockholm World Water Week earlier this month.

What is needed now, Mohammed added, is greater clarity on goals that can be mutually agreed upon by member states.

Other water experts allege that in the past, water management has been excluded from high-level decision-making processes, despite it being an integral part of any development process.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us,” Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS.

He added that the way the world uses water is drastically changing. Traditionally agriculture has been the largest guzzler of fresh water, but in the near future the manufacturing sector is tipped to take over. “Over 25 percent of [the world’s] water use will be by the energy sector,” Holmgren said.

For many nations, especially in the developing world, the water-energy debate represents the classic catch-22: as more people move out of poverty and into the middle class with spending capacity, their energy demands increase, which in turn puts tremendous pressure on limited water supplies.

The statistics of this demographic shift are astonishing, said Kandeh Yumkella, special representative of the secretary-general who heads Ban Ki-moon’s pet project, the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

Yumkella told IPS that by 2050, three billion persons will move out of poverty and 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

“Everyone is demanding more of everything, more houses, more cars and more water. And we are talking of a world where temperatures are forecasted to rise by two to three degrees Celsius, maybe more,” he asserted.

South Asia in need of proper planning

South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks and represents an urgent mandate to government officials and all stakeholders to formulate coordinated and comprehensive plans.

The island of Sri Lanka, for instance, is a prime example of why water management needs to be a top priority among policy makers. With climate patterns shifting, the island has been losing chunks of its growth potential to misused water.

In the last decade, floods affected nine million people, representing almost half of Sri Lanka’s population of just over 20 million. Excessive rain also caused damages to the tune of one billion dollars, according to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ironically, the island also constantly suffers from a lack of water. Currently, a 10-month drought is affecting 15 of its 25 districts, home to 1.5 million people. It is also expected to drive down the crucial rice harvest by 17 percent, reducing yields to the lowest levels in six years. All this while the country is trying to maintain an economic growth rate of seven percent, experts say.

In trying to meet the challenges of wildly fluctuating rain patterns, the government has adopted measures that may actually be more harmful than helpful in the long term.

In the last three years it has switched to coal to offset drops in hydropower generation. Currently coal, which is considered a “dirty” energy source, is the largest energy source for the island, making up 46 percent of all energy produced, according to government data.

Top government officials like Finance Secretary Punchi Banda Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga have told IPS that they are working on water management.

But for those who favour fast-track moves, like Mohammed and Yumkella, verbal promises need to translate into firm goals and action.

“If you don’t take water into account, either you are going to fail in your development goals, or you are going to put a lot of pressure on you water resources,” Richard Connor, lead author of the 2014 WWDR, told IPS.

The situation is equally dire for India and China. According to a report entitled ‘A Clash of Competing Necessities’ by CNA Analysis and Solutions, a Washington-based research organisation, 53 percent of India’s population lives in water-scarce areas, while 73 percent of the country’s electricity capacity is also located.

India’s power needs have galloped and according to research conducted in 2012, the gap between power demand and supply was 10.2 percent and was expected to rise further. The last time India faced a severe power crisis, in July 2012, 600 million people were left without power.

According to China Water Risk, a non-profit organisation, China’s energy needs will grow by 100 percent by 2050, but already around 60 percent of the nation’s groundwater resources are polluted.

China is heavily reliant on coal power but the rising demand for energy will put considerable stress on water resources in a nation where already at least 50 percent of the population may be facing water shortages, according to Debra Tan, the NGO’s director.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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On Sri Lanka’s Tea Estates, Maternal Health Leaves a Lot to Be Desiredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:08:53 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136823 A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A mud path winds its up way uphill, offering views on either side of row after row of dense bushes and eventually giving way to a cluster of humble homes, surrounded by ragged, playful children.

Their mothers either look far too young, barely adults themselves, or old beyond their years, weathered by decades of backbreaking labour on the enormous tea estates of Sri Lanka.

Rani* is a 65-year-old mother of six, working eight-hour shifts on an estate in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Her white hair, a hunched back and fallen teeth make her appear about 15 years older than she is, a result of many decades spent toiling under the hot sun.

She tells IPS that after her fifth child, overwhelmed with the number of mouths she had to feed, she visited the local hospital to have her tubes tied, but gave birth to a son five years later.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority." -- Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California
Though she is exhausted at the end of the day, and plagued by the aches and pains that signal the coming of old age, she is determined to keep her job, so her children can go to school.

“I work in the estates so that they won’t have to,” she says with a hopeful smile.

Her story is poignant, but not unique among workers in Sri Lanka’s vast tea sector, comprised of some 450 plantations spread across the country.

Women account for over 60 percent of the workforce of abut 250,000 people, all of them descendants of indentured servants brought from India by the British over a century ago to pluck the lucrative leaves.

But while Sri Lankan tea itself is of the highest quality, raking in some 1.4 billion dollars in export earnings in 2012 according to the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the health of the labourers, especially the women, leaves a lot to be desired.

Priyanka Jayawardena, research officer for the Colombo-based Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, tells IPS that “deep-rooted socio-economic factors” have led to health indicators among women and children on plantations that are consistently lower than the national average.

The national malnutrition rate for reproductive-age mothers, for instance, is 16 percent, rising to 33 percent for female estate workers. And while 16 percent of newborn babies nationwide have low birth weight, on estates that number rises significantly, to one in every three newborns.

A higher prevalence of poverty on estates partly accounts for these discrepancies in health, with 61 percent of households on estates falling into the lowest socio-economic group (20 percent of wealth quintile), compared to eight percent and 20 percent respectively for urban and rural households.

Other experts say that cultural differences also play a role, since estate populations, and especially tea workers, have been relatively isolated from broader society.

“Many women are uneducated, and tend to be careless about their own health, and the health of their children,” a field worker with the Centre for Social Concern (CSC), an NGO based in the Nuwara Eliya district in central Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

“They have a very taxing job and so spend less time thinking about food and nutrition,” she states.

In fact, as Jayawardena points out, only 15 percent of under-five children on estates have a daily intake of animal protein, compared to 40-50 percent among rural and urban populations.

The same is true for daily consumption of yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as infant cereals – in both cases the average intake among children on estates is 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in rural and urban areas.

Breastfeeding patterns are also inadequate, with just 63 percent of estate workers engaging in exclusive breastfeeding for the first four months of a child’s life, compared to 77 percent in urban areas and 86 percent in rural areas, according to research conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies.

The situation is made worse by the demands of the industry. Since many women are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day, few can afford to take the required maternity leave.

But even when alternatives are provided by the estate management, experts say, a lack of awareness and education leaves children without proper attention and care.

Jayawardena tells IPS that almost half of all women on estates drop out of school after the primary level, compared to a national dropout rate of 15 percent. Literacy levels are low, and so even awareness campaigns often fail to reach the targeted audience.

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

“Women on the estates do not believe they have many options in life beyond working on the plantations,” the CSC field officer says.

“Most are extremely poor, and from childhood they are exposed to very little – there are hardly any playgrounds, libraries, gathering places or social activities on the estates. So they tend to get married early and become mothers at a very young age.”

Though the national average for teenage pregnancies stands at roughly 6.4 percent, it shoots up to ten percent among estate workers, resulting in a cycle in which malnourished mothers give birth to unhealthy babies, who will also likely become mothers at a young age.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority,” Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California, tells IPS.

“Any form of agricultural labour is hard on the body, and many of the estate workers in Sri Lanka work until they are seven or eight months pregnant. They need to be acknowledged, and more attention given to their wellbeing and health,” she adds.

Several NGOs and civil society organisations have been working diligently alongside the government and the private sector to boost women’s health outcomes.

According to Chaaminda Jayasinghe, senior project manager of the plantation programme for CARE International-Sri Lanka, the situation is changing positively.

The emergence of the Community Development Forum (CDF) introduced by CARE in selected tea estates is providing space and a successful model for inclusive development for estate communities, he tells IPS.

This has already resulted in better living conditions and health outcomes among estate communities while mainstreaming plantation communities into the larger society.

*Not her real name.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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World Bank Reports Major Global Support for Carbon Pricinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 00:28:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136817 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-three countries and 22 lower-level governments offered formal support Monday for a global price on carbon dioxide emissions, including China, Russia and the European Union.

Together, these countries account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank, which unveiled a major new push towards global carbon pricing. Other backers include South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines.“If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.” -- Stephanie Pfeifer

The World Bank also announced that more than a thousand corporations and investors have recently signed several high-level statements on the issue, urging policymakers to take substantive steps towards a global price on carbon emissions.

The data comes as more than 100 government leaders are in New York this week for a United Nations-sponsored summit where governments and the private sector are to announce new climate-related commitments. Around that event, a record 310,000-plus demonstrators took to the streets in New York on Sunday, urging action.

“Today we see real momentum,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said Monday. “Governments representing almost half of the world’s population and 52 percent of global GDP have thrown their weight behind a price on carbon as a necessary, if insufficient, solution to climate change and a step on the path to low carbon growth.”

While there are several ways to impose a financial cost on carbon – including a tax, a trading system and others – proponents say any of these would bring multiple benefits. They would create economic incentives to both reduce emissions and boost the development of renewable energies, while resulting revenues could be used to finance adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Still, carbon prices have also been blamed for raising costs on day-to-day items, including food. Poorly structured carbon taxes could thus impact most immediately on the poor.

The new support builds on a public statement of backing for carbon pricing that the World Bank published in June. At that time, 40 national and more than 20 sub-national carbon taxes or trading schemes had been set up, accounting for a bit more than a fifth of global emissions.

On Monday, Kim also announced a new public- and private-sector grouping, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, that will begin meeting to “advance carbon pricing solutions” in advance of widely anticipated negotiations next year in Paris. There, the global community is expected to agree on a new framework for responding to climate change.

“Carbon pricing if expanded to this scale and then globally has the potential to bring down emissions in a way that supports clean energy and low-carbon growth while giving businesses the flexibility to innovate and find the most efficient choices,” the World Bank noted in a feature story on the new initiatives Monday. “This is a wake-up moment.”

Investor energy

Of course, government representatives have been meeting to discuss options around combating climate change for decades, and there is near universal agreement today that actions taken thus far have not been commensurate with the threat.

Further, market-based schemes such as carbon pricing would only offer a partial solution. Yet even so, the World Bank’s new list of supporters doesn’t include some of the most important players, including the United States and India.

The current phase in the climate discussion is nonetheless distinctive for the new corporate support for some sort of global action around climate change, particularly for a broad price on carbon. Just in the past few days, a series of major calls to action have been made by multinational companies and some of the world’s largest institutional investors.

“Support for carbon pricing among the investor community is greater than it’s ever been,” Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), told IPS.

“Climate change puts the investments and savings of million of people at risk. Investors support ambitious action on climate change and a strong carbon price to reduce these risks and to unlock capital for low carbon investments.”

The London-based IIGCC was involved in developing a major statement from global investors on climate change. The most recent version, released last week, included nearly 350 signatories representing some 24 trillion dollars in assets, and called for carbon pricing, greater support for renewable energy and efficiency, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

“Investors are willing and able to invest in low carbon energy,” Pfeifer says. “If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.”

Environment and economy

The newly stepped-up interest around climate change on the part of corporate executives and investors underscores a strengthening understanding of climate issues as posing threats beyond the environmental. Increasingly, corporations are being forced to explain to their shareholders how climate change and related regulation could impact on their underlying finances – and how prepared they are for that eventuality.

Last week, a widely discussed study found that many of the world’s largest companies, including the oil giant ExxonMobil and financial services firm Goldman Sachs, are already incorporating internal carbon prices into their financial planning and risk management. “[M]ajor corporations not only recognize climate-related regulatory risks and opportunities, but also are proactively planning for them and are outpacing their governments in thinking ahead,” the report found.

Some proponents say this engagement by the private sector could now provide key energy ahead of the Paris climate negotiations next year.

“These are vast and marked changes, and very different from any other time I can remember. The level of interest on the part of the private sector is radically different than it was even five years ago,” Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a U.S. coalition of investors and others focused on sustainability, told IPS.

“It goes without saying that financial and corporate leaders calling for action does change the debate. It moves the discussion from one of the environment versus the economy to one about both.”

Still, some are concerned that the new focus on the private sector’s role in addressing climate change, including at this week’s U.N. summit, is inverting the proper role of government and state regulation.

“We’re increasingly seeing the private sector telling government how companies can be supported on energy and climate issues,” Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“That’s a perversion, with public sector energy going into supporting the private sector. Instead, the public sector has to set goals and a framework for how we all need to act, both individuals and the private sector.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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U.N. High-Level Summits Ignore World’s Political Criseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 23:56:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136814 A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

As the 69th session of the General Assembly took off with the usual political pageantry, the United Nations will be hosting as many as seven “high-level meetings”, “summits” and “special sessions” compressed into a single week – the largest number in living memory.

The agenda includes a world conference on indigenous peoples; a special session on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; a climate summit; and a Security Council meeting of world leaders on counter-terrorism presided over by U.S. President Barack Obama."We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis." -- James Paul

Additionally, there will be a summit meeting on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; a high-level event on the U.N.’s Global Education First Initiative’s (GEFI); and a summit meeting of business leaders sponsored by the U.N.’s Global Compact.

All of this in a tightly-packed five-day political extravaganza ending Friday, which also includes an address by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama at the GEFI meeting.

At a press conference last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the upcoming events in superlatives.

“This is going to be one of the largest, biggest gatherings of world leaders, particularly when it comes to climate change,” he said.

Still, neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council has seen fit to summon a special session or a summit meeting of world leaders on the widespread crises that have resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and millions reduced to the status of refugees: in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps the easy way out was to focus merely on counter-terrorism instead of directly engaging Iraq or Syria.

The primary reason for avoiding these crises is the sharp division of opinion among the 193 member states in the General Assembly and a virtual Cold War confrontation between veto-wielding Russia and the United States in the 15-member Security Council, with China supporting the Russians.

James Paul, a former founding executive director of the New York based Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “The U.N.’s unprecedented number of global policy events in the coming days reflects the parlous state of the planet and the fear among those at the top that things are coming apart.”

He said terrorism, the climate crisis, Ebola outbreak, population pushing towards nine billion – these are signs the globalised society once so proudly announced is coming unstuck.

“Lurking in the background are other dangers: the persistent economic crisis, the problems of governability, and the rising tide of migration that are destabilising political regimes everywhere,” said Paul, who has been monitoring and writing extensively on the politics and policy-making at the United Nations since 1993.

Despite some star-studded attendees at the General Assembly sessions this year, there are a couple of high-profile world leaders who will be conspicuous by their absence.

Those skipping the sessions include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plans to address the General Assembly, is skipping the Climate Summit.

Asked about the non-starters, the secretary-general said: “But, in any event, we have other means of communications, ways and means of having their leadership demonstrated in the United Nations.”

And so it’s extremely difficult to have at one day at one time at one place 120 heads of state in government, he said, in an attempt to justify the absentee leaders.

“In that case,” said a Wall Street Journal editorial rather sarcastically, “why not do a conference call?” of all world leaders.

The editorial also pointed out “the Chinese economy has been the number one global producer of carbon dioxide since 2008, but President Xi Jinping won’t be gracing the U.N. with his presence.”

Paul told IPS since the problems facing the international community are global in scope, everyone realises they must be addressed globally, hence the turn towards the United Nations.

“But the powerful countries are uncomfortable with the U.N. even as they seek to impose their own global solutions,” he said.

So there is the paradox of global crises and global conversations, without effective global governance. Democracy is definitely off the table, said Paul, whose honours include the World Hunger Media Award and a “Peacemaker” award by Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis,” he said.

Above all, he said, the business leaders of the Global Compact, will be gathering to “bluewash” their companies and to declare their commitment to a better world while promoting a neoliberal society of weak governance and the invisible hand.

“They will be waltzing in dreamland. Please pour another champagne,” Paul declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Mongolia’s Poorest Turn Garbage into Goldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:28:51 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136793 Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Ulziikhutag Jigjid, 49, is a member of a 10-person group in the Khan-Uul district on the outskirts of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, which is producing brooms, chairs, containers, and other handmade products from discarded soda and juice containers.

“In the early morning we collect raw materials from the street, and then we spend the morning making products,” Jigjid told IPS. At four o’clock in the evening, she heads off to her regular job at a meat company.

The creation of her group’s business, and others like it, are part of an initiative called Turning Garbage Into Gold (TG2G), developed and supported by Tehnoj, an Ulaanbaatar-based non-governmental organisation.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day…This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages." -- Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia
Founded in 2007, this organisation supports the creation of small businesses based on the sale of handcrafted products.

Defining itself as a “business incubator centre” for small and medium-sized businesses, Tehnoj estimates that it has organised trainings for approximately 30,000 people across Mongolia, through various projects.

The TG2G project is currently operational in three of Ulaanbaatar’s outer districts: Khan-Uul, Chingeltei and Songino Khairkhan, and includes 20 production groups of around five to six people each.

“The goal of this project is to recycle products and reduce unemployment,” Galindev Galaariidii, director of Tehnoj, told IPS.

The NGO receives its funding from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Innovation Fund, a new U.N. initiative to support innovative programmes that “provide the creative space and discretionary resources to prototype innovative solutions and experiment with new ways of working to tackle complex development challenges outside the traditional business cycle,” Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia, explained to IPS.

The Innovation Fund is currently supporting the creation of programmes in 32 countries and helps promote environmental sustainability and inclusive economic and social development, key components of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Waste management and pollution are major problems in Mongolia, especially in the urban outskirts. With extremely limited infrastructure and a general lack of governmental resources, Galaariidii explains that 90 percent of garbage from these areas ends up on the street.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day… This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages,” said Eriksson.

According to UNDP, over 10,000 households move to Ulaanbaatar every year. “Unfortunately, the migrant population [find it difficult to gain employment] and obtain access to already strained social services,” Eriksson continued.

The TG2G programme aims to mitigate the waste management issues while also tackling social inequalities by empowering the less fortunate members of some of Mongolia’s poorest communities.

According to World Bank data for 2012-2013, Mongolia’s poverty rate stood at 27.4 percent of its population of 2.9 million people.

Finding jobs in the landlocked country, comprised of some 1.6 million square km, of which only 0.8 percent is arable land, is no easy task. While the mining sector has led rapid economic growth over the last decade, with growth touching 16 percent in the first quarter of 2012, not everyone has benefitted. In fact, the unemployment rate in 2012 was roughly 11 percent.

“We target Ulaanbaatar’s poorest areas with high unemployment,” Galaariidii explained to IPS. “We focus on two main groups: women [often mothers of disabled children], and the unemployed.”

The programme currently focuses on training groups in the creation of six main products: brooms, chairs, foot covers (often used for walking in temples or schools), picnic mats, waterproof ger (yurt) insulation sheets and containers of all sizes.

But new product designs are constantly being created. Oven mitts, bags, hats and aprons are just a few of the new forms of merchandise being developed.

“Our technology design is improving day by day,” said Galaariidii. For example, where zippers once secured the fabric covers of chairs, now elastic rings are used.

Presently, city cleaning teams are testing products with the potential for a government contract, and soda-bottle-broom orders are already coming in from hairdressers in Ulaanbaatar.

Communities involved in the TG2G programme seem to have a fresh sense optimism about the future.

Unrolling a large hand-drawn poster, Jigjid and two other group members – Baguraa Adiyabazar, 54, and Baasanjav Jamsranjav, 37 – explained how they plan to use the funds they earn from selling their products.

They want to build a kindergarten school, achieve full employment in their area, build a chicken farm, expand their ability to grow their own food and increase the availability of cars. There are even plans to allot a certain amount of the money towards a savings account, which can then be used to make small loans within the community.

“We plan to have more registration for the projects and more training programmes,” Jigjid explained. “[Eventually] we want to replace products that are imported from other countries.”

Beyond the material level, the programme is also having a positive impact on the mentality of the community.

“We have a mission to become more creative,” Jigjid continued. “Now as a group we have a goal.”

Next year Jigjid will retire from her job with the meat company and focus on building their product development into a successful business.

“I will have something to do,” she said happily. “I can see my future is secure.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:16:31 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136786 Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAKURU COUNTY, Kenya, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Just two years ago, Mary Ondolo, a 50-year-old mother of nine from Kenya’s marginalised, hunter-gatherer community, the Ogiek, used to live in a grass thatched, mud house. She’d been living there for decades. 

But thanks to a donation of livestock and equipment she has now been able to send four of her children local universities and collages and has been able to build a timber home for her family.

“I and my husband, apart from our subsistence farming, used to earn extra income through casual labour,” Ondolo, who is from the small village of Mariashoni, in the Mau Forest, which lies near Nakuru in Kenya’s Rift Valley and is about 206 kilometres northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told IPS.“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially." -- Agnes Misoi, member of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer community

For decades Ondolo and the women of her community had been denied opportunities, choices, access to information, education, and skills, which was compounded by the cultural perception that women are mere housewives.

According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, historically, hunter-gatherer communities have been and still remain the most marginalised sections of society on the continent.

But two ago, a donation livestock and equipment made to Ondolo and a few other women in her community, changed their lives by giving them a steady financial income and, as a result, a role in decision making.

At the time, Ondolo had been trying to get the other Ogiek women to form groups in order to pool their resources and rear poultry together.

“It all started with merry-go-round after I visited one of my friends outside our locality. And having realised the many problems we women of the minority Ogiek community origin face, compounded by the deeply-rooted culture and gender disparity, I mobilised 30 women [in a savings cooperative].

“Members would put their monthly money contribution into a common pool,” Ondolo said, adding that members were entitled to borrow loans for as little as Ksh. 500 (five dollars).

Her idea, which attracted the attention of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP), a local NGO with close links to the community’s issues, soon led to the life-changing donation.

“Having learnt of our organised poultry rearing groups, OPDP in partnership with Kenya Community Development Foundation [KCDF] helped us start poultry and beekeeping enterprises,” Ondolo said.

So in 2012, in the small village of Mariashoni, a group of 80 women gathered at an open field surrounded by the indigenous Mau Forest to receive improved indigenous chicks, poultry-rearing equipment and feed.

OPDP had received about 22,000 dollars in funding from KCDF, which it used to purchase the livestock and equipment.

Honey-harvesting equipment and 40 beehives were also given to the Langam Women’s Group and Ogiek Women’s Empowerment Group. The women were also given skills training.

Ondolo said that, at first, the women who engaged in beekeeping had to overcome their own community’s cultural barriers against women earning an income. But now, she said, they all are major contributors to their families.

“My husband’s source of income comes from small subsistence farming. But thanks to the beekeeping project, I have been able to help my husband pay school fees for our children two are in university and two are in college currently, and the others are in primary and secondary school,” Ondolo said.

She is also now a lead member of the Langam Women’s Group.

“Without any sense of power whatsoever, their participation in decision-making is minimal, both at home and in the community,” Daniel Kobei, a member of the OPDP and the Ogiek community, told IPS.

Jane Rotich, a member of Ogiek Women Beekeeping Empowerment Group agreed. “Practical and cultural barriers limited the participation of us Ogiek women in decisions affecting our community, aspects of our public life, as well as in economic progress and development,” she told IPS.

In Nessuit location, about 10km from Mariashoni, Agnes Misoi, 30, was also a beneficiary of the poultry project. She currently owns over 60 chicken, having sold some to pay for the education of her two high school children.

She told IPS that prior to the introduction of the poultry project, she relied mostly on her husband — a subsistence farmer.

“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially of which I have been able to assist,” said Misoi, adding that she normally accumulates about 200 eggs in a month, which she sells for about 24 dollars.

And her husband, Samuel Misoi, has been grateful for her financial support.

“Nowadays, [my wife] is the one assisting me during financial difficulties. She helped me purchase timber for completion of our new house,” he told IPS, pointing at a three bed-roomed timber house under construction.

Fanis Inganga, a gender officer with OPDP, told IPS that the project brought great changes to the Ogiek women’s attitude, as they were now more confident to work and contribute to the economic and social betterment of their families and community.

To maximise profits and lock out brokers, the women only sell their honey to the Ogiek Beekeepers Association, which is affiliated to Mariashoni Community Development (MACODEV), a community-based organisation that refines and packages the honey into a final product.

MACODEV’s chairman Martin Kiptiony said that the women’s groups have ignited a great challenge to the men who used to consider themselves as only ones fit to engage in beekeeping.

However, poor road network bars the women’s groups from accessing readily-available markets. Instead they have to sell their packaged honey and poultry products at public gatherings in the locality. A 250ml tin of Ogiek Pure Honey sells for three dollars.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at kibetesq@gmail.com or on twitter @Kibet_88

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Only the Crazy and Economists Believe Growth is Endlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 05:00:00 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136766 Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

By Justin Hyatt
LEIPZIG, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

From the mid-20th century onwards, economic growth has come to count as a self-evident goal in economic policies and GDP to be seen as the most important index for measuring economic activities.

This was the premise underlying the recent Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equityheld in Leipzig to take stock of the “degrowth” movement’s progress in efforts to debunk the mantra of growth and call for a fundamental rethink of conventional economic concepts and practices.

Many followers of the movement, who argue that “anyone who thinks that growth can go on endlessly is either a crazy person or an economist”, base their philosophy on the findings of a 1972 book – The _Limits_to_Growth – which reports the results of a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.“In China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities” – Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador

After Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010) and Venice (2012), this was the fourth such conference but, with some 3,000 participants, the largest so far. Hundreds of workshops, roundtable discussions and films or presentations were organised for the scientists, researchers, activists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who gathered to discuss economic degrowth, sustainability and environmental initiatives, among others.

Internationally acclaimed Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, who was President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador in 2007-2008 told participants that in China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities.

Acosta, who developed the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a scheme to forego oil exploitation in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, is also an advocate of buen vivir, arguing that extractivism is one of the most damaging practices linked to latter day capitalism, as more and more non-renewable natural resources are taken from the earth and lost forever, while producing gigantic quantities of harmful emissions.

To counter extractivism, Acosta calls for the adoption of buen vivir, which is based on the Andean Quechua peoples’ sumak kawsay (full life) – a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive – and loosely translates as “good living”.

For Giorgos Kallis, an environmental researcher and professor at the University of Barcelona, degrowth needs to provide a space for critical action and for reshaping development from below, in an attempt to divert more time away from a capitalist and towards a care economy.

When asked if the concept of degrowth was not too radical or uncomfortable a message, Kallis said: “Yes, perhaps degrowth doesn’t sit well, but that is precisely the point, to not sit well – it is time to make this message relevant.”

Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, known for her criticism of corporate globalisation and author of No Logo – which for many has become a manifesto of the anti-corporate globalisation movement – joined the conference by Skype to tell participants that radical change in the political and physical landscape is our only real possibility to escape greater disaster and that reformist approaches are not enough.

One of the main driving forces behind the degrowth movement is Francois Schneider, one of the first degrowth activists who promoted the concept through a year-long donkey tour in 2006 in France and founded the Research and Degrowth academic association.

“Systemic change involves whole segments of society,” Schneider told IPS. “It doesn’t involve just one little part and we don’t expect a new decision from the European Parliament that will change everything. Dialogue is the key. And putting forward many different proposals.”

Taking the example of transport and mobility, he explained that it is useless to tackle the transformation of transport alone because “transportation is linked to energy and advertising is linked to the car industry.”

Vijay Pratap, Indian activist from the Gandhi-inspired Socialist youth movement era and member of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) pleaded for the inclusion of marginalised majorities in the degrowth movement. Pratap told IPS that “unless we initiate the processes so that they can become leaders of their own liberation, no real post-growth society can come into being.”

While he was satisfied with what he said as a very egalitarian and democratic approach to the organisation of the conference, Pratap said that inclusion should be guaranteed for those who do not speak English, those who do not know how to navigate social networking sites and those who do not have access to international philanthropic donor agencies.“

According to Pratap, who participated as an organiser in the World Social Forum (WSF) gathering in Mumbai in 2004, this was one major lesson of the WSF process.

On the final day, Lucia Ortiz, a programme director for Friends of the Earth International and active in Brazilian social movements, did not mince her words in the closing plenary when she proclaimed that “degrowth is the bullet to dismantle the ideology of growth.”

The movement to dismantle this ideology will now continue in preparation for the next degrowth conference in two years’ time.

And Kallis is convinced that it will be even more successful than this year’s event. Commenting on the increase in participation from a few hundred in Paris in 2008 to the 3,000 in Leipzig, he quipped: “At this pace, in twenty years, we’ll have the whole world at our conference.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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